Neglected Historical Fact of the Day: What is a Nation State and why are they silly?
Now you might have heard people call the US nationalistic, which is a term I don’t think is actually accurate. See, the US, for all of its faults, is not, and has never been a nation state?
So what is a nation state? Iis based on the political principle that a country exists to serve as the homeland for a “nation” aka one people. For example, Japan is a Nation state, the country exists on the principle of Japan exists for the Japanese, and this is a nation for the Japanese. Ergo why the country is called Japan, the language is Japanese and the people are Japanese. France is a country for the French, the language and the people are French. See in the US we see nation and country as the same term, but in most parts of the world nation usually means “a people”. Before Israel came into existence the Jewish Nation was used to refer to the Jewish people regardless of what state they were living in. The term Romani Nation is used today for the same purpose. The Nation State is based on the principle of a state existing for those peoples, and an idealized Nation state world is one where every single peoples has their own country. The Nation State emerged as a response to the Imperial Method of nation, where multiple peoples with nothing in common were bound together by loyalty to a common authority. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire were two examples of this, states where hundreds of different ethnic/racial/religious groups were all serving the same state and bound together by a common allegiance. Of course in both those example, certain groups (Germans and ‘White’ Russians specifically were favored). Woodrow Wilson’s “14 points” speech was very much based upon the principle that independent ethnic groups running around deserved their own country where they can live rather than being a minority in a larger empire. And that sounds nice…until you look at the details. The greatest problems with the Nation State are
1) Borders aren’t nice and clean.
It would be nice to imagine this like some sort of MMO world, where each geographical area was populated by one people, but sadly things aren’t that neat and tidy. And while a Nation State can almost make sense in Japan, where 98.5% of the population is of the same ethnic back ground, outside islands with a history of isolationism, it doesn’t quite work.
So Serbia has been oppressed of other Empires for centuries be it the Byzantine, the Ottomans, or Austrians, and when they finally got their own country, tens of thousands of Serbians were still living in Austrian dominations. So they wanted to get their own nation where all the Slavs lived in peace. Problem is while the geographical area of Yugoslavia (literally land of the Slavs) has a Slavic majority, there are many ethnic groups who live there who…aren’t Slavic. Jews, Romani, Germans, Turks, Croatians, Slovenians, and oh yeah…Bosnians. So when the people of Bosnia, who aren’t Slavic and don’t fit into the Yugoslavian identity attempt to claim some degree of independence, what happens? Oh wait, a massive genocide. Good job. And it isn’t like that was the first Genocide in Yugoslavia, just the first one we cared about. We had the Croat attempt to wipe out the Slaves, the response genocide, and the mass slaughter/deportation of the German ethnicities after WWII.
Or how about Iraqi Arab nationalism, which doesn’t exactly have a place for the Kurds in their world. Hey look, another genocide.
Or to chose a non Genocidal example, how about the treatment of the Ainu in Japan?
2) Nationalism is based upon principles of of reclaiming lands of importance. Again, at first glance this makes sense, after all if a group of people are denied a country, wouldn’t it make sense to let them own places of historical importance to them? Yeah, makes sense until you look at the details. After all nobody can deny that A) The Jews have been oppressed throughout history B) Israel is the traditional homeland of the Jews. Ok makes sense…except in the 1800 years since the jews were forced from their homeland, other people came to live in that region, and for the Jews to come live there, they would need to drive the people who have been living there out of the area. Yeah, it becomes a little difficult to play the part of the victimized people (even if said victimization was entirely true) if you are driving people out of a land they have lived in for centuries at gun point. This is a problem that comes up again in the Yugoslavian genocide, after all a great deal of Bosnian is located on lands of extreme historical importance to the Serbs…but the Bosnians have been living there for centuries, and how can you get them to leave? Oh bullets? That works I suppose. This is not even getting into places like Mecca that are sacred to multiple groups.
3) Turns out, a common origin does not relate to a common view. See the “Nation” part of Nation state can refer to ethnicity, language, culture, religion or race. And while it is nice to believe that all French people have some sort of common ground that means they can understand each other on a deeper level…that isn’t actually true. Lets look at Japan for example, 98.5 a single ethnic group and yet you have extremely contentious political battles, with people fighting constantly. I mean why would speaking Japanese and being of Yamoto descent mean that you agree on economic policy, views on the military, religious views, or apologizing for the Rape of Nanking which Japan still hasn’t done yet…oh wait sorry got off topic there.
4) Immigration. See the US is not a Nation states, and while we go through periods of being cruel to immigrants, which you can see with our racist treatment of hispanics in this country. But in the US this goes through phases, for awhile we were racist against the Irish and now they are entirely accepted into the country, same with Italians, Pols, Swedes etc. Eventually once enough Hispanics come to the country we will start to accept them as Americans, starting with the light skinned ones of course, and we will find some other group to hate. This isn’t true of Nation states, as you will notice from the anti immigration movements in Europe. If your country is based upon the principle of one country for one ethnic group, there isn’t very much room for ethnic minorities coming in, after all if France is for you know..the French what do you do with the Africans and Middle Easterners coming into the country? It doesn’t matter if they speak the language (which many of them do as a first language) You can’t make an Arab or a Berber French. And don’t even get me started on Jews and Romani. The nation state is all about uniformity, and when people can’t conform to the majority ideal (aka ethnic minorities) they will be persecuted. You want another example? How about the treatment of Korean immigrants in Japan? Doesn’t matter if they have lived there for generations, doesn’t matter if they speak the language, doesn’t matter if they are completely assimilated, according to many they can never be “real” japanese.
Or how about how Ireland is oppressed for centuries by the English, and when most of the Island gets independent, what do they do? Go around and oppress Turkish migrants.
5) National Languages are stupid?
You know why learning french is frustrating in the US? France has a National Language council who try to determine what is “real” french” vs. “wrong frencH” and they stick to this version no matter how archaic it is. NOt to mention the inherent problem of telling the many African countries that have French as a first language that their french is wrong? Also why do you need to speak a language to be part of a country? If I’m born in the US, and I only speak Spanish, I’m American, why can’t it be the same in Japan. Oh wait because we can’t have the pureblood diluted with filthy immigrants. And most nation states don’t care if you speak their language as a second language, you still aren’t “really” a member of the group, just ask the Jews or Romani.
6) Nation states by their very nation are sensitive about criticism.
If the basis of your nation is “We need a country for our own special culture” it can be very hard for them to admit to fault. I mean, lets look at how Japan has handled their warcrimes during WWII, do you see any apology forthcoming towards the Rape of Nanking, unit 731, the comfort women or the many other things Japan did during their time. Nation states by there very nature are about glorifying and promoting the Nation as something worth building a state about…it is not really about accepting that they did bad things. Look at the way France, or Belgium or Spain or Italy have handled their colonial atrocities, they aren’t exactly forthcoming about the way they treated the countries whose people are immigrating into their borders. Getting nationalists to admit fault with their country is like pulling teeth.
7) The Nation is a myth
WTF is “French Culture”? Go to different parts of France you will get a different answer, or different time periods or different sub cultures. Is Catholicism french? Because you have French Protestants who have lived in the country since Martin Luther’s day. Is electro music french? Is a certain accent french? Hair style? Mistresses? Favorite food? It is totally unclear.
Before people say I am making the US look too good, I will get into a Civic State next time.