Legitimizing a World of no Exclusion

Are nations encapsulated by borders still legitimate, in a world that is increasingly interconnected and porous in such a way that our concerns and ideas are easy to spread beyond borders? Why should modern people, especially the youth of today, identify with the nation when they are bound so much more by things other than the nation?

Nations are getting weaker, borders are getting more porous, international communication is getting easier because of technology, and the state as we know it is beginning to lose legitimacy. The state role is not being delegitimized, but the existing sort of state is being delegitimized. This is because they are nation-states, states that appeal to an imagined community called a nation to gain their legitimacy. For the present kind of state to lose legitimacy, the only thing necessary is for the myths uniting the nation to stop being believed in. People kill for their national myths, and this state of affairs makes it credible for us to ask some uncomfortable questions: are our national myths any more worth killing for than religious myths? Are patriots so much better than religiously enthused terrorists, when they kill for the myth of a nation?

The nation is a divisive myth because it sets up differences, and relies on completely arbitrary criteria for people to adhere to if they want to be part of one nation or another. Countries like the United States claim a number of characteristics for their “nation”, such as the idea that all races can be part of the “nation”, but the criteria for being part of this “nation” hold even less water than racial criteria. You may be able to show yourself to have better moral fiber than a racist by accepting different races into your nation, but the new arbitrary criteria to be part of your nation are actually no less bigoted (especially when you will kill people for not fitting those criteria).

To kill a traitor is an absurdity on par with killing people for not believing in your god. A traitor is merely a traitor because he does not believe in your nation. How is this refusal of the traitor to accept a myth any different from the refusal to accept any other myth? People who refuse a common myth are not deserving of death – in fact those people who will act to kill anyone in the name of a myth represent a serious intolerable threat to humanity.

Of three possible tactics for delegitimizing the nation, the first is simply to offer disbelief in the myth of the nation. Like disbelief in a deity, one can simply express the fact that the nation is arbitrary and we participate as a member of the nation only due to an accident of birth. There is no reason for a group of people to receive special treatment because of an accident of birth. Special treatment because of an accident of birth is what the ideas of nation, citizenship and state legitimacy through representing the body of a nation entail. It is far more valuable for us to profess loyalty to substantive civilized values than loyalty to a flimsy national myth. The fact that some idea is enshrined as a national value or is written and sanctified in a constitution should not make that idea any more convincing to us. That we were pushed into believing in an archaic association, because of an accident of birth, does not mean we have to continue to identify with that archaic association.

The second tactic of delegitimizing the nation should be focused on physical objects. Let us ridicule idols, slogans and ideas of the so-called nation because we have now found such artifacts to be worthless. Let us physically deface, destroy and desecrate national idols as a protest act against the myth of the nation. It does not matter if they have historical value. They should be destroyed anyway, because of the harmful obstruction they represent to the future. The one who annihilates the idols of the past lays the path to the future. This suggestion may be criticized as something too ruthless or insensitive to the toils of past generations, but it is not different from attacking other forms of decadence and stagnation. It is not different from other acts that surely were necessary and stirred civilization to move on, like the iconoclasm of the Reformation. Reaching the future requires a rejection of the past, in particular vulnerable objects that are worshipped to keep humanity primitive and backward. Do we want to invest our hopes in weak objects that can be smashed?

Third, the secrets and monopolies of nation-states are unacceptable. This not only includes information that is rendered secret for the sake of so-called security, but also information and physical technologies that give the state an ability to outperform other states. We do not need to believe that there is any justification for nations having weapons monopolies. With the myth of the nation and its superiority gone, there is no reason to protect the security of a nation or safeguard the nation’s advantages in the world. If we do not identify with the nation, then we cannot agree that it needs security. We will decide where our security lies, and find alternatives to the nation.

One can argue against these three kinds of anti-statist action suggested in this article, by saying they are too dangerous or that the nation is in fact worth saving. But the sentiments needed to make arguments against my anti-statist position are entirely reactionary. The idea of allowing asylum in the nation or granting equality to all humans discredits the entire basis of the nation and makes the nation totally fictitious and unjustifiable. There is no reason to think that an egalitarian vision of the world can seriously include principles that exclude people from recognition and security on the basis of an accident of birth. Another criticism might say that it is too risky or inconvenient to abandon the nation. If we never risked inconvenience to make our society better, then other kinds of racism and exclusion would never have been overcome.

In sum, let us say that it is worth risking chaos and jeopardizing security to overcome exclusion, it is worth being called a traitor to overcome exclusion, and it is worth decrying and annihilating the belief in the nation to overcome exclusion. Exclusive citizenship and national criteria cannot coexist with equality. They must fall while the faith in the equality of all humans is allowed to define us.

Harry J. Bentham is a British futurist writer. Currently on the advisory board at the Lifeboat Foundation think tank, he possesses a BA qualification in Politics and Religious Studies. His work can be found at many online publications, including the Iranian broadcaster Press TV and the transhumanist publication h+ magazine. His work has placed emphasis on global economic disparities and the benefits of technology-driven social change. Read other articles by Harry, or visit Harry's website.