Thursday, 7 January 2010

Anarchism, State, and Ethnicity

Anarchism, State, and Ethnicity
M. Raphael Johnson, November 12, 2004

The academic literature on nationalism and ethnicity is an intellectual disaster; the harshest polemics and rants against even the most moderate nationalist position passes the phony “peer-review” process and usually renders nationalism somewhat akin to National Socialism. The concept of the nation is nearly treated as identical to the state and its apparatus, and ethnicity is little more than a residual category of all that is not covered by the ideas of “nation” or “state.”

Making matters worse, the question of “nationalism” in both historical and political journals is basically critical, making the claim regularly that nationalism is a recent phenomenon based on “myth” and “manipulation.” In other words, it is not an idea taken seriously. At present, it is the greatest threat to the oligarchial elites who presently control much of the globe’s politics.

The academic nonsense regularly published on nationalism is based on a subtle confusion of terminology that is at the basis of my personal interest in this field: the distinction between nation, state and ethnicity. These are far from synonymous, and in many ways they are nearly exclusive of one another. In making these necessary distinctions, the central concepts of ethnic nationalism are made clear.

By ethnicity I mean a body of tradition centered on a shared language, a shared universe of meaning. Ethnicity is solely a product of history; the struggle for survival, and nearly all traditional ethnic institutions have been formed for the sake of protection, security and the basic issues of survival.

Appeals to tradition make little sense unless this universe of shared meaning exists. Language is shaped by historical experience and this complex of experience and language are vital ingredients for tradition to function.

Conservatives have spent the last two hundred years speaking on the idea of “tradition,” which, by itself is a meaningless abstraction, without bothering to discuss its ethnic and linguistic roots. By tradition I mean something similar to the concept of ethnicity, that is, a set of basically unspoken norms and meanings that have developed out of a people’s struggle for survival.

Tradition does not make any sense outside of ethnicity. Ethnicity is the primary basis of social life because it is what philosophers call a “first order” loyalty, that is, civil society, however one conceives of it, or whatever social agenda one might have, is utterly dependent upon this universe of shared meanings that derive from historical experience, objectified in cultural institutions and language.

The state is ethnicity’s radical opposite. What in the ethno-national collective is free-flowing and developing, the state seeks to make rigid; to compartmentalize and administer. The ethnos is based around a shared culture; the state is based upon coercion, violence and bureaucracy. The ethnic group maintains order through the tradition of its own history and development, the state relies on police, armies, psy-ops, secret agents and manipulation. The ethnic group is a diverse organism of traditional institutions and folkways while the state is based upon a culture-less, utilitarian organization of domination, control and exploitation.

And it is partially on this basis that I have referred to the “nation state” as a myth.

The life of the ethnic organism can easily be described as the daily manifestation of the general will, that is, those things that any specific people share in common as a people; those marks that make them a specific people. It is a set of public meanings and unspoken understandings that makes all civil life possible. It is not an appeal to tradition; it is the framework of meaning that permits tradition to be understood at all.

Even further, it is the foundation of tradition, without which political or civic discussion cannot take place. It is nearly impossible to conceive of a political culture where the interplay of institutions, historical experience and a shared vocabulary are absent. It would be a merely arbitrary set of slogans backed up, inevitably by threats of violence. It is contemporary America.

The nation is another matter altogether, and it is here where the academic mentality fails completely; it is a slippery and vague concept that I often refrain from using. Depending on whom one reads, the nation is identical with the state, the ethnic group, or this non-existent monster from the vaults of academic mythology called the “nation state.”

It is not uncommon to hear one speak of the “Swiss nation,” the “Iraqi nation” or the “Belgian nation” when in fact these are states--governments with arbitrary borders--that have several nations living within them. In this case the word “nation” can only mean the legally constituted state, and, if this is true, the word is useless.

