11 Things You Can Do to Preserve the Nation-State

Reader richmondguide asks a crucial question about what one can do to help preserve the nation-state.

I don’t believe anything can be done to preserve the nation-state in its familiar form because the course of  history is inexorable. However, we can take some of the features of the nation-state that we really like into the new state form with us. Here is what we can be doing right now:

  1. Know what’s happening and be aware of the major societal transformation we are undergoing.
  2. Respect the ways in which the nation-state derives legitimacy from its capacity to conduct foreign policy.
  3. Suspend your obnoxious post-modern need to piss on national holidays and the invented traditions of the nation. Yes, they are all invented but they give you the possibility of a welfare state. Don’t they deserve some respect just because of that?
  4. A nation-state withers and dies if it’s not watered with love and admiration. Find things to like about your nation-state. Puerile denunciations of a nation’s invented history are very passé.
  5. Within the next year, make 3 friends (meaning, people not related to each other) who physically live close to you.
  6. Vote in local elections, including at the lowest level.
  7. The next time you meet an immigrant, talk to her like you do to anybody from your country. Because that’s who she now is. If you can volunteer to teach the official state language(s) to immigrants, that’s fantastic. Work constantly on improving your own command of the official state language(s).
  8. Get married and have children, buy a house, buy a plot of land and grow something on it. Hey, nobody said preserving the nation-state would be easy.
  9. Participate in or start an organization that brings people who live locally physically together ( a book club, a worker’s union, a charitable organization. Hell, go to Weight Watchers but only to the kind that requires physically being in the same space with people.)
  10. A nation-state exists only for as long as its invented marks of identity manage to evoke emotional attachment: the flag, the anthem, the soldiers’ uniform, the national monuments, the symbolic capital (e.g. the names of the greats) that it managed to co-opt, the national bird or whatever. If you can’t muster any positive feelings when looking at the flag, consider that it’s your free public secondary schooling, your unemployment benefits, your Social Security and your Medicaid waving in the air. If that doesn’t give you any warm and fuzzies, let’s just take the nation-state behind the barn and shoot it to spare it further agony.
  11. Prepare a list titled “11 Ways in Which My Nation-State Is the Best.” (Eleven is my favorite number. But 10 is OK, too.) If after you make the list you realize that by “my nation-state” you do not mean the place where you reside right now, then let’s just take the nation-state behind the barn, etc.

Yes, many of these things sound naive and kind of embarrassing for our 21st-century sophistication. Cynicism and mockery are way hipper but remember that the liquid post-national world is capable of such cynicism and coldness that any old-world naiveté will feel cute in comparison.

49 thoughts on “11 Things You Can Do to Preserve the Nation-State

    1. This is what every nation-state does in order to exist. There is no other recipe. Alongside Russia, Ukraine and Israel are trying to consolidate their nation-state and obviously follow these same steps.

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  1. Well, maybe I am an idealist, but I hope that eventually someone will figure out how to build an equally functional imagined communities based on some more enlightened founding principles, not on ethnic/religious nationalism. I know, I know, Benedict Anderson even makes a joke that nobody has ever seen a “Tomb of the Fallen Liberals” and this phrase even sounds ridiculous… But I actually hope that this joke simply reflects the current sad state of affairs, not the actual realm of what is possible.

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    1. Everything comes at a price. The new state model that is in the process of being consolidated destroys shared identities but also gets rid of the warmth and security that they offer.

      The greatest problem I’m seeing right now is that people believe that they can have all the benefits of both models and no negatives of either. And that’a dangerous delusion.

      “Benedict Anderson even makes a joke that nobody has ever seen a “Tomb of the Fallen Liberals” and this phrase even sounds ridiculous”

      • That’s just lovely, you’ve got to agree. 🙂

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      1. Don’t know… I think it may be beneficial to try discussing some possible non-nationalist founding principles of a functioning society with some reasonable amount of welfare, rather than just declare that it is impossible. It may indeed be impossible at the current stage of the development of the people, psychologically, just like communism is impossible, but what about further development?

