As we move perilously close to 2017, 2016 will of course be remembered for many momentous occasions. In truth, maybe we get too caught up in these ‘momentous’ occasions for there are always momentous occasions but of course we will remember this year for Brexit and the dawn of the Donald Trump era. Brexit has stirred the emotions and ideas regarding nation or the disappearance of it has reared its head as rhetoric, pro-Brexit, centers (it seems) around reclaiming Britain for the British people-who British people really are of course is an important question.
Here our writer Flying Saucer gives a brief understanding of ‘nation’ and of course asks some pertinent questions.
Post the line in the sand moment of Brexit ideas of ‘nation’ or ‘nationality’ have become an important issue. Potentially (with article 50) the UK will attempt to extricate itself from the vice like grip of the EU venturing into a lonely but historically not unfamiliar world.
Nations arose with the rise of the bourgeoisie class and capitalism. The working classes and minorities were/are manipulated through false consciousness into siding with their nation rather than their individual class. Consequently, nation is used by the ruling class (via the nation state) to maintain the status quo both on a national and international level.
While nationality tends to derive from place of birth, there are a multitude of ways that ‘it’ can be bestowed. A close emotional connection between ‘the land’ itself and the national citizen is implied by the word ‘nation’ and this etymology provides the concept with support. Today the word ‘nation’ is used as a form of shorthand to refer to a nation-state. This shorthand arises because most nations have a state and those which do not aspire towards statehood- think Palestine.
What distinguishes the nation from the nation state?
The state is the political apparatus that gives the nation concrete existence within a system of states and political sovereignty over the nation while a nation is the population of people who live within national boundaries-nationalism creates the nation and the state sustains it. Cultural nationalism is often linked to the political right and it stresses cultural factors that unite the nation. Political or civic nationalism leans towards a more liberal side of politics with a premise that the nation establishes itself and continues to choose itself.
Post the colonial era, nation states were inspired by the nationalists of Europe when they were creating their own sovereign nations. To gain international recognition, post-colonial countries fell in line with the dominant mode of statehood ergo the nation state. Today, nation states are taken for granted as the de facto form of state.
Marx had argued that the Nation state was a ‘good’ that hastened the development of capitalism however more recent Marxist thinkers have argued that Marx underestimated the popular appeal of nationalism indeed nationalism was a tool developed by the bourgeoisie in response to the needs of capitalism. For Ernest Gellner (the famous British-Czech philosopher) the idea of the nation was a way to make the workers work harder. Capitalists in their relentless wish for more productivity and more profit realised their work force were more productive when they felt they were working for a collective good-the nation.
Benedict Anderson the influential historian and political essayist stated with vigour that Marx in fact despite his brilliance failed to anticipate the success of the nation and attempts in imagined communities to explain their success in terms of the human mind. He defined the nation state as an ‘imagined community’ due to the lack of close knowledge of fellow members within this imagined nation. To understand, we are fed constant rhetoric (visual and aural) regarding imagined states through the media. Right wing publications perpetuate the idea of ‘these foreigners’ who take jobs, ‘sponge off the state’, take housing-in actuality the amount of ‘foreigners’ who work in Britain far outweighs those who do not work. Regardless of this significant statistic, it was the media perpetuation of these ideas and images which seemed in part a highly combustible fuel for Brexit. The pro Brexit contingent publicised an imagined nation with a clear goal- ‘reclaim Britain for the British people’. It is no coincidence with Donald Trump’s slogan being ‘Make America Great Again’, that ex UKIP leader Nigel Farage gave a rousing speech to a knowledgeable crowd of Trump supporters reinforcing the idea that making America great again by ‘getting rid of those foreigners’was the way forward.
The failure of the third way and the persistence of racism has in turn led to the rise of the alt right/far right in both Europe and the United States. The alt right is very much rooted in cultural nationalism as well as nostalgia for an idealised past. In France the fascist leader Marie Le Pen is gaining ground against a floundering centre right. In the United Kingdom the majority of the pro Brexit campaign focused on whipping up xenophobia the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a neo nazi terrorist was in many respects not a surprise. As a vote of confidence however the Austrian far right’s attempts to gain political significance has failed a collective sigh perhaps exhaled.
Further than that, the recent Scottish independence referendum, despite a strong campaign could not convince the Scottish people to side with a new independent state. Reasons for this are numerous but in an increasingly interconnected world, ideas of nation are gradually becoming outdated? The continuing issue of Palestine highlights the problems resulting from Western nations meddling in other lands post dissolution of Empire. Moreover, it is an issue contributing to conflict among the nations in the Middle East. Similarly, the Kurdish desire for statehood results from the direct effects of Western hegemony over the rest of the World.
Although the nation state is challenged by internationalist groups and influences it seems capable of withstanding these challenges. This is not to say that there will be no international response to nations in the future. In his speech ‘What is A Nation’ the nineteenth century French thinker Ernest Renan comments that the nation will not be eternal, they will be replaced-
‘They have a beginning and they will have an end’
He goes on to say that this is not imminent and that for the time being the existence of nations is a good thing that advances civilization. Perhaps at the time this was true however since the First World War we can see that nationalism has had a degenerative effect on civilisation.
Nations are successful but it is becoming apparent they are no longer ‘good’. Besides propping up established capitalism and being sustained through manipulation, the cultural aspect of nationalism has led to; warfare, genocide and potentially Fascism. Of course, Fascism is a newer ideology than Cultural Nationalism however it is safe to say that fascism draws heavily upon cultural nationalism and that it sprang forth from cultural nationalism. More-over in most cases, cultural nationalism creates cultural chauvinism as a desire to oppress less powerful nations is a natural conclusion. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (the famous German philosopher) wrote that a nation has a natural desire to dominate other nations. War is therefore a logical consequence of the nation based on cultural ties.
Cultural nationalism has a political influence on most states in the Western world. It is on the rise once more as the West shifts increasingly towards the alt-right. For this reason alone, without going into the false hood of liberal nationalism, we must evolve past the nation state system and towards Communism.
Remember this is opinion and comments devoid of abuse are encouraged.