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"Nation", not a "real", but a _necessary_ construct ?

by proximity1 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.

  found here


 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".

Display:
My contention that that nations are only concepts is neither a we-are-all-humans view, nor a propagation of an un-substructured society.

Briefly, my contention is that "nations" are groups of real people for each individual, but which people are put in which nations and which group constitutes a nation or not, is different from individual to individual. The grouping idea can be footed in ideas of cultural or genetic relatedness, a common ideal or territory - it doesn't matter.

After bouts of genocides, ethnic cleansing, civil war, cultural assimilation or homogenisation, for some nations, the differences in individual views can be minor. For example, in France, it's in the views of some Corsican, Basque and Breton separatists, racist/xenophobic FN types, and a small minority of second-third-generation immigrants. In Germany, though the affected were a minority, divisions over whether citizenship should be genetic or birthplace-related divided the whole population. In Spain, already some larger-scale tensions persist (Catalan, Basque nations?), elsewhere, countries have recently fallen apart in less or more bloody ways over ideas of larger vs. smaller nations. Most recently, in a referendum a rather thin and questionably sampled 55.1% majority of Montenegrins thought they are a nation, while the rest thought they are a subset of the Serbian or Serbian-Montenegrin nation. History is also littered with some dead or half-dead nation ideas, including pan-Slavism and pan-Arabism, and some new ones may be on the ascendancy, including "Padania" for Northern Italy.

Now, what about democracy? Methinks the above examples of separatism and brutal ways to establish near-unity on the idea of one nation point to the fact that this is one (or after democracy's self-abolishment, another) instance of an inherent problem in the classical Enlightement worldview. Enlightement replaced the sovereignity of the King with the sovereignity of the People. The problem was that the King was the definer of the People (and also the Land), and now any group of people could get the idea that another group opresses them and that they should constitute the polity, they need self-government. The repercussions started already before the French Revolution, and the process still didn't stop.

I think only a notion of federalism can make this manageable. When there is a recognition of multiple levels of democratic units, best not even in a strictly hierarchic order (think of the difference between the Schengen Area and the Eurozone), it will be more likely that each individual's ideas of community will more or less map to some democratic unit.

For more detail on my views, you can first read my two diaries in my broken-off apatriot series: the one starting off with My Expat Relatives, and the one on feeling Homesick.

Then there were the diaries on the what-is-Europe question: a centre of Europe discussion that set it all off; poemless's What is Europe Anyway? ...with poll!. Finally, ManfromMiddletown's thread  Self-Determination: Democracy's bastard child, in which I go fully explicit on the issue, and which already by its title directly connects to your diary.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 11:56:05 AM EST
Briefly

Heh, it didn't end up that brief in the end... anyway.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 11:56:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
now any group of people could get the idea that another group opresses them and that they

...and some of their neighbours (who might or might not agree)...

should constitute the polity, they need self-government.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 12:42:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 Understood.  I can't deny that, nor the part of nationalist sentiment in it.  True.

 But without the feudal lord, or the Republic, who is going to defend democratic interests from those with the force of arms and the readiness to use them against others in other nations?

 This doesn't, of course, respond to the matter of eliminating intra-national strife, that is true.  And, similarly, neither does any conceivable construction of socio-political organization whether of a national or lesser order or a non-governmental voluntary association of interests.

 

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 12:51:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This doesn't, of course, respond to the matter of eliminating intra-national strife, that is true.

I see I still couldn't make you understand the basic concept here: it's not intra-national strife I am speaking about, but strife between adherents of different national concepts.

Montenegrin separatists in rest-Yugoslavia and then Serbia-Montenegro thought Montenegrins are a nation and should get their own country, while a sizable minority of whom the separatists think are this nation - which is actually a majority if we include citizens working outside Montenegro - would have been fine with the previous nation.

Many if not most Kurds think they should be a nation, but for example most Turks think Turkey should be a nation, and there was even the idea that Kurds in Turkey are "mountain Turks" (which didn't exactly work out with the affected).