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        1. The main problem is that people need to want to stay put. And they don’t. Unless enough people choose to stay put, there is no society and no welfare. Transient, nomadic, alienated individuals do not form stable societies guided by the idea of mutual assistance and interdependence.

          So let’s consider this: what can convince people to stay in place and not flit around, enjoyable and beneficial as the flitting may be?

          Of course, it is quite a cute conversation for two repeat immigrants like you and me to be having. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well, I do not know the whole list of the things you’ve learned from your immigration experiences, but one thing I learned is that one can become part of the community and contribute to building a community (usually this is a community of educated immigrants from all over the world) that is built not on nationalist principles, but on shared philosophical, ethical and as a result, to some extent – political preferences. With language being just a communication tool. Maybe this is some sort of new-age version of the common religious identity, and thus a step backwards from the nation-states… 🙂 But it works. 🙂 I admit that I do not know if this can be scaled up to the whole population of any significant territory and, if it is in principle possible – how to do it… But I remain hopeful.

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            1. “one thing I learned is that one can become part of the community and contribute to building a community (usually this is a community of educated immigrants from all over the world) that is built not on nationalist principles, but on shared philosophical, ethical and as a result, to some extent – political preferences”

              • Do they reside in the same geographical location? Permanently?

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              1. — Do they reside in the same geographical location? Permanently?

                Not all, but with modern means of communication people can pool resources anyway, if they decided to create some safety net for the members. Besides, not all useful resources are monetary. Members of such group can teach each other useful things, for example… Trade services, etc.

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              2. “Not all, but with modern means of communication people can pool resources anyway, if they decided to create some safety net for the members. Besides, not all useful resources are monetary. Members of such group can teach each other useful things, for example… Trade services, etc.”

                • Ah, well, but that’s liquid postnational society. The good news is that this format is unavoidable anyways. People choose their families, their communities, their identities and organize private charitable efforts. Of course, those who can’t market themselves as very attractive will not be chosen.

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              3. — Of course, those who can’t market themselves as very attractive will not be chosen.

                Well, let us be realistic. We are not considering some post-apocalyptic scenario where all functions of the state will disappear immediately and simultaneously. In that case I’d rather own a Kalashnikov. The dissolution of the social safety nets will be gradual anyway. And it has already started, so we can see from where it starts: retirement, unemployment benefits, free or affordable education. The army and police will disappear the last, if ever – any society understands that it should give its violence-prone members some purpose, or else. 🙂 So there will be some territorial taxes and services.
                Provided the transition period will be long anyway, I do not mind getting a bit more libertarian here, and claiming that people have to accept a bit more personal responsibility for “not being chosen”. And, by the way, if it gets to the point where I will have to teach something outside of the state-sponsored structure of the university – I do not mind teaching also those who cannot directly repay me in any way. Just for the purpose of making the world a better place. And indoctrinating them properly. 🙂 🙂

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              4. Of course, the state will not go away. The current format will mutate into something else but the state never goes away. 🙂 Police, armies, taxes existed in some form before the nation-state and will go on existing.

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    2. “I hope that eventually someone will figure out how to build an equally functional imagined communities based on some more enlightened founding principles, not on ethnic/religious nationalism”

      I keep hoping someone will invent a Gin and Tonic that makes you lose weight.

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        1. “I like the way you are essentially comparing nationalism with alcohol”

          Well they both have their virtues in moderation and can be very dangerous when carried too far. And many otherwise reasonable people are afraid of a sip because they’re afraid of where they could end up if things go wrong.

          The problem I have with the “like minded communities” idea is that they seem to want the collective buzz without actually drinking. It’s like a night at the bar with non-alcoholic beer – what’s the point again?

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          1. “The problem I have with the “like minded communities” idea is that they seem to want the collective buzz without actually drinking.”

            • That’s what I’m saying. Everything comes at a price. Want the joys of drunkenness, prepare for a hangover. Want to avoid a headache, drink water while sitting gloomily and alone in the corner.

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      1. Well, there’s always alcoholic ketoacidosis if you’re willing to have your breath smell bad and to wreck your kidneys eventually, among other things …

        [and no, this is not a serious suggestion]

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  2. Or another one I just came up with:

    Invite an immigrant to celebrate a state holiday with you. And if you are an immigrant, accept without any inane, “Well, in my culture we don’t. . .”, read up on the tradition and come prepared to participate.

