Nations and Anarchy:
Towards Putting an End to the Myth of the "Nation-State"
Towards Putting an End to the Myth of the "Nation-State"
By M(att). Raphael Johnson, Ph.D.
A common error among students of nationalism is the mistake that states and nations are intrinsically linked; that states create nations and that nations, therefore, are dependent upon states. It is not uncommon to hear that the notion of "nationalism" is a specifically modern one because only in modern times, it is (falsely) said, did the state come to demand loyalty to it and it alone. Often, such a state is termed the "nation-state." The literature on nationalism commonly defines the term "nationalism" as having something to do with the development of an independent state. Elie Kedourie (1993. Nationalism. Blackwell) is important here. His central argument is that there is no understanding of nationalism without the benefit of the French Revolution. The reality is quite different, in that the cultural patrimony of France was destroyed -- or there was an attempt on its life -- during this terrible time. Therefore, Kedourie and the majority of academic commentators on nationalism actually claim that nationalism is synonymous with the attempt to destroy the cultural patrimony of the nation. Notice the slight of hand: the claim that nationalism is considered a "modern" affair is a priori solidified by claiming it has something to do with a "state," which they claim is more or less a modern creation in the West.
The attack on nationalism from a historical point of view is largely based on this slight of hand; this circular logic that the "nation" is defined in terms that are unmistakably modern, and, ipso facto, are considered therefore to be modern inventions. The modern state, of course, is another matter, and its centralized institutions are indeed a peculiar product of modernity and its obsession with conceptualization and standardization. Generally speaking, the medieval and ancient view was that the various ethnic and religious traditions within any specific empire or royal domain were to be self-governing based upon their own interior historical lights. The modern state rejects that ancient view as a matter of course.
Ernest Gellner, because of his Nations and Nationalism (1983, Oxford), made him is one of the best known theorists on nationalism in modern times. Predictably, he is also a major opponent of nationalism as a social and political movement. He, further, defined the modernist school within the field and his work is usually cited in the numerous attacks on national identity in modern academia. Often, classes on nationalism begin with him and an analysis of his critique of nationalism as a sociological phenomenon.
The central idea of his theory is that nationalism arose from the need of modern society to create a large literate public from which to develop economically. In other words, much like Benedict Anderson and others, the need of modern capitalism to find markets that can be reached with a minimum of effort necessitated the rise of public education and the encouragement of other such well known sources of "national" unity. In other words, modern societies are fast moving and increasingly mobile, and therefore, need a certain standardized vernacular and mode of interaction which makes the fast moving and changing massive division of labor such that efficiency is realized. The need, not only for specific specialized training, but a generic education that makes such interaction possible is the beginning of a broader sense of national belonging.
Gellner consistently makes a distinction between "high" and "low" culture. The latter is the primitive form of cultural interaction that exists among pre-literate and pre-industrial people. The high culture is one where there is a great degree of mobility as well as a need for high levels of literacy in modern, industrial times. High culture is rationalized, specialized and educated. Nationalism, for Gellner, is the imposition of the high culture upon a society where, by definition, the sorts of things that are needed for such a society to survive are a great degree of broad based participation and interaction over larger and larger territories; hence the idea of this larger "national" collective. His critique can be summarized in his own words:
Nations are a natural, God-given way of classifying men, as an inherent though long-delayed political destiny, are a myth; nationalism, which sometimes takes preexisting cultures and turns them into nations, sometimes invents them, and often obliterates preexisting cultures: that is a reality, for better or worse, and in general an inescapable one (48-9). . . .
It is nationalism that engenders nations, not the other way around. Admittedly, nationalism uses the preexisting , historically inherited proliferation of cultures and cultural wealth, though it uses them very selectively, and it most often transforms them radically. . . .
Nationalism is not what it seems, and above all it is not what it seems to itself. The culture it claims to defend and revive are often its own inventions, or are modified out of all recognition. (55-56)
Nationalism is not what it seems, and above all it is not what it seems to itself. The culture it claims to defend and revive are often its own inventions, or are modified out of all recognition. (55-56)
It is interesting though that Anthony Smith responds to this idea by claiming that in "Serbia, Finland, Ireland, Mexico, West Africa and Japan, to take a few cases at random, there was no significant industrial development, or even its beginnings, at the time of the emergence of nationalism" (Nationalism and Modernism, Blackwell, 36). Smith's refutation of Gellner's simplistic thesis is important. He claims, for example, that the mass indoctrination of the Soviet Union, over 80 years, was insufficient to win over the masses to its ideology, showing the insufficiency of mere coercive "brainwashing" to convince a population of political truths.
