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.