Monday, January 18, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Anti-nationalist

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My fourth piece was "Feminist". Now we look at his "Anti-nationalist."

Not surprisingly, Fredrik deBoer is against the nation state.
A functioning, healthy left political movement would recognize the fundamental illegitimacy of the nation-state. It would see that structure as the product of capitalism and imperialism. It would recognize the nation-state as recently invented for the express purpose of enabling war.
Imperialism, of course, is a natural outcome of nationalism, and national borders exist "as structures designed explicitly to separate different classes of worker and thus prevent solidarity." In the short term, deBoer believes, the state is necessary for "establishing economic and social justice." But in the long term the state must be eliminated as "illegitimate."

I don't know quite how to deal with the "fundamental illegitimacy of the nation-state." Obviously all states are illegitimate, in that they are all founded on war, not law. That is true for the United States and the United Kingdom. To the victor the spoils. And the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a Russian nation state, born in a coup and a civil war, that consciously tried to Russify its non-Russian minorities.

Yes, the nation state was invented for enabling war, and the best explanation I have found for this is in The Sources of Social Power where Michael Mann describes the nation-creation process for England. It happened in the Tudor period when the king found that he could no longer fund his regime out of the royal estates. What with the development of guns and expensive navies, he needed money, lots more money, to be able to stand up to France and Spain and their military and economic might. So he started ramping up national taxes and using the merchants of London for their credit and disarming the nobles by demolishing their castles. The result of this power play was the English nation state.

Imperialism? Well, sure. The merchants had to get something in return for buying the king's paper. And what they most valued was a navy to keep the pirates at bay. One thing led to another and pretty soon a young punk like Robert Clive -- "out of measure addicted to fighting" as a youth, according to La Wik -- ends up in India and starts messing around in the princely politics of that ancient land and the Brits find that they have an empire. It is a mistake to think that empire is a conscious policy. History is a disaster, and empires crop up in the strangest places.

As for the idea that national borders exist to separate the workers and prevent solidarity, I think that we can refer to the current migrant crisis in Europe to let the air out of that one. Workers are like other humans. They want state power used to give them benefits, and will vote for politicians that promise them. But when things turn south they demand that the politicians continue their benefits and keep out the low-wage competition from immigrants.

As for the withering away of the state, a Marxist perennial, I cannot conceive of a time where the current practice will end. A government is an armed band that occupies some territory and taxes the inhabitants thereof for the privilege of being allowed to work for a living. The proceeds of this taxation is used to reward the government's supporters. On the day that this mechanism ceases to work then we may start to talk about the reality of the "elimination of the illegitimate structure that is the state as a paramount long term goal." If anything, the larger the social units, the bigger the government and the more powerful the state.

The folly of deBoer's idea is encapsulated in my catchphrase that Government is Injustice. All opposition political parties and revolutionary movements feed on the food of injustice. Every last member smolders with the knowledge of the government's injustice and the ruling class's pride and arrogance. And they are right. What do you expect from an presidential executive order or a bill passed by a majority in a democratic parliament? You expect a measure dressed up in the language of justice that rewards the government's friends and punishes its enemies. In their Calculus of Consent social scientists Buchanan and Tullock discovered the only just method of legislation. It is the rule of unanimous consent, a rule that requires the majority to buy the votes of the minority: in other words, pay for the costs that will likely be experienced by the minority. So every oppressed opposition that succeeds to political power imposes its will on the defeated foe. Just as deBoer proposes to use the power of the state to establish his moral social system of economic and social justice.

There may be a more legitimate political entity than the nation state, but we do not see its possibility on the horizon. The present turmoil in the European Union is a day-to-day testimony to this truth. The Greek people, encouraged by politicians, experience the EU economic policy as injustice; for some reason they do not experience any kind of solidarity with their worker pals in Germany. In return the German people, in the teeth of opposition from their betters, experience the open-borders policy as injustice; they do not feel solidarity with the migrants that are pouring into Europe from the failed region of the Middle East. And the EU ruling class is not shy about silencing voices that dissent from their ruling-class consensus.

Because Government is Injustice, any political entity, from a city to a world instead-of-a-state, will find that it has to deal with opponents within the walls. These will be disappointed inhabitants that experience the policy of the entity as injustice, and they will probably interpret the policy as motivated by malice. That entity will respond to the challenge to its legitimacy with force. deBoer understands this when he writes that the state will be needed to establish economic and social justice. Of course. In the future, all will be sweetness and light, but in the short term we must deal firmly with these troublesome exploiters.

The nation state ain't going nowhere. Not in our lifetimes, and probably not in this millennium.

Next up: "Pacifist."

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