In today's Romania, the Székelys used to be an independent nobility-nation (along with the Hungarian feudal aristocracy and the Saxon city patricians) in semi-independent Transsylvania, were considered part of the Hungarian nation in Austria-Hungary, later in Romania at times were considered a part of the Romanian nation who adopted Hungarian language, and themselves today can adhere to all three or a mix of any two or three nation concepts.

I didn't mention any ethnic cleansings yet.

The problem of armed threat to a democratic polity you ask about is thus more basic and pre-existing. It already takes stage during the constitution of democratic polities.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 01:26:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 Well, damn it, I'm just a damned hard student to teach! That's all!  You got to keep whacking me over the head with the point.  At last, (sometimes) it gets through to me.

 Less able teachers than you have found some modest success with me.  I urge you not to give up too soon.

 ;^)

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 02:04:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry if I appeared condescending - I do that too often lately; in this case, I appeal to wrong choice of words. I should have used the word "communicating".

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 02:32:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 from DoDo's posts,


I think only a notion of federalism can make this manageable. When there is a recognition of multiple levels of democratic units, best not even in a strictly hierarchic order (think of the difference between the Schengen Area and the Eurozone), it will be more likely that each individual's ideas of community will more or less map to some democratic unit.

 Federalism?  Doesn't that (usually) imply nations?
And, when it depends on something other than nations, how, what and why are these other non-nation entities determined, defined, and "operated"--through institutions, I expect to hear, and, one must hope, through democratic institutions.

 But if they're not "democratic", and, if, worse, they become overtly oppressive--that oppression can happen not only via what these entities prohibit other people from doing but also by what these entities in their practices may selectively grant or deny to others.  By that, I mean that they may have tremendous economic or other power--non-military power--which they can wield oppressively.

  If and when that occurs, to whom or to what do those who are oppressed apply for relief?  Other countervailing non-state entities?  Even supposing these exist, how would they, if peaceful negotiations failed, be able to require the oppressing entity or entities to cease the acts (or omissions) which constituted the oppression?

  Your view also leaves out of consideration that there are entities which people recognize as nations and that these can and do enjoy their "national's" loyalties--to the point of the nation's being capable of raising armies and deploying them against others.

 As long as that is the case, how are we to resist and prevent the unjustified coersion of some of the nations except through the forces--when push comes to shove--of other nations?


For more detail on my views, you can first read my two diaries in my broken-off apatriot series: the one starting off with My Expat Relatives, and the one on feeling Homesick.

 In fact, I read both diaries and most of the comments in the one on feeling Homesick; I have to admit that they didn't correspond much, as I can see it, to the points I'm trying to discuss here.  Though maybe there's a greater relevance and I've just not seen it.


Then there were the diaries on the what-is-Europe question: a centre of Europe discussion that set it all off; poemless's What is Europe Anyway? ...with poll!. Finally, ManfromMiddletown's thread  Self-Determination: Democracy's bastard child, in which I go fully explicit on the issue, and which already by its title directly connects to your diary.

Okay.  I'll look at those.  Thanks.

 Somehow, I get the feeling that we're talking past each other and I'm not sure why that is; we're each perhaps talking about--or trying to talk about something different.


"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 12:35:31 PM EST
Federalism?  Doesn't that (usually) imply nations?

I'm not sure what you mean. Germany is a federal republic that is usually considered the home of one nation (though some Bavarians or Saxons might feel differently). The EU hopefully develops towards a federal entity that consists of two-three dozen countries and as many nation ideas. I'm not sure how the Confederate side in the US Civil War interpreted 'nation' (e.g. each state's non-slave population is one, the Confederation is one).

The point, however, was not an outright abolishment of the notions of both the "state" and the "nation". The point is a system in which both those who count themselves into the nation of "the inhabitants of Spain" and those who count themselves in the nation of "speakers of the Catalonian language" can feel they have a democratic unit, be it called a state or a country or region or whatever.

one must hope, through democratic institutions.