This usage seems to me to be an abuse of the language. It is true that the 19th century theorists of nationalism such as G.W.F. Hegel used the term “state” to describe not merely the agencies of bureaucratic coercion we in the English speaking world refer to as the “state,” but also to the cultural and linguistic complex that this state embodies. For Hegel, as well as others such as Bernard Bosanquet—and this is central—the nation, the cultural life of a people, and the state were one and the same thing.

Whether this complex shows itself as bureaucratic and coercive or communal and cultural was of no consequence, they were merely two sides of the same coin, sometimes needing to show strength, sometimes needing to create unity.

It is my opinion that this older, very continental, view is naïve. Part of the confusion among the academic literature on nationalism derives from a legitimate source, the extreme difficulty of separating the pre-modern ethnic groups within Europe from the rise of the state in the 16th century and the rather artificial culture that it created.

Normally, academics such as Eric Hobsbawm or Ernst Gellner enjoy delegitimizing nationalism by claiming that it was these modern states that encouraged or even created a “national culture.” Therefore, this “national culture” is synthetic and the product of manipulation, confined to the cities and a handful of intellectuals, the national culture was primarily, if not solely, the product of political manipulation.

Gellner has made the claim that “nationalism” developed only in the milieu of the statist industrial revolution, where the need for regularity and standardization that industry required, and still requires, necessitated the creation of a “national culture” that would bring all groups within its view.

This view is easy to eliminate largely because most ethnic nationalisms have developed in agrarian societies such as Ireland, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Czechia, Ruthenia, Russia, Ukraine or Scandinavia.

In the case of France in particular, it is clear that, in many respects, the “national culture” postdates the state. It might also be noted that France, up until the post World War I era, was largely pastoral.

In Germany it is quite the opposite. As the centralized French state developed in the post-revolutionary era, the Celtic ethnos in the north of the country was forbidden to speak its language or use any of its symbols. Other dialects within the state were discouraged or banned outright; in fact, this process predates the revolution. Medieval France was a mess of languages that were often mutually incomprehensible.

The state, it might be said, standardized the language and therefore the nature and tone of civic debate.

Now, as often as this example is trotted out, this sort of manipulation was not the case in Scotland, Russia, Scandinavia, Germany, Serbia, Greece, Russia or Poland. Certainly the Jews are another example here. Even in the absence of unifying political structures or industrialization, the more powerful agencies of language and religion unified the cultural life of these nations. These created a sense of unity and togetherness long before the state came into existence. The unified cultural life of these nations was well-known and functioning at least as early as the middle ages.

Therefore, the academic critique of nationalism presupposes agreement as to what the “nation” is. This is the problem. Generally, professional historians seem to accept the notion that state and nation are basically inseparable and that whenever anyone speaks of national culture or even ethnic tradition, one is, at least partially, speaking of a synthetic creation of the state.

Those, such as me, who stress ethnicity over the state, are certainly willing to accept this critique in certain historical cases. It is a fact that states have created cultures that are more a product of bureaucratic fantasy than historical fact. This merely obscures the point that the state builds its pseudo-nationalism on the backs of traditional, local and ethnically based institutions.

The state demands absolute loyalty; no one may use force against any other citizen except the state, and the state, therefore, is the center of political loyalty, political action and political standardization. Now, if this is the definition of “nationalism” I am not a nationalist, and I fear that most who presently call themselves nationalists would not exactly accept this definition.

Here, possibly is the main distinction between ethnos and nation. The state came into existence by destroying the independent existence of the ethnic groups that formerly developed since medieval or even ancient times. Others, such as Germany, voluntarily joined the German Confederation because it was already a historical fact that trade and language were already joining the “Germanic peoples” together. In the United States, alternatively, the television monoculture has all but destroyed the separate ethnic nations that have always existed on its soil.

Empires in the past have generally been a-ethnic, at least in its official theory. The Habsburgs, for example, thought of themselves as a universal protector of Christendom that maintained numerous ethnic groups in basic cultural independence under its scepter. The Roman Empire tolerated and largely enfranchised ethnic politics, and the “Byzantine Commonwealth” can, at its height, only be called a confederation of ethnic principalities. The Russian Empire maintained the cultural independence of its subject nations, even going so far as to write different constitutions for different parts of the empire.

