The Force of Becoming Majority, Research Time, 15/08/2016

An important part of Utopias will be my attempt to understand what makes a community – the social body that you want to exist according to a political, moral, and ethical ideal. A community is the thing you want to become a utopia.

As critical as I am of Justin Trudeau and the Liberal
Party, I am proud of the progress Canada has made
since its genesis as an Anglo-white supremacist
dominion of the British Empire to become a country
whose political ideals are omni-inclusion.
I’m a Canadian – my philosophical investigations and research come from that position in the post-imperialist era of the West. So the concept of nation and nationhood is inextricably bound up with our understanding of what a political community is. And that’s really unfortunate. As a wise Canadian once said, it’s just bogus and sad.

I think Canada is a very fortunate place for the new era – it seems to be the one country in the West (maybe even the world!) where the conception of the country has split from any traditional concept of nationhood. 

Generations of an open door to immigration has led to literally hundreds (if not thousands) of ethnicities becoming part of Canadian history and identity. My country is far from perfect, but I think we offer a model for how to build a new kind of civil state.

When I look at the situation in other countries of the West, I see that nationhood – that drive to define your countryman, exclude others (and Others) by any means – is violently reasserting itself. Last week, I picked up a book that I thought would be a useful theoretical exploration of nationhood, Etienne Balibar’s We, the People of Europe.

So far, it’s been remarkably enlightening. The book’s essays were culled from publications and lectures throughout the early 2000s, given in Western Europe and the United States. Balibar’s thinking at this moment takes place at a critical juncture – the nationalist parties of Europe were rising to the point that audiences around the world were taking notice. But Europe didn’t yet face a situation that would let them triumph.

With the refugee crisis from the Syrian civil war, Europe’s nationalists have their moment. Their political ascent in Europe may be unstoppable now – and millions will likely suffer from their policies. 

Marine Le Pen, leader of France's Front National, one
charismatic leader who can put a charming face on the
racial exclusion and nationalism that can destroy the
last, gasping ideals of the European Union.
In the early 2000s, the European Union was seemingly an unstoppable political entity. It would bring together in peace all the nations of Europe, a region that had experienced war for literally centuries. It would require an entirely new concept to justify that political unity, since the concept of the nation had justified the most recent centuries of war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

The EU would become a mere bureaucracy without the participation of all its people in creating a new concept to underlie a political and social unity and community that would make a mockery of nationality. Balibar was writing in an era where, referring at least to Europe, that concept was still possible.

The concept of nation merges two social and political phenomena. One is the community itself, usually defined through ethnic commonality, cultural continuity, and a shared language. This ethnically-defined community expresses itself institutionally in the state, a bureaucracy of territorially-bound social control. 

The European tradition of liberal democracy that grew wrapped around the national concept offered a democratic universality. The rights and freedoms of people in a social community were developed and guaranteed through a citizenship contract with the state institution. 

State authority guaranteed your freedom. How democratic your society was depended on how open your institutional authorities were to changing the terms of the citizenship contract.

Etienne Balibar, author of We, The People of Europe, and
theorist of new possibilities for existence.
But this universality was only abstract. Practically, this still amounted to an exclusionary institution and morality. The universality of the rights of the citizens only applied materially to those citizens who could build their own national state. 

The minority could only access those rights by becoming-majority – collapsing their difference – or else carving out their own territorial enclave. But that would be yet another form of becoming-majority – what was once an imperilled minority now becomes an empowered majority enforcing its own social conformity on its own minorities.

Balibar discusses briefly the constitutional tizzy that came up in early republican constitutions in France, as they attempted to recognize the status of Corsica as a nation within France. It reminded me very much of Canada’s recent constitutional crises over the national status of Quebec. 

It amounts to a calamity – nationhood can admit no minority that is not at least in progress to become-majority. And the existing majority must also accept the becoming-majority of the minority. The fate of the Jews and Roma in Europe testify to this calamity in its strongest form.

So as I read and blog about Balibar’s examination of nationhood and the concept of nation, I’ll have this calamity at the forefront of my thoughts. As, I’m pretty sure, did Etienne himself.

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