Further, Smith writes, one needs to deal with societies where traditional and modern elements exist side by side for long periods of time, rather than posit a simplistic replacement of the pre-modern with the modern. One of his most damning criticisms is the simple question: Where did the first nationalists come from? It could not have been those who were the product of public education, for such "nationalism" had to have existed already. Therefore, Gellner is forced to admit the absurdity that nationalists came after, rather than before, the advent of nationalism. Gellner's thesis, putting it mildly, is loaded with problems. For a serious scholar, one who clearly despises nationalism, to base an academic career that people became nationalists as such and such a time because, basically, of "brainwashing" is dishonest to the extreme. Nonetheless, Gellner's thesis still dominates academic discussions on the topic. Nonetheless, in spite of the Gellner/Smith debate, the error on both sides is that the unit of analysis is wrong.
For Gellner, the adoption of the "high culture," i.e. "nationalism," derives from the development of an industrial society made up of dislocated peasants (removing them from the soil) having been brought into the cities. Once they adapt to the new bureaucracy and realize its new "values," they adopt the new culture as their own. Such a culture is continued by both the demands of modernism as well as by the public education system and its attendants, such as newspapers and, today, television. Gellner, much like the remainder of his colleagues, continues to equivocate on the term "nation." Gellner and many others claim that this concept refers to actually nothing, an abstract administrative unit. In reality, of course, the nation is a lived ethnic culture, a living experience first and foremost. Therefore, it is clear that if one defines the nation in a uniquely modern way, one can conclude that the nation is a "modern" invention. This is the sorry state of current research on nationalism and nationalist politics.
Of course, the error for all of these theories is that it takes the modern drive to homogenize the territorial state into one culture, and mistake that cynical drive for "nationalism." That is artificial, and indeed deserves the attacks made upon it by the modernist school. This drive -- solely in the interests of the state itself -- is the primary cause of ethnic tension from Canada to Indonesia. Nonetheless, despite the state's best efforts, pre-modern and pre-statist ethnicities refuse to die and, as globalism consolidates itself, it is these identities that are rebelling. The state, being artificial and abstract to begin with, is largely cooperative with the global ruling classes. Quite simply, the costs to the state of remaining outside of the "global economy" are too high. On the other hand, ethnicities forced to live under the unitary state often at war with it or indifferent to it, have everything to lose. The existence of free, self-determined and autonomous ethnic nationalisms is the world's last bulwark against globalization.
Nonetheless, it remains the case that the modern, rationalized state apparatus -- however existing previous to modernity -- has an inborn tendency to separate itself from the more objective and real entity of the cultural and ethnic nation, creating a point of confrontation with which the western world is still dealing. Regardless of the connection of the state with the nation, or the alienation, the nation still exists, is objective and is the means by which the members communicate and interact.
The argument that the medieval polities of, for example, Kiev, Poland, Franconia, Saxony, Ireland, etc, did not exist because institutions operated according to their own internal development is an absurdity. The institutions that made up these states needed to communicate, they needed to relate to one another within the culture, or else there could be no social life at all. Therefore, the language needed to be accessible. One cannot pledge fealty to a lord without numerous cultural and linguistic commonalities: it is such social commonalities that make up the nation, commonalities that the state often seeks to suppress in the name of a new "high culture," bought at the price of a group of ethnicities' ancient identities. In other words, Bavarian and Saxon are ancient identities; German is not, though undoubtedly linguistic commonalities exist. Therefore, this substrate is the nation, not the Gellnerian abstraction of modern industrialism. In the east, the Byzantine state, firmly cognizant of local nationalisms which, as in such places as Russia and Serbia, permitted and encouraged the chanting of the liturgy in the native tongue.
