Wednesday, September 13, 2006

We are global citizens

Mark Richardson wonders where liberalism stands on the nation state. The short answer, I think, is that classical liberals recognise the concept of ‘country’ as an artificial construct that is not inherently something of value to be preserved – because it is backed up by state force.

To take the line that there is something inherently special about being Australian is to place undue emphasis on a word. Politicians love inspiring this sort of nationalistic fervour because it wins them votes, and conservatives get sucked into their posturing.

If, in the future, globalisation sees the political merging of nations, there is no valid reason to prevent this from occuring. Apart from intangible value judgements on national identity, there are no compelling arguments for preventing Australia merging with another country.

In this way, conservatism differs from liberalism. Conservatives think ‘tradition’ ought to be preserved: for them, every change needs to be justified in light of the past. It can be an inflexible position bereft of substance, and is an example of the closed-mindedness Rafe Champion alludes to in this post about Popper. Too much nationalism contributes to conflict, whereas globalism minimises it.

Conservatives can however, mount a reasonable argument in favour of civic duty or obligation. I would argue we have an obligation to promote good deeds, and that liberalism supports such voluntary community initiative. But it supports it from a human angle. Not because it's a case of Australians helping other Australians, but because humans are helping other humans. Conservatives like Richardson don’t seem to understand that.

I am a practical person. When I found out I needed to take up Australian citizenship to get a very generous loan for higher education, I naturally took the appropriate steps. While I am completely opposed to HECS and would like to see it abolished (governments should not be involved financially in universities) I am, like everyone else, self-interested.

Some would say my attitude is very Australian!

Update: Mark responds.


At September 14, 2006 11:28 pm, Anonymous mikey said...

I broadly agree (except for the last para!) but what kind of identities do you see as valid?

I suppose you could take an individual approach and say tha nothing much matters beyond our direct experience and the people we experience that with. Or you could take a more global, humanist line which says what matters is that we are all humans, (or perhaps all liberals.)

Neither of these are satisfying to me. Denying national identity is one thing, but losing your identity through relativism is another.

I think we need a nuanced understanding of identity, one which would largely reject the nation-state as an arificial construct, but recognise that

a)they were sometimes based on significant historical and cultural groupings and
b) They have subsequently created significant historical and cultural groupings.

It would also recognise more localised community or tribal identities as well as globalised aspacial identities, such as those formed via the internet.

I find the 'nework' to be the key conceptual tool here. I think, among oher things, it allows a more flexible understanding of government.

And so I have a fair bit of time for tradition, and even count myself conservative in some ways.

At September 15, 2006 10:03 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see personal identity as a largely private matter. When too many people become overly zealous over their public identity it leads to groups of people demanding violent secession from the main country, or external wars. What identities are valid is up to individual preference, and I make no judgment over whether certain patriotic sentiments are more valid than others. The historical element is a reason for why we are the way we are, but it doesn't provide a reason against why we can't change who we are in the future. It's the same for Aboriginal culture...they were hunter-gatherers in a past life, but why does the Left insist on preserving them in that 'non-Western/colonialist' form today?

At September 15, 2006 4:06 pm, Anonymous Sam Ward said...

People always make too much of this. When a politician says "you should be proud to be Australian", it's only a short-handed way of saying we value our culture and shared history, etc.

They are not really saying we should be proud of our Geographical location.

"they were hunter-gatherers in a past life, but why does the Left insist on preserving them in that 'non-Western/colonialist' form today?"

Because to the left, any society is preferable to western capitalism.

At September 16, 2006 1:35 am, Anonymous sharkfin said...

Its not nationalism that
contributes to conflict.The war in the Middle East between the Jews and the Arabs is a bloody territorial dogfight. It is over the land. As all wars are.
last last 50years -:
Territorial massacre of Jews in Germany
japs try to take terrioriy of Australia
territorial massacre Rwanda
territorial massacre Somalia
territorial massacre Bosnia
territorial massaacre East Timor
Territorial massacre of Kurds
Territorial grab of Kuwait
Territorial massacre in Sudan
Sunnins and Shiites killing each other for control of Iraq
Territorial dogfight Jews and Arabs
Sepratrist State demands Chechyna
IRA wages war for control of IRELAND
Man at the a tribal level is dangerously territorial and has been engaged in bloody territorial warfare right across history.
Racism is as a cough is to the flu it is only a symptom of the more deadly underlying territorial hostility. Mankind is not stupid enough to bother waging full scale war just over some vagaue dislike of skin colour that doesnt make any sense.

At September 16, 2006 2:09 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget that in its most extreme form, nationalism is fascism. It can lead to the subjugation of the individual to the group. What I object to is not the sense of unity nationalism aims for or the idea people have an obligation to defend their country from external aggression (nested in a culture of volunteerism), it's the overbearing state that uses nationalist fervour to justify all sorts of hairbrained ideas. It's the idea that the State is the nation. That's wrong.

At September 16, 2006 2:32 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nationalism does contribute to conflict. It is not the only ideological factor, but it is an important one. Its inflexibility can lead to conflict. For example, the Palestinians want their own state. Israel wants to maintain its own. If this isn't state centric nationalism at work then what is?

Nationalist ideology is used by groups of people who think a common historical past is sufficient reason to fight for the same goal (as it sometimes is), even though individuals within the group may be perfectly happy integrating with the 'enemy' because they aren't interested in dying for nothing.

I reject some of its possible conclusions (such as reinstating the draft). Shared national identity should not be used to denigrate individual freedom. An all volunteer military that’s paid well is more effective anyway, and the skills of the rest of the civilian people are able to be utilised better during times of war.

At September 16, 2006 2:35 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another stupid conclusion of nationalism is that the government has a role in setting our 'values'.

At September 24, 2006 12:03 am, Blogger bmcworldcitizen said...

Good article. Nice to see I'm not alone:-)


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