Saturday, February 22, 2014

Do Ukrainians really want a "state nation"?

Timothy Garton Ash is a professor of European Studies at Oxford. He has also called himself an FLIO - a friend of the liberal international order.

He has written a newspaper column on the unrest in the Ukraine in which he states that the two possibilities are that the current violence will tear the country apart or else help to bring about the creation of a "state nation".

What is a state nation? Professor Garton Ash offers the following definition:
A state-nation is one in which a shared civic national identity is created by the state, rather than a single ethnic national identity being embodied in it.

A state nation would mean the end of a meaningful national tradition for Ukrainians. In reality it is just a new term for a liberal civic nationalism in which a shared commitment to liberal political institutions and values is what is supposed to hold a nation together.

I've written a detailed criticism of civic nationalism before. A civic nationalism is dissolving of a national tradition. First, it means that anyone, anywhere can be a member of the nation, just so long as they uphold liberal values. That not only encourages open borders and uncontrolled migration, it also makes a national identity indistinct - the identity of one civic nation is very close to those of the others.

Another problem with a civic nationalism is that it is not the end point in the unfolding of liberal principles. It is merely a staging post. Once it is achieved the next step for liberals is to complain that there is still discrimination on the basis of citizenship, i.e. that benefits are given by the state to citizens that are not given to non-citizens. In the longer run, the moral focus shifts from civic nationalism to internationalism.


  1. I don't think it is possible for a state to form a nation by "embodying" liberal values, but it is possible for a state to form a nation by aggressively imposing liberal values on other nations. The United States is, of course, the paradigm of the second sort of state, and people like Professor Ash take the United States as proof that a multi-ethnic state can be forged into a nation. What he fails to see is the vital difference between the successful champion of some principle, vanquishing the enemies of freedom and extending the gift of democracy to others, and the recipients of those gifts. Giving gifts is heroic and noble, receiving them is not. American nationalism is not grounded in "liberal values," but rather in the heroic and noble myth of America bringing those values to the world. That's a myth that cannot be recycled, so it cannot be used to make more state nations.

  2. If they can ethnically cleanse out the Russians who are in the Donbass and Crimea, then they won't need to be a state nation, of course.

    Of course that would likely lead to an invasion, but there's always hope. What looks more likely is that Ukraine will be glommed on to the anti-national EU and absorbed into the rainbow parade.

  3. This current conflict in the Ukraine looks a bit like the Russian Civil War - then, as now three sides were involved. Back then there were the Reds, The Whites and the Nationalists/Anarchists, in the Ukraine today we have the liberal pro-Westerners, the pro-Russians, and the independent nationalists.

    Interestingly, the nationalists seem to have the most stomach for armed confrontation, and perhaps the best solution for the Ukraine is to let the nationalists lead the way, and adopt a government which in neither pro- Russian or pro- EU.

  4. All right, Mr. Richardson, do you advocate a racially based population policy or do you not?

    I would not (to put it mildly) have the smallest objection to anyone who did. But one can't keep bewailing "civic nationalism" without championing the only other possible form of nationalism, which is, basically, ethnic nationalism.

    So do you support that, and if you do, how precisely are you going to sell that creed to a larger public, after, um, 10 years of blogging for the same echo-chamber audience?

    1. Anon, I've made it very clear that I support ethnic nationalism.

      I've also made clear my thoughts on what will help push things forward:

      i) intellectual clarity so that we break out of the left-liberal/right-liberal framework of politics
      ii) an effective moral critique of liberalism, so that people are less defensive in challenging the moral claims of liberalism
      ii) building up an institutional base so that a future wave of opportunity can be taken advantage of

      I do a lot of political work in my local area and am having success in building up a traditionalist branch where I live. More than that, with a demanding job and a young family, I cannot do at the moment. You are, of course, welcome to make a contribution of your own.

    2. If you support ethnic nationalism as an Australian, you can always vote to deport the Asians back to their homelands, but what are you going to do with the Aboriginal people? Throw them into the Pacific? I do not support ethnic nationalism for certain countries. For Ukraine, I don't care; they are such a basketcase that it doesn't matter to me whether they are a civic nation or an ethnic nation.

      I think it is dangerous to support ethnic nationalism for countries such as the US, Canada, all of the Hispanic countries, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore. Basically anywhere where the ethnic majority is not the same as the indigenous population. Immigrant minorities can be deported but you cannot deport an indigenous minority.

    3. Well I am a new reader - so obviously it is not an echo chamber.
      And what is next after the Nation State? City State?

      But I am in Canada where we have one province dedicated to the idea of a Nation State - but even if they were solvent - their own people aren't buying it.
      But the ROC (Rest of Canada) is getting sick of paying for that fantasy.
      In fact it is like a Potemkin State - hollow and contrived by Federal funding far beyond it's means.

    4. Anon (13:57),

      In 1945 Aborigines were about 1 per cent of the Australian population. They were simply not the dominant ethny. That doesn't mean they could not have had their existence secured as a minority ethnic group, but it's wrong to believe that they could have formed the national core.

      Nor do I think the point is to talk about voting any group out. I don't believe that the federal state in Australia is going to be an ethnic nationalist one anymore; there is, however, a chance for those belonging to the historic Australian national ethny to organise and to predominate in some part(s) of Australia. We may not have a state to support us, but we can certainly organise institutions of our own to do so.

    5. A Dad,

      Welcome to the site. I suspect that the situation in Canada is similar to the one here. If you want to make comments about what's happening in Canada, feel free to do so - it would add an additional perspective.

  5. When Quebec nationalists formed the Parti Quebecois in the 1960s, it was initially an alliance of the left and the right. From the start, however, the left dominated and by the 1980s right nationalism had all but disappeared. This didn't matter so much when the left was mainly concerned about the working class, but by the 1990s it had shifted its attention to multiculturalism and an almost obsessive concern with ethnic and sexual minorities. The result was a strange kind of antinationalist nationalism where the purpose of independence would be to carry out the same kind of multicultural project that English Canada was carrying out. French Canadians lost interest and turned to the right-nationalist ADQ party. The ADQ was ruined by its success, however. It began to get money from corporate donors who insisted that it concentrate on economic issues, tone down its criticism of multiculturalism, and accept a massive hike in immigration (on a per capita basis, Quebec now takes in more immigrants than any other country, including the U.S.).

    Today, people are drifting back to the Parti Quebecois. Most right nationalists I know will vote for them because they have nowhere else to go. Also, the PQ is now courting their votes.

    1. A Canadian, thanks - I'm sorry, though not surprised, to learn of the situation in Quebec.

  6. The EU (European Union) has become bankrupt, both financially and morally as well. Ukrainians shouldn't think that the grass is somehow greener on the other side. On the other hand, if Ukraine "separates" and minimizes Russian influence, unfortunately modern liberals from both the EU and the USA (particularly Jewish-American liberal billionaires) will run to damage what's left of Ukraine and take advantage of that Eastern European nation. In all, it's bad odds all around. It's a tight spot between two walls.

  7. I don't think that Ukrainians want a "state nation" and that the protests were staged in order to infiltrate Ukraine and make them worse off.