Medieval ethnic groupings, decentralized as they were, certainly did exist, centering on a shared history, such as the Frankish or Swedish identities, manifesting a common religion and sense of historical mission. Russia's Third Rome or the Frank's "eldest daughter of the Church" senses of self are proof enough of this, and can be understood in no other fashion as anything else than patriotic slogans. The Crusades were saturated with the cultural nationalism of the Frankish and Roman Catholic West. The Frankish attacks on the Gallo-Roman population of the earlier empire are loaded with nationalist imagery that demeaned the native peoples. Poland's sense of itself as the guardian of the Roman Church on the borders of the "schismatics" was another. The Byzantines as guardians of the Roman heritage are another. The Jewish sense of cohesiveness and fear of the other is legendary. The Serbian and Russian demands for religious independence in the later middle ages express powerful senses of ethnic and religious cohesion. The Ukrainian Kozaks are another example. Many other examples of such patriotism, found in Ethiopia, England, Rome, Prussia or the Islamic states, clearly show the universality of national cohesiveness and patriotism. Notions of a "national mission" of certain religio-ethnic groupings, however loosely defined, certain mirror the same senses that exist in modern ethno-nationalisms. The lack of a centralized state is an irrelevant consideration.
Robert Bartlett's Making of Europe (Pengiun, 1994; cf. esp. 197-204) is a clear demonstration of the existence of politicized ethno-linguistic nations in Europe previous to modernization. In fact, that the politics of ethnic and linguistic nations is central to understanding medieval history. The famous canonist Regino of Prun in roughly 900 A.D. wrote on the question of ethnic markers and the distinctions between Europe's ethnic groups. Isadore of Seville classified "races" in terms of language. Indeed, medieval ethno-politics was largely cultural and linguistic, and has no notion of "race" per se. Bartlett argues that the linguistic connections among modern nations existed in the middle ages, but existed at a level of local dialect. There is, however a direct ling between medieval vernacular and modern standardized language. The distinction is quantitative. Irish-English battles, as well as Germanic-Slavic ones clearly and persistently had linguistic and ethnic connections. Ottokar II of Bohemia in 1278 referred to the Poles as racial brothers in language. His successor, Wenceslas II, made reference to the principle that nations united in language should be ruled by one prince. Edward Bruce in Scotland made appeals to joint political action with the Irish on the basis of language and a common culture. The battle between the German Church and SS Cyril and Methodios had consistent ethno-cultural and linguistic factors. In other words, to speak of ethnic nationalism as a recent phenomenon is to use the facts selectively.
Now, simply because such cultural realities did not necessarily demand formal expression into a rationalized state does not mean they did not exist, but were rather taken for granted. It is true that many examples could be found, such as in medieval Russia, Serbia, Byzantium, the Kozak host or Poland, where the state did mirror and represent the ethnos, it is also the case that all of these state structures rationalized themselves to the point where they became alienated from the culture that gave them birth. The unit of analysis for social science, therefore, becomes the functioning and ethical content of the ethno-nation.
The error, more simply and fundamentally, is that the word "national" is defined as referring to primarily a political entity (or, even more vulgar, an administration), rather than social or cultural entity. The concept of nationalism is, inexcusably, separated from that of an ethnic or cultural-religious traditionalism, revolving around a sense of mission, religion and shared historical experience that helped to define the peoples in question. There is no time in world history where these ingredients did not conspire to create order out of chaos. What is more inexcusable is the likely state of affairs that such scholars -- Boyd Schafer and Leah Greenfield quickly come to mind -- are hostile to nationalism not based upon strictly historical concerns, but largely political and ideological concerns deriving, importantly, as much from their academic colleagues and the "state of the discipline" as anywhere else.
The standard view of the "nation" as a political entity, according to many radical and liberal theorists such as Gellner, is merely an organ for repression based on the drive to homogenize markets. The state, then, is viewed as merely an instrument of coercion serving classes that benefit from this continued expansion. The result of this homogenization of markets is a synthetic entity called the "nation-state." Primarily, of course, the creation of homogeneous markets is the function of the state, in itself, or the administrative instruments of coercion, with the synthetic "tradition" following behind, solidifying the market as a real and lasting entity. More regularly, however, the claim is made that the nation is the product of modern state builders, seeking a cultural regularity within their realms corresponding to the borders of the state. In any case, the origin of nationalism is generally said to be in the minds of the rulers, and, therefore, a complete concoction by the state and hoisted onto a confused population.
