“To worship my country as a god is to bring a curse upon it.” – Rabindrinath Tagore, quoted by Martha Nussbaum.
“Since the narrower or wider community of the peoples of the earth has developed so far that a violation of rights in one place is felt throughout the world, the idea of a cosmopolitan right is not fantastical, high-flown or exaggerated notion. It is a complement to the unwritten code of the civil and international law, necessary for the public rights of mankind in general and thus for the realization of perpetual peace.” – Immanuel Kant.
In my post about good and bad influences on the left, I noted “national sovereignty” among the bad influences and the “one state solution” among the good influences. Norman Geras, in his response to the meme, gently criticised both suggestions, which he rightly saw as linked together. Meanwhile, Eamonn McDonagh, Terry Glavin and Kellie Strom, three exiled sons of Erin, possibly galvanised by an apparent equivalence I drew between Israel/Palestine and the Troubles, made eloquent responses in the comment thread, and Eamonn also wrote a longer critique at the Z-Word blog, which provoked quite a lot of argumentation, not least from my friend Noga (who later added this moving post), as well as from other people I admire (including Judy K and Karl Pfeifer). Yesterday, I published a guest post from Schalom Libertad responding to Norm. Today, I will add to his comments with some thoughts of my own. The two elements – nationalism and sovereignty in general, and the Palestinian/Israeli nations and states in particular – are connected, but I will reflect on them in two parts. Apologies for the excessive length - I have put the second half below the break so it takes up less room on the front page. Tomorrow, or shortly after, I intend to follow up another issue arising from the meme, the big state versus the small state.
Nationalism and national sovereignty
I believe that nationalism is one of the greatest evils in the world. I distinguish nationalism from what Orwell calls patriotism or Rudolf Rocker calls “national feeling”. Patriotism or national feeling is a potentially benign affect, whereas nationalism is an ideology. Love of one’s homeland or one’s compatriots is common, healthy, perfectly compatible with sentiments of international solidarity, cosmopolitan justice, ethnic pride or class consciousness. It can be mobilised for good aims, such as resistance to tyranny or social solidarity within the nation. (I have discussed this extensively with Dave Semple here.)
Orwell writes that: “Both words [nationalism and patriotism] are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”
The nation is a fairly recent invention, and the organisation of sovereignty on the basis of nations is so far but a fairly brief phase in human history. Organising sovereignty on the basis of nations is, in my view, inherently problematic, because it always excludes those who, while living within the state’s territory, are not “of” the nation – it excludes them from the right to participate fully in the affairs of the state. In the age when the nation-state was being born, this issue was named “the Jewish question” because, as Hannah Arendt put it, the Jews were a “non-national element in a world of growing or existing nations.” Zygmunt Bauman comments: “By the very fact of their territorial dispersion and ubiquity, the Jews were an inter-national nation... The boundaries of the nation were too narrow to define them; the horizons of national tradition were too short to see through their identity... The world tightly packed with nations and nation-states abhorred the non-national void.”
It could probably equally well have been named the Roma question; in Anatolia it became the Armenian question, the Greek question, the Kurdish question; in India it would be the Muslim question, in Pakistan the Hindu question. Aamir Mufti, in his brilliant book Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture, describes how this “Jewish question” was repeated everywhere as the nation became the ground for sovereignty. The nation-state, unable to form a homogeneous people out of the inherently various material of humanity, inevitably produces minorities.
And, Mufti notes, once a population is identified as a minority, it becomes moveable, in order to make the space of the nation pure. Hence the great catastrophes of the twentieth century as nation-states emerged: the Armenian massacre, for example, or the massive transfers of population between Greece and Turkey, or the millions of ethnic Germans transported by the Russian empire during WWI from the European front to Central Asia, or their “repatriation” to Germany afterwards. The most extreme moment in this dialectic, of course, was the Nazi “final solution” to the Jewish question. But the catastrophe of the nation-state keeps on unfolding: from Partition in India, the Palestinian nakba, the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, the genocide in Rwanda, the wars in Yugoslavia that gave us the term “ethnic cleansing”, on down to the current events in Cote D’Ivoire. Genocide is the logic of the nation-state, or, more precisely of the linking together of nation, state and territorial sovereignty.
This is one solution to the nation-state’s “Jewish question”, the “anthropoemic” one to use Claude Levi-Strauss’ term: vomiting out the minority. The other solution is the “anthropophic” one: “annihilating the strangers by devouring them and then metabolically transforming them into a tissue indistinguishable from one’s own” to quote Bauman again. This was how France, for example, sought to deal with its Jewish question – in other words, assimilation. Assimilation requires the complete disappearance of any collective identity outside that of the nation – as in the famous comment in the French National Assembly in which French Jews were granted equal rights: "To the Jews as individuals, everything. To the Jews as a nation, nothing." Assimilation is of course less barbarous than expulsion or elimination, but it too is genocidal in its logic, and there are in any case plenty of instances of the apparently successfully assimilated then being designated for annihilation anyway.
