A Nation-State and Its Enemies

The Spanish philosopher Josรฉ Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) had an idea about what a nation is that’s relevant to our current predicaments. This is from Philosophy Now:

Published posthumously in 1960, Ortegaโ€™s resultant book Meditaciรณn de Europaย (Meditation on Europe)ย discusses the nation-state, its role, and its future. After being forced from his own country by a fascist regime and witnessing two World Wars, itโ€™s hardly surprising that the nation-state was an important topic to Ortega. He believed the issue lay partly in the fact that, whilst the nation-state generates a great deal of fanaticism, we are often incapable of providing an exact definition of one โ€“ which however Ortega had already done long ago inย The Revolt of the Masses. As he said at a conference in 1951:

โ€œI will repeat it once again: the reality which we call the State is not the spontaneous coming together of those united by ties of blood. The State begins when groups naturally divided find themselves obliged to live in common. This obligation is not violently forced upon them, but implies an impelling purpose, a common task which is set before the divided groups. Above all, the State is a plan of action and a program of collaboration. The men are called upon so that together they may do something. The State is neither consanguinity, nor linguistic unity, nor territorial unity, nor proximity of habitation. It is nothing material, inert, fixed, limited. It is pure dynamism โ€“ the will to do something in common โ€“ and thanks to this the concept of the State is bounded by no physical limits.โ€

Just like any enterprise, the nation-state has a set of values, insignia through which it is recognized (a flag), and a general set of customs that unite its members, creating cultural coherence amongst them. The nation-state, however, is built upon diversity, and belonging to it does not mean that sub-groups lose their individuality. Be it Catalonia in Spain or Scotland in the UK, belonging to a nation doesnโ€™t remove their spirit as separate entities. And in the same way, all other groups which make up the members of a state do not lose their identity simply by becoming part of the nation: being Spanish doesnโ€™t imply that you are of any particular faith, age, gender, race, and whilst it may be assumed that you speak Spanish, it is not necessarily your mother tongue.ย Even borders โ€“ which might seem like pretty stable definers of a nation โ€“ are the present result of centuries of conflict and negotiations. They have constantly changed throughout history, and thereโ€™s no reason to think that they wonโ€™t do so again in the future.

So instead of understanding a nation as something static, bound fast together by metaphysical connections, it should be viewed as a dynamic โ€“ something we do instead of something we are. Thanks to historical records, we have a documented account of Rome from its beginning until its fall โ€“ its lifespan, you might say. We Europeans have also witnessed the birth of our modern nation-states from the ruins of the Roman Empire, including their growth and incorporation of surrounding communities. But nation-states are also prone to shrink, fall apart, maybe even die. As a work in progress, nations are by no means eternal features that exist naturally on the face of the earth, leaving them open to whatever fate we bestow. As dynamic, ever-changing projects, nations must be open to change and to the incorporation of new groups, whose ideas could contribute to solving their problems and reaching their goals.

From Eugene Robinson for The Washington Post:

The biggest problem facing the nation now is not what to do with Txxxx, who will soon become yesterday’s news. The crisis is that more than 70 percent of Republican voters believeย โ€” falsely โ€” that there was some kind of widespread fraud in the election. The essence of democracy is accepting both victory and loss as legitimate outcomes.

A GOP that internalizes and retains Txxxx’s conspiratorial worldview is not a political party. It is a dangerous cult. Elected officials who have cynically โ€” or cravenly โ€” gone along with that cult’s lies will not find it easy to reverse course.

Much more important than whether Txxxx is convicted in his coming trial is whether Republicans level with their constituents and tell them that Txxxx is lying.

If Republicans won’t โ€” or can’t โ€” tell the truth about the November election, they are no longer participants in our [nation-state’s] democracy. They are its enemies.ย