Nationalism as Prerequisite for Pluralism
Freddie’s argument that the premise of founding a state with an explicit ethnic nationalism basis leads to intolerance and hatred of groups outside that ethnicity strikes me, on the one hand, as basically correct. Certainly, it would seem to inevitably promote a certain degree of jingoism, and definitely will create distrust of those of a different ethnicity who seek to involve themselves with the affairs of the nation.
On the other hand, I almost completely agree with our friend Mike from the Big Stick, who in the comments writes:
The state must rise from some sort of shared identity. For Israel it was their religious identity. Once the state is established, in most cases it begins to diversify. If you look at the earlier United States it was a pretty homogenous group of people. Mostly white (not counting slaves who had no say in the matter), mostly with roots in Britain, mostly Christian, etc. I’m not suggesting Israel will ever reach the level of diversity that the US and other Western nations have, but once its statehood is secured permanately (with global recognition of their right to exist), I think they will be a bit less interested in religous integrity.
I had almost the exact same thoughts when I read Freddie’s piece. The experience of post-colonialism, particularly in Africa, strongly demonstrates the severity of the opposite problem – the founding of states without regard to the nationalities residing therein. These problems, despite their creation decades, sometimes centuries, ago, continue to plague the world due to their inherent instability.
The reason for this distinction is pretty simple: Federalist Number 10. The reality of the world is that nothing can create a bond – a faction, if you will – as strong as a shared culture. When you’ve got two or three well-represented and tightly-bonded cultures in a country, this means that you have, in essence, two or three factions in the country that are more or less permanent – the bonds are so strong that ideology is subsumed within factional loyalty, and all that matters is that your faction have as much power as possible. People from other factions are dehumanized and degraded and a wide manner of unconscionable practices against those factions can be sanctioned, whether officially or unofficially.
On the other hand, when there is essentially only one predominant culture – one nation, if you will – within a state, then there are opportunities for factions to form on independent issues. Even where a large group can form around a core set of issues, they need to be reasonably civil to those who disagree with them so as to build up a coalition capable of governing – in a world where the number of potential issues is virtually infinite, the likelihood of garnering a governing majority wherein that majority almost entirely agrees on all or even just the 10 or 20 most important issues is virtually nil. As we have seen with the decline of the GOP, a failure to abide by this principle will rapidly erode your power, especially when that power is based upon widespread agreement with only one overarching issue forced into the limelight by an emergency that has ceased to dwarf all other issues.
Although a state may initially be united by one ethnicity, culture, etc., it should eventually be able to achieve a high degree of pluralism. Issues of common culture will fade from importance because they’re not really in dispute, and various factions will find it advantageous to appeal to those groups outside the cultural mainstream so as to cobble together a governing majority on those factions’ pet issues. To be sure, there will likely be a backlash, perhaps even a severe backlash, from factions who begin to lose battles due to the alliance of opponents with those outside the cultural mainstream. But while this backlash may succeed in the short-term, it will likely fail in the long-term as those formerly outside of the cultural mainstream become part of it due in part to their alliance with mainstream factions – call it the “melting pot” effect.
But without some kind of abnormally strong unifying theme at the foundation of a modern state, and particularly a modern state with some remote semblance of representative government, it’s hard to see how you reach pluralism at all.