Thursday, January 06, 2011

On nations and states

“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 McDonaghTerry 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.


Further reading

69 comments:

Phil Dickens said...

Interesting stuff.

With regards Israel-Palestine, I've always tried to write within the context of what's on offer and what the majority of people seem to favour, which is why it has generally centred on the two-state solution. However, I do think the one-state solution is preferable, at least as far as we have to have a state at all, especially now that Gazan Youth have come out with a statement utterly rejecting nationalism from all sides.

On the other point - I've written here why I reject both assimilation and multiculturalism as potential alternatives to ethno-nationalism. Instead, moral universalism and polyculturalism strike me as fitting in far better with the values of the libertarian left.

bob said...

Thanks Phil. Been meaning to link to that Gazan youth statement. See here http://antigerman.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/fuck-hamas-fuck-israel-fuck-fatah-fuck-un-fuck-unwra-fuck-usa/

skidmarx said...

Three things briefly:

"Genocide is the logic of the nation-state" - much as I'd share your professed dislike of the nation-state, it may well be that certain forms of national oppression are indissolubably linked to it, but to extend and generalise in the cause of making a case that Jews will always be at proximate risk of another Holocaust requires more than simple assertion.

Viewing the nation as an abstract, and so drawing no distinction between the oppressed and the oppressor, doesn't result in clear thinking.

What's disgusting about Bill Ayers? I see from a little googling that he has signed a petition calling for the boycott of Israel, but surely you aren't a priori delegitimising opponents of Israel? Or is it his fairly ineffective Weather activities that he has apologised for many times? Or are you just joining the right-wing screeching at anyone with any radicalism whatsoever that has had contact with Obama?

Bob said...

Skidmarx, I said nothing along the lines of "Jews will always be at proximate risk of another Holocaust". Please re-read what I wrote. I said that genocide (in general) is the logic of the nation-state. I don't think there are that many Jews in the Ivory Coast.

On Bill Ayers, I am not going to get into an argument about him. If you think it is "right-wing" to find him disgusting, I am happy to be called "right-wing". If you think it is "right-wing" to find it bombing civilian targets in the US disgusting "right-wing" I am happy to be called "right-wing". If you think it is "right-wing" to be disgusted by privileged white males arrogating to themselves the leadership of "the struggle" and replacing the notion of mass movement with the terrorist activities of an elite cult, then I am happy to be called "right-wing". If you think it is "right-wing" to be disgusted by someone who has traded on a his fugitive status to gain celebrity status, a bogus academic career, a comfortable income and the ear of the president, then I am happy to be called "right-wing". If you think it is "right-wing" to be disgusted at someone who thinks Sirhan Sirhan is a noble revolutionary. If you think it is "right-wing" to find bullying, authoritarian sexists disgusting then I am happy to be called "right-wing". Other such "right-wingers" include Katha Pollitt http://www.thenation.com/search/apachesolr_search/pollitt%20ayers and Scott McLemee http://mclemee.com/id207.html

schalom libertad said...

Bob,
I don't find it a convincing argument to make a qualitative distinction between nationalism and patriotism. Quantitative, maybe, but I am not even sure of that much. Take Orwell's statement, for example, which you quoted:

"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."

If this is the case, then "British Jobs for British Workers!" is not nationalist. It is a "defensive", is it not? Or the protests against (or worse, arson attacks on) Mosques in Germany or elsewhere. Is this not "defense" of the "home culture"?

I assume you object to both of these examples on the face level, and maybe you would even call them "nationalist." But according to Orwell, "nationalism, on the other hand [ie. in contrast to patriotism], is inseparable from the desire for power [for the nation]." But where is the "desire for power" in these activities? It is not so apparent to me, and so I don't see the difference between "patriotism" and "nationalism."

Eamonn said...

Bob: you've crossed a line by invoking that terrible song ;=))

PS: written by a man who favored the ethnic cleansing of NI Protestants

http://bit.ly/h1LhWN

modernity said...

Well sorry to have missed this discussion, I thought Eammon was rather good, but then others were a tad unfair to you.

I think the worst aspect is that Z blog will be consumed by that awful Propagandist, and such sparkling exchanges lost....

bob said...

Schalom – excellent points. I think that the line between patriotism and nationalism is blurry in practice, and probably Orwell’s formulation in terms of defensiveness versus desire for power is not exactly right, not least because the line between defence and offence is so fuzzy. I think probably, and this is more or less Rocker’s argument, there are two key differences.

First, patriotism is a sentiment where nationalism is an ideology or, as Rocker puts it, a religion. Nationalism involves a set of (implicit or explicit) theories and arguments about the world, in a way that patriotism doesn’t. The sentiment of wanting British jobs for British workers is patriotism; to build a campaign with this slogan or to seek to exclude “non-British” workers from jobs is nationalism.

Second, nationalism is bound up with the state, whereas patriotism isn’t. (This is why it is possible to be patriotic about more than one nation for the same time – e.g. to be patriotic about being Scottish and patriotic about being British at the same time, whereas it is not possible to be a Scottish nationalist and a British nationalist at the same time. Or why it is possible to support the Turkish football team and the German football team at the same time, but not to be both a Turkish nationalist and a German nationalist.

Or maybe more precisely nationalism is the ideology of the nation-state. Perhaps rather than seeking power as such for the nation-state, nationalism seeks to make the state national and make the national enshrined in the state. Thus, nationalism might not always seek to expand beyond its borders but it always seeks to expand within its borders. So, German nationalists want a Germany cleansed of Muslims; British nationalists want a Britain cleansed of foreign workers; etc. I know that there are lots of grey areas, but I think there is a qualitative difference.

bob said...

Eamonn – You’re right, invoking one of the most clichéd and naff songs ever written was probably a graver error than my choice of words in the original post – and I will no doubt reap the consequences. I didn’t know about Lennon’s ethnic cleansing support either. Thanks for that.

Mod – I agree that the Z-Word blog being subsumed by the Propagandist seems like a terrible move. I have been a Z-Word blog reader since it began, I think, and have found it more or less consistently interesting and useful. The Propagandist does publish lots of good material, by Lauryn Oates, Terry Glavin, Eamonn, Karl Pfeifer, Ben Cohen and others, and I enjoy its irreverence and lack of self-importance, but the hysterical feel is at odds with the serious mission of Z-Word, and more importantly the links with racists and borderline racists completely undermines its integrity and credibility. And from a purely strategic point of view, the new audience that will be reached is not an audience that the Z-Word needs to reach, so I don’t see what the gain is; the people who would benefit from the message will be completely alienated. Eamonn, can you explain this?

schalom libertad said...

Hi Bob,
If "the sentiment of wanting British jobs for British workers is patriotism," and "to build a campaign with this slogan or to seek to exclude “non-British” workers from jobs is nationalism" you've given a great reason to oppose both, because, well they are basically the same!

bob said...