I said explicitly so.

Your view also leaves out of consideration that there are entities which people recognize as nations

Nope, I explicitly included that.

Somehow, I get the feeling that we're talking past each other and I'm not sure why that is; we're each perhaps talking about--or trying to talk about something different.

I think the misunderstanding goes only in one way. I am probably trying to communicate concepts to you that are more apparent to those living in areas where the geographical shifting, transformation, separation and unification of 'nations', and the denial of membership  or inclusion against their will in one 'nation' hit a lot of people in fairly recent times (the last 90-60-15 years), thus the nation=state=democratic-polity equation is not as easily made as in France or the USA.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 01:08:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]

The point, however, was not an outright abolishment of the notions of both the "state" and the "nation". The point is a system in which both those who count themselves into the nation of "the inhabitants of Spain" and those who count themselves in the nation of "speakers of the Catalonian language" can feel they have a democratic unit, be it called a state or a country or region or whatever.

 That considerably clarifies your view for me.

  There's a lot on which we agree.  And I'm quite prepared to accept that the misunderstanding may be all on my part.

   You see that much harm has come about from the way in which many varied people think about the notion of their national identity--as a group who share

 a language, or a locale, or a history, or an ancestry, or a set of cultural habits, or a religion, or any combination of all of these.

And I agree with that.  Various and conflicting notions about one or more aspects of people's shared group identities do indeed often lead to strife.  One of the prime components in that conflictual process is the view  that others living in proximity to them are not and cannot be members of the "community" by which they define themselves and which they hold as most important.

  In my opinion, the trouble is less with ideas of identity and how groups define themselves as sharing identities and more one of which self-concept is paramount for them.  

 People who recognize themselves as Catalan by whatever set criteria may or may not see any questions of conflict or division with their also being resident of Spain.

 The trouble enters where people convince themselves of such exclusionary ideas as,

 "I am Catalan, not Spanish; and I cannot be "Spanish" nor do I wish to be in the sense of living "there".  For me, this place is Catalan and only Catalan.  And anyone who claims otherwise, I'll fight!"

  I agree--such thinking is a source of great trouble, wherever and however it is found.  I think it's found less in places where the primary unifying identity is one of shared belief in a humanist-based and universal ideal, an ideal which holds primary place in people's view of who they are and what they belong to and who may also be members.

  For nationalists of the traditional type, there can be no substitutes for soil-based and blood-based group identity; and for these people, any efforts to introduce more universal and just concepts instead of soil and blood shall provoke reactions of the sort which I described as being part of what Popper calls the strain of civilization.

  In that sense, the conflicts can be seen as a sort of "growing pains".

 I previously had the impression that you had some hopes of loosing entirely the bonds of anything that resembles the idea of a nation.  I see that I was mistaken to think so.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 01:56:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, yes, we understand each other now :-)

I would contest one point in your post:

I think it's found less in places where the primary unifying identity is one of shared belief in a humanist-based and universal ideal, an ideal which holds primary place in people's view of who they are and what they belong to and who may also be members.

I don't think so - I think major examples of these have been (1) expansionist, (2) assimilationist in the past.

I think on one hand of the United States: expansion to the West, war with Mexico, Civil War, war with Spain, culture adoption pressure on immigrants, suburbanisation were major steps in spreading and solidifying that humanist-based and universal ideal-based notion of nation.

I also think of France: in France, essentially Ile-de-France 'assimilated' the rest. It began with conquest and centralisation in royal times, first former Lotharingian areas, then other regions of the border region with Germanity (and later all of Europe under Napoleon). It continued with further centralisation, general education, language normalisation with the French Revolution (which was mostly a Paris Revolution), at times crushing resistance rather bloodily (Vendée).

