Tuesday 29 April 2014

Putin' up a fight against civic nationalism.

National pride "must be a good thing"
I find it utterly bizarre that Alex Salmond thought it true, let alone prudent to say, that Putin having "restored Russian pride" "must be a good thing", least of all in the middle of March, just after Russian troops had violated Ukrainian sovereignty and seized control over barracks in Sevastopol.

The double standards that come from calling the NATO intervention in Kosovo "an unpardonable folly" or characterising the US/UK invasion of Iraq as an illegal war amounting to western imperialism, but waving away Russian violations of human rights and international law as "aspects of Russian constitutionality and the inter-mesh with business and politics that are obviously difficult to admire" surely can't be lost on any objective observer.

Even if Putin hadn't just invaded Crimea to "restore Russian pride", by what possible measure can pride in a state which routinely suppresses minorities, including those in Chechnya, has a track record of violating the sovereignty of other countries like Georgia, openly funds Assad to crush his own people, flying in the face of the international community, criminalises political and journalistic dissent, whips up a fervour of "Russian values" that involves oppression of the LGBT community, be a good thing?

At best he is guilty of a very poor choice of words. At worst he serves as an important reminder that "civic nationalism" is no more than a partial answer to the pernicious nature of nationalism. It says that there is something inherently good in political communities which found themselves on the basis of a nation, even if "inclusively" and that unity of a nation somehow, in and of itself, carries legitimacy and value. It doesn't. Nations aren't special. This is equally true of those who claim something inherent that makes the British nation uniquely special (here's looking at you Farage).

Nationalism otherises and poisons our debate about statehood and political community. We have a Nationalist party presenting the referendum as a choice between a false dichotomy of rule by "Westminster politicians" or by "the people" (as opposed to, you know, Holyrood politicians) as though a British state is inherently incompatible with Scottish national identity: that a Scottish state is the "natural state of being" for it as a nation. They say it's somehow absurd that people might have different criteria for what political community should be about, or that if they accept it should be based in nation, that Scotland is not necessarily the nation of which they conceive. We can have pride in a nation, but only in the moral content of its actions; not its mere state of being. Those values are universal; not inherent to the nation. It is never true to say that national pride "must" be a good thing and no equivocation as to the negative means by which that pride is achieved makes this so.

The case for Scottish independence has to move beyond nationalism, civic or otherwise. It's not about whether we govern ourselves; it's about how we decide who we are and what it means to govern ourselves. It's about founding political community on actual values that are subject to constant scrutiny, not cutting off our intellectual faculties with platitudes of nation.

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