Post-Westphalian Nationalism and the Restart of History

By Siryako Akda

Nationalism, as it was originally envisioned by Enlightenment thinkers, was conceived of as a system composed of individuals bound together in a social contract with one another. However, this ideal was never fully achieved in the real world. Both in the West as well as in the Non-West, nationhood has always been more than just about individuals and their collective self-interests.

Beneath liberalism’s appeals to individualism and social contracts, nationhood remained synonymous with tribe and community. This is not surprising because modern nation-states did not arise out of thin air or at the end of the nose of some 17th-century philosopher. They are are built upon the base of organic societies that have preceded them.

China, for example, had existed as a nation, civilization, and empire long before the PRC was even established; just as Europe as a civilization and as a historical subject had existed long before the birth of the EU and its member states. So in addressing the issue of Nationalism, it is important to separate the Nation-State from the organic communities upon which it is based. These are H.G. Well’s “natural borders.” They are “the necessary political map of the world which transcends artificial states.”

However, in order to understand the essential difference between Nation and State, it is important for us to realize that the Nation-State is not just a monopoly on violence but also a monopoly on national and collective interests, which is to say that any expression of collective consciousness external to the authority of the State is either sublimated, co-opted or repressed as a means of safeguarding the State’s legitimacy. It is a top down system that seeks to reconcile and ameliorate the various contradictory elements of a given nation into a single system, and it is this system that forms the underlying foundation of international relations. Moreover, the authority of the State exists only as long as it is perceived as a legitimate vehicle of expressing and promoting the interests of the Nation it represents.

Of course, such hard and fast definitions are somewhat anachronistic today.

National interests today cannot be understood exclusively in terms of national specificity or identity. They also need to be understood in the context of regional as well as global economic security. After all, in an age of globalization, foreign investment and increasing economic integration in the name of “progress” and “development,” globalism and national interests are now almost always tied to together, such that it is unthinkable for most nations to exist outside the framework of global economic growth. Therefore, by framing national interests within global integration, the nation-state creates a crisis wherein it serves two masters, the nation on the one hand and the global economic system on the other.

The present trend for most of the countries of the world today is to integrate themselves into these “functioning core systems.” This is not only true for Europe and the West but for the rest of the world as well. The only difference is in degrees, and in attitude. Despite nationalist anxieties about cultural homogenization, Globalism remains a very desirable phenomenon and is often  perceived to bestow upon its worshippers prosperity, power, technology, pride and prestige. In fact, research data from one of the Pew Research studies proves that this is an ongoing trend, with around 90% of their respondents saying that they favored more international trade, while a solid majority support the influence of multinational corporations. So, in order for the Nation-State to serve its national self-interest, it needs to adopt policies which lead to more globalism, a system implicitly hostile to the idea of national identity and sovereignty. Thus, we have a major paradox on our hands.

This paradox ultimately leads to the obsolescence of the Nation-State as well as the Nationalistic impulse of the 19th and 20th century. The Westphalian system which originated back in 1648 is now, more or less, in a state of decline thanks to the rise of non-state actors, globalization, multilateral organizations, and the international economic system. Today, multilateral organizations, such as the UN, the NAFTA, the EU, the IMF, ASEAN, the GCC, the TPP and even the SCO, are in a sense, more important and significant than their own member-states. They, as opposed to the nation states that they represent, form the essential components of the world that we know today, because they constitute Thomas Barnett’s “Functioning Core.”

The crisis of the Nation-State may not be apparent yet, but it is inevitable. This is certainly one of the most astute observations of Alexander Dugin’s 4th Political Theory – the decline of the Pax Americana and the Nation-State. Other authors, such as, Pat Buchanan and Attack the System’s Keith Preston have made similar observations about this unraveling paradigm that seems to be happening all over the world.

Although I don’t think that the rest of the world will adopt all of the destructive policies carried out by the Western World today, I do believe that the rest of the world is travelling down the same path as the United States and the European Union, which is to say that many of the patterns happening in the Western World today may easily happen to the rest of the world in the not-too-distant future. The problems may differ, but sooner or later, the consequences of an international economic system – as an overarching paradigm – obsessed with cheap growth, cheap labor and cheap energy will ultimately overtake the nation-state.

