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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Who Destroyed the Nation-State?

So which country was the first one to shatter the nation-state model? I believe it’s the United States. The very public and very massive protests against the Vietnam War were a loud and clear rejection of the nation-state model.

The basic contract between the people and the state in this model is that the state does what it can to ensure the well-being of the people and to foster their emotional attachment to symbols of the state, and the people, in return, die enthusiastically and cheaply when the state needs to wage war.

When Americans bailed on the state so massively during one of the episodes of an epochal war, that signaled the end of the nation-state.

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37 thoughts on “Who Destroyed the Nation-State?

  1. I think you’re being overly influenced by 20/20 hindsight and believing the hype of wishful thinkers. I lived through the Vietnam debacle and public protests were by no means ‘massive’ or as universal as some would like to believe or portray in hindsight.

    It’s true that that enough young men resisted calls by the government to get involved in the whole idiotic enterprise to seriously interrupt its smooth operation. But there was no widespread opposition among the rank and file population (to which I belonged though I was a child at the time). The public opposition that existed was more notable for the fact that it existed at all rather than being especially widespread.

    A lot of the opposition that did happen was either unpopular with the majority of the population or made no particular impression on them one way or the other.

    My own interpretation (based on memory and analysis and precious few real academic sources) is that the 60’s were a perfect storm for weakening attachment to the state (ie ‘patriotism’ which in the US peaked in the years roughly 1946-1964).

    – the civil rights movement was the social movement that all others were based on, you can’t understand any US history post 1970 without a pretty good knowledge of the civil rights movement from around 1954-1969 (that is roughly to the time that US blacks decided they _wanted_ separate but equal on their own terms rather than widespread acceptance by whites). What all these movements (womens, gay rights, indian, chicano up to the present day had in common (probably not purposefully though that doesn’t matter) was shining a big spotlight on historic failures for all to look at (which is traumatic as hell for all concerned no matter how desirable or needed it is).

    – JFK, even if the official story were true (which I tend to doubt) it was ‘sold’ to the public with so much incompetence that it created the JFK research community and ultimately changed the overall attitude of the US public in government from general trust to open cynicism (without JFK there could be no Watergate).

    – the Vietnam idiocy was too obviously an elective war with no direct consequences one way or the other for the US. The question “could you tell me why we’re doing this again? I seemed to have missed the point” hung in the air. WWII felt real – my mother was always talking about how WWII really felt like a struggle for survival whose outcome wasn’t obvious and that’s in the US that wasn’t heavily involved in the European theater (the Pacific theater was the focus of US effort). Cold war rhetoric had some currency but not enough to ensure widespread acceptance that Washington knew best (though apathy was far, far, far more common than open resistance).

    – the immigration act of 1965. the more immigrants are allowed in to a country and the less their expected to integrate/assimilate and (even more important) let their children be socialized to local norms the less social cohesion there will be.

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    • Irrespective of how many people actually took part in the protests, they changed American politics forever. And I’m not that sure any longer that the Vietnam War was useless. If the goal of a war is capturing territory or achieving the capitulation of the enemy, that obviously didn’t happen in the war. What did happen, though, was that, save for the tiny Laos and Cambodia, the region didn’t go in the direction of communism. And that’s big.

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    • But the point on the weakening attachment to the state is well taken. As I said, albeit in less elegant terms, people bailed on their part of the contract.

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    • And … what is the meaning of the post, that one only has a nation state if citizens do not protest its foreign policy? Or that that is one of the rules of the game, protest against foreign policy is forbidden in nation state? It is not a nation state if enough of the citizens oppose imperialism? (Mark Twain really was a “traitor” … ? … It was all right for the civil rights movement to protest the domestic situation, but not to link it to colonialism … ?)

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      • The nation-state is dead no matter what we do. The only thing that could bring it back is a major catastrophe that will obliterate the technological progress of the last 30 years. But as long as the state can wage wars from a distance of thousands of miles, there can be no nation-state.

        Now, the only problem with this is that when the state doesn’t need us to fight its wars, then its motivation to provide for our welfare is also gone. And this is precisely what we are seeing: an erosion of the welfare state on every level.

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      • Kyle on said:

        Not sure I agree there Clarissa. Look at the European nations, which since the end of World War II have relied largely on the United States for their protection. And yet, the result of that was that it allowed them to build very large social welfare states.

