Separating Nation and State?

I tried to avoid mentioning politics on this blog, but recent events have really set my mind working on political ideas and I feel I can share them here. I’m not interested in campaigning or commenting on present events (too much), but just keep my ideas “philosophical” without being too controversial (success not guaranteed lol) – more thought-provoking than thought-crusading.

Scotland has had a referendum on its union with the UK, Catalonia on its place within Spain and the UK on its membership with the EU. For me this brings up questions of the identification of nation with state and what is meant by “independence”. First of all, in today’s globalised and interdependent economy, I find the idea of “independence” is not realistic (unless we take on a policy of protectionism and self-sufficience, which doesn’t show signs of being very beneficial to all). A nation’s government, even if politically independent, must still count on the economical and social influence from around the world, so “independence” is really a relative term.

The other thing is identity, do I feel identified with my government? Do I feel it represents my cultural and national identity? Yes, but not entirely. I grew up with British culture, have a broad mixed British ancestry and my legal identity is British. My name’s even registered with a UK constituency, meaning there’s a Member of Parliament that represents me in the House of Commons, even if I didn’t vote for him or don’t agree with his policies. But I now live in Spain with a French Swiss family, so I live being “European” every day. I can’t say I’ve stopped being British (you can take the Brit out of Britain, but you can’t take Britain out of the Brit), but I can’t say that that is the limit of my identity either, and the history of Britain itself has always been tied to Europe, no amount of “island thinking” can prevent that. I’m more nostalgic than proud of my native culture and history – it is so very familiar – but my pride in being British is when I’m faced with cultural diversity, when I’m in a group with a variety of nationalities.

Do I also feel that within a nation there is unity of identity? Not at all. I may share culture, ancestry and nationality with many people, but I feel more identified with people that share the same ideas as me, ideas that often transcend cultural and national boundaries.”Self-detemination” doesn’t really work if there is no united “self” in the first place. If there was more unity within a nation there’d be more harmony, coherence and cooperation between people. But this clearly isn’t the case.  I feel there is more conflict within societies and nations than between them, and more unity by way of ideas than difference of culture. Centuries of Anglo-French territorial conflict are perhaps not so important as the conflict between men and women, rich and poor, owners and producers, old and young, selfishness and alturism. These issues are present everywhere.

And where do nations come from, anyway? As I look at British history, or any nation’s history,  I have no sense of One People forging themselves a place in the world, I get the sense that nations are accidents of history, created by the wars, marriages and diplomacy of the rich and powerful few, whilst the poor have been working away in their fields wondering what accent the next Lord of the Manor would have (Norman? French? Scottish? German?). The Magna Carta is a very important document, but most of my ancestors had to toil to survive, not argue over words, territory and the distribution of power.

Who or what would an “independent nation” benefit? The culture, language and anyone identified with them, but the world is a diverse place, and there are plenty of minorities that don’t identify or agree with the majority. This is the same reason I believe in the separation of church and state, since a state allied with a single religion will be biased towards members of that religion. Nationalism of any stripe is another type of religion, and not everyone within the nation is a member (even if they do share cultural and ethnical heritage with the majority). A secular state can better represent the diversity of its people, and a collection of states can better counterbalance cultural onesidedness, if only we look for our commonalities.

Our world is ecological and interdependent, it is small and not worth creating smaller, separated worlds within it. Instead of running away from the challenge, we can face it and learn to cooperate, discovering our commonalities, and working together on that basis. I may be British, but first and foremost I am human. I feel kinship with all humans, a kinship that can’t be represented by any government. Long ago, England was a collection of independent kingdoms and client kingdoms that now is one country, but these distinct territories have become lost in history or now form minor administrative districts and counties. This seems like an inevitable part of history, and eventually the nations and cultures we know and love today will become irrecognisable to us. Bit by bit we are becoming a global family, and nations are just one step towards that. I only ask from the state enough freedom, security and stability to live with, not that my identity is linked to it and swept around by its whims.

Humanity was not made to benefit culture, culture was made to benefit humanity.