This argument must conclude, in spite of itself, by claiming that "nation-states" are created by the utter contempt for nationality that characterizes capitalism and "free trade." Karl Marx was rather explicit that "free trade" was a necessity for bringing about the revolution, due to its vitiation of the national spirit. Furthering the irony, the first flowering of this homogenization process, or rather, its culmination, was the appearance of a revolutionary leftist ideology during the nineteenth century which is commonly associated with "nationalism." Therefore, the argument becomes that "nation-states" exist precisely because early capitalism sought to destroy actual nations through the homogenization of markets, eventually brought about politically by liberals and leftists that rejected the cultural content of nationality. Thus, one must conclude that "nation-states" are ultimately anti-national and serve only liberal and capitalist elements. And therefore, the "nation-state" cannot have anything to do with ethnic or cultural nationalism as such.
There is nothing about European nationality (or any nationality, for that matter) that allows itself to be defined by liberalism. Liberalism on the one hand, with ethno-nationalism and traditionalism on the other, are diametrically opposed. The identification of liberalism with "ethno-nationalism" was merely a means whereby the new liberal and capitalist elite cemented their victory over the nation, that is, over the older monarchical and aristocratic elites and the national tradition itself.
Against such thinking ethno-nationalism and ethno-anarchism shifts the issue to that of culture. States and nations are quite separable, in fact, radically opposed to each other. What is inseparable is tradition and nation. One cannot define or understand the life or even the existence of a specific nation without an interpretive understanding of its culture and its tradition. An educated nationalist is well aware of the fact that the state was created largely on the backs of nations (i.e. on the destruction or relativization of specifically ethnic institutions), but that to identify modern states with "nations" is an error. The liberal critique is thus a contradiction. There is no such entity as the "nation-state" outside of liberal "nationalists" of the nineteenth century, who, ironically, embraced a radically truncated idea of "nationalism" for the sake of eventually destroying the cultural content of nationality itself.
The state, in demanding a single unitary form of rule over one territory, has set the subject ethnic groupings at one another's throats. The state is the main cause of ethnic tension today, as such artificial entities such as Indonesia and Nigeria prove. The United States contains within itself dozens of ethno-nations, some not identifying with the system in Washington D.C. For all the world's ethno-nations to become completely self-determining would eliminate the need for such groups to war with each other to grab "their piece" of the state capital's "pie." The Austrian empire, for example, as well as Tito's Yugoslavia, maintained their rule by setting one ethnic group at another, creating ethnic wars still plaguing the world.
For one to deny the universality, both over space and time, of cultural and ethnic nationhood is to claim that the ideas and institutions of pre-modern peoples anywhere were not connected to each other by any strands of intelligibility and that they were mutually incomprehensible to one another. Such is implied by the omnipresent claim that, because pre-modern societies, in some instances, contained institutions that were more or less autonomous, than, ipso facto, the nation did not exist -- if this were the case, then no society or state could function whatsoever. It is an absurdity. If there were such strands of intelligibility and of course, there needs to be for any set of institutions to function, then one can thus speak of the ethno- or cultural-community.
The state, increasingly centralized, imposing itself upon these strands of intelligibility is another matter, and serves as an anti-national force rather than the creation of the nation per se. Clifford Geertz, in his Old Societies and New States (The Free Press, 1966), has made a similar argument, that is, the cultural "givens" of the pre-modern society remained as the new state consolidated itself over it. Therefore, an immediate cleavage has been created between the older, traditional ethno-community and the arrogant entity of the modern, "nation-state." Stephen Grosby in his "Religion and Nationality in Antiquity" (European Journal of Sociology. XXXII. 229-65) adds to this critique of modernism in that the structures of tradition and nationalism, that is, physical features, emotional ties, sacred places and sites evokes emotional responses. This is because, through the developmental process of such symbols, such things have supported the life of the people and, therefore, the life of any individual member. This connection is written into the very heart of a people as a prerequisite for their survival and continued vitality; and therefore, the psychological response such symbols generate is quite rational and linked with the very nature of their specific life. On the other hand, the state, in spite of its destructive tendencies, could not merely invent a cultural patrimony that received near universal acceptance, but attempted to unify disparate traditions by stressing their commonality, such as the Catholic inheritance of Spain, or the linguistic commonalities of the Germanic confederation.
The ethno-nation is primarily a cultural and social entity which predates the state. What liberals often mean by the recent appearance of nationalism is a specifically self-conscious idea of the nation-state itself, or the state imposing itself upon already existing, pre-modern cultural identities, seeking to unify them under one banner. This is something quite different from ethno-nationalism. There has never been a time where pre-modern tribal societies of antiquity believed themselves as anything else than "different" from others. The large numbers of words in pre-modern languages for "foreigner" or "alien" clearly demonstrate that. It was Rousseau's fantasy in his Second Discourse that provided liberals/radicals with a comfortable myth about the development of nations.
