What is the Nation?

What is the nation? Should we be asking what, or perhaps who? Is it the land? The odd space shown within some contours drawn on a map by dead white men centuries ago?

Are they the people born on a particular side of the border? A gender? A race? An ancient tribe? A conquering army in the Eleventh Century? A raging Parisian mob in the Eighteenth? The government and the local authorities? Is he the taxman? Is she the Queen?

Your president, or your prime minister, keeps telling you that you are special – that armies will protect and represent you because you are part of the nation – unless it is inconvenient at the time. We can be members of the nation while abroad, ungoverned by these authority figures, or we can be governed by them on their territory, yet not be members of the nation.

Being born on one side of the border supposedly makes you a “citizen”, belonging to a particular nation – but so does processing some forms when you apply for citizenship. Being a citizen makes your government send soldiers to save you when you are under threat – but that’s aggression and is contrary to international law. Being a citizen means you are protected under the law – until the law changes. Being a citizen means you have rights – until the government doesn’t want you to have those rights. Being part of a nation helps the authorities decide which prison you will carry out forced labor in, or who is entitled to kill you.

“The Nation”. Lots of people believe they are part of a nation, but what is it? Many governments talk about the nation, the national interest, national security. But what is the nation? Maybe the nation is just a word, used by pundits, politicians and demagogues, when they can’t determine who or what they are appealing to other than their own interests. Maybe the “national interest” is a way of talking about their own interests, without sounding too selfish in front of their audiences.

Who decides if you are part of a nation, and who decides if you are not? Can you really change your nationality at will? And if so, what connection does it have with birth, familiarity or the concept of loyalty? Can others change or revoke your nationality at will, without asking you? Can something so freely changed and nebulously defined really exist? So ill-defined, can such a thing really guarantee anything for you as a so-called “citizen”?

If I have no loyalty to the nation, and I call it a worthless and false idol, am I still part of that nation? If an American desecrates and burns the flag, is his allegiance to the flag still valid, and can he still be drafted and sent off to war? If people are no longer punished for the archaic crime of treason, like in the UK, doesn’t this mean the nation too is archaic and doesn’t really have any legitimacy?

Racist regimes like the Nazis and the Hutu Power government in Rwanda believed the nation was so important that entire groups should be exterminated to purify it. Were they right, or is the nation a whimsical notion undeserving of such fanaticism?

The United States of America believes it is the greatest “nation” in the world, and that it is so exceptional that everyone in the world should follow its commandments and rules. America must smite other nations as well as “domestic” enemies and “traitors”, if they threaten its interests.

We are told that anyone can migrate and become part of the great American nation – you, me, victims of America’s wars, dissidents, traitors to other countries, unbelievers in the American nation, and anyone else in need of a new home. But doesn’t this contradict the idea that America is exceptional, given that it is actually a self-labelled amalgam, filled with examples of humanity from all over the world, and no firm criteria with which to define itself?

How can something undefined be exceptional? How can an assortment of people and icons that already existed elsewhere, be exceptional? Isn’t the same stock still out there, in other countries? Telling us that America is exceptional, then, is like telling us that a scrapheap is exceptional while the world’s best car factory is unexceptional and unworthy of praise.

Loud-mouthed politicians and pundits tell us that something is good for our nation. But what is the nation? When pressed, they will begin to talk about themselves, their democratic right to vote, and their petty opinions. Are they the nation? Are society’s fattest, richest and oldest men, including the top media moguls and pedophile celebrities of the day, the “nation”? Why is that so? It is only because they heaped titles and a misplaced sense of importance on themselves? And why, then, should the rest of us care for this “nation”?

What is the nation? The nation is an archaic myth, kept alive by our ignorance and hatreds. It is a lie used to grab authority, to trick us into serving an arrogant regime that has earned nothing and deserves no loyalty. The nation is the worst manifestation of bigotry and parochialism. The nation is a rag with colors on it, waved by empty-headed demagogues and regressive ideologues, and deserves to be thrown on the pyre of history. The nation is whatever the hardliners, warmongers and chicken hawks tell you it is, so they can send you off to die in pointless battles anchored in myth and propaganda.

What is the nation? Nations do not exist.

Harry J. Bentham is a British futurist blogger who has been a contributor at a number of think tanks including the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies since 2013. His work at Press TV and the multi-faith Beliefnet website has gained increasing attention and praise, including in the international media. Commentaries on political and ethical controversies by Bentham have been published at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, H+ Magazine, Dissident Voice and numerous other publications. He edits The clubof.info Blog. Read other articles by Harry.