useful for those at the top –
idiotic for those below
The belligerent nationalism that curses immigrants as “taking away our neighborhoods and jobs,” as “not belonging here,” that sees foreign powers and peoples “hurting us” – this hostile nationalism assumes that “we” are a we, invokes feelings of community, and shares this same certainty with the highly respected patriotism.
Exclusionary nationalism maintains something that is both untrue and unreasonable. It’s untrue because it is the landlords who increase rents, not the immigrants who have to pay the same rent as native citizens; it’s the business owners who fill their jobs with the cheapest possible people from the international labor market and press down the wage level in general, harming everyone who is dependent on a wage, regardless of their origin. It’s unreasonable because, as tenants, immigrants and natives share a common interest in opposition to the native landlords; as wage earners, immigrants and natives share a common interest that conflicts with the native business owners; as working people, Americans and Mexican, Chinese and all foreign workers have a common interest against the location competition of their employers and against the states in which they all go downhill. Nationalists, however, think that all natives form a community into which strife and damage is brought only by foreigners.
However, the argument of level-headed patriots against the belligerent nationalists is also neither true nor reasonable: that immigrants “benefit our economy,” thus “us.” This “our” and “us” is false: in a society based on private property, the economy does not belong to all of us, even if everyone has to make a living from it. The business owners exploit immigrants as well as locals to make their property larger and hence to secure it; while those who are exploited only secure a lot of toil and ever more insecure livelihoods; unemployed wage earners not even that.
Against the inflammatory talk about allegedly parasitic foreigners, pro-immigration patriots are not at all clear about who is really responsible for the benefits and injuries; they imagine a communal benefit that foreigners contribute to (and only in this way is their conditional right to exist approved). And they want to attack the right exactly the same way the right attacks immigrants: as a plague on the nation. They say the right wants to take away the benefits that immigrants provide “all of us” ; the right harms “our economy,” “our image abroad,” “us.”
That’s already nationalism: the idea that all the citizens of a state have a common interest with each other and these citizens have a common interest with “their” state – and that corresponds with the impulse to feel concerned and take sides with this imagined community, thus always with the impulse to treat those who do not belong to it as a threat.
These examples show the need to explain something: the damages that people experience within this nation are certainly pointed out, even the economic and political conflicts between the citizens of one’s own nation – but that apparently doesn’t make nationalists wonder whether their idea of community is true, but only makes them commit even more to their imagined community. Nationalists do not ask: why do I need to make this my concern? What kind of economic and political conflicts am I involved in here? What then is bringing me into into conflict with people, native as well as newcomers? And they don’t want the answer to show them where they really stand in relation to their unity with the state. Their concern and partisanship for the nation stands firm: from this standpoint, they categorize all these nasty experiences as a challenge to their commitment to protect the homeland from strife and discord. While it may be true that nationalists celebrate their unalloyed unity with and in the nation on July 4th or during the national anthem at football games, for the most part nationalistis are a pretty discontent lot: they suspect disturbances and troublemakers within the unity of the nation which make them all the more resolute.
That’s not correct, so we allow ourselves a question that patriots find absurd:
What causes nationalism?
Patriots view being for the nation as so self-evident that they never hit on the idea of asking why they are for it. Yet: what is the collective that nationalists sympathize with? It is the state – and this, viewed with a little detachment, is the very opposite of their idea of a common bond:
- “Me & my country” – objectively, the relation is the other way around: the country has its nationals. One belongs to the state quite passively, by birth, and that is by an act of the sovereign. That a national citizen is nothing but an object of a forced categorization becomes palpable when, e.g., a group wants to seperate from a country and create their own state: the state fights separatism with war. On the other hand, the fact that it is not the the individual who decides who belongs to the national collective, but only the sovereign, is experienced daily by immigrants and refugees.
- “Our way of life”? The state organizes a comprehensive system with its laws – one that is by no means harmless; certainly not one that is also in the hands of working people: competition for money and property is the comprehensive social principle, and the state continuously re-organizes and judges its monopoly on violence for this. It is not a free cooperative.
- “We are who we are”? A modern state in its cause and social substance is not an autochthonous, individual thing: nearly every state guarantees capitalist property as its systemic principle, prescribes the growth of money, and one state after another competes on the world market over this unchanging measure of success. (Currently, they even all have almost the same crisis.) So there is nothing original or exceptional about the patriotic feelings of any country.
Rule: its interest in the society plus its justified idealization of the nation
Even if patriotic citizens believe they are the beneficiaries and the upholders of the nation’s unity – it is not true: who belongs to the nation and who does not is dictated to patriots by the state; their lives are forced into a legal and economic system established by the political rule; and they are even told how to think about this as good patriots: by the politicians who have the extraordinary profession of “making the country great” and are in charge of their fellow citizens – all those whose interests in this respect are instead “special.”