    This will do more than any empty blathering about unseen and distant refugees.

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      1. —In Quebec, St. Jean Baptiste

        🙂 I keep repeating to myself: it is all your fault, valter07, you have to remember that you accepted full responsibility for Clarissa’s imminent radicalization… 🙂 🙂

        But seriously, can you explain what “buzz” are you talking about? I have experience with all kinds of “buzz”… What is it that only the nationalism can provide?

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        1. Since it’s the anniversary of the Revolution of Dignity, I’ve been reading a lot of accounts of people who were at the Maidan. And even just reading them is an intense experience. I can’t even imagine what it might have been like actually to be there, to feel that there is something bigger than oneself. It’s like reading a very powerful work of literature but without the isolating facet of the experience. The buzz must be truly narcotic because of the collective dimension. It’s like being at a sports game (another attribute of the nation-state) but times 1,000.

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          1. OK, I get the collectivist buzz you are talking about. This is the buzz of having some common noble goal. But there can be all kinds of principles on which that commonality is based. Nationalism does not have to be the strongest.

            By the way, speaking of Canada day and Jean Baptiste – it is also part of the Quebec culture (broadly defined 🙂 ) that one has to choose which one of those two is more dear to him. 🙂 And my choice is based explicitly on perceiving Canada as a nation that is LESS about being the descendants of somebody who came here or there 400 years ago or lived somewhere for 1000000 years, and who are united by some single language and culture. In other words, I like Canada specifically because I perceive it, and my imaginary relationship with it, to be closer to my ideals outlined above than Quebec is. And Canada still has pretty mighty social safety nets.

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          2. \ I’ve been reading a lot of accounts of people who were at the Maidan. And even just reading them is an intense experience. […] The buzz must be truly narcotic because of the collective dimension. It’s like being at a sports game (another attribute of the nation-state) but times 1,000.

            I have never experienced anything like that in my life. For any country.

            Guess people on this blog imagine me as vastly more patriotic than I am. In my country admitting lack of sufficient patriotism is a huge shame, but I am OK with that since I do it online, not in RL, and since my family has contributed to the nation state in practice (f.e. army service, taxes) . 🙂

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          3. I had a chance to think what creates this “buzz” in me… The strongest buzz is created by everything related to the fall of the Berlin Wall… And I am not German. So for me it is not about the reunification of Germany, and not even about the hopes for the independence of my own country. It is clearly about some supra-national values…

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            1. How very interesting. I have this sort of feeling for the live chain where people stood across Ukraine holding hands in 1990. I wasn’t there but knowing about the chain touches me deeply.

              Another such thing is when I discovered that almost all of the hundreds of thousands of people who came to the Maidan did so alone or in small groups. Nobody told them to do it but they all still made the same decision, and that’s very impressive to me.

              So I guess it’s individualism that serves a collective goal that gets to me.

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          4. It is. And the weird thing about it is that you won’t feel it like it is at the moment it’s happening, not if you try to remember it honestly. At the moment it’s happening, you’re mostly freezing your ass off, scanning the crowd for provocateurs and wondering why you’re surrounded by idiots. The holy aura comes in retrospect, as you try to integrate in your understanding of the world that you walked for hours each night with a trick ankle and a trick knee, between work and sleep and classes, not because anyone called you there, not because you think one person in plus or minus will change anything, but because of a sort of faith, really. Not a faith in miracles happening, or a faith in significant change – unlike previous iterations the 2015 Romanian protests did have a bit of look-at-how-you-contributed-to-this flavour but not nearly enough – but a faith in your own ability to say no and say that this stops here, and if the rest of society decides to ignore this 3 weeks later, their actions are on them, not me. It feels very individual and even a tad lonely, this I can tell you, even though the larger pattern isn’t individual at all.

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      2. By state holidays I mean, in the US, Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July. In Quebec, St. Jean Baptiste. In Canada, Canada Day, etc
        Christmas is more about religion than nationalism. The aspects everyone gets into wholeheartedly are more about consumerism and equinoxes. My cousins exchange gifts and spend time with family. The signal that it’s important is the overwhelming majority of businesses close. Inviting someone to Christmas is a huge gesture of goodwill, which may count for more than any references to nationalism.

