The 2014 referendum campaign, if nothing else, made everyone who was involved think about nationality. There were flag-waving nationalists on both sides. It certainly started me on a journey thinking about my relationship to the concept of the nation-state. Indeed I started at the very first question at the top of page one. What is the purpose of the nation-state?
To protect its citizens from external and internal threats is a pretty straightforward first guess.
Trouble is, I am not so sure that they do a good job of this.
Yes, the war thing is very quiet by 20th century standards. By this time last century WW1 was well underway, and the few hundred thousand that have died so far this century is nothing compared to that industrial scale slaughter. In 1916 the German army was able to “celebrate” finally beating Hannibal’s record, set at Cannae, of most enemy soldiers killed in one day. But by the middle of the century the number of civilians killed in one day exceeded anything that could be inflicted on the uniformed forces.
A super-national organisation, the EU, is certainly partly responsible for the relative calm in Europe. But the threats that face us now are very different.
The corporate world has expanded to make a mockery of national laws and international boundaries. A couple of years ago I finally quit using Amazon. The company’s record in paying corporation tax and its treatment of employees made it important, for me, not to use them again. Of course Amazon are not threatening me with violence, but they are threatening the funding of public services, the welfare of their employees, and my underlying sense of social justice and human rights. They are a threat.
It is not easy to find an alternative source of everything, Waterstones for books, Staples for office supplies – but eventually you can find anything. That it costs a little more to buy stuff from a company that pays its taxes is a personal responsibility I can afford. The nation state is at best leaden-footed, but usually just plain powerless against these transnational corporations. Given the revolving door between the political and corporate elites, one could make a case for the craven submission of national interests to corporate power to be complicity rather than incompetence. I want a vote on TTIP. I will not be offered one.
The Terrorist threat. This translates to me as “by encouraging terrorism, we have a whole new set of threats we can be seen to be protecting our citizens against.” I find it difficult to conceive that our post-imperial adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya were contrived to make us safer. That they quite clearly have made the world more dangerous is something only the lunatics – I am looking at you Tony – now fail to understand. That more violence will only serve to perpetuate the threat and justify the erosion of our liberties is understood by too few of our fellow citizens. Making theological disputes within Islam a crisis for Western Europe is political genius by the military industrial complex – wicked, NOT stupid.
The Immigration threat. I take a fairly radical view here. My understanding of biology leads me to believe that human life began in the Rift valley in East Africa. We are all Africans. If you do not currently live in the Rift valley you are the children of migrants. To describe all of my fellow humans as my brothers and sisters is metaphysically charming, but not strictly true. We are demonstrably all cousins. The only threat here is to our moral compass. Nevertheless, it would seem that in the absence of Nazi hoards threatening our very existence, a boatload of starving African children will do nicely.
The nation state needs to shape up or fuck off. If it will not protect me from corporate greed, and will not feed all of the world’s children – why should I care which one I live in and why should I offer it more loyalty than a football club? John “shagfest” Kennedy who started the Vietnam war and invaded Cuba to make us safer, famously quipped “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” and was roundly applauded for this on the basis that it represented an unselfish, patriotic attitude. Trouble is it also assumes that the “country” in question merits our commitment, and that it is the only construct that separates us from a kind of solipsism.
In 2014 I campaigned for a better world. That it meant ending the UK was not something that created any existential angst for me. That it meant creating a new country – so what? It’s just a line on a map. To paraphrase the woman whose name cannot be mentioned – “there is no such thing as countries.” If Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour Party Leader – I want to live in a country where his principles form policy.
This whole rant was catalysed by discussions with several of my friends in Englandshire, who were surprised at my enthusiasm for Jeremy (peace be upon him) Corbyn. “Surely that contravenes your nationalist principles?” they wanted to know. I don’t have any nationalist principles. My principles are unchanged. Loyalty to a nation state is not on the list, well certainly not on page one, or even two.