Joshua Fishman (cf. his Language and Nationalism. Newbury House 1972) develops an interpretive approach to ethnicity through language. For him, the changes of ethnic organization are not done arbitrarily, but through the ethnic "genius" of the people involved. Language provides a barrier to ethnic and thus national formation. Songs, chants, prayers and other things emphasize the "doing" of ethnicity rather than simply its historically strict veracity. Such doings, rather than the being of history, is the reality of ethnic formation. Ethnicity is real and historical because such symbols have forged peoples since history existed, and language forms the boundary between such interpretive communities called ethnicities. The very fact that state elites can "use" these things to "create" nations means precisely that there is such a historical and formative connection. Like within Stephen Grosby's work, there is an immediate feeling when such symbols and ideas are evoked, a feeling that strongly points to ancient roots, or at least to roots that transcend modern politics.
The "difference" among ancient nations was expressed culturally, racially and religiously. To claim that there was no self-conscious "ideology" of nationalism is an anachronism, for the idea of "ideology" had not been created in its modern, abstract form. Politics and morals was a matter of tradition, religion and culture, mostly non-quantified and non-conceptualized, that is, deriving from the nation or ethnos, and defining its distinctiveness, rather than being a matter of that eighteenth century invention, "ideology." Even Christianity was given a national expression, without which it would have never been so exquisitely integrated with the ethnic society and culture of various European, Asian and African ethnic peoples.
A ruling entity radically alien from what comprises it is the nationalist's definition of an empire, and also works as a good definition of the state. It is clearly in the bureaucracy's interest to eliminate the moral and political effect and import of their subject nations as competing centers of power and loyalty. In the post-colonial era in Africa, this is precisely what occurred, with disastrous results. Tribes in Africa, today, often 40 years after liberation, have no loyalty to the artificial state, and look only to the traditional tribal leadership, i.e. the nation, as a source of social legitimacy.
The existence of competing loyalties beneath the formal structure of trade and defense known as the state continually stands in the way of the bureaucracy's power. This is where the conflict lies. Saxony has maintained its ancient identity long after German unification; Welshmen and Scots have maintained theirs under a British hegemony. American southerners and westerners have maintained some shred of their nationhood under the increasingly centralized hegemony of Washington, D.C. The Islamic nations in western China have maintained their ancient identities under the central rule of the Communists. The list can continue.
The well-known Russia scholar Hugh Seton-Watson in his Nationalism: Old and New (Methuen, 1965) is perhaps the best known perennialist theorist of nationalism. For him, nations have always existed, but they were not actually "politicized" until roughly the end of the eighteenth century. He, therefore, makes a distinction between "old" nations and the "new, created" nations we deal with in modern times. The distinction between "created" and "developed" does not do any harm to the historical importance of nationalism or its legitimacy, but does claim that modern nations are forged entities. In other words, there were actual Swedes, Russians, Danes and French previous to 1789. Their development, as he says, is "slow and obscure." But a certain sense of being different from others certainly existed, and their languages were certainly different, thus providing a basis for actual (modern, state centered) nationalism. Its status as "political" or "apolitical" has nothing to do with the perennialist recurrence of national identity. The nineteenth century saw the politicization of nations, but, in order for such appeals to have any effect, there must be an objective substratum of identity upon which to work. This seems a fair and reasoned development, and certainly does not suffice that such "nation-states" are contrived in the Gellnerian sense.
As the title of John Armstrong's book indicates, Nations Before Nationalism (North Caroilnia, 1982) he believes in a nation that existed previous to its explicit politicization. While it is true that this does not commit him to actual primordialism, he does believe in a "primordialist recurrence." His interest, such as Fishman's, concerns the existence of social boundaries marked by language, where many words for "foreigner" and "alien" are extremely important to prove the existence of a real sense of collective self. For Armstrong, the seventeenth and eighteenth century rise of absolutist states created an aristocratic class that rejected ethnic ties in favor of a pan-global aristocratic sense. This is a short term view, however, and masks the much older sense of ethnic-self that existed in many places previous to then.