And I also think of China. The assimilation policies we now see in Tibet are at least two millennia old, and conscious from the start. The very first incarnations of the Chinese Empire saw themselves as a force civilising the barbarians, a creator of peace justice and order, first by getting their elite adopt Chinese culture, then by getting them to allow in settlers from China proper who slowly outnumber and mix with them, finally dissolving the neighbor with lost identity into the empire. The 'Han ethnic' is actually a great mix of the population of a lot of formerly  independent state(let)s, and official Chinese history tends to both uderplay formerly existing local separate civilisations (Shu, Ba in Sichuan, Yangtse river civilisations) and attempt to create theories of common descent (for example, for Chinese historians, all steppe people descend from China, from Huns through Turks to Mongols) as a matter of policy. (You probably guessed that the formation of China as empire is a favourite historical subject of mine :-) not the least because of parallels to 19th-20th century Europe.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 03:01:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
 DoDo: "OK, yes, we understand each other now :-)"

 Samurai Debater: 救助! [Whew!]  [lowers poised sword from own neck]

 DoDo: "I would contest one point in your post:..."

 Samurai Debater: [ ハァッか。["Huh!?"] Raises sword blade back up to own neck.]

 DoDo: (You probably guessed that the formation of China as empire is a favourite historical subject of mine :-)

 Samurai Debater:  不是, 但謝謝。

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 04:05:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow! BabelFish (the only way I'm afraid I could read it...) or do you read Chinese?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 04:23:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 ;^)

 "do you read Chinese?"

 Not even on television.  But I can understand some very basic survival terms--not read them.  Oh, I can recognize the characters for "telephone", and a few others--"north", "south", "east", "west", "China","U.S.".  

 But like you, though I know how to say it, I can't "write" it--certainly not in a chat forum!--without a dictionary-like reference.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 05:42:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding the last paragraph, I should correct myself with the following addition: actually it isn't more apparent to most people here, more the contrary, as most people are rather gung-ho about their own nation-views and see others as "obviously" wrong, silly, evil, traitor and so on. It is "more apparent" only to those who have a penchant for objective view or for evaluating different views, or interested in a broader (not just national self-gratifying) history, or somehow personally/familiarly affected by an identity split and not in denial about it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 03:40:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're dealing with tribal instincts, and it's the same mechanism that's responsible for religions, nation states, tribal wars, and even useful abstractions like 'neoconservative' and 'revolutionary.'

There's an easy tendency to see these all in terms of battles between issues - e.g. Christianity vs Islam - but I think the labels and dogmas are largely window dressing for the underlying dynamic.

Tribal dynamics are either tolerant and inclusive, or they're aggressively expansionist/defensive. A lot seems to depend on the existence of a perceived threat from outside.

So it's true that nations are social constructs. But it's also true that 'Germany' or 'America' or 'Europe' can mean completely different things, depending on which dynamic is most prominent at the time.

Mostly these dynamics reduce to an 'I'm better than you, and you're barely human' dynamic, or an 'I'm equal to you and you're interesting' one.

I thought this was quite an insightful and underappreciated point of view that's very relevant to this debate.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 5th, 2006 at 07:46:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As Monsieur Lyon pointed out to me last night during our F2F in Hki, the founding of the Nation-State concept in the mid 17th C by the various treaties that made up the Peace of Westphalia, is no longer a particularly useful way of looking at the world. Neither is the genetics of tribalism.

Multinational companies are powerfully overlaid on these historical concepts, making them increasingly irrelevant. Whereas companies were once rooted in their location and the society surrounding them, those vaguely stakeholder notions are now discarded in globalization.

It would be better to regard multinationals as a pandemic threat to life.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:28:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Multinationals are just a new twist to tribalism.

Any time there's a hierarchy of power that benefits those at the top of the pyramid while encouraging mystical identification and self-denial among those at the bottom you're looking at a tribal phenomenon.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 07:55:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're dealing with tribal instincts, and it's the same mechanism that's responsible for religions, nation states, tribal wars, and even useful abstractions like 'neoconservative' and 'revolutionary.'

