Tag Archives: nationalism

What Up With That: Nationalism

The recent political earthquake in the US is just one example of a nationalistic wave that swept across Western democracies in 2015-2016. The election in the US seemed to surprise many political talking-heads since the nation was, and still is, on a continuing path towards greater liberalism (mostly due to demographics).

So, what exactly is up with that? Can American liberals enter a coma for the next 4 years, sure to awaken refreshed and ready for a new left-of-center regime? Or, is the current nationalistic mood — albeit courtesy of a large minority — likely to prevail for a while longer? Well, there’s no clear answer, and political scientists and researchers are baffled.

Care to learn more about theories of nationalism and the historical underpinnings of nationalism? Visit my reading list over at Goodreads. But make sure you start with: Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson. It’s been the global masterwork on the analysis of nationalism since it was first published in 1983.

I tend to agree with Anderson’s thesis, that a nation is mostly a collective figment of people’s imagination facilitated by modern communications networks. So, I have to believe that eventually our networks will help us overcome the false strictures of our many national walls and borders.

From Scientific American:

Waves of nationalist sentiment are reshaping the politics of Western democracies in unexpected ways — carrying Donald Trump to a surprise victory last month in the US presidential election, and pushing the United Kingdom to vote in June to exit the European Union. And nationalist parties are rising in popularity across Europe.

Many economists see this political shift as a consequence of globalization and technological innovation over the past quarter of a century, which have eliminated many jobs in the West. And political scientists are tracing the influence of cultural tensions arising from immigration and from ethnic, racial and sexual diversity. But researchers are struggling to understand why these disparate forces have combined to drive an unpredictable brand of populist politics.

“We have to start worrying about the stability of our democracies,” says Yascha Mounk, a political scientist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He notes that the long-running World Values Survey shows that people are increasingly disaffected with their governments — and more willing to support authoritarian leaders.

Some academics have explored potential parallels between the roots of the current global political shift and the rise of populism during the Great Depression, including in Nazi Germany. But Helmut Anheier, president of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, cautions that the economic struggles of middle-class citizens across the West today are very different, particularly in mainland Europe.

The Nazis took advantage of the extreme economic hardship that followed the First World War and a global depression, but today’s populist movements are growing powerful in wealthy European countries with strong social programmes. “What brings about a right-wing movement when there are no good reasons for it?”Anheier asks.

In the United States, some have suggested that racism motivated a significant number of Trump voters. But that is too simplistic an explanation, says Theda Skocpol, a sociologist at Harvard University.  “Trump dominated the news for more than a year, and did so with provocative statements that were meant to exacerbate every tension in the US,” she says.

Read the entire story here.

p.s. What Up With That is my homage to the recurring Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketch of the same name.

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Eurovision Comes to America

Jamie-Lee-Eurovision-2016

Mark your calendar. Saturday, May 14, 2016. On this day, for the first time ever the European psychodrama known as the Eurovision Song Contest comes to the United States. Stream the event here or catch it in the US on the Logo channel.

Here’s a quick overview for non-Europeans. Eurovision is the annual, continent-wide song contest — rather like football’s World Cup (soccer, for my US readers). Over 40 nations compete for the honor of best pop song. Since its origin in 1956, Eurovision has expanded beyond the boundaries of Europe to include entries from Israel, North Africa and even Australia. Around 200 million people tune in to watch the finals. The winner is chosen by a panel of judges from each nation, combined with votes from viewers. This year’s event is broadcast from Stockholm — the venue is selected based on the nationality of the previous year’s winner.

What makes it so popular? Well, it’s camp and kitschy. But, above all it’s a nationalistic festival wrapped in bubblegum: patriotic one-upmanship  under the guise of pop. Importantly, it allows nations to exhibit their superiority over neighboring countries without bloodshed. Let’s face it — if you’re British, there is nothing better than trouncing the French in Eurovision.

Read more details from NYT here.

Image: Jamie-Lee represents Germany in the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest with Ghost. From the semi-final. Courtesy: Thomas Hanses (EBU).

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USANIT

Ever-present in Europe nationalism continues to grow as austerity measures across the continent catalyze xenophobia. And, now it’s spreading westwards across the Atlantic to the United States of America. Well, actually to be more precise nationalistic fervor is spreading to Texas. Perhaps in our lifetimes we’ll have to contend with USANIT — the United States of America Not Including Texas. Seventy-seven thousand Texans, so far, want the Lone Star to fly again across their nascent nation.

