THE WARSAW INSTITUTE REVIEW
Date: 24 September 2018 Author: Krzysztof Rak
Why Destroy the Nation State?
Neoliberals, who seem today fully committed to fighting against any manifestations of nationalism, do not know what they are doing. Their victory would be considered tantamount to destroying all foundations of our social life. Deprived of a nation state organism, Western societies are destined to plunge into unimaginable chaos.
An enlightened neoliberal establishment, until recently predominant in the West, eventually put nationalism forward as the main enemy to the system, which is why it aimed to fight against its two most important creations: the nation and the nation state. However, its arguments do not seem particularly sophisticated and take the form of syllogisms, whose construction appear very simple, as they tend to associate nationalist attitudes with anti-Semitic behaviours.
This assessment is no exaggeration. For example, to find out more one should read the interview with the famous Polish intellectual and journalist, Adam Michnik, in the German weekly Der Spiegel in 2013, in which he boasted about his acuity. “Back in 1990, I wrote that nationalism is the last stage of communism: a system of thought that gives simple but wrong answers to complex questions. Nationalism is practically the natural ideology of authoritarian regimes”, he claimed. And while the German journalist suggested that anti-Semitism tended to co-occur with nationalism, Michnik did not deny this, while making a small exception for the Poles, noting that “Poland is the only country in Eastern Europe that was able to control itself in this respect.” The Polish intellectual added that “anti-Semitism is no longer socially or politically acceptable in Poland”.
Thus, as evidenced above, the most important phenomenon shaping the socio-political life of the West for the last two centuries has been reduced by neoliberal intellectuals to an extremely simple formula: nationalism is bad as it often consists of showing hatred towards Jews, which ultimately leads to the Holocaust. Such an understanding of nationalism is not only an expression of the intellectual immaturity of some Western elite; it also constitutes a form of “false awareness” of the European establishment whose representatives are afraid of losing the dominant position they managed to assume after the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, it has little in common with the hitherto achievements of modern social sciences. Thus, it is first worth starting with current knowledge about nationalism as well as its functions.
Fruits of Nationalism
Nationalist ideology was founded at the beginning of the 19th century. It developed the concepts of a “nation” as well as of a “nation state”, both constituting institutions that keep determining our today social existence in a decisive way. Leaving aside all considerations of their historical origin, it can be concluded that they have managed to reach their present mature form as a result of mutual and continuous interactions. Therefore, it is clear that the nation has created the modern state while the state has come up with the idea of the modern nation. Both state nation and nation state incorporate the same social being – just as two sides of the same coin.
Awareness of such a quasi-tautological relationship between these two notions emerged some time ago as their early traces can be found in the philosophical works of Georg Hegel. This seemed natural for legal positivists living in the second half of the 19th century who had come up with the idea of the current state and law doctrine. Needless to say it was integrated into the classical definition of the state formulated by the Austrian law professor Georg Jellinek. According to this tradition, the nation is referred to as a national state (“staatsvolk“), mainly due to the fact that the state itself is expected to form any nation-creating bonds. The nature of this relationship is best understood by the phenomenon of citizenship. Generally speaking, there are two types of relations: vertical – between the state (state authority) and individual – defined by the recognition of mutual rights and obligations as well as horizontal ones that ultimately create social ties, making each society much more than just a mere collection of individuals. Any national bond is thus assumed in terms of its civic – and political – affiliations, which seems to explain why a state nation may be identified with a political nation. Naturally, back in the 1930s, the German state imposed on their citizens a racist interpretation of national ties, hence associating nationalism with anti-Semitic attitudes. Interestingly enough, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism is considerably older than nationalism.
The core of any relationship between nation and state can be understood thanks only to industrialization processes. The concept had previously attracted the attention of Karl Marx who was able to distinguish a factor that would first foster the development of the nation state but also being able to destroy it. Nonetheless, Marx’s historiosophical predictions did not come true since the working class did not manage to annihilate the existing order based on national institutions. It was not until the 20th century that nationalism emerged victorious from its historical clash with internationalism while the reasons for this unprecedented triumph were convincingly explained in the early 1980s by the philosopher Ernest Gellner in his time-honoured book Nations and Nationalism.