Many of the empires of years past were not states in any modern sense of the term. Many of them were wedded to medieval or ancient concepts of political authority that did not need any form of central control, and the day to day life of the peasant or artisan was regulated by the church calendar, the commune, or the guild. There was no state in the ethnic life of old Europe

Only today, the American Imperium, the most violent and most heavily armed empire in history, has taken upon itself the mission of reducing the world’s ethnicities to, at best, superficial entities in the global marketplace or, at worst, irritants to a world wide market that are slated for extinction. The American Empire treats its “global village” in the same way it has treated its own (European) ethnics, as playful indulgences without any political content whatsoever.


Nowhere is this fraud of the “nation state” more obvious than in the third world. The number of civil wars and carnage that has come from the post-colonial state system is immeasurable. Nearly every country in Africa is an artificial creation, trapping within its arbitrary borders numerous ethnic groups that often are at war with one another. Therefore, the state in black Africa is merely the plaything of western-educated native elites who either pretend that ethnicity does not exist or, more commonly, use the levers of state power to benefit one ethnic group over another.

For modern, western states and countries (and I use those terms interchangeably; the word “country” is basically meaningless), the ethnos is, at best, used for aggrandizing state power, playing on the absurdity that the state, in some sense, encapsulates the nation, or, at worst, ignored altogether as completely at odds with official liberalism and utilitarianism.

Images of the nation might be used to buttress public opinion, sell products or engender loyalty to an aggressive foreign policy, but in general, liberal societies have rendered ethnicity completely symbolic and apolitical. Ethnicity has, in western countries, been reduced to a merely ornamental indulgence, and the political uses and official mobilization of third world ethnics in western societies do not obscure this essential fact.

Therefore, it seems fair to isolate our uses of the terms “state” or “country” to refer to legal and bureaucratic entities that may or may not have any cultural function. On the other hand, ethnicity should be used only when dealing with the linguistic cultural complex that may or may not have its own state or may or may not care.

“Nation,” as used in a phrase such as “a national movement” or “national liberation” is a reference to the politicization of ethnicity, or the rendering of ethnicity as being primarily political; as in the uses of ethnicity to fight against the bureaucratic violence of any particular state or empire.

However, even this restricted use of the word “nationalism” does in no manner obscure the idea that such politicized ethnic groups, though changing throughout the centuries, are a permanent fixture of world politics. From medieval Scotland to the ancient Levant, appeals to ethnicity and language are plentiful in the historical record.

The more important question, though, is the relation between the ethnic group and the state.

The first and primary purpose of the ethnos is the protection of its members. Both in terms of personal security, as well as the equally important sense of community and belonging, the ethnic group is a part of the natural order. It is a human instinct. Contrary to the conservative capitalist mythology, the “free market” is not the default organization of economic exchange, but, in reality, the historical record is unambiguous, as far back as we have written records, that men organized themselves into communes and guilds for protection against the uncertainties of political and economic life.

Human beings must congregate to survive. Within this congregation develop the linguistic and moral codes that primarily serve to preserve the unity of the group from want, foreign attacks and the ravages of nature. The necessity for communication, artistic creation and education, men naturally and spontaneously have created such linguistic and semantic commonalities we now call ethnic groups or tribes.

It is because ethnic groups protect human beings from the dangers of this fallen world that ethnic groups engender loyalty to the point of complete self-sacrifice. Human beings do not die for abstract ideologies; no one ever went into battle because he recently read Rousseau’s First Discourse; no one sacrifices their lives because they computed a statistical analysis that morally justifies it. Men go into battle for faith, home, family and nation. In the 21st century, nothing has changed.