From the Guardian:

Less than a week after Barack Obama was re-elected president, a slew of petitions have appeared on the White House’s We the People site, asking for states to be granted the right to peacefully withdraw from the union.

On Tuesday, all but one of the 33 states listed were far from reaching the 25,000 signature mark needed to get a response from the White House. Texas, however, had gained more than 77,000 online signatures in three days.

People from other states had signed the Texas petition. Another petition on the website was titled: “Deport everyone that signed a petition to withdraw their state from the United States of America.” It had 3,536 signatures.

The Texas petition reads:

Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect it’s citizens’ standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.

Activists across the country have advocated for independent statehood since the union was restored after the end of the Civil War in 1865. Texas has been host to some of the most fervent fights for independence.

Daniel Miller is the president of the Texas Nationalist Movement, which supports Texan independence and has its own online petition.

“We want to be able to govern ourselves without having some government a thousand-plus miles away that we have to go ask ‘mother may I’ to,” Miller said. “We want to protect our political, our cultural and our economic identities.”

Miller is not a fan of the word “secession”, because he views it as an over-generalization of what his group hopes to accomplish, but he encourages advocates for Texan independence to show their support when they can, including by signing the White House website petition.

“Given the political, cultural and economic pressures the United States is under, it’s not beyond the pale where one could envision the break up of the United States,” he said. “I don’t look at it as possibility, I look at it as an inevitability.”

Miller has been working for Texas independence for 16 years. He pointed to last week’s federal elections as evidence that a state independence movement is gaining traction. Miller pointed to the legalization of the sale of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, disobeying federal mandate.

Read the entire article following the jump.

State Flag of Texas courtesy of Wikipedia.

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France: return to Babel

From Eurozine:

Each nation establishes its borders, sometimes defines itself, certainly organises itself, and always affirms itself around its language, says Marc Hatzfeld. The language is then guarded by men of letters, by strict rules, not allowing for variety of expression. Against this backdrop, immigrants from ever more distant shores have arrived in France, bringing with them a different style of expression and another, more fluid, concept of language.

Today more than ever, the language issue, which might at one time have segued gracefully between pleasure in sense and sensual pleasure, is being seized on and exploited for political ends. Much of this we can put down to the concept of the nation-state, that symbolic and once radical item that was assigned the task of consolidating the fragmented political power of the time. During the long centuries from the end of the Middle Ages to the close of the Ancien Régime, this triumphant political logic sought to bind together nation, language and religion. East of the Rhine, for instance, this was particularly true of the links between nation and religion; West of the Rhine, it focused more on language. From Villers-Cotterêts[1] on, language – operating almost coercively – served as an instrument of political unification. The periodic alternation between an imperial style that was both permissive and varied when it came to customary practise, and the homogeneous and monolithic style adopted on the national front, led to constant comings and goings in the relationship between language and political power.

In France, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685 resolved the relationship between nation and religion and gave language a more prominent role in defining nationality. Not long after, the language itself – by now regarded as public property – became a ward of state entitled to public protection. Taking things one step further, the eighteenth century philosophers of the Enlightenment conceived the idea of a coherent body of subject people and skilfully exploited this to clip the wings of a fabled absolute monarch in the name of another, equally mythical, form of sovereignty. All that remained was to organise the country institutionally. Henceforth, the idea that the allied forces of people, nation and language together made up the same collective history was pursued with zeal.

What we see as a result is this curious emergence of language itself as a concept. Making use of a fiction that reached down from a great height to penetrate a cultural reality that was infinitely more subtle and flexible, each nation establishes its borders, sometimes defines itself, certainly organises itself, and always affirms itself around its language. While we in Europe enjoy as many ways of speaking as there are localities and occupations, there are administrative and symbolic demands to fabricate the fantasy of a language that clerics and men of letters would appropriate to themselves. It is these who, in the wake of the politicians, help to eliminate the variety of ways people have of expressing themselves and of understanding one another. Some scholars, falling into what they fail to see is a highly politicised trap, complete this process by coming up with a scientific construct heavily dependent on the influence of mathematical theories such as those of de Saussure and, above all, of Jakobson. Paradoxically, this body of work relies on a highly malleable, mobile, elastic reality to develop the tight, highly structured concept that is “language” (Jacques Lacan). And from that point, language itself becomes a prisoner of Lacan’s own system – linguistics.

From theSource here.

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