Often, anti-nationalists will claim that nations did not exist until recently because the ruling classes spoke a different language from the commoners. Of course, this was only the case in a few places, and was met, as in Russia, with nationalist rebellions against it. The Pugachev rebellion under the reign of the German princess Catherine II was based around the presence of foreigners at court; such was also the case with the Russian Old Ritual (beginning in the seventeenth century), which was loaded with nationalist imagery, and created a nationalist revolt around the shared liturgy specific to Russians. Regardless, the alienation of aspects of the ruling classes have nothing to so with the existence of a lived and objective nation. It is simply proof of the alienation and the problems of the state, that is, its perennial ability to become separate from the nation and thus do it violence.
Present movements for self-determination, so numerous that there are few states that can brag to be innocent of one, are the ultimate in nationalist praxis. These national (and, occasionally, religious) groups are, first, self-consciously placing their cultural patrimony as the central ethical component of their social views as well as, more importantly, questioning the legitimacy of the state to act as an arena of cooperation. Far from the state being synonymous with the nation, the nation has delegitimized the state and has asserted itself above and beyond the confines of the statist bureaucracy. States and nations, to put it simply, are opposites. States are bureaucratic systems of coercion seeking their own self-perpetuation and legitimacy, while nations are cultural entities expressing the common will of the individuals who make up the society as inheritors of that tradition. States are run by quantitative measures; nations are qualitative ones. States rule by abstract decrees; nations are ruled by the historical experience and cultural-moral complex that that experience engenders. States are formal and bureaucratic, nations are informal and communal. The fact that states have destroyed nations, as Gellner rightly claims, has nothing to do with the legitimacy of ethno-national communalism, but merely underscores the problems with the modernist school of nationalism: the conflation of "nation" and "state" completely distorts the historical picture.
Primarily, nations seek stability and cultural independence. Rule within the state apparatus largely concerns conforming to the subculture of the bureaucracy itself, performing, according to rationalized procedural rules, the tasks which derive from the bureaucracy's interpreting law for itself and its own idiosyncratic interests. Rule, on the other hand, within nations suggests that the ruling principle be as close to the national tradition as possible, taking its legitimacy from the existence of the culture and tradition itself. Given that the national tradition is kept at the level of the village, that is, the folk, nationalist administration must be at this level if it is to be close to the source of national custom. Thus, ethnic-anarchism is committed to populism and decentralization; national customs and traditions do not lend themselves to abstract and rationalized bureaucracies, centralized and distant from the people (in Herder's use of the term volk) who are the primary repository of national life. Thus, nationalism is further committed to anti-bureaucratism and the existence of town hall meetings, neighborhood and village association, town square politicking and other more informal ruling structures. Ethnic-nationalism is inclined towards anarchism, that is, rule by informal structures of national custom and consensus, the inheritance of the wisdom of generations of experience. States, on the other hand, are merely formal bureaucracies of coercion. States are the monsters of history, whether or not they claim to represent the "nation."
Thus, the well known claim that "the state created the nation" is misleading. It rests upon an equivocation in the idea of "nation." Contemporary political science has made the fundamental error of defining "nation" as "nation-state" or even just "state" which reduces the idea of the cultural collective to the vulgar empirical reality of administrative centralization. This common error is not excused by its being widespread. Therefore, one can conclude that the nation is defined by those super-institutional ideas and customs that make the mutual functioning of social institutions intelligible. It is the substratum of action and thought described in chapter 2. The substratum in turn, is necessary for functioning, that is, integral knowledge, a knowledge verified by the experience of a certain people in a certain place and under certain circumstances, not abstracted apart from any experience whatsoever.
The idea that the state apparatus can provide nations with an arena for their own preservation, prosperity (though trade) and defense is alluring but wrought with peril. In America, the various safeguards against federal encroachments on the states (who, regionally, comprise distinct cultural types) has not stopped the liberal-statist monolith from attempting to absorb these competing arenas of loyalty. The existence of mass communications, that is, advertising and mass entertainment, has also sought the homogenization of culture. The resultant abstraction often erroneously called "nationalization" is, in reality, the very antithesis of nationalism, properly understood. In other words, the common sight of centralized bureaucracies attempting to delegitimize and eliminate competing sources of authority, namely, smaller nations under the purview of the state, can in no way -- except possibly in the ivory tower fantasies of American academia -- be considered "nationalism."