Gellner argued that the nation state was necessary to make any industrial society exist as it “lives from constant, uninterrupted development and from continuous improvement”. As a result, man became homo oeconomicus whose aim is to work more and more efficiently in order to improve both the quality and quantity of production. Thus, such progress can be understood as a continuous change in production methods. It is possible to attain such ideal situations provided that a new type of society is created while its members need to be characterized by a high level of mobility and flexibility so as to meet various challenges resulting from work organization and constantly changing technology. Such shifts occur mostly due to the existence of a state educational system, which creates a homogeneous national culture that eventually leads to the unification of society members. As its tools, the state uses a monopolistic educational and information policy, which leads to the emergence of a nation whose victorious expansion aims to eliminate all regional differences by means of a gradual, yet inexorable process. The nation disposes of a unified conceptual apparatus, which allows its members to perceive the world in the same way, thus bringing about a national intersubjectivity that eventually stems from such unification.
Cultural homogenization disposes of an overwhelming force, which seems particularly visible even in today’s times, thus aspiring to abolish all biological differences between men and women. The traditional division of a man who maintains a family, and a woman who raises children at home, constitutes a huge waste from the point of view of modern industrialisation processes. Accompanied by such a rigid distinction of social roles, any work that generates profit – and therefore also progress – can only be carried out by half of the population. Such is the reason behind the revolutionary transformation of traditional types of family that has taken place over the last two centuries and whose main outcome was providing women with an equal position on the labour market. It was not the last stage, though. According to industrial logic, the family is not the only institution perceived as irrational; basically any social bond appears to be dysfunctional as it binds people together, thus limiting their mobility and posing a threat to homogeneity. Not incidentally, the current stage of industrialisation strongly endorses the “ideal”, in its opinion, institution of the so-called single. Such an individual is genderless; not being related to other society members in any significant way; he or she does not get involved in any deep social relations. Thus, such a person constitutes an incarnation of an alienated human whose emergence had already been anticipated by 19th century philosophers. Apart from having some personal obligations, a single person has no commitments to anyone, which makes him or her a perfect candidate on the labour market. With no bonding commitments, including even biological ones, such a person can fully devoted himself or herself to work much more instead of being distracted by ever-going consumption. Omnipresent in the neoliberal media, singlism constitutes one of the greatest victories of culture over nature, understood as biological processes. It reflects the possibility to take advantage of culture to overcome the biological division of both sexes, as evidenced by gender ideology.
As for Gellner, he believed that unification, which shall be perceived as a prerequisite for further industrialisation processes, could only take place under the conditions of a nation state. Therefore, he was convinced that this institution would be able to fulfil its functions for a long time.
Gellner’s diagnosis dates back to the early 1980s. Less than a decade later, global sociology was dominated by a contradictory view that managed to flourish as a result of the popularity of neoliberalism after the end of the Cold War. Some Western elites believed that the fall of communism was possible due to the triumph of such neoliberal ideology. Yet all simple explanations are characterized by their great persuasive power. As for representatives of neoliberalism, they were convinced that they could solve all social problems provided that free market mechanisms were allowed to run undisturbed. Their task will be to ensure constant economic progress, making humanity wealthier over time. Individuals will be busy consuming their ever-increasing income; focused solely on fulfilling their own needs, before eventually plunging into the universe of heavenly happiness. In this new brave world, there will no longer be war or social conflicts. It is expected that the history of mankind will reach its end in this respect. Such view was expressed by the philosopher Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History, published in 1992, which dominates the thinking of neoliberal elites to this day.
According to the researcher, nationalism constitutes a relic of history; a phenomenon that needs to be eliminated since it does not allow for further unrestrained development of economic forces. As a result, a new society will emerge while its perfect homogeneity will be based on universal principle rather than on a national one. This “new brave world” will be shaped by a new social formation – a homogeneous universal state that will replace the unified nation state. According to Fukuyama, “it must be universal, that is, grant recognition to all citizens because they are human beings, and not because they are members of some particular national, ethnic, or racial group. And it must be homogeneous insofar as it creates a classless society based on the abolition of the distinction between masters and slaves.”
However, such neoliberal Arcadia constitutes a classic example of utopia since it is impossible to build a community based on the idea of humanity. No culture – at least not one that would be able to homogenise – could be created in that respect. Such thesis seems clear provided that we understand that there is neither language that would constitute one common culture of the aforementioned humanity nor would it be elaborated upon in any imaginable future. If Fukuyama’s predictions were to be taken seriously, such a universal state would have to encompass the entire territory of our globe while humanity would become one monoculture. The fact of eliminating the dialectic of a slave and a master would be the same as ousting both power and violence from our social life. And such a society would comprehend absolute equality as it would be deprived of any hierarchy.