It is here, within the cultural and ethnic complex of hearth and home, where a humanoid can become a man. To be immersed in a body of tradition, of experience and folklore is not the trite exercise found in bourgeois ethnic clubs or Anglo-American conservative journals, but is a historical journey into the reasons why one’s people are here at all; how they survived; how they flourished.

To understand this body of information, much of it resistant to writing and understood only by immersion, is to understand the means whereby one behaves within a society such that one can contribute at a level the social organism can understand and absorb. All of this is beyond the professional competence of social science or even of philosophy, but is only the domain of life, loyalty and humility.

Without the data that folklore provides, that body of tradition that marks the ethnos as unique, man is left as a mere set of individuals, an abstract body of disconnected men held together solely by force and manipulation; this is the very life blood of the state and the continued reason for its unchecked growth.

The reason why ethnicity is absolutely indispensable to any healthy sense of self, or of any healthy social life, is because any other social grouping, from universities to chess clubs, from labor unions to churches, can only function through a continuous appeal to those commonalities that ethnicity provides.

Without the linguistic, traditional and historical bonds that ethnicity is identical with, men cannot even communicate with fellow citizens, as the universe of shared meaning has broken down; debate makes no sense if words are defined according to whatever elites have come to rule him.

As civil society breaks down due to the dissolution of the ethnos, the state, as well as powerful corporate interests, comes to dominate completely, defining the very nature of the civil arrangement. Money and political power become the only goods worth fighting for. This is the reality of the modern west and is the direct result of ethnic connections breaking down in favor of the abstraction of the “nation state”, or, even worse, the so-called “free market”.


What is the connection of all this with anarchy?

Firstly, I use the term anarchy in an eccentric manner. By anarchy, of course, I do not mean chaos. I also do not mean what most libertarians or anarchists mean, namely a state of affairs where personal or individual liberty is maximized. What a specifically ethnic-based anarchy refers to is communal liberty, or the free flow of collective institutions whose purpose it is to maintain the civic unity and personal protection necessary for a healthy social and individual life.

Culture is, by definition a collective institution, as is language. Outside of these parameters, personal communication and hence interaction is impossible. Therefore, what I am interested in building is a state of affairs where the free-flow of traditional institutions is preserved, creating a situation where each family, parish or guild is continually interacting, mutually strengthening one another and protecting one another with an eye to maximizing the autonomy of each institution, each with its own traditionally defined function and purpose, but still unified through language and historical experience.

The term “liberty” as an abstraction is meaningless. It should be granted that liberty is a freedom to do something, to commit certain definite actions for some positive purpose, but actions that are socially and culturally useful, actions that make sense within a cultural context, a context in the absence of which action would be impossible. Action is senseless unless a context exists where others can understand, profit from and learn from any action of social or moral significance. This can only take place within a thriving culture, or those shared meanings encapsulated in a common language and historical memory.

The concept of “liberty,” in its vulgar and abstract sense, can only come about when the state has largely nationalized institutions and functions formerly the domain of the village, the church, or the commune. Socially useful functions such as education, health and welfare services, police, travel accommodations and public works provide the institutional framework that has always marked out the domain of a specifically ethnic social action. This is the network that defined the rights, obligations, rewards and punishment of any specific people living within their (often informal) parameters. In other words, entitlements, as well as rights and duties, were tied to specific social actions; specific social needs. Once such functions became the domain of the state, “freedom” was quickly redefined to refer to pathetic indulgences and petty vices.


In modern societies, the domination of both corporate capital and the institutions of the state--acting, as they always have, in concert, supporting and protecting one another—has only come to be at the expense of traditional agrarian, ethnic and racial institutions and folkways. Capital and the state are far from opposites as the libertarians might claim, but grew together and therefore dominate together.

The myth of this dichotomy between corporate capital and the state is a damaging one, and it has been maintained by nearly all ideological groupings in modern societies. The development of the capitalist market developed in England due to the actions of the state. For example, the expropriation of monasteries from the time of Henry VIII on, led to thousands of peasants being driven from their ancestral lands to make room for landlords and the use of so called free, or wage labor.