Politicians thus organize nationalism in practice. On the national level, they put into effect the objective constraints of competion as a general way of life: property and thus the struggle for property and incomes, for professions and jobs, for career-qualifying educational diplommas, etc. Politicians then take care of the conflicts and damages and victims that result from this competition with laws, courts, and social spending. And they do all this in a continuously loudly proclaimed awareness that these government measures are the conditions for all people and all interests in the society, so the state is the absolute condition of life without which nothing works out for anybody.
What “works out” is “economic growth,” and what grows is solely the property of those who own capital and not a wealth that is available to all – as everybody knows. However, that this is the only interest that really counts in a capitalist nation is brushed aside by the politicians with two points: this is the only way companies make what “we all” need to buy in order to live and this is the only way companies create the jobs that make the money for doing this. So growth is what matters even for the majority who are not business owners. Its convincing – because the state’s laws really permit no alternative to buying the essentials for life and struggling to earn money. However, the politicians present this alternativeless dependence on business as “everybody doing their part” in “our economy.” In this way, the objective constraint of capitalism is presented as a help to people: what everyone must do – that is, make sure they earn money – they can do.
Anyone who wants to cope with this dependency, thus with buying and earning money, bitterly needs rights and legal protections – and the politicians present even the power of the state as an indispensable service to them: “the weak and the vulnerable need a strong state more than anybody” – you just have to forget that it is the granting of property rights by the state that makes them so vulnerable and weak in the first place. Whoever loses out in the competition for jobs or is laid off by a business bitterly needs social assistance – the politicians point out that social benefits require solid state finances and this requires economic growth, hence both are a help to the poor – you just have to forget that economic growth creates unemployment and solid state budgets are opposed to social benefits. If ultimately the whole capitalist economy again creates a crisis for itself and ruins the population’s money making and savings even more than usual, then the politicians finally present themselves as the last essential condition of life, behind whom everyone must now stand together in the fight to bring back success – that is, economic growth as usual. Because “we are all dependent on growth” it holds true that the power of the state makes all dependent on it.
This is the nationalism of the political movers and shakers: they combine the practical subordination of all interests under the monopoly on violence and the laws of the national sovereign with an ideology. They put the state into its dependency on the growth of capitalist property and force all native citizens into this dependence on the success of state and capital – and demand they consent to it as a national condition of their existence; i.e . as something that stands before and above each interest.
Indeed, the sovereign state itself and its politicians seem to be servants of this condition of existence. They inflate the goal of their exercise of political power – the successful functioning of the state – into a higher duty standing above them – the nation – because and only because this should legitimize all the rights of the sovereign. State and politicians want – this is clever – to be recognized in this by the citizens: not so much what they do for the living conditions of the native residents – which may be controversial – but that they are and continue to be responsible for the national conditions of existence. An enormously useful separation: what politicians authorize and bring about in living conditions may always be critically scrutinized, namely like this: whether they ensure the existence of the nation and serve it, but that the existence of the nation is the sole criterion by which state and politicians are to be measured is always only strengthened by this.
This is how they then serve “the people” – which is what they make the native inhabitants of the country into in the first place, by subordinating everyone to the same national conditions of existence. But the political movers and shakers use precisely this fact – that the political rule first makes people with all their social differences and conflicts into the maneuverable mass of a state – for the cynical ideological twist that they do it in order to help them be a “people.” Indeed, they tell people, who are still required by the state to obey its laws, that they are the patrons of the state, which requires that they take care of the nation which enables them to be and remain “the people.”
As a big fat proof that this is people’s innermost desire in everything they are allowed to do, the politicians in a reasonably well-functioning state point out: the people join in.
So they put the nation as a condition of existence before and above each individual interest, which the individuals can take care of by themselves – and also have to take care of by themselves.
The people: the desire to cope and the national delusion of the dependent
So now on the patriotism of the ordinary natives, which also has its practical and its ideological sides.
No one escapes the laws of the state and therefore the mandatory economic constraints of buying and making money, and a state functions when the natives set up their lives with the firm intention of making the best of it for themselves and their families. In getting used to trying to get by, native residents come up with a fundamental notion about the ruling conditions: that they exist for them to deal with them. A dumb mistake: their efforts to get by are credited to conditions that are forced on them; where they compete for a livelihood, the society and the state are there for their livelihood. That is their very unpretentious partisanship for the ruling conditions as conditions of existence: The state permits and authorizes them to make their living in it. This approval is, by the way, also given a boost in the form of a criticism: that the legislature, the laws, the bureaucratic legal process make it difficult, indeed almost impossible, to get by. Precisely this critical variant is the toughest approval. And if it is not at all the purpose of the laws, that they are easy to obey? When its about outomes for the state?