Maybe. If someone has the thought, "shouldn't British people be first in the queue for jobs when so many people are being laid off", I would disagree with them, and this would not be a benign emotion, but it would be a fairly low level of malignancy. It seems to me that, although it is not necessarily clear exactly how to draw the line, but that there is a world of difference between this and, say, supporting legislation that stipulates that no foreigners should have the right to work in Britain. I imagine lots of people could have the sentiment, without following up with the political programme. Still, I will continue to think about this.

Oh and also Norm replied to your reply here.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Bob

You saw that the Propagandist are now openly supporting the JDL?

Quite honestly, I'm not sure what you think there is to "explain", any more than we'd ask the National 'Anarchist' scum to explain themselves. The situation is perfectly straightforward.

The Propagandist is openly working with far right groups. I suspect the reason for this is the same as the reason that some anti-zionists openly support Hamas. Israel has become such an important issue for some (on both sides of the debate) that they are happy to link up with the far right. But, y'know, I don't actually give a fuck on the reasoning at the end of the day. They're working with the far right. End of.

And I give Eamonn et al enough respect for their intelligence to assume they know precisely what they're doing. They just don't care.

Now Bob, a question directly for you. Remember when the Independent Orange Order got their demo turned over for having it stewarded by C18? They didn't make that mistake twice. Was that justified from an antifascist perspective? How different is this from that context?

Maybe it's time to see if the Propagandists are quite so fiery with their rhetoric when the war they're fighting is no longer virtual...

(For the record, this is hypothetical because they aren't holding meetings in the UK. Still, I'm not convinced I feel the need to delete personal details of propagandists, if anyone felt the inclination to post them on my blog...)

schalom libertad said...

Hi Bob,

Sounds to me like nothing more than a difference between passive and active nationalism. Not sure though that so many of those with nationalist sentiments wouldn't also vote for legislation strengthening those national advantages.

Also, seems like you're differentiating between the descriptive and prescriptive, the former being the "patriots" and the latter being the "nationalists." First of all, it's clear that they have a relationship to one another. That the "nationalists" rely on the "patriots" and on their "passivity" in order to push for harder positions. And the "patriots" rely on the "nationalists" to push nationalist positions on the grounds that, "if you don't vote for us, you empower the extremists."

Furthermore, why is it that only prescriptive, active nationalists deserve the term "nationalists" (and not "patriots"), while descriptive, passive antisemites deserve the term "antisemite"?
I simply don't follow your argument.

Those idiots who think that "Brits" deserve more rights than "non-Brits", due to unemployment, do so on the basis of a nationalist interpretation of economics. You give too much when you play this down. They are not only morally wrong, they are also factually wrong.

As Doug Henwood notes (http://lbo-news.com/2010/09/08/immigrants-swelling-social-security-coffers/):

"...the most vocal nativists leading the charge against immigration “are mostly older or retired whites from longtime American families. The very people, in other words, who benefit most from the Social Security payments by unauthorized immigrants."

Whether active or passive, they operate with a nationalist framework and deserve the label.

BenSix said...

I like to think that I'm a tolerant bloke(hey, here I am, posting on this den of imperialist sectarianism) but how one can blast other people as fascists or loons while biggin' up the JDL is quite beyond me. I don't like their pals the EDL, for example, but at least they've never forced their opponents into silence, celebrated assassinations or been heavily linked to terrorism.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Bob: I'm sorry I cannot join all the blessings and salutations proffered by your comrades from the Left. I think you are tragically wrong to continue to militate for the one-state solution on universalist principles, without paying very close attention to the particularistic hues of the conflict. I have already, in our discussion on the lamentably departed Z-word, pointed out to you that those who are the most vocally and aggressively in favour of OSS are people you yourself condemned in very strong terms. Those are movements for which the OSS is a codeword for the destruction of Israeli Jews. Imagine(!) yourself transported to a radically-changed world in 5-10 years when a OSS has become the cause celebre of the Left that has gained a great deal of prominence due to its dominance over academic institute. Mass rallies are organized to which you will, no doubt, lend your voice in support. You will find yourself sharing a space with people who share a sensibility and goals with Hamas and Fatah. For those two organizations are also in favour of a OSS, as well as Ahmadinejad.

"I was at a Hezbollah rally in Beirut about two and a half years ago," he says. "Very striking. Everyone should go. But of the many things that impressed me about it, having the mushroom cloud as the party flag in an election campaign was the main one. You wouldn't want to look back and think, I wish I'd noticed that being run up. Now I can give you all the reasons that it's bombast on their part. Still, I know which regret I'd rather have."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/nov/14/christopher-hitchens-cancer-interview

As a puzzled afterthought, I'd like to ask: why is there such a great longing to erase the border between Israelis and Arabs, who don't share much except a fondness for humous and Akawie cheese, while no one at all talks about the border between Jordan and Palestine, two nations that share a nation, not just culture and language and religion. Why bait Israeli Jews with the dread specter of having their one and only state taken from them but remain so silent about erasing borders among a people that has 22 states plus the oil plus the support of 1.4 billion Muslims? What can be the rationale for such an irrational scale of priorities?

bob said...

Sorry I have not yet had time to read all of these comments and respond. I will.

Meanwhile, see this post by Roland.

Morbid Symptoms said...

I've always thought that Orwell's stance, like Billy Bragg's, is wishful thinking. In real terms there is little difference, if any, between patriotism and nationalism. Trying to isolate the less belligerent elements as harmless patriotism is dishonest. What starts as pride in your country invariably leads to disdain for others and support for militarism, racism and imperialism. To undermine nationalism you have to start with the patriotic lie that people have a 'natural' affinity with the place they live over all other places. Our country is the world.

The Propagandist Magazine said...
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Waterloo Sunset said...
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Waterloo Sunset said...
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BenSix said...

I'm not particularly interested in this Propagandist thingamijigger, but a word to the wise: don't pretend to be so tolerant and inclusive while denouncing others for associating with people you disapprove of.

The Propagandist Magazine said...
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The Propagandist Magazine said...
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bob said...

Dear friends, comrades, allies and enemies, Please can you refrain from personal abuse. There are important issues here. I am pasting here the most recent comments from "The Propagandist" and Waterloo Sunset, but without the personal abuse.

The Propagandist Magazine said...

Waterloo Sunset wrote: "You saw that the Propagandist are now openly supporting the JDL?"

Waterloo Sunset is wrong. [...]

As we wrote on The Propagandist website:

1) This post linking to the Blazing Cat Fur event hosted by the JDL was not an endorsement of the JDL, but done out of recognition that BCF is (like it or not) a strong voice on the Canadian scene publicizing the activities of Islamist terrorists and associated violent wingnuts. He deserves the support of those with like-minded goals.

2) While it is true that individual members of the JDL have in the past committed terrorist acts, let's be very clear here: they are not an officially recognized terrorist entity in North America. If they were, you can bet that in the post 9/11 era, they would be shut down and that would be that. As I understand it (and I claim no expertise on the JDL) they are more akin to the boy scouts than Hamas. Surely there is a reason why Hamas is officially recognized as a terrorist organization in Canada and the USA and the JDL is not (and the first one to suggest it's because parasitic Zionists are pulling the strings on these governments gets a punch in the throat from my Jewish fists of fury -- and I've never even been asked to be a member of the JDL).

