Nationalism: useful for those above – idiotic for those below Ruthless Criticism

useful for those at the top –
idiotic for everyone below

The aggressive nationalism that curses immigrants because they “take away our neighborhoods and jobs” and “do not belong here,” that sees foreign powers and peoples “taking advantage of us” – this hostile nationalism assumes that “we” are a we, invokes feelings of community, and shares this certainty with the highly respected patriotism.

Exclusionary nationalism maintains something that is both untrue and unreasonable. Untrue because it is the landlords who are increasing rents, not the immigrants who have to pay the same rents as native citizens; and it’s the business owners who are filling their jobs with the cheapest workers they can find on the international labor market and pressing down wages in general, harming everyone who lives on wages, regardless of national origin. It is unreasonable because immigrants and native citizens share a common interest as tenants against the native landlords; as wage earners, immigrants and natives share a common interest that conflicts with the native business owners; as working people, Americans, Mexicans, Chinese, and all workers have a common interest against the competition of their employers for optimal business locations and against all states that wage this race to the bottom. Nationalists, however, think that the native citizens constitute a community into which only foreigners bring strife and damage.

The argument of level-headed patriots against the aggressive nationalists is also neither true nor reasonable: that immigrants “benefit our economy,” hence “us.” This “our” and “us” is wrong: in a society based on private property, the economy does not belong to all of us, even if all of us have to make a living in it. Business owners exploit immigrants as well as native citizens in order to enlarge their property and thereby secure it; those who are exploited only secure a lot of toil and increasingly insecure livelihoods; and unemployed wage earners don't even do that. In opposing the inflammatory talk about allegedly parasitic immigrants, pro-immigrant patriots are completely confused about who is really responsible for these benefits and injuries; they imagine a communal benefit that immigrants contribute to (and thereby only approve their right to live here on conditional terms). They attack the right exactly the same way the right attacks the 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 just more nationalism: the idea that all citizens have a common interest with each other and that these citizens have a common interest with “their” state – and this connects with the urge to be concerned about this imaginary community and take sides with it; hence the impulse to treat those who do not belong to it as a threat.

These examples show that something needs to be explained: while the damages experienced by people within this nation are certainly noticed, even the economic and political conflicts between the citizens of one’s own nation – this however doesn’t seem to make nationalists question whether their idea of community is true and only makes them even more committed to their imagined community. Nationalists do not ask: why do I need to make this nation my concern? What kind of economic and political antagonisms does it involve me in? What brings me into conflict with other people, my countrymen as well as newcomers? They don’t want the answer to show where they really stand in relation to their unity with the state. Their concern and partisanship for the nation is firm: from this standpoint, they categorize all their nasty experiences as a challenge to their commitment to protect the homeland from strife and discord. While nationalists may celebrate their undiminished unity with the nation on July 4th or during the national anthem at football games, for the most part they are a pretty discontent lot: they suspect disturbances and troublemakers within the unity of the nation that make them even more resolute.

That’s not correct, so we permit ourselves a question that patriots find absurd:

What causes nationalism?

Patriots see support for the nation as so self-evident that they never hit on the idea of asking why they support it. Yet what really is the collective that nationalists are sympathizing with? It is the state – and this, viewed with a little detachment, is the very opposite of the common bond they think of it as:

Rule: its interest in the society plus its idealization of the nation

Even if patriotic citizens believe they are the beneficiaries and upholders of the nation’s unity – it is not true: who belongs to the nation and who does not is dictated by the state, not its patriots; 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 taking charge of their fellow citizens – all those whose interests are in this respect “special.”

So the politicians organize nationalism in practice. On the national level, they put into effect the objective constraints of competition as a general way of life: property and thus the struggle for property and incomes, professions and jobs, 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 an always loudly proclaimed awareness that these government measures are the conditions for all people and 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 form of wealth that is available to all – as everybody knows. However, the politicians dismiss fact that this is the only interest that really counts in a capitalist nation by making two points: this is the only way that companies will make what “we all” need to buy in order to live and this is the only way that companies will 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 do not permit any 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 for people: so everyone can do what they must do – that is, make sure they earn money.

Anyone who wants to cope with this dependency, hence with buying and earning money, is in grim need of 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 the state, by granting property rights, makes them weak and vulnerable in the first place. Whoever loses out in the competition for jobs or is laid off by a business desperately 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 that balanced state budgets cut social benefits. If ultimately the whole capitalist economy creates another 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 restore national greatness – that is, economic growth as usual. Because “we are all dependent on growth,” it holds true that the power of the state makes everyone 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 make the state dependent on the growth of capitalist property and force all the native citizens into this dependence on the success of the 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 claim to be servants of this condition of existence. They glorify the goal of their exercise of political power – the successfully functioning state – into a supreme duty standing above them – the nation, which should legitimize all the prerogatives of the sovereign. The state and the politicians want the citizens to recognize them in this – and that's slick: it is not so much what they do to the living conditions of the native residents – that may be controversial – but the fact that they are, and will continue to be, responsible for the national conditions of existence. An enormously useful separation: what politics permits and creates in living conditions can always be critically questioned – namely, does this policy ensure and serve the existence of the nation? – but because this is the sole criterion by which the state and politicians should be measured, the existence of the state is just strengthened by this question.

This is how they then serve “the people” – which by subordinating everyone to the same national conditions of existence is what they make the country's native inhabitants into in the first place. It is however precisely this fact – that the political rule first makes people with all their social differences and conflicts into the maneuverable mass of a state – that the political movers and shakers use for the cynical ideological twist that they are helping the people be and remain a people. Indeed, they declare that the people, who are still required by the state to obey its laws, are the contracting authorities of the state which requires them to take care of the nation that enables them to be “the people.” As a crude piece of evidence that this is people's innermost desire in everything they do and are allowed to do, the politicians of a reasonably well-functioning state point out: the people get involved.

