Sunday, December 8, 2019

Is There Value In Nationalism?

     I'm an anti-nationalist. That means I am opposed to the existence of the nation-state. I believe the concept that "the people are the nation and a nation is a people" causes far more harm than good in the so-called Developed World. Yet I am familiar with the argument that nationalism in the so-called Less Developed World is often a useful counterweight against Western imperialism. Is it true? Is there value in nationalism and does the nation-state assume a necessary position in a wider evolution from subject of a monarch, to citizen of a nation-state, to a member of a democratic society? Is nationalism in one part of the world good if it stops imperialism from overwhelming that part of the world?

     Civil society is older than the modern concept of the nation-state. Yet participation in civil society has been more democratic under the nation-state model, in a significant portion of the world, than under feudal monarchy or classical forms of either oligarchy or despotism. Since a nation-state is not necessarily more democratic in the political sense, does that mean this is correlation rather than cause and effect or is there some concept of family underlying "nationhood" that makes civil society more democratic?

     Arguably there is and it's very difficult to ignore its possible contributions to political democracy as well. Civil society requires certain unspoken agreements among its members. Respect for these agreements creates a solidarity. Pre-existing solidarity makes this easier. The nation-state, the Protestant church, the private club and the corporation all create an exclusive sense of "us against the world" solidarity than fosters democratic relationships between the members of "us." This same sense of exclusive solidarity, however, makes us reflexively hostile to "the world." It's the reason that the United States and Australia are willing to house refugees in concentration camps while reviewing their asylum claims.

     This suggests that the bad in nationalism always outweighs the good in the end and that nationalism should not be considered an ends. When considered as a means, a question must be asked: what next?

     The problem is that we're still figuring that out, aren't we? We have ideas about what a democratic society might look like but a lot of them come across as pretty utopian even to us. Only a utopia chosen by democratic consensus will be worthy of the name in the first place. Otherwise someone is being oppressed to maintain our freedoms. We don't know how we're going to replace our liberal capitalist system of managerial feudalism with a democratic society and we have to find our way to a social democracy first.

     This means we have to be cautious when judging other countries. It also means we have to be clear in voicing that judgment when it is warranted. If someone isn't willing to call genocide in Rojava or Kashmir genocide then they aren't an ally. We need to all be anti-nationalist enough to express opposition to its most toxic forms. This is particularly important in the case of nationalism in Israel, our Middle Eastern sock puppet, and in the US itself.

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