Waterloo Sunset said... Compare and contrast.

This post linking to the Blazing Cat Fur event hosted by the JDL was not an endorsement of the JDL

Executive Order from The Propagandist to all of our Toronto-area allies: be there.

Nice attempt to distract from the issue by bringing up my anonymity though. [...]

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ everyone else.

Told you so, yo.

The Propagandist Magazine said...

Waterloo Sunset:

The quote doesn't change anything. It's not an endorsement of the JDL.

The Propagandist Magazine said...

One last thing:

The point of the event was to raise funds and awareness for the legal defense of a blogger who was being sued for the thought crime of hyperlinking to a mainstream journalist who writes for Macleans magazine.

The event might have been hosted by Russian Cultural Center, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Communist Party or the Conservative Party of Canada. That's beside the point. The aim was to support the blogger.

The question Waterloo Sunset needs to consider is why he wants to distract from the main struggle for freedom of expression for one of the few bloggers in Canada noted for exposing radicalism and extremism and scooping newspapers in the process.

Work on your reading comprehension skills [...]

bob said...

1. On commenting here. First, glance at my comments policy. I apply it in an idiosyncratic manner, so why not err on the side of caution to be sure? The basic idea is that this is my house, not a public forum.

2. Blogger.com has gotten heavy on spam recently, but seems to arbistrarily consider a lot of things spam that aren't, although long posts and swearwords often get caught. If your comment does not appear, be patient and I will un-spam it when I have a mo. It is more tolerant if you have a blogger/google identity, which you can get easily without having to create a blog.

3. If you get a messasge saying "url too large", then your coment has almost definately appeared. This is a ridiculous blogger.com glitch that if they do not sort out might make me migrate to wordpress. Long comments are more likely to be caught in this glitch. You are less likely to be caught if you post your comment from the url of the post itself, not from the url of a comment (e.g. the link from your e-mail notification).

Sorry about all this.

bob said...

2. On nationalism and patriotism. Thanks MS/SL for your comments. Maybe I am wrong to use Orwell's words, and that the correct distinction is between passive and active nationalism. I'm not sure how much that would change the fundamental point.

On the comparison with antisemitism, it might be helpful if there was a different word for casual attitudinal antisemitism and ideologically committed antisemitism, because it seems to me the difference between them is qualitative not quantitative.

Not sure though that so many of those with nationalist sentiments wouldn't also vote for legislation strengthening those national advantages. I'm not sure how much this would falsify my point if I were wrong, which I may be. But all the attitudinal research, and my anecdotal experience of non-political people, suggests that people hold contradictory views on this sort of thing, e.g. preferring migrants to work, contribute and pay taxes - and preferring migrants to be banned from working and not take job. Or thinking migrants should not have recourse to public funds - but getting very upset about individual stories of destitution or deportation. Or thinking Britain is a soft touch - and being genuinely proud of Britain giving people sanctuary. I think that these sort of attitudes need untangling, and clearly are related to the framing and ideological structures of nationalism, but not just in a quantitative contiuum kind of way.

"...the most vocal nativists leading the charge against immigration “are mostly older or retired whites from longtime American families. The very people, in other words, who benefit most from the Social Security payments by unauthorized immigrants."

Sure, but again I don't this affects my argument. Those who most vocally lead the charge are probably those most involved in nationalism as an ideology, whereas the sentiment of affection for one's homeland is something else.

What starts as pride in your country invariably leads to disdain for others and support for militarism, racism and imperialism.

Does it? If it did, then wouldn't Billy Bragg be disdainful of others and supportive of militarism? Perhaps they can do more than me, orwell and Bragg allow for, but is it inevitable?

bob said...

3. On the Propagandist/JDL issue. I need to think this through more carefully, and I know nothing about Blazing Catfur and the legal challenge against him/her. But I find the Propagandist's defence completely unconvincing. In particular, I find this completely incoherent: BCF is (like it or not) a strong voice on the Canadian scene publicizing the activities of Islamist terrorists and associated violent wingnuts. He deserves the support of those with like-minded goals.

Are we obliged to support anyone who is a "strong" voice on something we dislike? The SWP is a strong voice on the British scene publicising the activities of far right fascists and associated violent wingnuts. If the Muslim Defence League hosted a party in support of the SWP, would that deserve my support? Of course not.

bob said...

Finally, on one state and Noga's comments. I don't know what to say other than repeating the post. I am NOT "militat[ing] for the one-state solution", as I thought this post made clear. I recognise the dangers of "movements for which the OSS is a codeword for the destruction of Israeli Jews", as I thought I said in the post. And I would be more than happy to see the Jordanian/Palestinian border broken down, as should have been clear in the post. I would see any proposal against borders potentially a "good influence" in the sense I intended, but didn't make clear, in my original post - whether or not it is a practically good "solution".

By the way, I also have some comments on Noga's great book list, which I will make sooner or later!

Noga said...

Bob: The OSS is still on your "good influences" list of ideas. Considering your acceptance of the
reality that the OSS is mainly promoted by people who wish to punish Israeli Jews due to their own virulent brand of nationslism, and not as a result of some well-intentioned vision of a universal borderless world, don't you think it is no longer a "good influence" idea?

Marko Attila Hoare said...

Sorry to come so late to this interesting discussion. Bob, that was a thoughtful and spirited post, but I couldn't disagree with you more.

Firstly, the negative aspects of nationhood and nationalism that you highlight, and which I'm sure nobody would deny, are only one side of the coin. The other side is their progressive and emancipatory aspects. And it's as if you're simply pretending they aren't there.

The flowering of modern French nationalism and birth of the modern French nation-state that took place with the French Revolution involved the replacement of traditional feudal class distinctions between noble and commoner with the modern concept of citizenship. This actually involved the emancipation of the French Jews. In fact, it is in the age of the nation state that Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities can enjoy full citizenship rights that they were denied under the ancien regime.

Nihilistic, negationist views of nations and nationalism tend to reflect the thinking of inhabitants of powerful states whose own national identity has not been under threat in living memory - e.g. Britain/England, France, Russia. But the inhabitants of unfree, oppressed nations - Chechens, Kurds, Sri Lankan Tamils and others - are likely to have a different view. it was thanks to supposedly 'reactionary' nationalism that Ireland emancipated itself from British oppression; Algeria from French oppression; the Baltic states from Soviet oppression; etc. Why not ask the people of those countries whether they would like to go back to rule by the old colonial masters ?

National sovereignty is inseparable from democracy, because nations are the units on the basis of which people express their democratic will. If the people of Ireland, or Lithuania, want to elect their own sovereign national parliaments, what right do you have to condemn them for it ?

