Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 10:31:41 AM EST
This little diary takes its point of departure from DoDo's previous discussions of the concept of a "nation", and that it is more particularly an abstraction, a construct which cannot be said to have any "objective" existence.
Here's a quote from DoDo, drawn from a thread:
"No, objective nonexistence means I can't live in them, I just live among people who believe they exist :-) Upon checking I see I discussed my views on this subject months before your arrival (in my apatriot diaries and poemless's and others' what-is-Europe diaries, if you can be bored to dig up some overlong discussions :-) ). But I note that your point, especially given the apt collusion to religions, would be even enhanced if nations are only personal beliefs.
That was a reply to a comment of mine in which I tried to defend "nations" as things which are real--perhaps even objectively real.
I'm now ready to agree, I think, that DoDo's point is correct--that "nations" are, indeed, abstract concepts, social constructs, which have no objective existence apart from the abstraction.
That said, I don't think that this can sum up the need for or the importance of "nation" even if it is "merely" a socially constructed abstraction, and one which cannot be precisely defined for that very reason.
There are other things which also have no objective existence; they are, similarly, socially-constructed abstractions. But even so, their practical importance for us can be and often is immense, if not in theory absolutely indispensable. "Justice", too, has no objective existence. It's a socially-constructed abstraction similiar in character, I believe, to "nation". I would not like to try and live without or in denial of the abstract concept of "justice" even if I must admit that it doesn't objectively exist -- or that even subjectively it often doesn't exist. We might even argue that it is exceedingly rare.
But we very much need this abstract-only social construct, I believe.
Nations have not always existed, and so, it follows that they cannot be said to be an essential element of human existence. Before there were nations, there were feudal city-states, before these, feudal domains, towns, tribes, and, ultimately, families of some sort.
They might have been monogamous or polygamous families, or communal families in which no firm possession of wives or children is recognized. I am far from even passingly acquainted with the history and sociology of early human society or pre-human primate society, though I do suspect that a very great deal of important information on this topic is to be found in them and in anthropology, of course.
More especially, I am concerned that however desirable an ideal it may be, the dream of a nationless world, one in which all are part of a humanity which recognizes no national identity, is one for which a huge proportion of people are not at all ready even if many or most of us here are ready for it and do hope for it.
I am concerned about the relative necessity of the idea of "nation" as a locus in which another idea I cherish, "democracy", can thrive. Before there were Greek city-states, as a minimum of political order, the world, as far as I am aware, did not know "democratic" societies. Since that time, humanity has lived in feudal societies of towns, regions or nations; in monarchies; and, later, in republics of a more or less democratic nature, though, to be sure, republics in which the scope of liberty varied wildly not only between their several examples, but also varied wildly within the same republic.
There is an important concept which Karl Popper discusses--I don't know if it's his invention or if he borrowed it from another--called "the strain of civilization."
When Plato's ancestors opposed the rise of democratic Athens under Pericles, they were manifesting an example of what Popper means by the "strain of civilization." So, too, when DoDo longs for relief from the constraints and the backwardness of much that is directly part of nationalism, this can be understood as a manifestation of the strain of civilization at work.
It has, as always, part and counterpart. The counterpart to DoDo's feelings about nations are seen in the beliefs and behavior of its opposites--nationalists of rather intense convictions. When skin-heads assemble to vent their nationalist passions, it is because they feel as much or more attachment to the concept of nation as DoDo feels the desire to be done with it. These nationalists cannot, I believe, conceive of themselves as other than identified, body and mind, with their "nation"--though that does not exist objectively.
In its effects on us, however, this subjective construction is tremendously real and important. The effects are both positive and negative.
Humanity has passed eons in the course of its earliest existence in primitive tribal groups, up to the present-day collection of nation-states. There are, of course, still tribes of the classic type in the remaining so-called "under-developed" or "uncivilized" parts of the world; moreover, much of what goes on in even the most technologically-sophisticated and advanced of present-day nations is in every sense "tribal" behavior with direct parallels to practices in present-day primitive tribes which vary only in superficial aspects.
I suspect that he chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, meeting with the other members of the board's interest-rate group, to set the Federal Reserve Bank's discount rate has nothing essential about it which an African or South American tribal shaman should find alien. That is very much like a shaman practicing a tribal ritual. The elements are similar or the same.
Psychologically, many of us are not terribly different from the members of primitive tribal societies; the U.S. in many ways resembles a very wealthy, very heavily-armed tribe of superstitious and primitive people.
This not-objectively real thing called a nation brings with it much in grief and social problems; but it also provides an idea around which some positive human political behavior can coalesce. One part of that political behavior is the striving for the also not-objectively-real ideal of democracy.
Democracy is something that has been practiced even in the best of times and in the best of conditions, only very, very partially and imperfectly within the framework of the world of nations.
How much more daunting, then, it would be to successfully practice it as one, undivided and nationally indistinguishable tribe of humanity. That is something which I believe remains in the realm of the ideal. We are still very far from having developed sufficient knowledge and skill in the art of democratic governance to have clear and dependable plans on exactly how a one-world, no-nation democratic society can actually operate in practice.
Until then, I believe that the nation is something that, though not objectively real, is objectively important and must and should be defended by every one of us who values political freedom and its best expression so far, "democracy".