Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Patriotism Without a Nation

There are numerous modern examples of this renewed love of country that open up to a love of humanity. . . The political times and the mode of production have changed. We have to construct the figure of a new David, the multitude as champion of asymmetrical combat, immaterial workers who become a new kind of combatants, cosmopolitan bricoleurs of resistance and cooperation. These are the ones who can throw the surplus of their knowledges and skills into the construction of a common strugle against imperial power. This is the real patriotism, the patriotism of those with no nation.
                                                                                                 - Hardt and Negri, Multitude.

When Hardt and Negri talk about immaterial workers they refer, among others, to people like me. Those whose job consists of absorbing, reformulating, creating, and disseminating knowledge represent the very group of people who can affirm a new kind of patriotism.

As most people know, national patriotism (i.e. the kind that includes being proud of a specific country, being emotionally attached to its flag, its anthem, its symbols, its history, its achievements, etc.) is a very new historic formation. It was created by the Enlightened thinkers of the XVIII century for a variety of reasons. One of this reasons was the impossibility of maintaining huge mercenary armies and the need to get people to die enthusiastically and for free in the numerous wars that needed to be waged.

One of the neatest tricks in the arsenal of national patriotism is its capacity (its absoulte need, even) to take the most recent historical developments and invest them with an aura of longevity. Nationalism manages to convince people that the nation existed long before it actually did. Nationalism's heavy reliance on all kinds of emotional manipulation devices ensures that people never question the validity of nationalist myths.

Today, it is becoming increasingly obvious that national patriotism has run its course. It has had a huge historic importance and helped create the world system in place today. Still, the world has changed and today nationalism has, for the most part, lost its useful functions. Nowadays, it is the reason for endless warfare, acts of terror, suicide bombings, death, and destruction.

For all their previous errors, Hardt and Negri suggest something very useful in the quote I placed at the beginning of this post. Increasing numbers of people today spend their lives on the move. They are born in one place, grow up in another, acquire their education someplace else, and inhabit different countries and regions in the course of their working life. Their patriotic allegiance is not to a specific nation whose papers they carry. I agree with Hardt and Negri in that patriotism of those without a nation is the hope for humanity today.


Steve Hayes said...

Here in South Africa one historian who exposed ther falsity of some nationalist myths was tarred and feathered.

Izgad said...

The willingness to die for one’s country is an important perquisite for citizenship, without it you are just a tolerated subject. In the Middle Ages fighting was done by a small elite. It is not a coincidence that democracy in the Western world went hand in hand with the rise of mass citizen armies. This in fact may be a problem with democracy. Ironically enough, a monarchy would have a more difficult time justifying their ability to send me to my death. With democracy it is the will of the people. I fully agree with you that nationalism is something very arbitrary, that does not mean, though, that it does not have its value.
Whatever faults nationalism has, at least it is a loyalty to something fairly concrete. The United States is an easily definable entity which can mean something in court. Following George Orwell, I have a certain fear of vague terms, recognizing that they can be twisted to mean anything, war is peace, and freedom is slavery. So when I hear that people wish to replace loyalty to the nation-State with something else, I really want to know what they actually wish to replace it with.

Clarissa said...

I don't think this is true any more, Izgad. In the US, dying for your country is either outsourced to mercenaries or pushed on to the most disadvantaged who simply don't have a choice. Most of the US politics in the recent decades is conditioned by the deep seated reluctance of most American citizens not just to die but to suffer any minor inconvenience for their country. This is actually discussed at length in the book I quote in the post.

I would be willing to die for certain values: women's rights, anti-fascism, things like that. But there is no guarantee that any country will permanently stand for the values I cherish. This is why dying for a country, no matter which values it represents, is unacceptable to me. If Hitler were to come to power in the US, would you go out to fight for the country represented by Hitler?

Izgad said...

There are certainly far fewer Americans willing to give their lives for their country than in past generations. The situation in Europe is much worse. With America we can hope to salvage the situation. Might I point out that that majority of those who are willing will likely be found in Red America not Blue. This puts the Left, in many respects, outside of the conversation. If you do not pass the combat test then you cease to have any right to say anything about where this country is going.
So when I am charging up the hill into enemy fire for the sake of this arbitrary human construction known as the United States, why am I doing it? Obviously I know that this is something arbitrary and that my flag is just a piece of cloth. I do it because I believe that the United States has an important role to play in furthering the things that I value such as, free markets, that delicate balance between having a law and order but free government and balancing religion with tolerance for others. Not that America is perfect in these issues, but historically we have done a better job than almost anyone. If America ceased to exist I believe that these causes will suffer severe if not irreparable harm the world over. The best way I know of as an American citizen to fight for these values is to fight for America. Obviously if America would cease to effectively, in any way, represent these values, for example if this country were to put Hitler into power, then I would cease my allegiance to it.

Clarissa said...

I think the test of who is willing to die for the Us is largely irrelevant. Nobody is attacking, so all this militaristic talk serves no actual, practical purpose. As to the Republicans being more willing to die, this is completely untrue. They are more willing to send kids from impoverished backgrounds to die, that's all.

As to the US having done a better job than anybody else, have you spent much time in Western Europe and Canada? In almost all respects, life is much better in those places. There is less crime, the streets are cleaner, women's rights are a lot more advanced, medical care is tons better, food is better and healthier, there is a lot less religious fanaticism, the list can go on forever.

Of course, I don't think the US should cease to exist, God forbid. But there is a lot of room for improvement.

Izgad said...

The fact that the US is not at war at the present is irrelevant, the possibility of war is the underlying threat of all foreign policy interactions. It did not matter what the situation was on paper in September 1938, Hitler understand that the Allies would not go to war so he called their bluff and the end result was Munich. Can we honestly say that we are willing to use military force to stop Iran? Why should Iran, in any way, take us seriously that they should listen to us? If I were advising Ahmadinejad I would be telling to go right ahead with building a nuclear bomb and feel free to hand it over to terrorists to use on a Western city because even the United States, particularly with the current administration, can be counted upon to balk at any serious counter-action. Specifically I do not believe that this administration is prepared, as per our cold war policy, to respond to an Iranian nuke taking out a Western city with the utter destruction of every major Iranian city. The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor with the idea that they could get six months of victory and then force the United States to the peace table. There plan did not work. This was a United States that lost five thousand marines on Iwo Jima in one day. There plan might have worked with today’s America.
I am not saying that America is in some sense the “greatest” country on earth or is better than Europe. I gave certain specific things that I think the United States has done remarkably well at. I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that day to day life in Western Europe might be better than here. I would point out, though, that this European prosperity relies on the protection of the American military. This makes them irrelevant to the conversation. If you cannot defend yourself you are not free, but a servant to the whims of others. Also, keeping in mind what I said about America’s strengths, Europe is unprepared to defend and maintain a free society in the face of the alliance of the radical left and radical Islam. Surviving the threat of radical Islam as a free society is not going to be a simple task; it is going to take the very subtle sort of balancing that our political traditions put us in a very good position to be able to do.