The destruction of feudalism meant that peasants, who, under medieval and Christian law, had a lifetime right to their land, were driven off, and landlords took over the common lands of England (about one fifth), using wage labor then, solely at the discretion of the landlords. The state, then created the modern plantation in English history, as peasants were driven to poverty so that the state could reward its servitors, thereby making its power absolute.

The enclosure movement in England, beginning from the late renaissance and moving right into the 19th century, are a primary example of the state using its power to destroy traditional ethnic institutions and setting the stage for the exploitation of peasant labor, that is, setting the stage for the creation of the “labor market”.

(cf. Kevin Carson, “The Iron Fist behind the Invisible Hand: Corporate Capitalism as a State-Guaranteed system of Privilege” for a first-class understanding of this problem)

The point is that our modern, “individualist” sort of corporate ideology was the direct result of the state being used by local oligarchs to destroy traditional and ethnic arrangements that had existed in some cases since ancient times, and replace it with “the rule of law,” which meant the rule of those who made the law. Ethnic custom was destroyed by the state so as to facilitate the development of oligarchic capitalism and landlordism.

The state, as feudalism developed into statist capitalism, began its centuries-old war with traditional ethnic arrangements in terms of labor and land tenure in favor of the oligarchy that created the state, and then used it, of course, for their own purposes.

The state might be understood, particularly in its post-medieval genesis, as a means whereby the regional oligarchy was able to create a standard market over a larger and larger area. At least in western Europe, the development of the state roughly went hand in hand with the development of the market.

The traditional peasant institutions and guilds that protected the rights of land tenure and maintained a decent standard of living, needed to be destroyed largely because these institutions were not market based. They were geared to security, stability and protection, while the oligarchy needed a system of “contract law” that would then tie the peasantry to him, rather to ethnic institutions. Therefore, the system of lifetime land tenure, guild protections against unfair completion and price wars, social security and unemployment insurance needed to be destroyed. Therefore, the landlord or the regional oligarchy dominated the now unprotected peasant or artisan completely, creating a situation of radical dependency. This now completely exposed and vulnerable peasant became an “individual.”

The butchery of thousands of young boys and girls in the early factory system of England and America cannot be understood without understanding the development of ideological “individualism” so uncritically accepted today.

The entire ideological apparatus of “individual liberties” derived from this obsession of the modern ruling classes. “Individualism” meant the stripping of feudal protections from the peasant, rendering him isolated and alone. Once the peasantry lost their land to the rule of law, they quickly swelled the cities, becoming alienated proletarians. Carson writes:

The working class lifestyle under the factory system, with its new forms of social control, was a radical break with the past. It involved the drastic loss of control over their own work. The seventeenth century work calendar was still heavily influenced by medieval custom. Although there were long days in spurts between planting and harvest, intermittent periods of light work and the proliferation of saints days combined to reduce average work-time well below our own. And the pace of work was generally determined by the sun or the biological rhythms of the laborer, who got up after a decent night's sleep, and sat down to rest when he felt like it. The cottager who had access to common land, even when he wanted extra income from wage labor, could take work on a casual basis and then return to working for himself. This was an unacceptable degree of independence from a capitalist standpoint. . . .

The factory system could not have been imposed on workers without first depriving them of alternatives, and forcibly denying access to any source of economic independence. No unbroken human being, with a sense of freedom or dignity, would have submitted to factory discipline. Stephen Marglin compared the nineteenth century textile factory, staffed by pauper children bought at the workhouse slave market, to Roman brick and pottery factories which were manned by slaves. In Rome, factory production was exceptional in manufactures dominated by freemen. The factory system, throughout history, has been possible only with a work force deprived of any viable alternative (“Iron Fist,” op cit.).
America has always been ethnic. From the earliest times Spanish, Dutch, Indian, Celtic, Russian, Scandinavian, German and Anglo-Saxon peoples helped found and build the United States. Ethnic immigration from Ireland, Poland and Italy found its was into the cities, introducing ethnic enclaves which immediately developed ethnically based employment agencies, churches, welfare agencies and local businesses.