Finally, part of the reason for the left's disgraceful failure over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was due to its hostility to the idea of new independent nation-states emerging. Hence, large sections of the left preferred to identify with the crumbling 'multinational' Yugoslav state and its murderous security forces, out of their hostility to the 'new' states of Croatia, Slovenia, etc.

National sovereignty is only a reactionary principle if it is equated with the sovereignty of tyrants, or of existing states to oppress subject peoples (as Turkey oppresses the Kurds, or Russia oppresses the Chechens). But if the principle is applied consistently to include the sovereignty of nations not yet free, then it remains a progressive and emancipatory principle.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Attila:

I wish you would talk more about the relationship between the nation and citizenship.

The nation is an epic, the city is a novel. Can't remember who said it but it seems to translate well into the anxiety about nationalism that Bob expresses and the rights of citizenship which we all I think, accept and embrace as a definite good.

I fear to think what kind of world will emerge from borderlessness. How can we have freedom, and peace, without borders?

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ The Propagandist

The quote doesn't change anything. It's not an endorsement of the JDL.

Semantic games. Actively encouraging your readers to attend a JDL event is a de facto endorsement of the organisation.

The point of the event was to raise funds and awareness for the legal defense of a blogger who was being sued for the thought crime of hyperlinking to a mainstream journalist who writes for Macleans magazine.

I'm not in favour of sorting these kind of issues out in court. But it should be noted that the "mainstream journalist" you're so strangely coy about naming is actually Mark Steyn. Who is a strong proponent of the "Eurabia" argument that Muslims are having too many children. No smokescreen about simply being against "Muslim extremism" there. And it's telling that you don't seem to have any issue with him.

The event might have been hosted by Russian Cultural Center, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Communist Party or the Conservative Party of Canada. That's beside the point.

No it isn't. Would you advise people to attend an event hosted by the Canadian Association for Free Expression? How about the English Defense League? (The latter is hardly a moot point. The Canadian JDL have hosted joint activities with them).

The question Waterloo Sunset needs to consider is why he wants to distract from the main struggle for freedom of expression for one of the few bloggers in Canada noted for exposing radicalism and extremism and scooping newspapers in the process.

I don't consider working with the far right to be a distraction from the "main struggle". And if you weren't consistently linking to and promoting far right organisations, the issue wouldn't have arisen.

bob said...

From an e-mail from Jogo, and to add to my to-reply-to list:

More than ever, I believe, we require the political imagination to relegate the deadly age of the nation-state to the past.

1. Who is "we?"

2. I realize that you are only a personal blogger, a diarist with a small audience ... BUT ... you have to be somewhat responsive to questioning. How can this goal (dream) of yours be accomplished? How? I want to know how it can be done. Especially because movements or sentiments such as yours are found only within the intellectual classes of First World nations. How do you propose to relegate, say, "Somalia" to the past? Or "Bolivia?", or "Iran?"

3. Many present-day "nations" are not nationalistic (in Orwell's sense) -- Sweden, say -- and are certainly not "deadly." What harm is "Sweden" doing?

4. You have found a new Utopian Project. The old wine in a new bottle. The former projects (anarchism, Marxism, whatever), well, you couldn't pull them off. So you have found a new, totally unrealistic, totally unrealizable, philosophically satisfying (to you) dream to dream.

ModernityBlog said...

The Propagandist and the JDL?

Well, I didn't know that...thanks to WS for keeping on this case...

I thought they were bad enough already, but *ANY* connection to the JDL would be unforgivable...

ModernityBlog said...

This speaks volumes:

"A British right-wing group responsible for a wave of violent anti-Islamist street protests in the United Kingdom will attempt to spread its message to Canadians at a rally in Toronto next week.

A "support rally" for the controversial English Defence League is scheduled to take place at the Toronto Zionist Centre on Tuesday night. The event is being organized by the Jewish Defence League of Canada.

Tommy Robinson, the EDL leader, will speak at the rally through an online hookup. It is believed to be the first Canadian rally for the EDL, repeatedly linked to violence since it formed in 2009 to counter Islamist militancy in Britain.

"I am disappointed that the JDL would support an organization whose record in the U.K. is one of violence and extremism," said Bernie Farber, CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "This is more than unwise and I sure hope they reconsider this decision."


http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/Anti+Islamic+group+from+hold+rally/4066857/story.html

schalom libertad said...

Bob,
Thanks for pointing me to Geras' response to my post. It was disappointingly superficial, lacking any content and critique. He appeared only concerned with telling us that he is aware of inequalities. He showed himself to be relative content with leaving the relations between these inequalities and the political formation of the nation and nation-state unexamined. He gives no examples for anything. And he concludes that some exclusions are legitimate. As long as the critique of the nation and national sovereignty does not produce an alternative model of political organization, then one may remain content with the nation-state. What a poverty of intellect and courage.

bob said...

The OSS is still on your "good influences" list of ideas. Considering your acceptance of the
reality that the OSS is mainly promoted by people who wish to punish Israeli Jews due to their own virulent brand of nationslism, and not as a result of some well-intentioned vision of a universal borderless world, don't you think it is no longer a "good influence" idea?


I think my position at the moment is that OSS is potentially a bad influence and potentially a good influence. Possibly, right now, it is more of a bad influence. Possibly in a year’s time it will only be a bad influence. But I’m not sure, and I’m not going to amend the original post. If I were to have a written a post with “five best influences” or “five unambiguously good influences” I would not have included OSS.

The flowering of modern French nationalism and birth of the modern French nation-state that took place with the French Revolution involved the replacement of traditional feudal class distinctions between noble and commoner with the modern concept of citizenship. This actually involved the emancipation of the French Jews. In fact, it is in the age of the nation state that Jews and other ethnic and religious minorities can enjoy full citizenship rights that they were denied under the ancien regime.

Clearly, the democratic nation-state was better than the tyrannies of the ancient regime. But these are not the only options. The Jews were emancipated by the democratic nation-state, but only able to enjoy full and equal citizenship to the extent they gave up their collective identification as Jews. They were emancipated as individuals and not as a collective. The places where there was not true were the places where the democratic state was least a national state.

bob said...

It was thanks to supposedly 'reactionary' nationalism that Ireland emancipated itself from British oppression; Algeria from French oppression; the Baltic states from Soviet oppression; etc. Why not ask the people of those countries whether they would like to go back to rule by the old colonial masters?

I am sympathetic to this point, and would instinctively condemn all forms of colonialism, such as the occupation of Western Sahara or of Tibet. But I think the same point I made about the nation-state versus ancient regime holds for the nation-state versus the colonial state. These are not the only options. Clearly, colonialism is incompatible with freedom, but in many postcolonial states the tyranny of the conquerors was only replaced by new forms of tyranny from oppressors closer to home. The difference is not the national self-determination, but the democracy. Burma, for example, has “national self-determination”, but its people have no determination over their lives. Would an Algeria ruled by the FIS really be “freer” than an Algeria rule by France?

