The Real Options

This is a quote from one of Bannon’s post-election speeches as quoted in Fire and Fury:

“I think the center core of what we believe, that we’re a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global market place with open borders, but that we are a nation with a culture, and a reason for being. I think that’s what unites us.”

From the time when the nation-state project was born, there were fierce battles over who’ll get to define this “culture and reason for being” of each nation. My very first research project was analyzing how this battle for the construction of national identity was waged among Spain’s intellectuals. Conservatives and progressives duked it out for 200 years. What’s important, though, is that none of them doubted that it was absolutely crucial to define / invent / manufacture / name the “culture and reason for being” of their nation. 

As we can see in Bannon’s speech – and everywhere around us – the conversation has shifted from who will get to define the “culture and reason for being” to whether it’s something worth doing. Moreover, the argument against defining it is not so much that it’s a useless or boring thing to do but that attempting to do it puts one beyond the pale of the reasonable and acceptable. As a result, the only people who are trying to define it are those who, like Bannon, have been far outside the limits of the acceptable for a very long time. 

Of course, Fire and Fury is written from a very Bannonite perspective, so I don’t suggest we take this discussion as being literally about Bannon. The really important issue here is that the nation-state only exists for as long as we passionately believe in it. The moment we stop, the chaotic and fluid market state wins once and for all. I want neither that nor a nation-state defined by Bannonite ideology. We are being pushed to accept that these are our only options. But that’s not true. 

This is a nifty trick that’s being pulled everywhere today. People are being told they’ve got to choose between market-state and some form of rabid white supremacy because these are the only options. This is precisely the narrative that keeps Putin in power for decades, for instance. And people go, “Well, if it’s between the market-state and another Hitler, then I know what I choose.” (And there is a minority that goes, “I choose Hitler”, forgetting to mention that they’d choose Hitler no matter what.) But the entire narrative is false. We have other options here, we’ve always had them. Now is the time to reject this entirely spurious idea and make the discussion our own. 

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6 thoughts on “The Real Options”

  1. Isn’t the market-state as imagined as the nation-state, only now more of us are seeing that for the latter and not the former?

    I agree we need to imagine something better, but I think the real challenge is that means becoming very comfortable with uncertainty and that is quite difficult.

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  2. People are being told they’ve got to choose between market-state and some form of rabid white supremacy because these are the only options.

    Except that there’s no suggestion of any kind of nation building or mythology in this flavor of rabid white supremacy nor is there any real daylight between Bannon, Trump and the greater Republican party at present. Within that structure, what is there to garner love and loyalty to America, specifically? Nobody’s trying to be the second coming of FDR but more racist (and even FDR stuck people in internment camps.)

    The whole “Russians fucked the election” debacle is the only place where the words “Our nation is under attack” are said by politicians on the left on a regular basis.

    I just haven’t seen it articulated by any politician that the withdrawal of basic services, care and the attack on democratic norms are an attack on America as a nation.

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    1. “Ask not what you country can do for you” – we aren’t supposed to love our nation-state because it gives us something. We love it like we do our family, because it’s ours. Without this kind of unthinking, deeply irrational attachment, there is no nation-state.

      Once we start with “yes, but is it worth it? what are we getting in return? is there anything better out there?”, that’s already the next state form which is the market-state.

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      1. “Ask not what you country can do for you” – we aren’t supposed to love our nation-state because it gives us something. We love it like we do our family, because it’s ours. Without this kind of unthinking, deeply irrational attachment, there is no nation-state.

        To be honest, I just don’t see the policies or the rhetoric coming out of the GOP doing this either. They really haven’t done this for a long time.

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  3. This is the same human drama that has played itself out throughout recorded history. When a people’s value system dies and the people are thrown into chaos, they are more amenable to accepting tyrannical order to escape the chaos. Both extremes are unsustainable, we just have to hope society can find other options without destroying itself.

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