In the late twentieth century, there were signs that the deadly allure of the nation-state-territory trinity was weakening. The cosmopolitan project of the United Nations and the building of institutions of international law, the supra-national project of the European Union, the dissemination of the American model of “civic patriotism”, the number of countries who shifted from the principle of blood (jus sanguinis) to that of birth (jus soli) in their citizenship policies – these gave some grounds for optimism.
Now, after the massacres in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Yugoslavia, after the renewal of communalism in the Indian subcontinent and its re-emergence in Iraq, after the flowering of infra-national conflicts in the former Soviet empire, after the Second Intifada, there is little space for hope. More than ever, I believe, we require the political imagination to relegate the deadly age of the nation-state to the past.
One state, two states, no states
The preceding section will hopefully put into context my views on the conflict in Israel-Palestine, and why I cannot endorse the two-state solution. The premise for the two-state solution is simple: two nations, two states. The history of the nation-state, I believe, suggests that this solution is a fatal one. An Israeli state (defined as a Jewish state) will always have a “Palestinian question” and a Palestinian state will always have a “Jewish question”. These will remain until each state is ethnically cleansed of its minority, but even then will continue as those across the border continue to see the other land as “their” territory. There can be no solution to the tragedy of Israel-Palestine within the logic of the nation-state.
It was for this reason that I speculated that the growing interest in a one state solution was a positive influence. It represents, I proposed, the straining of the political imagination beyond the nation-state. I never thought or suggested that the immediate imposition of a one state solution is a practical or desirable option; nor did I suggest that Israel-Palestine be the only place in the world where the nation-state be deconstructed. And, as with all the other “good influences” I suggested (I noted that the disgusting Bill Ayers is or claims to be motivated by social justice), it can be a bad influence in some circumstances.
However, after the arguments on the Z-Word blog, I regret my formulation, for a number of reasons. First, one of the elements in the growth of the interest in one state has been from a quite pernicious direction. Within the anti-Zionist movement, there are those for whom the one state slogan has become an alibi for the “anthropophic” elimination of Jewishness in Palestine – as the Jews are an invented people and the Palestinians have all sweetness and light on their side, a single (Palestinian) state will be able to accommodate the remaining Jews until they wither away. "To the Jews as individuals, everything. To the Jews as a nation, nothing." This is the conception of the one state purveyed, for example, by the Electronic Intifada website. I should have been much clearer, therefore, when talking about one state I meant an explicitly binational state, in which Jewish rights, as Jews, would be maintained, but the idea of an ethnically exclusive state was left behind.
Second, the word “solution” is a dangerous word which I should have avoided. I continue to believe that Israel-Palestine, in its current set-up, is unsustainable; it cannot guarantee security, justice or peace for anyone; there is a clear need for a fundamental, structural change. But by using the word “solution” I was entering the terrain of a debate about practical steps towards specific structural changes. I am not, and would never want to be, someone in power, or advising people in power, making decisions about imposing this road map or that template. I am a personal blogger, a diarist with a small audience, thinking through the politics of particular positions – not a negotiator, a geopolitical strategist or a Knesset member. My belief that an embrace of binationalism might be a positive development, a step towards a necessary shift in the political imagination, was never intended to be read as an “endorsement” of a particular “solution”. It is, precisely as Noga puts it, “a horizon of possibility”, which we will never reach.
Third, I recognised before, and the commenters at Z-Word most persuasively argued this, that a two-state solution, although a “loathsome compromise”, again to use Noga’s phrase, may well be the only practical basis for negotiations and an end to the current cycle of violence.
Finally, the real "horizon" for me is not in fact a binational state, but a world without nation-states, the horizon I have had my eye on since a defining moment in my life, at age fourteen, when John Lennon's "Imagine" came on the radio while I was in my cousin's VW van driving through a beautiful soft warm night along the edge of the Sea of Galilee towards their kibbutz.
- George Orwell “Notes on Nationalism” Polemic 1945; Rudolf Rocker Nationalism and Culture 1937.
- From Contested Terrain: Wolfgang Pohrt on The Radical Left and National Liberation... was one of the early anti-national texts of the German Left, before the emergence of the anti-national (and anti-German) tendencies following German “reunification” in 1989. Murray Bookchin’s “Nationalism and the ‘National Question’” text is over 15 years old yet continues to be relevant for left debates on nationalism. And the essay from the London group of the Junge Linke (Young Left), Why Anti-National? goes into even more interesting aspects of “the nation.” Another popular hit was the Anarchist Federation’s Statement, “Against Nationalism.”
- On a binational state: Raluca Eddon “What's new about the new binationalism?: Israel and the binational idea” Tikkun 2004; Adam Kirsh “Hannah Arendt’s conflicted Zionism” New York Sun 2007.