In recent years the Culture War in Europe has touched on a variety of different issues; the role of religion, the meaning and status of the family, multiculturalism, the role of Islam in Europe, attitudes towards sex, euthanasia and abortion. However, the key issue that underlies all these different controversies is a conflict over the status of national sovereignty and the nation state. The transnational outlook that pervades the institutions of the EU regards national sovereignty as an outdated and potentially disruptive ideal. Such dif- ferences over values exist both within member states of the EU and across national boundaries.
The EU political class justifies its anti-nationalist rhetoric by pointing to the dangers of racist xenophobic movements and constantly harks back to the rise of the Nazis during the Weimar Republic, it is actually hostile to any form of national or patriotic sentiment. It regards people’s identification with their nation as a regrettable act of prejudice. Its federalist inclination directs it to adopt a posture of animosity towards the ideal of national sovereignty.
Indeed it is not only nationalism that stands condemned by the Court of globalist opinion. Western political culture has become deeply troubled by the very idea of a nation. In particular it regards the sense of nationhood, national loyalties and attachments and patriotism as out-dated and even dangerous ideas that have no place in the modern world.
In part the anti-nationalist turn of western political culture is an understandable, if mistaken reaction to the destructive consequences of German Nazism. The catastrophe of the Second World War, and the Holocaust are often perceived as the inevitable consequence of nationalist rivalries and ideologies. From this standpoint, national attachments are interpreted as a cultural resource that is dangerous because they can be mobilized to promote exclusionary and racial causes. That is why, in practice, the classical distinctions drawn between patriotism, identification with the nation and republican, civic, cultural, religious and racial nationalism has lost some of its force.
The current discussion on nationalism has adopter the slippery slope argument, which implies that what begins as an innocent display of pride in one’s nation hardens in an aggressive hatred of foreigners.
According to this simplistic, teleological conception of nationalism, what at first appears as an innocent manifestation of national identity and loyalty in the 19th century inevitably crystallized into menacing political ideology, of which Nazism is its most barbaric manifestation.
In Europe, the phobia against nationhood is most systematically promoted by the leadership of the EU. They direct their fire to the idea of national sovereignty
In Europe, the phobia against nationhood is most systematically promoted by the leadership of the EU. The leaders of the EU direct their fire to the idea of national sovereignty and also towards the celebration of national identity. The embrace of national identity is frequently castigated as a form xenophobia. The mere taking of pride in one’s nation or national identity, is often portrayed as a form of discrimination or prejudice.
People who take their national sensibilities seriously are frequently portrayed as small-minded individuals, whose outlook is hostile to people of other cultures. The point of view is frequently argued by
Jürgen Habermas, the leading intellectual advocate of European federalism. He casually writes off national electorates as ‘the preserve of right-wing nationalism’ and condemns them for their narrow minded prejudice.
Historically the encouragement of anti-national or trans-national ideal was associated with imperial ambitions. Empires as different as the Roman, Ottoman, British, and Habsburg encouraged the decoupling of culture and politics in an attempt to enforce their imperial domination. Not surprisingly, the current campaign against national identity by 21st century cosmopolitanism bears close affinity with the idea of de-nationalizing identity in an imperial context. The sociologist, Ulrich Beck and co-author Edgar Grande proposed using ‘the concept of empire to describe the novel forms of political authority which are acquiring exemplary shape in Europe’[i].
Beck and Grande idealize the EU as a ‘cosmopolitan empire’ or a post-imperial empire ‘based not on ‘national demarcation and conquest, but on overcoming national borders, voluntarism, consensus, transnational interdependence and the political added value accruing from cooperation’[ii]. For Beck and Grande, ‘overcoming national borders’ through the construction of a Cosmopolitan Empire is the natural progression from the messy world of demarcated nations.
