What Causes Polarization

What we call “political polarization” is also a feature of the demise of the nation-state. “We Americans (or Peruvians, Ukrainians, etc)” is a historically new idea that needs to be cultivated and maintained. It was created to make the nation-state possible. Once this form of state withers away, all of its attributes disappear.

Instead of the “imagined community” of a nation, people swear allegiance to an imagined community of a political group. Instead of a flag, they have a mask. Instead of an anthem, they have a collection of slogans. Instead of national identity, they have a political or a tribal one.

In short, the people who kept saying that the end of nationalism would put an end to the animosities it unavoidably creates are not too smart.

5 thoughts on “What Causes Polarization

  1. Of course the end of nationalism puts an end to the animosities it creates! They are replaced by the slightly different animosities created by whatever comes next.


  2. On the other hand, sometimes the Attorney General of the US contributes to polarization:


    Now we can have the FBI “mobilize” against parents who oppose critical race theory in schools! Yay! That’s sure to bring everyone together in a big national hug.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “We… a historically new idea that needs to be cultivated and maintained”

    Before the French Revolution first introduced the idea of nationalism to the world, the “we” of belonging, as in community, was mediated in Europe through one’s loyalty to the king/nobility. It allowed for multi-linguistic, multi-cultural and even multi-religious states like Great Britain where the common political bond was shared subjecthood under the Crown. The “new idea” introduced by the French Revolution was a citizenship based in loyalty to a set of uniform ideas determined by the state – liberty, equality, fraternity – along with a common language (at the time of the revolution approximately 90% of the people in the territory of France didn’t speak French) all married to a mythical origin story of common (and usually superior) cultural/biological roots.

    “Instead of the ‘imagined community’ of a nation, people swear allegiance to an imagined community of a political group.”

    The American Revolution was a political, not a national revolution and, in fact, predated the French Revolution by more than a decade. The colonists demanded from the Crown the same political rights as those enjoyed by their fellow subjects living in Great Britain – rights that had been hard-won in the Glorious Revolution a century before. It protected pluralism in contrast to the nationalist French Revolution which sought (and practiced) uniformity.


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