In this way, they present the nation as a condition of existence that stands over and above every interest of the individual which he or she is allowed to take care of – and which he or she has to take care of.

The people: the desire to cope and the national delusion of the dependent

The patriotism of the ordinary native citizens also has its practical and ideological sides.

No one escapes the laws of the state and the economic compulsions of buying and making money that are thus made mandatory, and a state works when its inhabitants adapt their lives with the strong will to make the best of it for themselves and their families. From this habit of wanting to get along, the inhabitants come up with a basic understanding of the ruling conditions: that they are there to be managed. A dumb mistake: their efforts to cope, they credit to circumstances that force them to; where they struggle for a livelihood, the society and the state are there for their livelihood. That is their completely unpompous partisanship for the ruling conditions as conditions of existence: the state allows and makes it possible for them to make a living in these conditions. This affirmation, by the way, thrives in the form of a criticism: that the legislators, the laws, and the bureaucratic legal process make it tough, indeed almost impossible, to cope with them with. In precisely this critical variant lies the toughest form of approval. And if that is not the purpose of the laws, that they are easy to follow? If it is about revenue for the state?

A well-behaved people hopes for a certain return from the state too. They develop a permanent need for a state. Busy with the struggle of their daily lives, they constantly have to grapple with the opposing interests of their fellow citizens (such as those mentioned above). They do not blame the established system and rule for these opposing interests – instead, they demand order from the state: what are they allowed to do, what may others do?! This is a demand for an overarching supervisory authority, which is what the state is and has long been active as. However, a good citizen only grasps the state from the side he needs: he needs entitlements, he needs protection from and limitations on the entitlements of others. And in this will for the state, the yardstick is no longer one’s own benefit, not even one’s own ability to get by, but: what the state grants as rights. In any case, everyone knows that they are not just working hard for their own private success: they work for the company that hires them, they serve the state with tax payments, etc. Anyone who gets by and wants order for this, i.e. the state, accepts this. Not in a consciousness of exploitation, even though that’s what it is, but in this spirit: as a duty in a desireable order. In doing so – the few dissenters get to immediately experience the state as a coercive 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 benefit and use everything they are permitted against opposing interests – and at the same time, they refrain from their conflicts of interest, see themselves as having 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 now they want to see something; not their material reward, but a higher reward: that the nation functions and prospers. This viewpoint is nationalism, and it is not so easily shaken. When the private outcome is bad, when work and thrift only bring still more struggles – then the nationalist does not think of this as his damage, but as his great sacrifice, and that means: as his hard-earned right to demand that the nation do something about it; and even if he still thinks of himself and demands better governance, he wants an order whose duties he can fulfill 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 power to do it.

Then the nationalism of the people is ready, and has been thoroughly stripped and cleansed of its starting point in their desire to cope.

Ordinary and extraordinary nationalism

This is the ordinary nationalism. It is not about shouting “hurray” or “my homeland above everything!” It’s also not about 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, but he complains every night about how they exploit the community – and about everyone from bankers to those who would rather go hungry than work. He considers those who rule “in Washington D.C.” to be trustees of the nation and enjoy his total respect – but he is also totally contempuous of them because they let everything happen. A nationalist puts up with everything that the country does to him and treats himself to nothing – except one thing: he assumes an imaginary office from which he calls on everyone, from top to bottom, to do their duty in their assigned places. Its a good thing the nation organizes spectacles for him. During sports events or holidays, national unity is demonstrated and all the real conflicts of interest are ignored, as well as the nationalistically-imagined disharmonies. And this rejection is so deliberately and strenuously pursued by patriots that the next quarrel is already lurking, like when somebody doesn’t join the fun or acts like a killjoy …

Nationals and aliens

Nothing has as little to do with the personal efforts of people or their individual endowments as their distinction into nationals and foreigners: the state power holds up the former as exclusively its useful native inhabitants, and keeps the latter out as the nationals of foreign powers. Once again, it is solely the state's decisions that are generally responsible for the fact that the walled-in nationals come into contact foreigners; in particular, 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 is a misconception of the nationally-minded citizen to believe that it is immigrants who decide – to put in a friendly way – “to flee to our country” or – to put it in a hostile way – “to overpopulate us.” The nationally-minded person has the same misconception of his own relation to the state: that he, “the little guy,” carries the weight of the state and therefore has the right to services from the state. He thinks that immigrants are the cause of the state’s immigration policy. Patriots turn their nationality upside down into – of all things – a property right. They view the state as their property and suspect that immigrants are taking something away from them. They could see, if they looked at the way the state treats immigrants, that it calculates with immigrants as its material the same way it does with them, the nationals. When the state replenishes the labor market for its capitalists with immigrants who are available for cheaper and thereby lowers wage levels for all through competition, then the state's purpose is to use this labor force for 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 for profit on the world market and at the same time to save on costs for publicly-funded research and education – it is just not true that education exists so that students can climb the career ladder. In its openly functionalist treatment of immigrants, the state shows that it treats people as its disposable masses. The other side of this policy on immigrants is when it declares redundant immigrants to be a burden who should be deported or prevents undesirable immigrants from crossing its borders.

Ideologically, the politicians produce a premium product of nationalistic hypocrisy: they present their brutality toward immigrants as a service to their national populace. This should show that they respect the people’s anxieties about immigrants. And a nationalistic people lets this scam be played on them. A terrible treatment of immigrants satisfies their delusion that they are “privileged” as nationals. Nothing could be cheaper.