Well-behaved natives wish for a certain outcome from the state too. They develop a permanent need for a state. Busy with the struggle of their daily lives, they have to constantly grapple with the opposing interests of their fellow citizens (those mentioned above). They do not blame the established system and sovereign for these opposing interests – instead, they demand order from the state: What can they do, what must others do?! This is a demand for an overarching supervisory power, which is what the state is and has long been active as. But a good citizen grasps the state only from the side he needs: He needs prerogatives, he needs protection from and limits to the prerogatives of others. And in this desire for the state, the yardstick is no longer one’s own benefit, no longer even one’s own getting by: but what the state grants as rights.
Anyway, everyone knows that he is not just exerting himself for his private success: he works for the company that hires him, he pays taxes to the state, etc. Anyone who copes and wants an order to help with this, hence the state, accepts this. And indeed not out of an awareness of exploitation, even though that’s what it is, but in the same spirit: as a duty in a given order. In everything they do – the few dissenters then immediately get to experience the state as a coercing force – they make themselves into the people: 1. they obey the state, 2. they count on it as a power that entitles them, 3. they want to support the state. They continue to fight for their private benefits and do everything they can against opposing interests – and at the same time refrain from their conflcits of interest, see themselves in a common interest with “their” state and think of all their efforts and those of their fellow citizens as community services equally worthy of recognition: them and their state, one nation.
But they also want to see something for it, not a material reward, but a higher reward: that the nation functions and thrives. This standpoint is nationalism, and it is not easily shaken. When the private outcome sucks, when work and thrift only bring still more exertions – then nationalists do not think of that as their damage, but as their great sacrifice, and that means: as their hard-earned right to demand that the nation do something about it; and even if he still thinks of himself and calls for better governance, he wants an order in which he can do his duties and which also insists on fair services from everyone else – and then it immediately occurs to him that before this can happen, the state must have sufficient resources and the power to do it.
Then the nationalism of the people is ready, and has been thoroughly stripped and cleaned of its origin, their desire to cope.
Ordinary and extraordinary nationalism
This is the ordinary form of nationalism. It is not shouting “horray” or “my homeland above everything”! It’s also not exclaiming: “what a beautiful unity!” Through the distorted lens of national unity, the patriot identifies, in a totally skewed way, differences and conflicts among the people and between the citizens and the state. He doesn't want to know anything about how companies exploit wage earners. Nonethless, he complains every night about about those who prey on the community – from bankers to those who would rather go hungry than work. Those “above” who rule he considers trustees of the nation and enjoy his total respect – they also get his disdain because they allow everything to happen. A nationalist puts up with everything done to him in the country and indulges in nothing – except one thing: He takes it as his responsibility to call on everyone, from top to bottom, to do their duty in their place.
Its a good thing the nation organizes events for him. During sports games or national holidays, the national unity is demonstrated and all the real conflicts of interests are ignored just like the nationalistically imagined discords. And this is so done conscious and with so much effort that the next squabble looms again, like when somebody doesn’t totally join in on the fun or when somebody acts like a killjoy ...
Nationals and aliens
Nationalism is about the native inhabitants of a country and those who are foreign to them – the aliens. Nothing has so little to do with the personal efforts of people or their individuality as their distinction into nationals and foreigners: some strike the state power as its exclusively useful native residents, others it keeps out as the nationals of foreign powers. That the fenced-in natives come into contact with foreigners in such a way is again solely the result of decisions made by the state power; especially the decision to provide its economy with human material that comes from the world market. The state decides solely according to its calculation which foreigners it lets into the country as useful, and which it keeps out and deports as a burden.
It’s a wrong idea among nationally-minded residents to believe that foreigners decide – said in a friendly way – “to flee to our country” or – in a hostile way – “to overpopulate us.” It is the same wrong idea that the nationally-minded person has of his own relationship to the state. They believe that the “little guys and gals” carry the weight of the state and therefore they obtain the right to services from the state. They think that foreigners are the instigators of the state’s policy on foreigners. The patriots turn their nationality upside down into – of all things – a property right. They view the state as their property and suspect that foreigners take a part of that away from them.
They could see in the way the state treats its foreigners how it calculates with them as its material the same way it does with them, the nationals. When the state replenishes the labor market for its capitalists with foreigners who are available for cheaper and lowers wage levels for all through the competition, then its purpose is to use this labor force to attain economic growth and to lower wage costs. When the state recruits inventors and developers from abroad, then it aims to gain a technological advantage for its economy in the fight over profits on the world market and at the same time to save on its costs for publicly-funded research and education – it is just not true that learning is so that the learners can climb the career ladder. In its openly functionalist dealing with foreigners, the state shows how it treats people in principle as its disposable masses. The other side of this policy on foreigners is the declaration of redundant foreigners a burden to be deported or the prevention of undesirable foreigners from entering its borders.
Ideologically, the politicians produce a premium product of nationalistic hypocrisy: they present their brutality against foreigners as a service to their national populace. This should show respect for the people’s anxieties about foreigners. And a nationally-minded people lets this be fobbed off on them. The terrible treatment of foreigners satisfies their delusion that they are “privileged” as nationals. Nothing could be cheaper.