Wednesday, January 05, 2011

On the Need for an Anti-National Politic. A Short Reply to Norman Geras' Defense of National Sovereignty

A guest post by Schalom Libertad (http://contested-terrain.net)

In response to BobfromBrockley's post on "left ideas," where he identified national sovereignty as one of the "bad influences" on the left, Norman Geras comes to the defense of the nation-state writing:
Pending the discovery of some better way for groups of people to band together for mutual protection, the sharing of other social aims, resources and facilities, and the voluntary pursuit of common cultural ways, states based on national (or sometimes multi-national) collectivities are the best way we have.
What's amazing about this statement is its completely abstract character. As I wrote in a comment on Bob's post:
It would have been more honest to start with an observation of how national sovereignty fails to achieve any of those listed objectives. The incredible gulf between rich and poor of "the same nation" is only the most obvious example to look at to see [this] failure, but many more [examples] come to mind, say the incredible disproportion of poor, blacks, latinos and immigrants whose only opportunity for social advance is to put their lives at risk in service of the military.
The raw fact of inequality amongst those who "belong to the national collectivity" is completely overlooked, not to mention the affect on those who don't belong.

Why does Geras resort to a Rousseauian fable about the consensually "banding together" of people, who emerge out of the state of nature, to protect their collective interests? Not only do we know that the emergence of nation-states is one of conquest and domination, their contemporary existence, which we experience daily, continues to show its power. This is no secret, and certainly not to a university professor in the social sciences. So, it is a mystery why Geras chose to defend the nation-state on the grounds of abstract arguments divorced from the reality we all experience.

Objecting to Bob's criticism of the nation, Geras writes, "All that sovereignty requires is some reality to the idea of a community of individuals sharing a common territory." Apparently, the delimited aspect that necessarily determines this "community" and the power it determines over a geographic area in regards to the flow of people across nation-state borders (during the most mobile period in human history) is not of concern.

But besides from these points, it should be most striking that "the nation" is not only problematic in terms of its delimiting quality in relation to "the outsider", but also in its political trajectory. In the current global recession, when political leaders across all countries are slashing the remnants of the welfare state, and justifying these policies on the grounds of producing a state that is internationally competitive, we see that the propping up of "the national" today follows a terribly repressive course, in which the many are told to tighten their belts, because "we" are all in it together. The recent social protests against austerity measures in multiple European countries, measures that are done in the name of making a more competitive national state, shows that the national stands in the way of emancipation. What is needed is something that breaks with the nation-state, not something that reinforces it.



UPDATE: Norm replies here.

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