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Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Is Nationalism the New Racism?

The great apartheid of twentieth century was an apartheid of race based on an ideology of racism. The great apartheid of the twenty-first century would appear to be an apartheid of citizenship based on an ideology of nationalism. Race and racism remain pervasive. But racism is a largely discredited ideology. Nationalism is an ideology with such hegemonic power that almost no one seriously questions it. Sure, we question the excesses of nationalism. But does anyone seriously question the ideological basis of citizenship? In other words, does anyone question the legitimacy of the territorial nation-state and its right to define citizenship as currently configured? I for one have trouble imagining a world organized in any way other than through nation-states. Some social theorists have for sometime been claiming that the hegemony of the nation-state is dead or dying. They are dead wrong.

Twentieth Century Apartheid


Twenty-First Century Apartheid

Throughout history, at least since the rise of complex agrarian societies, humanity has been divided between haves and have-nots. In the pre-modern, pre-industrial world the ideology of the divine-right-of-kings (or some version thereof) supported a social order of aristocratic haves and commoner have-nots. Over a millennium – roughly the past 1,000 years – popular democratic social movements overthrew the old order. The new order, exemplified by French and American revolutionary fraternal democracy, replaced aristocracy with democracy. The problem, however, is how to define the demos (“the people”)? In early (18th-19th century) European thinking, the people were a “nation” and a “race” (the German people, German race, German nation). Race and nation were synonymous. Race, however, became reduced to biology, in ways which have now been proven to be nonsensical. Nation and nationality took a parallel, but very distinctive path. Nationality became reduced to citizenship, at least functionally if not culturally. We still think (culturally) for example that proper Germans and French should be of “European stock” and Chinese should be of “Asian descent.” But to be a citizen – a national – of Germany, France or the People’s Republic of China is ultimately defined by one’s relationship to the government of the territorially-defined nation-state. If Germany or China grants one citizenship, then one is de jure German or Chinese.

What we see, in the world today, is nation-states becoming territorial zones of relative affluence and deprivation. In zones of relative affluence, the wealthy nation-states (crudely referred to as the “First World”), citizenship is increasingly becoming a thoroughly legitimized mode of defining social privilege and discrimination. Ironically, the meaning of “citizenship” is devolving from French ideals of fraternity (a brotherhood of man) to Greek and Roman forms of citizenship, in which citizens were a small, privileged group (of men) with standing in the city. Everyone else was a slave.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Random Walks, Research | , , | Leave a comment