Pressekonferenz Wahl-O-Mat


What comes after the nation state? Konferenz der European Alternatives (Berlin, 15. September 2018)

Grußwort von Thomas Krüger zur Eröffnung der Konferenz "What comes after the nation state?" der European Alternatives im Haus der Berliner Festspiele.

Dear Daphne Büllesbach, dear colleagues,

When we hear talk of the line of conflict between communitarians and cosmopolites, we should not just question patterns of cultural attitude, the dichotomy between cosmopolitanism and isolationism.

We also need to examine who exactly has benefited from globalisation and the policy of austerity of the recent past – and who has rather had to bear the brunt. I feel that these developments are directly connected to the debate surrounding the role of the nation state and the meaning of what, in German, is referred to as Heimat, so “homeland”, or “home community”.

Although I believe that we need to work towards a clearer definition of what the terms “nation”, “nation state” and indeed Heimat mean and how they interrelate, at this point I concur with Heribert Prantl, who said that democracy does not function well if (nation) states are unable to protect the people from capitalism gone wild.

This idea is picked up by the political scientist Michael Bröhning in his recent essay on the nation state and the necessity to prevent its appropriation by right-wing populists.

Bröhning believes the nation state is a shield against the uncertainties that are a result of a globalisation that has gone too far. He calls for us to embark on an alternative path that allows us to make use of the benefits of globalisation while at least curbing the disadvantages it brings for large parts of the industrialised world’s middle classes.

Politically, he says, this can only be done by a return to regulation that strengthens the state’s room for manoeuvre. This, he continues, should be accompanied by a form of “inclusive patriotism” that provides individuals with a way to identify with “their” nation. Neither the state nor the nation is an object or a subject. Rather, it is a social condition that is subject to the laws that govern social movement and thus can be shaped politically.

Maria do Mar Castro Varela, pedagogue and political scientist, believes that the national categories that give order and structure to the social fabric have been disabled by today’s mobile lifestyles. That notwithstanding, she says, citizens still use these national categories as points of reference. The dissolution of national borders provokes fear, even though we have always lived in transnational spaces.

So maybe we should think about this: What do we mean by “national attitudes”? What concepts do we have of “nation”? Given that our world is becoming ever more complex, it is upon us to question existing national knowledge and the way we produce that knowledge. Through our work, we should encourage citizens to expand their understanding of national categories and allegiances and thus empower them to help shape the political system.

Existing ideas and narratives need to be deconstructed before they can be renewed. The fabric of our European and national narratives needs some additional threads, such as a new and extended interpretation of citizenship. National allegiances could be replaced by new forms of affiliation.

Do we feel that we belong to a certain group of people just because they have the same passport as us? What does citizenship mean today? What national reference framework can we use to try to express what a transnational Europe means to us – a Europe that goes beyond a collection of national identities? And how can we respond to transnational issues if not by using the nation state as a point of reference?

Professor for postcolonial studies Nikita Dhawan questioned whether transnational civil society should be seen as the most promising actor of social transformation. Global inequalities, she says, cannot be addressed at a level other than that of the nation state. International civil society has become a dominant actor when it comes to global justice issues, a form of collective action that feeds off state failure like a parasite. Given today’s (post-)colonial structures, she warns against defining the state as a “repressive apparatus” and by extension, arguing for or against the nation state.

Rather, she says, we need new ways to restructure the state. Quote: “Finally, rather than debating in favour of or against the state, we need to focus on how to give voice to the interests and concerns of disenfranchised groups in hegemonic battles. At the same time, the enormous space that exists beyond the established modern political sphere needs to be reclaimed. Efforts should be made to empower subaltern groups to assert their claims vis-à-vis the state using the formal language of rights and citizenship, so as to allow democracy to rise from the bottom up”, unquote.

In this, Dhawan echoes Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who questions the role of elite actors inside transnational civil society. Without having been elected by those they are meant to represent, these elites enjoy a considerable amount of political power and have access to a transnational audience. Our assumption is that by strengthening civil society, the civil education community is by necessity strengthening democracy and creating a more just and equitable world.

Yet we should also remember to question who it is exactly that we are strengthening – and in turn, forgetting.

If nation states devolve powers upwards (to the EU) and downwards (to the regions), as Ulrike Guérot has called for, then that gives us hope for the future. Although we should not forget to ask what consequences this will have. It may also mean fragmentation, instability and an enormous amount of red tape and coordination. And what about the battles over power that the concession towards greater autonomy will trigger in the regions? Would we still feel as strongly about solidarity in a Europe of 50?

And as we consider what may be in store for us after the end of the nation state, we need to think about what kind of non-nation-state actors may step in to replace it? And whether they will necessarily represent the interests of all citizens.

Today, we are seeing Western-style passivity in Europe. We need a democratic structure at the polity rather than just the policy level. In other words, we do not just need a radically imaginative approach towards social transformation, we also need new ideas for political transformation.

Exclusion and violence are not the only instruments that nation states can wield. Maybe we should not consider what comes after the nation state, but rather how we can take it, and its structures, to a transnational level and hence achieve a decolonising effect.

What comes after the nation state? Brave new worlds, or the time of new monsters? It’s up to us.

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