The close connection between cosmopolitan theorists and the EU is grounded on their common mistrust of, and aversion to, the nation state. As Beck explained, ‘the concept of the cosmopolitan state is based on the principle of national indifference towards the state.’ Using a historical analogy with the separation of religion and state that was ratified by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, Beck contends that global stability would now be enhanced by the ‘separation of state from nation’.[iii]
Targeting the Citizen
The project of de-nationalising people’s identity has fundamental implications for the way that the status of citizenship is regarded. From the standpoint of those who advocate ‘slowly removing borders’ the status of citizenship means very little. That is one reason why they are indifferent to what happens to citizens once the borders are removed. Instead of being a space controlled by citizens, who posses a privileged relationship to it, the territory of the nation state is transformed into an open- house where everyone possesses similar rights.
The devaluation of the nation inevitably leads to the targeting of the moral status of a citizen. Open border activist do not simply want to get rid of borders but also the special rights enjoyed by citizens. They claim that it is fundamentally wrong to afford rights to the citizens of a nation that are denied to non-citizens. From this standpoint, the exclusion of non-citizens or total strangers from the electoral franchise, for instance, is similar to discriminating against someone on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. Critics of the status of a citizen assert that its possession is arbitrary since ‘none of us chose our place of birth, and we deserve neither advantages nor disadvantages for it’[iv].
Citizenship, essentially a civic institution, is inherited by everyone who is born into it, including the children of families of former immigrants
Where we are born is of course arbitrary and a matter of chance but for all that not at all insignificant. Children are born to families that they have not chosen, but that biological accident does not in any way devalue the special and unique attachment that we have for other family members. Our place of birth and our connections plays foundational role in the constitution of our sense of selves. Moreover, citizenship, essentially a civic institution, is inherited by everyone who is born into it, including the children of families of former immigrants. This identification with the nation helps citizens – old and new – acquire a sense of intergenerational continuity, indeed a bond not just with one’s contemporaries, but with one’s predecessors, too. It is this that gives a certain confidence to a democratic society, a sense that despite differences, citizens are bound by a deep sense of commonality. That’s one reason for defending the moral status of citizenship.
One reason why populism has acquired such a negative connotation in the political vocabulary of the EU leadership is because this movement wholeheartedly voices the concerns of citizens. That is why populism is frequently presented as the biggest threat to society. Even Pope Francis has joined the anti-populist crusade. Hehas not yet issued a papal bull against populism, but he has warned that populism could lead to the election of ‘saviours’ who are similar to Hitler[v].
Critics of populism frequently assert that people living in a particular nation state should have no special rights relative to the territory they inhabit. Citizens and foreigners alike should enjoy the same privileges. Historian and political theorist Josiah Obermarshalls cosmopolitan and global-justice arguments against ‘state-based restrictions on immigration and rights of citizenship’, which he regards as ‘inherently illegitimate’[vi]. Such arguments aim to de-nationalise the people inhabiting a common geographical space, and detach citizenship from any special rights and duties. So the anti-populist, transnational imagination is not simply hostile to the people but also to the ideal of the citizen. It delegitimises national citizenship by idealising a global and transnational humanity where every individual is afforded the same rights and privileges. By projecting human rights as fundamental, the rights of a national citizenry are presented as secondary. That is why, from a transnational cosmopolitan perspective, the rights of citizenship ought not to possess any advantages over those rights to which all humans are entitled.
Yet, any enlightened human community depends on its citizens assuming responsibility for the quality of public life. Without citizens making choices, debating and taking responsibility for consequences of their action, politics becomes detached from the experience of people’s lives.
Citizenship and its exercise are fundamental to the workings of a democratic society. Citizens possess important political rights, and also have responsibilities and duties towards other members of their community. Though the possession of citizenship through birth may seem arbitrary, it should still be seen as an inheritance that a citizen shares with others. That common inheritance among members of a nation state provides the foundation for solidarity.
[i] Beck, U. & Grande, E.; Cosmopolitan Europe (2007) p.54.
[ii]Beck & Grande (2007) p.53.
[iv]See ‘Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders’, by Joseph Carens, included in Review of Politics,no.251, 1987.
[vi] Demopolis: Democracy Before Liberalism in Theory and Practice, by J Ober, Cambridge University Press, 2017, pp.168-9
Frank Furedi’s new book, How Fear Works: The Culture of Fear in the 21st Century is published by Bloomsbury Press on 14 June.
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