In the eyes of those promoting globalization, however, the continuation of the modern world is not a choice between identity and multiculturalism or nationhood and globalization, but between the simulacra of prosperity and the threat of stagnation. Thus, the process of globalization becomes a binary choice: You either opt for more of it, or you are left behind (i.e. end up on the wrong side of “history”). Thus, the logic of progress and tradition takes on a global imperative that affects all nations.

This brings us back to the crisis of Nationalism in the 21st century. Nationalism (when equated with the Nation-State) cannot threaten Globalism simply because almost all major Nation-States and their citizens rely on the “One World” economy to sustain economic growth and national security. Therefore, the type of Nationalism which supports the continued growth and expansion of existing nation-states can be said to have become synonymous with globalization in the 21st century. Even mighty China with its reputation for economic nationalism is largely at the mercy of the Global Economy, just like the rest of us.

The nationalism of past eras does not have a coherent answer to the existential problems posed by our post-modern world. Although it’s true that most non-white nations today are still deeply nationalistic, this type of nationalism offers no real challenge to the globalist dispensation, as Dugin clearly observes in the 4th Political Theory. The nationalism exhibited by prosperous and developing BRIC nations are largely defensive tools meant to preserve an acceptable balance between the nationalistic instincts of their populations on the one side and the need to accommodate post-national global capitalism on the other. What they cannot do, however, is create a long-term answer to many of the problems and crises that are inherent in the global market, nor are they capable of creating the necessary theoretical space to create several alternative world orders.

Despite these problems, however, it’s also worth mentioning that Nationalism (when broadly and flexibly defined) predates the Nation-State. Human beings have fought for tribe, clan, and creed long before they fought for the nation-state. What most people call Nationalism can just as easily be called tribalism, ethnocentrism or simply the urge to protect one’s own. So in appealing to human nature, I submit that tribalism as well as the concept of us-and-them remains the unchanging core of nationalism, but in the 21st century, it must take on new forms. It must be reborn beyond the confines of the state.

This ultimately brings us to the question of the future of Nationalism in the 21st Century. Therefore, I submit that a new form of Nationalism (for lack of a better word) will be needed, one that is separate, though not necessarily divorced completely, from the idea of statehood. It must be a nationalism with a clear focus of creating new societies that can overcome the logic and necessity of global homogenization.

Therefore, the New Nationalism will be defined in a global context. In this sense, the New Nationalism will take on a universal characteristic. Just as the post-modern world is a global system, opposing it ultimately leads to a global perspective. The New Right, supporters of Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory, and certain strands of Anarchist thought have already reached these conclusions. Therefore, it is not sufficient for this new type of Nationalism to remain in any specific place or people. It needs to have a universal character and recode the thoughts and perspectives of others, thus breaking down and reformatting the global system.

The universality of this New Nationalism should not only be concerned with interests, but also with identity and differentiation. It must struggle against the encroaching simulacra of consumer culture, which commercializes and trivializes identity. Its priorities should be cohesion instead of individuality, duty as opposed to rights, and self-sufficiency as opposed to being heavily reliant on the existing global economic system. It also needs to be local, in order to reduce the size of parasitic bureaucracy, and stable, as opposed to being obsessed with growth.

This impulse already manifests itself among local, self-sufficient and resilient communities. Transition Towns are good examples of such communities, and they offer a sneak preview of how new societies can be formed beyond the confines of the existing globalist order. Now, imagine a world where there are thousands or even millions of such communities scattered all over the world. This could very well lead to a paradigm shift with revolutionary implications, and may even achieve Dugin’s dream of creating a multipolar world.

This is why it’s important to use these communities as templates and to export them far and wide, for it is only by doing so that humanity can achieve a strategic withdrawal from globalization and liberalism’s “end of history.” More importantly, however, these communities can help foster the expression of new and organic forms identity, free from the neurosis of global consumer culture.

This is what I hope the New Nationalism will bring about: a point of re-entry into history. Thus, there will no longer be a “right” or “wrong” side of history, but only history in all its complexities.

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