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      • Kyle on said:

        Yes, but the social welfare state is part of the nation-state, and Clarissa’s argument was that when the state doesn’t need the people to fight in wars, then it has no incentive to provide welfare services to them. My point was that the European nations haven’t needed their people to fight wars for many decades now, and the result has been the opposite, an explosion of their social welfare states.

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        • The only thing that allows states not to need soldiers is technology (drones, for instance). That technology is very recent. As the collapse of the welfare state in Europe is recent.

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      • Kyle on said:

        But Clarissa, the European nations not needing soldiers is not a recent phenomenon, it has been this way pretty much since the end of World War II. In the case of some countries, such as Germany, they are allowed at most a self-defense force, not an offensive-capable military, because of what they did under Hitler. Yet, while so many of these European nations were able to get by with limited militaries, they have grown huge social welfare states.

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        • NATO has not only existed this entire time but has actually been expanding. The Cold War made actual hot hostilities impossible for a while. But the Cold War was just one instance of an epochal conflict. It is a mistake to look at the Cold War outside of the framework of this long conflict. And in that conflict Europeans exterminated each other with extreme dedication.

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  2. The problem is that in the absence of the nation state we have only the multinational corporations to keep us all in line and make sure we stand up straight. But obeisance to them can mean back breaking work.

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    • Precisely. The multinational corporations transcend borders more easily than ever. They are not tied to a specific nation-state any longer. Because they sense that this is a crumbling structure with no hope for survival.

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      • They are by definition not tied to any nation state and that has nothing to do with any capacity they may or may not have to “sense” something.

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        • I recently read a philosophical treatise by a CEO of Merryll Lynch and he understands this stuff even better than I do. I was so shocked to see him write so intelligently about the nation-state that I kept rereading the book flap to make sure he was actually a CEO and not a Humanities prof. So yes, I think the CEOs know everything they need to know about this and more than many of us care to do. And that’s kind of disturbing.

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          • I actually don’ t understand what you mean by “know”. What do they know? I’m not disputing that they can know something or that they do know something, but they are oriented toward making money, and knowledge is only useful to them up to this point. Throughout history a lot of different sorts of people have developed certain kinds of knowledge to advance their interests, but I don’t know what kind of a lesson you think we should learn from that.

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            • The nation-state is dying and a completely new form of state is about to arise. The contract between the individual and the state is about to be renegotiated. I find this not only worth knowing but also pretty fascinating. Of course, not caring about this particular subject is also a perfectly valid life choice. 🙂

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              • It’s just that your communication is extremly unclear. It does not have to do with caring or not caring. Rather it has everything to do with the conceptualisation of “knowledge” as measure of human experience. Of course, the boundaries between nations are being eroded and neoliberalism and multinationalism are taking hold now, more than ever. But I think that is probably an uncontroversial fact.

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              • Your mistake is to assume that everybody is at your advanved level of analysis. Unfortunately, it isn’t true. 🙂

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              • Well perhaps so, but also I am not sure we have been communicating here very much. I do speak to people who tell me a lot of what is going on with multi-national corporations and I do see the neoliberal agenda at work, although that seems more ideologically driven by governments themselves, in many instances, than by the corporations at work. Perhaps what we are seeing now is more an instance of corporations working hand in glove with governments to advance their corporate agendas.

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      • “I recently read a philosophical treatise by a CEO of Merryll Lynch and he understands this stuff even better than I do.”

        Where can I find this?

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  3. States have been waging faraway wars for a long time.

    What is your working definition of nation state?

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    • Not just faraway wars, but wars when you don’t need to send troops to battle.

      A nation-state has well-defined borders, flag, anthem, and all other things aimed at creating a deep emotional attachment in people. This emotional attachment allows the state to mobilize huge armies and send them off to die for the nation, joyfully and cheaply. In return for this allegiance, the state looks out forthe welfare of the citizens. It purchases our lives, but the terms of the purchase should be attractive.

      Even Hitler didn’t start sending off huge troops immediately. He first eliminated unemployment and raised the standard of living. Stalin did the same thing. Franco broke up with the most obvious among the fascists, scaled down the fascist rhetoric to raise the standard of living. He didn’t do it because he was a nice guy and cared about the people, obviously. This is simply how a nation-state works.