It is precisely the existence of the state as a self-interested arena where economic interests are served (as in the standardization of markets and the development of a common currency) that makes it illegitimate in relation to its subject nations. This element in radical theory nationalism takes no issue with; it is simply that radicals have not taken this to its proper conclusion in relation to nations as the primary bearers of personal identity. Legitimacy might well be conferred upon the state when the subject nations face a common threat, but, of course, warfare is the classic means whereby states centralize power, as Charles Tilly has long argued (cf. his 1975 Formation of National States in Western Europe. Princeton). The state is an abstract administrative unit dealing with political economy and national defense. It has no more ethical value than that. The nation, the state's polar opposite, is the locus of ethical substance, and, in fact, it is ethical substance. It makes the world intelligible; the state makes the world violent. "National states" have taken the most beautiful and sublime aspects of ethnic folk traditions on every continent and have distorted them beyond recognition in genocidal slaughters, mass warfare and cynical profiteering.
The state is an administrative abstraction in that it must often legislate over, beyond and above the particularities of its subject nations. This is precisely why, even given the relative similarity of the states and territories of the early American republic, safeguards were put in place (and later ignored) that sought to defend the primacy of the region and locality over the "general government" in Philadelphia and later in Washington D.C. Legislation loses ethical content as it moves from particularity to generality, for the "object" of the legislation must definitely be increasingly considered as a featureless individual, an object of standardized qualities and desires, but certainly not of introspection and moral worth. This is the nature of the state as well as political centralization generally. Advertising, mass transportation and centralized economic structures, as well as the bureaucratic apparatus of the "general government" are what is destroying the particularistic patrimony of the world's nations for the sake of the profits and that accrue from the standardization of the "global market."
Additionally, "cultural centralization" -- to be found as part of the overarching agenda of such forces and institutions -- given that they do not seek individuals in their ethical truth, that is, as part of a cultural community and established ways of life, seek the most common denominator among individuals as a springboard toward the manipulation the society for economically profitable ends. That springboard is desire, the passions, and, as E, Michael Jones points out in his brilliant study of the sexual revolution Libido Dominandi: Sexual Liberation and Political Control (St. Augustine, 2000) the connection between an ethics of passion and impulse and the drive toward economic centralization for the sake of increasing efficiency is clear. Cultural particularity needs to be destroyed for it stands in the way of a direct relationship between advertiser and the individual. Economic centralization cannot commence unless competing sources of loyalty, trust and happiness are destroyed. Once this is done, the individual lies defenseless against the skillful manipulation of his passions, impulses and desires that full economic centralization and the "standardization" of markets which is the specific purview, it seems, of the modern state.
Thus, instead of the state making the nation (which is historically absurd), the state set itself up as the primary destroyer of the national idea and, therefore, the only source of political legitimacy. What was important to the builders of states was economics, markets, and less ominously, common defense. The state did not create the nation, but the nation choked under the weight of bureaucratic centralization and economic standardization. Will leftist theorists and "rightist" partisans of "economic man" claim that the state and nation in tribal Africa are synonymous? Or is it rather that, in Africa, as in the rest of the world with few exceptions, the state competes with the nation for loyalty? The nation, or the cultural community where individuals are developed into responsible persons (rather than as "individualist" slaves to ego), is the primary locus of ethics and social authority as well as personal identification in world history, predating the myths of the "nation-state" and the "individual" by several millennia.
The "collectives" of the radicals, as well as the "civic associations" of the liberals are abstract and contentless entities. They are held together by nothing, that is, no substantial sense of common purpose, culture, language, race or any other element that creates a sense of belonging and thus community, making the world an intelligible place, and mutually so. They must, by their own artificiality and irrelevance, be held together by the administration, the state. As soon as the cultural and linguistic barriers begin to be broken down by the motion intrinsic to modern ideology, associations of any sort decay and fall apart, replaced by the centralized "cultural administration" of advertising and entertainment; that is, the images of the final revelation of gnosis. The person of the cultural collective becomes the alienated individual of the liberal "civic society" almost immediately manipulated by his passions and desires, to the profit of whomever succeeds in controlling them. Ethno-nationalism is inherently an anarchist creed.
M. Raphael Johnson holds a Ph.D. in political theory from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He is a specialist in ethno-anarchism and ethno-communitarianism. He is presently the editor of the Barnes Review, and has published numerous articles in such publications as The Social Justice Review, The Plains Song Review, The Salisbury Review and Rossia XXI (Russian language). His first book: The Third Rome: Holy Russia, Tsarism and Orthodoxy is due to be released in the spring of 2003.