The nation is today, in a world of nation-states, the unit in which many people express their democratic will, but there are lots of nation-states where they do not and there is no reason why there cannot be democracy on other levels. There are fundamental forms of democratic sovereignty devolved to levels “beneath” the nation in lots of places in the world, as well as the supra-national but democratic institution of Europe. I see no necessary connection between democracy and the nation.

The other fallacy in the democracy-nation equation is the confusion between a people in the sense of ethnos and the people in the sense of demos. If the people of Ireland, or Lithuania, want to elect their own sovereign national parliaments, what right do you have to condemn them for it? But if “the people” of Ireland want to elect a parliament that excludes Ulster Protestants from access to citizenship, or “the people” of Lithuania want to elect a parliament that excludes ethnic Germans, ethnic Russians and Jews, what right would I have to condemn it?

The notion of “the people” in your formulation is the precise problem with the logic of nationalism. The John Lennon ethnic cleansing lyrics that Eamonn pointed us towards are instructive here: “You say you are the majority, but you’re not the majority in this emerald isle”. (That’s from memory; I’m writing this off-line and will check it later.) The nation-state is predicated on a homogenous nation (the “majority”) which always produces a “minority” who are not of the nation, unless that minority is cleansed in one way or another. And that minority, in the logic of the nation-state, then demands its own sovereignty, thus creating a new “minority”. This is why I have a problem accepting the premise of the two-state solution in Israel-Palestine.

Part of the reason for the left's disgraceful failure over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s was due to its hostility to the idea of new independent nation-states emerging. Hence, large sections of the left preferred to identify with the crumbling 'multinational' Yugoslav state and its murderous security forces, out of their hostility to the 'new' states of Croatia, Slovenia, etc.

This is an interesting and important point. I think that large sections of the left had a nostalgic and misguided idea of Tito’s “multinational” Yugoslavia, and this led them to support the Serbian nationalism which appeared to them in the guise of Yugoslav nationalism. But I am not sure that it was a generic hostility to new nations that motivated this part of the left. That part of the left, for example, has no problem with a Palestinian nation or a Kurdish nation.

bob said...

”More than ever, I believe, we require the political imagination to relegate the deadly age of the nation-state to the past.” Who is "we?"

The “we” I meant is all of us. Humans.

I realize that you are only a personal blogger, a diarist with a small audience ... BUT ... you have to be somewhat responsive to questioning. How can this goal (dream) of yours be accomplished? How? I want to know how it can be done.

The simple answer is I don’t know. But I don’t see why we should accept a world in which ethnic cleansing and communal violence is the rule rather than the exception.

But I think that in my post I pointed towards some of the small, incremental steps that could loosen – and indeed are loosening – the grip of the nation-state logic: 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 shift from the principle of blood (jus sanguinis) to that of birth (jus soli) in citizenship policies. I could add things like: the dissemination of the principle of the responsibility to protect, the constant flow of people globally along the circuits of the neo-liberal economy, the dissemination of the stories of distant suffering that provoke acts of human solidarity across borders (as in the Jubilee 2000 campaign for example, or the response in unaffected countries to the Asian tsunami). All of these are flawed, of course, but that does not make the fundamental premise of a cosmopolitan world flawed.

bob said...

Especially because movements or sentiments such as yours are found only within the intellectual classes of First World nations.

Nationalism too was born among the intellectual classes of the First World nations, and was disseminated via the intellectual classes everywhere. The communalist letting of blood in India is not the work of the rural peasants or the urban slum-dwellers; it is carried out by the middle classes under the leadership of Brahmins and bureaucrats. The ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia was conceived and executed by poets and Shakespeare scholars. In Bolivia, it is not the indigenous peasant majority who are invested in the idea of “Bolivia”; it is an idea that comes from the intellectual classes.

What harm is "Sweden" doing?

I am writing this off-line, but I remember that Sweden was a counter-example given in the debate at Z-Word, and Kellie Strom noted there that the history of Sweden is not perhaps as peaceful as the Anglophone imagination has it. Sweden is only “Sweden” by virtue of a history that involves territorial conquest, forcible assimilation and genocide. And “Sweden” is not so hospitable to those not of the Swedish nation. I’m thinking of the conspicuously exceptional Jews that Noga in her recent book post notes from her reading of the Millennium trilogy, as well as of Swedish-born people of Iranian, Chilean or Kurdish descent who are still called “immigrants” and “foreigners” even unto the third generation.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Sweden seems to be a place from which Jews who have resided there for many generations are being driven out while those termed "immigrants" are providing the
rationale for this ethnic cleansing. It's ironic that Sweden's hospitality towards its immigrants, which is probably as close as it is possible to the borderless world you seem to long for, is the very reason why Jews are forced to leave. Swedeish society appears to be helpless in trying to secure their Jews' well being. Those immigrants bring with them the kind of border-busting nationalism which Arendt was talking about in the quote I provided on our Z-word discussion.

Holland is also hospitable to immigrants, a place that has become dangerous for religious (that is, visibly-recognizable) Jews.

So what good is this kind of antidote to the "evil" of the nation-state you are advocating, when the very antidote turns into the poison that spreads through a body and kills parts of it?

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'The Jews were emancipated by the democratic nation-state, but only able to enjoy full and equal citizenship to the extent they gave up their collective identification as Jews. They were emancipated as individuals and not as a collective.'

But this isn't true; Jews haven't been forced to give up their collective identification as Jews as the price of emancipation as equal citizens within the nation-state. Nobody prevents a French Jew from being both French and Jewish, or an American Jew from being both American and Jewish.

You seem to want to have it both ways: either nationalism is wrong for excluding Jews/minorities from the nation, or it is wrong for including them within the nation, thereby depriving them of their own separate identities.

Yet while condemning the nation-state for supposedly depriving Jews of their collective identity, you nevertheless dream of a world without nations, in which everybody would be deprived of their collective identities. Surely this is contradictory ?

bob said...

Marko, while condemning the nation-state for supposedly depriving Jews of their collective identity, you nevertheless dream of a world without nations, in which everybody would be deprived of their collective identities. Surely this is contradictory ? No. I don't want people to be deprived of their collective identities. First, national identities aren't the only collective identities people have. (I see Jewishness as an ethnic identity, but not a national one.) Second, it is not the national identity I have a problem with (hence being OK about patriotism); it is the national state.

On the terms of the emancipation contract: in France and central Europe, Jews were emancipated to the extent that they relegated their Jewishness to the private sphere of faith. The national culture was deemed to be universal, and public deviations from it (e.g. "ostentatious signs of religion") have been proscribed.

The American model was an exception, as America has been relatively free of the ethnic conception that underlies the European nation-state. The American civic model is more like what I would like Europe and indeed the world to approach. (I think, thankfully, that Britain is nearer that than most European countries, which is a good thing.)

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'in many postcolonial states the tyranny of the conquerors was only replaced by new forms of tyranny from oppressors closer to home.'

In many, but by no means in all. Would you really suggest that the Irish and Poles are no better off today as independent nation-states than they were when under British/Russian/German rule ?