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      • Who is the state?

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        • ” The most commonly used definition is Max Weber’s,[6][7][8][9][10]which describes the state as a compulsory political organization with a centralized government that maintains a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a certain territory.[11][12] General categories of state institutions include administrative bureaucracies,legal systems, and military or religious organizations.”

          All of the definitions I use in this discussion are very widely accepted to the point of being commonplace.

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          • You seem to accord civil society a very passive role.

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            • Yes, you are unsurprisingly spot-on, my friend. 🙂 You know me well. I have been struggling with this concept forever. This is my big challenge for now and I need to do more thinking on the subject.

              Any reading recommendations are highly appreciated.

              God, I love my blog readers. 🙂

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      • Hitler raised morale. I’m not sure about the standard of living.

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  4. The standard rap is to say HItler improved standard of living and therefore had support, etc., but the question is how real it all was and how long it could last given the way it was financed. Note deceptiveness of statistics on unemployment –women and Jews were taken out of the job market, and there were the RAD work camps, and other unemployed went to KZs.

    Nation state, etc., you sound almost as though you are describing relationship of lord and vassal when you talk about citizenship. This is precisely one of the things that was rethought, fought about, etc. with the creation of constitutional republics, etc.

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    • Whose question? The people Hitler needed to send to battle – obviously not Jews and women – were content. He fulfilled his part of the contract, they fulfilled theirs.

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      • The question of what really happened, not just what was the experience of those who were happy.

        Are you trying to suggest Nazi state is prototype of modern state generally, or what?
        I think you should seriously look at the creation of constitutional republics and debates surrounding this; concept is precisely to get out of this kind of vasallaje. The reason the cortes de Cádiz wanted to get rid of rollos and picotas in 1813, for example, was to disestablish this relationship between citizen and state.

        Obliquely related but since you are reading in business, here’s something to read perhaps. http://org.sagepub.com/content/4/1/93.short

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  5. Kyle on said:

    Would have to disagree with you Clarissa on the definition of nation-state. A nation-state need not at all be a state in which the people have a deep emotional attachment to the state and are willing to go off and die for said state. That to me sounds more like the fascist conception of the state, where the state is all, and the people are just cogs in the machine of the state. The greatness of the individual is displayed through the glory of the almighty state.

    That conception of the state is completely the opposite of the United States, which is based on the opposite concept: that the state’s primary purpose for existence is to protect the rights of the people. The people are individuals with their own free will and rights. They do not exist to serve the state, the state exists solely to protect their rights. The state also derives its power from them.

    Note for example how limiting to the federal government the United States Constitution is. Note how the Founders did not even trust standing armies all that much. And how throughout the 19th century, the United States had a pretty isolationist foreign policy, with only limited foreign engagement.

    Note that the Pledge of Allegiance is not part of America’s founding. It was written in the 1930s by a socialist in order to better sell American flags.

    These two conceptions of the state go back thousands of years to two of the founders of Western civilization: Plato and Aristotle. Plato’s ideal of a state, outlined in his work “The Republic,” was a state in which the people are ruled by an elite class of “philosopher-kings” who make the rules and have all the power. The people are essentially cogs in the machine of this state. Plato did not believe the people should govern, that governance should only be for a small elite.

    Aristotle, his student, broke with him on this and went in completely the opposite direction. In Aristotle’s work “Politics,” he outlines his ideal of a state: a constitutional democracy where the people possess arms in order to check the government. Aristotle mentions multiple times in “Politics” the importance of the people’s possession of arms so that the government cannot become tyrannical.

    Since these two, history has had philosophers tend to side with one of these two. The ultimate embodiment of what Plato envisioned was the Soviet Union. It was of course a much bigger version, but essentially what Plato described. Friedrich Engels, who was best friends with Karl Marx, spoke very admiringly of Plato. He thought Aristotle was an idiot.

    The ultimate embodiment of what Aristotle envisioned is the United States: in our case, a constitutional democratic republic (as we are too big to just be a democracy, as Aristotle and Plato were envisioning city-states at the time) in which the people’s right to possess arms is protected.

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  6. @Kyle, nation state offers certain guarantees and benefits to citizens even when it is not a welfare state.

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