        But Thanksgiving and 4th of July are nationalistic and tied to the US in particular in addition to being state holidays. These holidays would not exist without the U.S. being a nation-state. I keep telling this organization that wants to get more second generation adults to come to their conventions not to schedule at the beginning of July and they will not listen because the leadership is first generation.

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  3. The European Union seems to be making substantial progress in further diminishing what little remains of the sovereignty of its member states.

    in the aftermath of the Paris suicide bombings and the indefinite emergency “pre-crime” laws instituted in France, conventional wisdom in Brussels is that Europeans’ eagerness to trade sovereignty (and thus liberty) in exchange for (border) security, is far greater.

    The result: a loss of border sovereignty, which would effectively make the customs union one big superstate controlled by Brussels:

    One of the most contentious elements of the regulation would hand the commission the power to authorise a deployment to a frontier, on the recommendation of the management board of the newly formed European Border and Coast Guard. This would also apply to non-EU members of Schengen, such as Norway.

    And the absolute kicker:

    Although member states would be consulted, they would not have the power to veto a deployment unilaterally.

    I wonder how much longer the EU will survive.

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    1. Yes, absolutely, let’s see if the convenience of traveling within no-borders EU will be outweighed by the desire to preserve national sovereignty. I’m afraid I have to bet on convenience.

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      1. \ Yes, absolutely, let’s see if the convenience of traveling within no-borders EU will be outweighed by the desire to preserve national sovereignty. I’m afraid I have to bet on convenience.

        You are afraid? I thought you were for EU. Have I misunderstood something?

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        1. “You are afraid? I thought you were for EU. Have I misunderstood something?”

          • Hey, I’m fine either way. 🙂 But if people want to know how to preserve the nation-state model, sovereignty should be central to their considerations. On the other hand, the philosophy of “whatever is convenient for me and the rest be damned” also has the right to exist. It can’t coexist with the nation-state model.

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  4. \ Ah, well, but that’s liquid postnational society. The good news is that this format is unavoidable anyways.

    The crucial to me question which you never answered is when those developments will reach Israel. Right now, we are a very nationalistic society, like an old European country. For instance, I notice that “do army service” is not among your 11 points, but this is something that is expected in Israel. Not serving is a shame.

    Nobody (in public, at least) dares to “piss on national holidays.” Except Arabs, but they are not truly a part of my nation state anyway. At least, Israeli Jews don’t see them thus and Israeli Arabs also talk how they are Palestinians and wouldn’t dream serving in IDF or even in police. Once I read an article about Israeli Arab woman serving in police. An Arab agreeing to serve as a policeman (not IDF, civilian police!) is so unusual that an article was in order. 😦

    Having children is expected and encouraged by government. Googled for exact info:

    \ According to the national health insurance law, IVF treatments will be paid for by the HMOs in cases couples who are childless from their present marriage (up to two children) and, for a childless single woman wishing to establish a single-parent family, for her first and second child. IVF treatments are provided to women aged 18 to 45 (Egg donations are given to women aged 18 to 54).
    http://www.health.gov.il/English/Topics/fertility/Pages/ivf.aspx

    \ Prepare a list titled “11 Ways in Which My Nation-State Is the Best.”

    Two most recent examples:

    Israel leads in European grants for young researchers
    European Research Council announces awarding of its Starting Grants to 291 early-career researchers, 24 of them from Israel, under ‘excellent science’ pillar of Horizon 2020 program.
    http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4737045,00.html

    AND

    Four Israeli applications are among the 10 winners of the international 2015 Medica App Competition held recently in Dusseldorf, Germany.

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    1. “The crucial to me question which you never answered is when those developments will reach Israel.”

      • I have answered but you are choosing not to hear. 🙂 🙂 The answer is YES. This is a global transformation. Nobody can avoid it. People who arrived at a nation-state later will try to hang on to the model for longer. But unless they move to a different planet, they will be part of the global technology, global economy, global demographic processes.