In Philadelphia in the 1920s, the Polish and Irish sections of the city were completely self-sufficient. According to E. Michael Jones in his yet unpublished The Slaughter of Cities, the ethnic enclaves developed their own political elites, who bargained with city hall, exchanging loyalty for autonomy. If the city left them alone, they supported the political system.

By the Depression, the ethnics in Philadelphia experienced full employment, with a substantial safety net for unexpected downturns. Home ownership for any Irish or Polish family in that city was nearly 100%. Integration, which Jones claims was caused by the desire for the national elites to rid the country of independent ethnic constituencies, destroyed the ethnic economy, sending the sons of ethnic America for the suburbs, where ethnicity became symbolic and families disintegrated.

Modern man has yet to discover a more effective tool for cultural genocide than suburbanization.

Here again, the action of the state led to the workforce that was to staff the modern service economy, the plastic, mindless suburban existence where television has replaced culture and has provided what the ethnos has previously provided. Unions were destroyed, collective action nipped in the bud. Culture, formerly the domain of ethnicity, is now completely administered by the handful of families that control the mass media.

This is the economics of ethnicity. Today, sadly, only the Germanic Amish and the Hasidic Jews maintain the older form of self-sufficiency that characterized the older ethnic America.

Once the ethnic inheritance of Christianity was eliminated, the suburban McParishes became the mindless repetition of trite platitudes that lead thoughtful critics to condemn American Christianity for the fraud that it is. Without the inheritance of hundreds of years of historical experience, martyrdom and suffering that created and sustained European ethnics; political ideology became completely abstract, revolving around money, votes and power, referring to culture in only the vaguest terms. Political dissent is equally administered, where young students repeat plastic slogans from their state-funded universities, representing organizations that the elite themselves have created.

Ethnically based institutions, whether in America or the old country, exist to protect its members, to build the solidarity necessary for concerted, moral social action. Ethnicity bridges the gaps among people in the same sense families do. They speak the same language, basically look alike, and have the same historical memory. They have suffered together; many European ethnic groups, particularly in eastern Europe, have been through hell together, and that can create a level of solidarity that modern ideology cannot match, and it is this that threatens the global oligarchy that seeks that creation of a global mono-market for commodity capital.

The states of the globe are their servants, and exploit their fellow nationals for votes, labor, and bodies for their wars. Warfare, exploitation, taxation: these are the fruits of the state. This has nothing to do with the solidarity, belonging and civic friendship that characterizes ethnic life, a life that is dying under the weight of the state apparatus that can only see abstract individuals compartmentalized as voters, soldiers or taxpayers.

Today, the state is the greatest enemy of the ethnos. It sends its boys to wars, whether it be for the Zionists or for the capitalists, or both; it taxes their labor, nearly 80% of income in parts of Europe, and has destroyed all who have refused to obey; it has promoted open immigration throughout Europe to dilute the competing loyalty that ethnicity represents to the state; it has decimated the infrastructure of the ethnos through open trade agreements which guarantee that the sources of livelihood are sent abroad.

The idea of the nation-state is a fraud, and is a cynical means whereby the inheritance of the ethnos, however distorted by the bureaucracy, is used to further the aims of the a-national, and frankly anti-national, ruling class.

For our part, our job presently is to rebuild, at the local level, the institutions that create real, communal and ethnic solidarity. Libraries, coffee shops, art galleries, home school co-ops, mutual aid societies and local unions are easily in the grasp of a few activists in every county in America. Local institution building, low cost and low profile are far more important than participation in the administered “public debate,” another cheap publication or another gossip-mongering website. Building an ethnic cellular structure at the local level is indispensable, not to create another bureaucracy, but to render American life tolerable.

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