'There are fundamental forms of democratic sovereignty devolved to levels “beneath” the nation in lots of places in the world, as well as the supra-national but democratic institution of Europe. I see no necessary connection between democracy and the nation.'

It is true that there are levels of democracy 'beneath' the nation, and possibly even 'above' (though the latter is a moot point, given that the EU isn't very democratic). But the point is, that there is no democracy without the nation. In other words, a democratic nation-state must have democratic regional or local authorities. But you can't have democratic regional and local authorities without also having a democratic nation-state.

'The nation-state is predicated on a homogenous nation (the “majority”) which always produces a “minority” who are not of the nation, unless that minority is cleansed in one way or another. And that minority, in the logic of the nation-state, then demands its own sovereignty, thus creating a new “minority”.'

It may be historically true that the establishment of nation-states has tended to involved this. But today, nation-states exist in which all minorities are able to participate in the nationhood: e.g., the US.

'That part of the left, for example, has no problem with a Palestinian nation or a Kurdish nation.'

I suspect that if the Palestinians and Kurds had been attempting to liberate themselves from a 'multinational' and 'socialist' federation on the Yugoslav/Soviet model, instead of from rule by US allies such as Israel and Turkey, the left would have been rather less sympathetic to their struggles for nation-statehood.

bob said...

Noga, I don't think the resurgent antisemitism in Sweden is just down to the "immigrants". First, the problem is not immigration as such; it is a specific political culture among some groups of Muslim immigrants. Second, antisemitism in Swedish society is not restricted to them; other forms of antisemitism remain prevalent there. Same in Holland.

bob said...

Marko, 'in many postcolonial states the tyranny of the conquerors was only replaced by new forms of tyranny from oppressors closer to home.'

In many, but by no means in all. Would you really suggest that the Irish and Poles are no better off today as independent nation-states than they were when under British/Russian/German rule?


Of course not, but the difference -or the really important difference at any rate - is not the national self-determination, but the democracy.

bob said...

Marko,
a democratic nation-state must have democratic regional or local authorities. But you can't have democratic regional and local authorities without also having a democratic nation-state.

Why not? Why couldn't you have a sovereign city-state? A sovereign federation of regions? A sovereign multiethnic state?

bob said...

It may be historically true that the establishment of nation-states has tended to involved this. But today, nation-states exist in which all minorities are able to participate in the nationhood: e.g., the US.

Maybe. But in a world where all states were like the US in this regard, there would be no nation-states as we know them. If all states, that is, had membership based loyalty to a particular set of rights and responsibilities that were not marked by ethnic inheritance, then there'd really be no such thing as nationalism in Orwell's sense.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"First, the problem is not immigration as such; it is a specific political culture among some groups of Muslim immigrants."

Well yes. I was reluctant to name names for fear of being tagged "Islamophobic" but I agree with you. But most immigrants to Sweden have been from Islamic countries. We don't see immigrants from Holland or India or China persecuting Jewish Swedes. There would be no problem with "immigrants" if their majority came from such non-Islamic countries. So Immigration, then, in and of itself is not the problem, not for genuinely democratic nations. It becomes a problem when it interferes violently with the democratic harmony of a country.

It might be worthwhile to try and apply Arendt's insight into the nature of Nazi nationalism and its internationalist aspirations and reach to the kind of worldview Muslim immigrants bring with them, that causes such friction and violence.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"econd, antisemitism in Swedish society is not restricted to them; other forms of antisemitism remain prevalent there. Same in Holland."

Indigenous Swedish antisemitism which I agree persists in weakened form and stimulated by anti-Israel animus, however, is not the motivating force behind the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Sweden. It's not that the Swedish authorities do not protect their Jewish citizens. It's because life as it is has reached such a level of stress and danger that many Jews are forced to leave their homes.

In the novel I read, "The girl with the dragon tattoo" there is a recognition of this kind of prejudice and simmering, though sporadic, ill-feeling but also that the Jews are not really in any danger from it. The Nazi-like characters are treated as relics from the past and not one word is mentioned about Jewish distress from Islamic antisemitism. There are no Muslim characters, either, which I find odd. If you read or watched the Wallander stories you get the impression that Muslim Swedes are everywhere.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'Of course not, but the difference -or the really important difference at any rate - is not the national self-determination, but the democracy.'

I grant you that many independent nation-states that lack democracy are as oppressive to their own citizens as earlier colonial rulers were to them - or even worse.

On the other hand, once you do have democracy, then a nation that has previously lacked self-determination will want, at the very least, to have national autonomy, and very likely full independence.

Where you have democracy without national self-determination for a group that wants it, then the democracy generally doesn't work very well, and the group in question may still feel discontented - e.g. Northern Irish Catholics, Turkish Kurds.

'Why couldn't you have a sovereign city-state? A sovereign federation of regions? A sovereign multiethnic state?'

The question then arises, of whether these would not anyway constitute nations, and if not, whether they would be viable. Is a sovereign city-state not just a small nation, and if not, what's the difference ?

But a sovereign federation of regions, or sovereign multiethnic state, would probably not be viable if it were not also a nation-state. Those that are not - the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia - have tended to collapse.

Of course, there are states such as the UK, Spain and Belgium that arguably share the characteristics of both nation-states and multinational states. But I wonder whether, and how successfully, these are going to survive in the long-run ?

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'But in a world where all states were like the US in this regard, there would be no nation-states as we know them. If all states, that is, had membership based loyalty to a particular set of rights and responsibilities that were not marked by ethnic inheritance, then there'd really be no such thing as nationalism in Orwell's sense.'

I don't know; a lot of Americans seem to be pretty nationalistic.

bob said...

CC, re your second comment here. Yes, you're probably right, although I hesitate to sound off, having never been to Sweden and knowing it primarily via crime fiction! Btw, I presume you already know about his politics: http://www.searchlightmagazine.com/index.php?link=template&story=118

It's odd that Swedish detective writers all seem to be political activists too, what with Henning Mankell on the flotilla, and the Communists Sjöwall and Wahlöö. ("Per Wahlöö described their goals for the series as to "use the crime novel as a scalpel cutting open the belly of the ideologically pauperized and morally debatable so-called welfare state of the bourgeois type." - possibly apocryphal quote.)

Marko Attila Hoare said...

There's also, of course, the question of whether it isn't reasonable to expect a minority to integrate, to some extent, with the nation as a whole, and how this is to be reconciled with the reasonable desire of a minority to retain its own collective identity.

So how do you reconcile the integration of Muslim Arabs, or Jews, into the French nation and society as a whole, with protecting their separate identities ?

Surely neither complete assimilation and loss of group identity, tradition and culture on the one hand, nor complete multiculturalist separation involving sharia law and segregated schools etc. on the other, is ideal ?

Thorny questions, indeed...

bob said...

Marko,

On my city-state and US counter-example suggestions: So, if any geographical unit that has sovereignty is a nation? If this is the case, what's the difference from the Hapsburg empire? Maybe my terms are inadequate and I need to find a better way of saying what I'm getting at, but there seems to me something qualitatively different about a state where membership and sovereignty are based solely on territorial residence and one where it is based on some principle of descent.