      “Prepare a list titled “11 Ways in Which My Nation-State Is the Best.”

      Two most recent examples”

      • Hey, I never doubted you could come up with 111 ways on the spot. 🙂

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      1. \ The answer is YES. This is a global transformation. Nobody can avoid it.

        I got that!!!

        The question is when I will start actually seeing “post-modern need to piss on national holidays and the invented traditions of the nation” and “Puerile denunciations of a nation’s invented history” in Israel.

        When will the degree of “entire world is against us – all Jews should come to Israel – people who leave Israel should be shamed forever” go down?

        You said “People who arrived at a nation-state later will try to hang on to the model for longer.”

        My question is – for how long in Israel? Because I think some degree of new developments you mentioned may be actually good for my ultra-nationalistic society, but don’t see them in the near future. Of course, it is easier to be post-modern if one lives in a peaceful society, not surrounded by enemies within and without one’s state. 😦 I am afraid I will die without my society reaching this post-modern stage. That till my death Arab countries around us will be our enemies (and horrible pre-modern places to live for Arabs too).

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        1. The nationalistic propaganda in Israel is so shrill precisely because this is ultimately a losing battle. And when the young Israelis say, en masse, “Ah, screw this, I’ll be better off making money in my own transnational startup than risking my life for something that’s so outdated”, you are better qualified than me to say.

          “Of course, it is easier to be post-modern if one lives in a peaceful society, not surrounded by enemies within and without one’s state.”

          • I’m starting to sound like a broken record :-), but “postmodern” and “enemy of the state” exist in two universes that do not intersect. As long as you believe in “enemy of the state”, you can’t by definition be peaceful. A nation-state does not exist without internal and external enemy and will generate such an enemy without fail.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. \ The nationalistic propaganda in Israel is so shrill precisely because this is ultimately a losing battle.

            You know, I accepted your words w/o thinking at first, but now began thinking. Do you really want to claim that in the previous era development of nation states involved less shrill propaganda? What about German violence? What regarding SSSR propaganda machine? Even American melting pot ideology and racism to “non white” Irish?

            \ And when the young Israelis say, en masse, “Ah, screw this, I’ll be better off making money in my own transnational startup than risking my life for something that’s so outdated”, you are better qualified than me to say.

            I believe it won’t happen within my lifetime.

            What I am afraid of are rising violence in the Arab world and, within Israel, rising % of Arab and Haredi populations. The first serve as an enemy within, while the latter are not ready enough to carry their weight by serving in IDF and participating in workforce.

            \ As long as you believe in “enemy of the state”, you can’t by definition be peaceful.

            I want to be peaceful and post-modern. However, when news every day are filled with

            “16-year-old Palestinian girl indicted for attempted murder [… ] her 14-year-old cousin was killed at the scene ”
            and
            “3-week-old wounded by rocks in the West Bank. The baby’s mother was driving her five children to Jerusalem when they were suddenly hit by rocks”

            should I just ignore this? Say “it does not concern me”?

            If I live in Israel, when rocket sirens sound across country once again in not too far-away future, if will concern me, whether I want or not. When people are called to IDF during next operation (and jailed if they refuse), it does concern them.

            You say “as long as you believe” as if it is 100% in one’s head, as if there is no such a thing as an existing reality, but every person imagines his own 100% independently. Are those terrorists my friends? Can I control them by deciding “in my head I won’t believe enemies of the state exist”?

            What I want to say is that your new world has many good sides, but as long as I remain an Israeli citizen, I don’t believe I will see most of them, if any. We are not independent islands, our possibilities are defined and restricted by where we live.

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      1. \ Some Israeli Arabs (I don’t know how many) do serve in the IDF, and the IDF was sufficiently proud of them to create this video.

        Article from 2012:

        New film looks at the tiniest of Israel’s minorities — Muslim Arabs who voluntarily enlist

        Are the numbers of Muslim Arabs serving in the IDF today consistent with the past?

