Club Politique by Che Tibby

Metics Seven

As I suggested the other day, this idea of the nation is predicated on some kind of mutual acceptance of belonging, one that reinforces our relationship to one another by recognition that we each share a non-quantifiable 'something' that makes us what we say we are.

It hasn't always been this way of course. The old version of nationalism, the kind that gave rise to National Socialism, or contributed to the tragedies of the Balkans, is centred on a much more narrow imagining of 'the nation'. More often than not, when you hear people talking, or ranting, about the 'evils of nationalism', they're talking about a kind of nationalism based on quite exclusive variables, like family. What really distinguishes old-school nations is this idea of 'blood' as the primary means of determining membership.

So, if you live in a nation-state where citizenship is mostly determined by descent, then not being a citizen is pretty easy to figure out. Was my mum/dad a citizen? No? Then I'm not a citizen.

But modern nations don't work like that, in places like the USA and Australia, both world leaders in inclusive citizenship, pretty much anyone can become a citizen if they meet certain arbitrary requirements. And this is the old melting pot idea.

So there you have two types of nation. One sourced in descent, another in a kind of 'rubber-stamped' citizenship. Both however experience nationalism, and both experience nation-building. Without nation-building, the differences of the myriad persons introduced to migrant nation-states would eventually result in social collapse, and nationalism is the ideology that underpins the process.

In itself, nationalism isn't a problem. But when harnessed to other types of social or political phenomena, such as racism, or authoritarianism, then it becomes something else altogether.

What both types of nation, and any variant of the two you might care to uncover, have in common is this the type of mutual authentication we talked about in Metics Six. Sometimes, in historic periods of stress for example, this mutual authentication is openly exploited by leaders for political or military ends. Appeals to 'real' citizens, or against 'false' or impure citizens, are not unusual in many nation-states.

I'd like to argue that having this type of affiliation between citizens is actually a good thing though, while exploitation of patriotism, racial identity, or nationalityto negative ends is not.

Anyhow, between members of a nation there are more interesting dynamics that occur, and which go will eventually go a long way to explaining why leaders can exploit nationalism to achieve 'bad' things.

It's not enough, it seems, to be able to claim belonging to somewhere. Pretty much anyone can do that. The Briton we spoke of last time may well have lived in New Zealand for twenty years, and although he hasn't lost his accent, has come to feel very much at home here, and it's only the parochialism of New Zealanders that prevents him from being a 'real' Kiwi.

This feeling is called 'homely belonging', and is very different to 'governmental belonging', the idea that your feeling of being at home somewhere can be translated into authentic political power. It's a crucial difference that is often overlooked in the study of nationalism.

When I deny our British friend authentication as a 'real' New Zealander, I am in effect denying him membership in the 'real' nation. Sure, he's a New Zealander, he has citizenship and feels at home here, but he chances are that he'll be denied the right to state what does and doesn't 'go' politically.

Now, I can hear you saying that this is drawing a long bow. There have been many political figures in New Zealand who have also been British, be it English, Scots, Welsh, Irish. And sure, I accept that. But, how many Ethiopians? Samoans? Germans? Chinese? Indians? The list goes on.

The trick in this case is that because of New Zealand's history, Britons almost automatically carry a degree of governmental belonging. Many other groups however do not.

Despite this exception to the rule, the rule does stand. There is a group called 'New Zealanders', who are citizens of New Zealand and therefore nationals. But within this all-encompassing group is another group, one that holds the right to govern, and the right to determine who is, and who is not, a 'real' New Zealander.

Naturally, I can hear conspiracy theories ticking over, but the content of how and why that group is couched there as 'the boss', is another matter, for another day.