America had none of the qualifications of a "nation" until after independence. The nationalism that grew up there (beyond Orwellian patriotism) is based largely on civic ideals and not on any principle of descent. Of course, there have been strong nativist currents in America that have tried to make it more like a European nation-state, but there is a different basic model of the nation in the US that resists this to some extent.

Where you have democracy without national self-determination for a group that wants it, then the democracy generally doesn't work very well, and the group in question may still feel discontented - e.g. Northern Irish Catholics, Turkish Kurds.

But there are plenty of examples, I think, where democracy muddles along OK without national self-determination. How much difference does union, devolution or independence really make to most Scottish people? Catalans militate for greater autonomy, but once democracy was established, basically their oppression hasn't been that great, and it was clearly Franco's fascism that oppressed them not being part of Spain.

The conflicts, it seems to me, are caused by the nationalist movements, and it is them we need to get rid of rather than giving them their own states to mess up.

Are we to support the right to national self-determination of every group that feels discontented? If Catalunya seceded from Spain, what would stop the people of Barcelona (most of whom aren't Catalan) from demanding their national rights? And then once Barcelona secedes, what stops Gràcia from declaring itself a nation, etc etc. The whole logic, it seems to me, is fucked up.

And there is no objective criteria for nationhood anyway, so all of these claims for national self-determination are arbitrary at some level.

bob said...

Constantly at least one comment behind, which is better than most of the last weak when I've been several days' worth behind...

On integration, yes, that question is very thorny! I think about it probably more than any other, and I'm not even close to really knowing what I think.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Here is a timely article by Bennett Ramberg:

"Given the consequences of troubled unions, why not voluntary separation? Consider the fatal costs of civil wars to retain national unions: Biafra, 1 million or more. Chechnya, 200,000. Yugoslavia, 260,000. Kashmir, 60,000. Sri Lanka, 70,000 and so on. Can anything justify such consquences?

Like all divorce, state break ups generate downsides such as the loss of common infrastructure — ports, water works, power plants and roads. Enormous compensatory costs follow. But like a bad marriage, the economic benefits of state togetherness cannot compensate for the emotional pains and/or abuse and, too often, civil bloodshed.

A look at several lesser known state separations illustrates the benefits of letting go."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/worldview/110106/africa-south-sudan-independence

Eamonn said...

“Catalans militate for greater autonomy, but once democracy was established, basically their oppression hasn't been that great, and it was clearly Franco's fascism that oppressed them not being part of Spain.”
I don’t think objective measures of oppression are that relevant for this kind of question. A considerable number (maybe not a majority) of residents of Catalonia *feel* that their right - as they would see it - to self-determination is denied to them by Spain. They also continue to *feel* that their language is repressed/not given the respect it deserves by Spain. Whether they are justified in these feeling is beside the point, they constitute political facts. Telling them that the Palestinians or the Chechens have it much rougher doesn’t really address that point.

As regards the “If Catalonia, why not Barcelona?” point: Nobody on the pro-nation-state-for-lack-of-anything-better side of the debate has said that it solves everything or that everything is going to work out to everyone’s satisfaction.

bob said...

CC - That looks interesting. I'll have to read it. Worth noting that Biafra, Chechnya, Yugoslavia, Kashmir, and Sri Lanka are not just wars to maintain unions; viewed from the other side they are wars for secession, for "national self-determination".

Eamonn - Yes. But mightn't it also a political fact that, say, a large proportion of British people would like to expel Muslims from these islands, or that some Swedes still see Norway as an integral part of the Swedish nation. (I don't know if that's true - just speaking hypothetically.) Why should we do something with one of the political facts, but not the others? That is, you cannot satisfy everyone's demands for national self-determination, because the demands are fundamentally, absolutely incompatible with each other.

This is why I see the whole logic as fucked, not just the particular settlement here and there.

Nobody on the pro-nation-state-for-lack-of-anything-better side of the debate has said that it solves everything or that everything is going to work out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Again, yes but. I never said that the abolition of nation-states solved everything, but the response to my argument is to say it is impractical, utopian, etc, and that I need to put up with loathsome compromises. Why can't I put that argument back to you guys? Again, it is not that the nation-state creates problems here and there which we'll have to live with. It is that the nation-state, again and again, as the norm and not the exception, generates ethnic cleansing.

Also, apologies for getting flippant about Catalunya.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

Bob,

'So, if any geographical unit that has sovereignty is a nation? If this is the case, what's the difference from the Hapsburg empire?'

I think the test is whether the citizens of the geographic unit in question feel themselves to constitute a nation or not. And if they want to be sovereign, as opposed to wanting to join or remain under some other entity, then they are definitely a nation. So, historically many city states were not nations, hence have not survived as separate entities. But Monaco and Singapore are both city-states and nations.

With regard to entities like the Habsburg Empire and Yugoslavia, the proof of the pudding was that as soon as they got the chance, the subject peoples opted to break away. Had a Habsburg or Yugoslav nation existed, the states would not have fallen apart.

I entirely agree with you that any sense of nationhood based on descent is inherently problematic and at some level objectionable. But I don't think you can equate this model with nationhood in general. The US and French models are based on citizenship. I would argue that the solution lies in universalising the principle of civic nationhood and rejecting the principle of ethnic nationhood - rather than rejecting nation-statehood altogether.

'The conflicts, it seems to me, are caused by the nationalist movements, and it is them we need to get rid of rather than giving them their own states to mess up.'

I think you're very wrong here - you're effectively aligning yourself with the dominant, unitary Spanish nationalism against the subordinate Catalan nation.

National movements don't come about because nationalists want to be difficult. The only way you could 'get rid' of Scottish or Catalan national movements would be for Scots or Catalans to stop feeling themselves Scots or Catalans and/or start feeling content with rule from London and Madrid.

So long as a group of people feels itself to constitute a nation and feels itself unrepresented or oppressed by an alien, foreign state, the only option for progressive politics is to support their right to self-determination.

'If Catalunya seceded from Spain, what would stop the people of Barcelona (most of whom aren't Catalan) from demanding their national rights? And then once Barcelona secedes, what stops Gràcia from declaring itself a nation, etc etc'

It's true that the problem of minorities stuck on the wrong side of the border will always be a problem. But you can't, for example, deny Ireland the right to exist as a nation because some Anglo-Irish in Dublin preferred the union, or deny Latvia self-determination because some of the Russian minority preferred the USSR.

As a rule of thumb, I would favour the subordinate nations over the dominant nations in resolving territorial disputes. So no, if Catalonia secedes, I would not respect the right of Barcelona to remain in Spain. Otherwise, dominant imperial nations could wreck every attempt of their subject peoples to seek freedom, by dismembering them territorially. Which is what often happens.

bob said...

Just read the Bennett Ramberg article. Interesting - and interesting that Sweden pops up!