        It usually stands in straight connection with what is happening politically. In times of peace, recruitment goes up; when there is tension, it goes down. Today, roughly, there are about 20 per year. I must emphasize that this does not include Bedouins, who are also Muslim. It is more customary for Bedouins to volunteer.
        http://www.timesofisrael.com/his-big-secret-hes-arab-muslim-and-serves-in-the-idf/

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  5. 6)Vote in local elections, including at the lowest level.
    I’ve voted in every election since I was eligible, and I did election protection for a couple of elections including the last national one. I plan to vote and I plan to do election protection again for this upcoming one.

    7)The next time you meet an immigrant, talk to her like you do to anybody from your country. Because that’s who she now is. If you can volunteer to teach the official state language(s) to immigrants, that’s fantastic. Work constantly on improving your own command of the official state language(s).
    I’m signed up to tutor ESL students at the library next year. There’s no official US language though.

    4)A nation-state withers and dies if it’s not watered with love and admiration. Find things to like about your nation-state. Puerile denunciations of a nation’s invented history are very passé.
    10)A nation-state exists only for as long as its invented marks of identity manage to evoke emotional attachment: the flag, the anthem, the soldiers’ uniform, the national monuments, the symbolic capital (e.g. the names of the greats) that it managed to co-opt, the national bird or whatever. If you can’t muster any positive feelings when looking at the flag, consider that it’s your free public secondary schooling, your unemployment benefits, your Social Security and your Medicaid waving in the air. If that doesn’t give you any warm and fuzzies, let’s just take the nation-state behind the barn and shoot it to spare it further agony.

    Lin Manuel Miranda gets all the chits. Seriously how many people would pay attention to early American history on their own outside of school? OTOH, isn’t listening to a musical and reading a biography consumerist? Hmm.

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    1. We love the nation-state and signal that we are prepared to lay down our lives for it. In return, it takes care of our well-being. That’s the social contract of a nation-state. We give, we get. One doesn’t exist without the other.

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      1. I really don;t think the romantic aspect of the nation state is really necessary to the social contract or purely practical maters like welfare. As far as I see you pay your taxes and social security contribtions in, and generally obey the law, you get your benefits out and the protection of said law. That seems to me all that’s needed.

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        1. Taxes were paid for millennia. Laws existed for millennia, too. Yet the welfare state only came into existence as a result of the nation-state consolidation. And the nation-state does not exist without a profound emotional identification of citizens with the imagined community of the nation.

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  6. I suppose the Deep State should provide a suitable rebuttal …

    — Know what’s really going on and be aware of the major societal transformation we are engineering.
    — Respect the ways in which the Deep State derives legitimacy from its capacity to conduct covert transfers of power.
    — Suspend your obnoxious traditionalist need to celebrate national holidays and the invented traditions of the nation. No, they are not our inventions, and they give you the possibility of diverting needed resources into projects we wish to become obsolete.
    — The Deep State withers and dies if it’s not well-funded and kept from public scrutiny. Find things to like about keeping your mouth shut about the Deep State. Puerile denunciations of the Deep State will be countered by covert transfers of power away from you.
    — Within the next year, sell out 3 “friends” (who aren’t really your friends, but are simply trying to acquire power) who physically live nowhere near you.
    — Buy off elections, especially local elections.
    — The next time you meet an immigrant, ask yourself why you are taking notice at all. The Deep State knows no borders.
    — Don’t get married: with your luck, you’ll probably marry some Non-Covert State’s non-official cover operative who wants to join the Deep State the old-fashioned way, without proper vetting.
    — Participate in or start an organisation that promotes the goals of the Deep State (such as a multi-national “charitable foundation”).
    — The Deep State exists only for as long as the covert transfers of power result in the ability to apply influence everywhere. Understand that evoking emotional attachment begins with instilling deep feelings of fear, deeper than the depths of the Deep State itself.
    — Do not prepare a list titled “11 Ways in Which The Deep State Rules Everyone”, because if you do, we will send operatives to find you, yes you, most especially you, you cheeky bastard.

    [and the only flags the Deep State waves are false flags …] 🙂

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  7. With number 10, don’t forget cheering for the national team at the Olympics and, apparently, watching baking shows.

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    1. If anybody is curious, I hate people like the author of the linked article. I don’t just mildly dislike them. I passionately detest these self -important, mellifluous creeps.

      Like

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