Interestingly, as evidenced by the example of Fukyuama, Western utopians have been pursuing the same goal now for many centuries. One may notice that neoliberal thought is tightly connected with Marxist philosophy. The German sociologist also believed that mankind was only a step away from a society where all differences between particular members would be abolished due to an internationalist culture taking control over the world. Such a society would provide individualists with freedom resulting from the lack of social hierarchy.
Neoliberals are not aware that the fight against nationalism – which currently takes the form of a clash with nation states – keeps destroying the foundations of Western societies. The liquidation of nation state institutions is not equivalent to the destruction of the present welfare state. Implementing the desired universal homogenous society would result in its members no longer being bound to having to maintain any social ties. In particular, this would result in annihilating any instances of generational solidarity. Working generations would have absolutely no intention to pay for pensioners’ social services. But can anyone imagine our lives without universal health care, a social insurance system or pensions? Today, Europe’s nation state is bound to provide its citizens with social security. Without such institutions, we are all doomed to chaos and unimaginable social catastrophe.
Events of recent years seem to corroborate the validity of Gellner’s reflections – we will still have to wait for a new type of social organization that could replace the homogeneous nation state. This is best evidenced by the failure of a homogenous European state, which is how Gellner would probably describe all instances of power centralisation and federalization of the European Union, which failed after having been confronted with reality – there is no homogenous culture that connects all those who inhabit the territories between the Atlantic Coast and the Bug River.
What are neoliberals fighting for today? First and foremost, they seek to keep all hitherto influences while their clichés of freedom and equality are only empty ideological slogans used in their constant struggle for political survival. In the course of the last generation, representatives of neoliberalism have become an oligarchy capable of governing Western societies. Neoliberals have focused on implementing the idea of freedom, understood by them as a lack of restrictions. Rather, this was more about lifting limitations of all kinds; not only economic, but also those imposed by family, the state and culture (nation). Therefore, most neoliberals consider the nation state as their main opponent; an institution that shapes any social existence, and by also introducing some restrictions. Such an approach is fiercely combatted by all those who oppose any utopian attitudes. In order to defend all their possessions, they do not hesitate to attack the democratic decisions of societies that seek to deprive the neoliberal oligarchs of their influence. And if democracy manages to overcome oligarchy in one of the states, such a situation is immediately referred to as “the triumph of populism”.
Since the time of Plato, we have been aware that all absolutization of freedom in social life ultimately leads to the oligarchization of democracy and the emergence of social inequalities. Today’s Western societies have a strong sense of the ever-growing wealth gap that exists as well as the power of the few privileged individuals over the rest. Interestingly enough, today’s oligarchy consists of the same people that had called for a new society to be created some 30 years ago. Yet Adam Michnik, the aforementioned intellectual, passes for an emblematic figure of the Western European oligarchy as he seeks to defend its status quo at all costs.
Nonetheless, any action triggers an appropriate reaction. The neoliberal absolutization of freedom gave the birth to political movements whose aim was to fight for greater social equality. Democracy can only work effectively if both its basic principles of freedom and equality are mutually exclusive while equality may only be implemented in the nation state. Thus, neoliberals oppose this concept while their opponents – hereinafter referred to as neostatists – appear attracted by such idea.
Who will come in first in this political clash? As evidenced by Donald Trump’s triumph in the U.S. presidential election, it seems that the neostatists are most likely to win with a Pyrrhic victory. Western society is currently tormented by a problem of childlessness caused mainly by the long-term impact that industrial homogenization keeps exerting on families. A woman, whose position on the labour market corresponds to the role of a man, is now less likely to give birth to children than in previous times. Such a demographic catastrophe refers to the situation in which the labour force will be no longer able to provide financial support to pensioners. And this will bring about disturbances to Western Europe’s prosperous society, leading to the collapse of nation state institutions. The socio-economic system, based on continuous progress and increasing prosperity, will eventually cease to exist. Thus, it is very likely that industrialization will eventually devour its own child – a nation state.
All texts (expect images) published by the Warsaw Institute Foundation may be disseminated on condition that their origin is stated.