I guess that I agree that there is a kind of basic justice involved in South Sudan's independence from Khartoum, Kosovo's independence from Serbia, Western Sahara's independence from Morocco and Tamil Eelam's separation from Sri Lanka. Possibly, my sympathy for these causes contradicts my one-state position, and therefore I must be right about one and wrong about the other. These are all fairly extreme situations, however, were there is more than just lack of national self-determination at stake; there are also more fundamental forms of oppression, including some that are or are close to genocidal, and the separation is a kind of medical necessity to halt the bleeding. Possibly Is-Pal falls into a similar category. I'll continue thinking!

bob said...

Possibly relevant: http://www.policy-network.net/articles/3939/The-cosmopolitanism-of-the-left-%E2%80%93-An-answer-to-globalisation

bob said...

Marko, The only way you could 'get rid' of Scottish or Catalan national movements would be for Scots or Catalans to stop feeling themselves Scots or Catalans and/or start feeling content with rule from London and Madrid.

This goes back to my point about different sorts of collective identity. I have absolutely no problem with Scots and Catalans feeling Scots or Catalan; in fact, as with biodiversity, the more different identities the better in my book. But it seems a huge and utterly unnecessary leap from this feeling to (a) the idea that the collective identity has a "self" a collective subjecthood sufficiently unitary to "determine" itself, and (b) that the correct form for the representation and "determination" of that "self" is statehood. That is, in the absence of oppression, cannot people of different collective identities share a space?

So long as a group of people feels itself to constitute a nation and feels itself unrepresented or oppressed by an alien, foreign state, the only option for progressive politics is to support their right to self-determination.

I think there is big difference between being oppressed (e.g. excluded from citizenship or from active citizenship, having your language repressed, being treated as second class citizens) and feeling "unrepresented". If there is a functioning democracy and an ethos of inclusiveness, I see no reason why a bunch of people sharing a collective identity need to secede in order to feel "represented".

Marko Attila Hoare said...

Bob,

'But it seems a huge and utterly unnecessary leap from this feeling to (a) the idea that the collective identity has a "self" a collective subjecthood sufficiently unitary to "determine" itself, and (b) that the correct form for the representation and "determination" of that "self" is statehood. That is, in the absence of oppression, cannot people of different collective identities share a space?'

Maybe, but that's up to them (Scots, Catalans, etc.) to decide. It's not about what's objectively 'necessary'; it's about what they feel is right for them.

'If there is a functioning democracy and an ethos of inclusiveness, I see no reason why a bunch of people sharing a collective identity need to secede in order to feel "represented".'

Maybe you don't, but again, it isn't about what you or I consider is objectively 'needed', it's about what the groups in question feel is right for them. If other people get to decide on our behalf what is 'necessary' for us, what's left of democracy ?

Surely, the democratic position should be: if they want to remain in the union - fine. If they want to secede - also fine.

bob said...

'The conflicts, it seems to me, are caused by the nationalist movements, and it is them we need to get rid of rather than giving them their own states to mess up.'

I think you're very wrong here - you're effectively aligning yourself with the dominant, unitary Spanish nationalism against the subordinate Catalan nation.


To clarify, I didn't mean it is the fault of the subordinate nationalist movements (or only them). It is also the fault of the dominant/irredentist/revanchist nationalisms too, if not more.

bob said...

Surely, the democratic position should be: if they want to remain in the union - fine. If they want to secede - also fine.

I don't think that believing in democracy means we should be contented with the outcomes of democratic decision-making. Would we say, "if an electorate wants to exterminate the Jews - fine". I wouldn't seek the United Nations to impose some ideal solution every time the will of the people went the wrong way, necessarily, but I think the "progressive" or democratic position would be to oppose all forms of nationalism, to promote the idea that collective identity does not require statehood for it to be fulfilled, to offer concrete solidarity to minorities, to democratically win the will of the people over to a cosmopolitan solution rather than a nation-statist one.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'Would we say, "if an electorate wants to exterminate the Jews - fine".'

Rather a strange parallel to draw, since electorates never have voted for genocide. Particularly difficult to imagine this happening in mature democratic societies like Scotland or Catalonia.

There may be extreme cases where the democratically expressed will of the majority should be overridden. But for the Scots or Catalans to want exactly the same national rights as are currently enjoyed by the French, Swedes, Dutch, Poles, etc. hardly strikes me as such a case.

'I think the "progressive" or democratic position would be to oppose all forms of nationalism, to promote the idea that collective identity does not require statehood for it to be fulfilled, to offer concrete solidarity to minorities, to democratically win the will of the people over to a cosmopolitan solution rather than a nation-statist one.'

All well and good, but as Jogo rightly said, the idea that nation states are going to disappear is a utopian one, like the idea that capitalism is going to be replaced by socialism. So you are asking nations that do not enjoy national independence to abandon their quest for such independence in favour of a utopian dream.

This is a bit like saying that, because it would be better if religion disappeared and all people became atheists, then we should not champion the right of minorities to religious freedom.

bob said...

'Would we say, "if an electorate wants to exterminate the Jews - fine".' Rather a strange parallel to draw, since electorates never have voted for genocide. Particularly difficult to imagine this happening in mature democratic societies like Scotland or Catalonia.

You're right, no one has ever voted for genocide, although many ethnic cleansers have had mandates in free and fair elections (not least Hitler, not to mention Milošević).

But my point is simply that the will of the people is not always "fine". The nation-state conflates the demos and ethnos in a way that undermines democracy, and always gives an ethnic "majority" the power to withhold rights from minorities.

ou are asking nations that do not enjoy national independence to abandon their quest for such independence in favour of a utopian dream.

This is a bit like saying that, because it would be better if religion disappeared and all people became atheists, then we should not champion the right of minorities to religious freedom.


This is a good point, and I know that the utopian nature of my position is a weakness. But your analogy is flawed for three reasons.

First, it is perfectly possible to defend a religion's freedom of belief without endorsing its theology - I similarly support the linguistic, cultural and civil rights of minorities, while not endorsing their nationalist ideology, or even necessarily accepting that they count as a nation.

Second, the entity that is doing the oppressing of such nations is in general a version of nationalism too, so I am not just opposing the Catalans' "self-determination"; I am opposing the Castillians' too.

Third, I see religion as potentially either malign or benign, whereas I see nationalism as such as malign, so I don't accept the parallel for that reason either.

Marko Attila Hoare said...

'First, it is perfectly possible to defend a religion's freedom of belief without endorsing its theology'

Equally, it is possible to support a nation's right to self-determination without endorsing its nationalist ideology.

'I am not just opposing the Catalans' "self-determination"; I am opposing the Castillians' too.'

But since the Castilians' self-determination is safe and secure whereas the Catalans' is not, that hardly counts as being even-handed.

Cf Anatole France: 'The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.'

To all intents and purposes, you are aligning yourself with the dominant, unitary Spanish/Castilian nationalism against the national movement of the subordinate, unfree Catalans.