When power resides with a global elite, and the economic crisis links our fate across borders, we are, it seems, all ‘citizens of the world’. Increased freedom of movement, a revolution of communication, the hyper-acceleration of cultural production, have together created a fertile ground for innumerable imagined communities, unrestricted by the limits of geography. Faced with the fluidity of neoliberalism, what role remains for the nation?
None, is one argument. Good riddance. The nation is the domain of racism and intolerance; globalization frees and unites us.
But is this really the solution to the historical issues of the nation? What else is lost along the way? Certainly, there has been a backlash against the ‘global citizen’. Worldwide, calls for self-determination echo against the thermoplastic fibre of riot shields. These are people who see the construction of a ‘universally free’ public manifesting itself in their lives as the repression of spontaneity, the replacement of local traditions in favour of global brands, and the denial of alternative forms of belonging.
The worsening crisis of austerity has come hand in hand with a collapse in democracy, as nation-states are told they must forfeit their sovereignty in order to support global and regional markets. But at the same time publics are forming, old ones renewing, new kinds of national identity are being forged.
This is the context in which the ‘Re-birth of the nation? series begins. It is grounded in the premise that the nation is more than the dogmatic bond between state and capital. That culture is not something ‘out there’ - normative, knowable and predetermined; rather it is in a constant state of definition, created by all who identify with it. Understood in these terms, the nation is not a nostalgic anachronism of old forms of power but a potential vehicle through which to form alternative institutions, defend heterogeneity and claim power for the majority.
Go to the ‘Re-birth of the nation?’ series.
Go to the first piece, ‘Another world is possible: nationhood and global justice’, by Jamie Mackay.
The second piece, ‘Nations and Networks’, by Alessandra McAllister, will be published this Friday.