Via Jeff Jarvis’ Buzzmachine, I noticed this paragraph from Timothy Garton Ash’s latest column in the New York Times

Why is it that Americans do not understand the power of the European Union? Is it because they are simply not well informed by reports from Brussels and other European capitals? Or is it because, as citizens of the world’s last truly sovereign nation-state, Americans — and especially American conservatives — find it difficult to acknowledge the contribution of a transnational organization based on supranational law? It’s as if they can conceive of power only in the old-fashioned terms of a classical nation-state.

Jarvis is right to say that “Ash is getting a bit ahead of his times … but perhaps not too far ahead.” In fact, Ash’s argument could be turned on its head: Europeans have trouble understanding the United States because as citizens of the world’s first emergent post-national political entity (and identity), they have trouble understanding that not everybody shares that experience.

The idea that globalization the nation-state is being superceded is has been fashionable for the past decade, especially here in Europe. But the European Union is the exception, rather than the rule: nowhere else on Earth has seen the same sort of political convergence to match economic globalisation.

Moreover, the European nation-states are “Europeanising”, not globalising. Like state-adminstrative integration, European economic integration has been primarily internal. According to the latest Eurostat statistics (PDF 5.7Mb), trade within the European Union accounts for the bulk of the European nation-states’ external trade. Cultural flows probably follow a simiar pattern, although the dominance of the United States in this area gives this issue a different flavour altogether.

Notwithstanding the fears of Euroskeptics, there is no superstate anywhere — even in the regionally-converging Europe — that can take over the adminstrative functions of the more modest territorial state, and no identity that can replace the nation as the primary legitimising ideology of such states.

The United States is not the last sovereign nation-state: In much of the world, the nation-state is still emerging, never mind declining. For much of the world’s population, the idea of national self-determination is still being pursued, and nationalism remains the dominant ideology.

Discussing Turkey and Ukraine, Ash also touches on a related point that Europe has managed to avoid to date:

… If Europe is everywhere, it will be nowhere. So the European Union must decide what to offer neighbors that cannot be members. But for now, the European power of induction is working its magic on the streets of Kiev and Istanbul.

At some point in the very near future, Europe will begin to define itself by whom it excludes, and will thereby begin to resemble 20th Century nationalism. Some are already beginning to do that by arguing against Turkish acsession on the basis of Europe being a “Christian club”. That’s a direction secular Europeans should resist.