A secure ethno-religious majority can act self-consciously to produce and re-produce a “nation-state,” or state based on or integrated in relation to a “national identity.” As everybody knows and must forget, that the construct must in some sense be a fictitious construct does not prevent it from serving the real, in other words violent, work of self-construction. Depending on other factors, the nation-state will abide minorities to greater and lesser extents, and may even produce a functionally sufficient semblance of equality in opportunity and participation, even if a memory and experience of oppression, and a sense that assimilation despite whatever appearances may remain revocable, remains never fully eradicable.
The alternative in a global system of states or world state of states will be one or another form of “state-nation.”1 In propitious circumstances the state-nation may close the circle of sovereignty, and effectively equalize the two terms simply in being seen to do so or in seeing itself as having done so: a people re-produced by an idea or abstraction, always awaiting re-consecration (typically and perhaps exclusively in rituals of war), with a global destiny that it never seems to complete: Its notion turns the whole world upside down, since the ideal state-nation is the universal homogeneous state, the world state or the democracy whose demos would be all of humankind, not any particular state within history but the action of history itself under a declared progressively “federative concept.”2 In every lesser circumstance, and relative to disadvantages, the state-nation will survive, if at all, as a more palpable tyranny or subjection: typically the rule by a minority in arms, often as an unstable order or brute order of disorder, or order dependent on external force or support for whatever transitory appearance of stability.3
For the same reasons, as the state-nation, however successful hitherto, encounters its limits – in the non-universality of its universalism in conception and in practice (one pointing where not leading to the other) – its discovered differences from other states reinforce its sense of particularity: Ironically, in its magnified sense of national difference it becomes all the more like “all of the others.” The observation of this irony, all the more when as déjà vu, will tend to be experienced as self-doubt or confirmation of decline. A failure to reject it will provide further evidence along the same lines, but a failure of expression, in word or deed, may not be taken as a failure of concept. Put differently, the nation-state as culmination of the state-nation would be only an actual failure, a failure to reach the concept on its own level – not a descent to a lower one, but discovery of an incapacity or unwillingness to ascend.
- The term refers to theoretical frameworks introduced more or less concurrently by Hegel and von Clausewitz – see Gopal Balakrishnan’s typically very useful observations in “Algorithms of War,” published in Antagonistics (2009). [↩]
- The reference is to Jefferson’s phrase, as previously discussed. [↩]
- I use the word “order” here, rather than “state,” because, as we have discussed previously, “stable state” is a redundant or tautological expression. [↩]