Patriotism and the Nation, Composing, 13/01/2017

So here’s a preliminary outline of how the argument I laid out the other day about patriotism will play out in the arguments of Utopias.

This is the conception of patriotism as it was originally developed – a concept of democratic revolution. It’s the notion that ordinary people could mature and progress politically, socially, and morally, enough to take responsibility for running the country.

Patriotic politics was a democratic response to the mainstream of central Europe’s approach to governance in Immanuel Kant’s time – paternalism, where the only bulwark against chaos was the authoritarian rule of a monarch and the noble classes that surrounded him.

It's easy when you're an absolute monarch to think the whole country
revolves around you. Mainly because, institutionally, it does.
Doesn't necessarily make for the most well-rounded people.
The ideal of patriotism was the ideal of the French Revolution, which loomed large in Kant’s political imaginary. This despite Kant arguing explicitly against the overthrow of any constitution, ruler, or sovereign institution in his “Theory and Practice” essay.

Because the core idea of the French Revolution was that the king, despite his position and the ontological conception of the crown as sovereign, was actually immature, self-interested, blinkered, and blind to the real concerns of the country’s people. And the people had a better conception of what their country needed than the king.

For the first time in continental European history since the beginning of the centralized state, a sudden and massive institutional change took place, based on the notion that the people could govern better than the monarch.

And that popular practical knowledge justified the replacement of the monarch. More incredible, that transformation took place in France, which was the largest, most centralized monarchist power in continental Europe.

Kant himself straddled the two eras as a thinker, since he was already an old man when the French Revolution began playing out. But this idea of the people’s maturity to be free was much more influential on German thinkers of the following generation: George Hegel, Johann Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, Novalis, and those who followed them.

But now, a new political problem began playing out in Western society: Who were the people of a country?

In a political context of absolute monarchy, this question makes no sense. The country was defined through the person of the crown – the people of a country were the subjects of the crown.

The only power for which a monarch is fit, is symbolic power. Only
when they have no real material mastery of the government and no
truly absurd or exploitive privileges, can a heredity monarch be more
likely to accept the responsibilities of the throne. Good series, too.
Being its subjects separated them from that crown – not just a difference in social hierarchy, but a difference in being, in essence. The people and the crown were different orders of being. The people’s national revolution in 1789 changed all that.

Popular sovereignty means that the people and the crown are the same. Just like it says on the tin, the people are sovereign. But now you have to figure out who the people are.

Kant’s political writings refer to the citizens as the sovereign people. But citizenship alone is more than just a matter of who holds papers for the state – who’s registered with the passports, the birth certificates, and other citizenship documents at the relevant government ministry. That’s the factual question of citizenship.

It isn’t the moral question of citizenship. That’s not just about who happens to have citizenship of a country, but who should have citizenship of a country. Not the citizens as they are, but the body of rightful citizens. The people who can unify their political and social desires into a popular general will that shapes institutional structures and governmental norms.

There can be many possible answers to this. But the answer that quickly came to predominate in European philosophy was the nation – that concept unified ethnicity, linguistic community, cultural mores, and religious heritage into a single, unified essence for each state.

This is the philosophical and political moment when the concept of nationalism came to dominate Western thought. It would not end well.

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