Yes, in the end it's always tribal instincts that break out, though I'd note that tribes used to be readily identifyable groups of people (usually you knew all other members from sight or at least some body mark/ornament), while religious and even more ideological groups or nations are imagined communities, hence the extra dimension that some wars are perceived on one side as tribal, on the other side as not tribal (between groups) but civil (intra-group) war.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 6th, 2006 at 04:48:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]

My contention that that nations are only concepts is neither a we-are-all-humans view, nor a propagation of an un-substructured society.

Briefly, my contention is that "nations" are groups of real people for each individual, but which people are put in which nations and which group constitutes a nation or not, is different from individual to individual. The grouping idea can be footed in ideas of cultural or genetic relatedness, a common ideal or territory - it doesn't matter.

Now, what about democracy? Methinks the above examples of separatism and brutal ways to establish near-unity on the idea of one nation point to the fact that this is one (or after democracy's self-abolishment, another) instance of an inherent problem in the classical Enlightenment worldview. Enlightenment replaced the sovereignity of the King with the sovereignty of the People. The problem was that the King was the definer of the People (and also the Land), and now any group of people could get the idea that another group opresses them and that they should constitute the polity, they need self-government. The repercussions started already before the French Revolution, and the process still didn't stop.

I think only a notion of federalism can make this manageable. When there is a recognition of multiple levels of democratic units, best not even in a strictly hierarchic order (think of the difference between the Schengen Area and the Eurozone), it will be more likely that each individual's ideas of community will more or less map to some democratic unit.

 With some agreement on how varied and troublesome ideas of national identities can be, perhaps we can go on to recognize that while the state, the formal national subjective construction, does not and cannot necessarily save people from their follies, it can, even with its faults, offer rationales and constructs around which people of quite varied beliefs and impulses, quite varied priorities, can still join in the pursuit of and defense of a set of socially useful common interests.  This the state, the formal nation can help produce and has helped produce--even as various groups within it oppose and struggle against each other.

  What I'm proposing then, is that you recognize the positive side of nation-state and accept that there is much in it which deserves our support, because, in fact, we still have to depend on it in practical ways, just as I've recognized your view of the clearly negative aspects of the nation-state notion.

 True, factions splinter and make all manner of incompatible claims for the recognition of their priority feature of identity.  That still leaves us with various positive aspects to defend.

  What, after all, shall sustain or create the conditions in which some decent level of civil society is attainable and maintainable?  Somewhere in the process, the socializing process, including generally universal literacy, and education beyond it, and an economy in which there is enough fairness and predictability to enable people to enter into relationships of trust, there is a role for a state which appeals to and depends on some generally-accepted sense of a community of people--even if they are diverse in many respects.

  Currently, it seems to me, a very, very great deal of extremely valuable elements of livable civil society--including indispensable abstract concepts-- justice, democracy, toleration, freedom of speech and inquiry--these and more are at grave risk because they are and have for some time been too little appreciated for what they enable a society to enjoy.

 Violence, intolerance, bigotry, are on the rise and threaten everything which humanists hold dear.  Before all of us are swept away by these forces, we would do well to rediscover the underpinnings of such level of civilization as we have been able--over centuries of spotty progress--to wrest from brute instinct and tribal passion.

 It is that lack of appreciation which troubles me about the critiques of the ideas of nation and state.  Even though these lend themselves to abuse, we are very far from having outgrown the need for their positive aspects; and you have not given us much in the way of realistic alternatives to the continued dependence on the idea of national identities.

  I would urge that you bear in mind that your enlightened views are worlds beyond and away from what the vast majority of humanity can at present grasp and take advantage of.  Faced with a mass of humanity which, to use an analogy, can neither carry a tune nor read music, you seem to expect that they now move directly to the Vienna Opera house and perform a flawless performance of Aïda without a further incremental development which, we have to admit, is exasperatingly slow and fitfull.

  As with incurable disease, we have to try to treat and relieve the worst symptoms of what we cannot yet cure; and not curse medicine itself for the great many things of which its practioners are still incapable.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Wed Jun 7th, 2006 at 06:36:00 AM EST


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