The missing political philosophy of microstates: longevity, between survival and luxury, part 1

I’m still hesitating about using ‘scarcity and abundance’ instead of ‘survival and luxury’, but latter might be more eye-catching. 🙂

Starting a new study here that grew out of the Jonathan Floyd series on Normative Behaviourism but it is a standalone topic. The first part contains a Summary, an Introduction, a Literature and a Critical section.


Microstates are political sovereignties whose minimal spatiality allows them to focus on extended temporality. On one hand, the history of microstates prominently features survival events and dependence on the outer world. On the other hand, the current permissive international system grants unprecedented freedom for microstates to pick-and-choose strategies to prosper and sell sovereign pregoragitves to find their own unique niche. The richness of alternative routes that can be taken, the worlds of possibilities, nurtures luxury in many microstates. Abundance makes microstates overrepresented amongst states as top performers for health care and life expectancy. Health and longevity as top priority political goals faces huge obstacles in bigger, lead political actor states, (under)performing on centre stage. Some microstates have a timely (historical?) chance to take a lead in implementing the most advanced health politics and aim for a niche to participate, organise, conduct, provide infrastructure for projects to develop the biomedical tools needed for ongoing progress in healthy longevity. The first, decisive round of these developments can take place in the shortest amount of time, but only for microstates in a demonstrative way starting small scale to elicit large scale changes. Microstate citizenship schemes can enable participation for the world-wide longevity community. This is normative, active political philosophy here walking on two legs to reach actuality.

Narrative Introduction

A curious thing happened, when I was working on an earlier post, Are Social-Liberal-Democracies exclusively suited to improve health and longevity of their citizens? The Jonathan Floyd series, part 5.  I realised that so called microstates have a whooping ~50% of the shares when it comes to being a top 10 country in life expectancy and in health care. And when you check different measures of economic prosperity, you’ll going to see similar, although more diverse trends. In the meantime out of ~200 independent states, ~43, a bit more than fifth, are microstates, [1] according to some measure. 29 out of these microstates are island states. 

My next question was: Has there been enough (any?) attention on part of political philosophers to reflect on microstates? In short, is there an existing political philosophy of microstates? Open Lifespan philosophy has a strong foot in reflecting to political philosophy texts already, so why not look into microstates a little with this focus?

To my surprise there’s apparently no existing political philosophy which took microstates as a focus of its academic investigation. Next, I asked Jonathan Floyd, via email, who confirmed this result and seemed surprised as well: The political philosophy of microstates, whatever that can be, is missing.

Not anymore, as I aim this post to be the first such little mini-study of the political philosophy of microstates.

Next, I checked the current literature where microstates have been given a book length treatment and academic papers that have been published recently. 

Starter Literature

3 studies stood out and I had access to 2 of them:

The first is The Microstates of Europe: Designer Nations in a Post-Modern World by P. Christiaan Klieger  | 21 Jul 2014 This book has given me the extra perspective push and valuable facts I needed. Klieger is a US American anthropologist and ethnohistorian, whose original professional interest had been Asian studies, particularly, Tibet.[2] I admit that anthropology and history, especially etnohistories and the Annales School are out of my comfortable professional area, which covers biology and philosophy by training and experience, but hey, it’s obvious that we need other perspectives here when looking into this challenge.

The second is a clear and conclusive paper, coming from a political scientist, J.C. Sharman, professor at the University of Cambridge, with a focus on International Relations (IR).

J.C. Sharman: Sovereignty at the Extremes: Micro-States in World Politics, Political Studies, 2016.

And the third one is the following book, that seems very valuable for the purpose of our study, by Wouter Veenendaal a Dutch political scientist. Politics and Democracy in Microstates   Routledge; 1 edition (17 Oct. 2014)[3].

As I’m very much in the microstate learning phase now I’m well aware of the limitation of my study. For instance a restriction I currently have is that the microstates that I’ve been read about and focusing on are the historical European microstates. I assume the decisive part (from the POV of the argument I make) of the things am saying might apply to other microstates as well, by now. The nature of these arguments are not necessary deductions from sparse empirical data, instead the focus is on some data and features of microstates which make the case and advance a particular political scenario. This will be made much clearer later.

Why are microstates ignored in current political theory?

As far as I see so far, there are 2 main reasons why microstates were not given the proper treatment earlier in political science and derivatively in political philosophy.

I. Lacking enough power 

According to this, microstates are simply powerless and not strong enough to make a difference internationally on the global political scene, so they are simply ignored and left out of the picture. 

Sharman phrases this and argues for inclusion the following way:

p560. The pervasive gigantism of IR has meant that the potential insights from studying small states are radically under-exploited. John Gerring (2007) notes that in qualitative case studies selection can be premised on representativeness or variation relative to the general population. Given that IR scholarship has concentrated so single-mindedly on great powers, it does not have representativeness. Given that it looks at only one end of the power spectrum, it does not have variation either. If power is the central concern of those who study international politics (or any kind of politics), then there is a great deal to be learned from those who experience its use on the receiving end, rather than just those who wield it. This observation holds even for those only interested in great powers. 

p562. An empirical understanding of power in international politics demands a study of relatively powerless states and their relations with the powerful. 

J.C. Sharman: Sovereignty at the Extremes: Micro-States in World Politics, Political Studies, 2016.

II. Anomalies amongst nation-states 

This reason I believe is connected to the earlier as classical European nation-states are the bigger ones, France, Spain, Germany, but is conceptually separate. 

Dibyesh Anand writes in the Foreword of Klieger, P. Christiaan. The Microstates of Europe (Kindle Location 29). Lexington Books. Kindle Edition. called specifically Anomalies that Reaffirm:

Klieger provides a pen picture and analysis of what could be seen as “anomalies” in the larger stories of national self-determination, state sovereignty, and Europeanization and argues that the anomalies in fact reaffirm the stories. What are better illustrations of continued relevance and attraction of sovereignty and nationhood than the super-tiny entities that survive and flourish? This narrative of European microstates thus contributes to an understanding of macropolitics of identity in international relations.

Dibyesh Anand writes in the Foreword of Klieger, P. Christiaan. The Microstates of Europe (Kindle Location 29). Lexington Books. Kindle Edition. called specifically Anomalies that Reaffirm:

Both reasons seem ridiculous and express academic dogmas (and might express non-academic prejudices as well), the first one being biased towards everything big, the second one being stuck up in the classical and contingent nation-state concept and the particular larger European nation-states it was applied to in the first place.

The next post, part II of this study, will focus on the components of the longevitarian political philosophy of microstates, the data, the history, the political practice amongst others.


[1] Dag Anckar: Homogeneity and Smallness: Dahl and Tufte Revisited Scandinavian Political Studies, Bind 22 (New Series) (1999) 1

[2] I tried to connect to him, no luck yet.

[3] I sent a request to the author on Linkedln to send me the pdf of the book, not wanting to purchase it for 30+ GBP, let’s see what happens. 🙂

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