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Posts from the ‘Politics’ Category

Four contradictions in government

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. But. Klein does not and indeed cannot give a solution to these problems. Why is that?

There are four contradictions in American government (and the 3rd and 4th are true of all Western democracies).

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The first contradiction is between constituted and constituting power. Or in less legalese terms, between the constitution as a written document and the government which must enforce that document in ever-changing circumstances. We have amendments in theory, but given our polarization they are impossible. How can we continue to hold to this document with so few modifications even though everything has changed? The uniquely American legal theory of Constitutional Literalism, which is so clearly bankrupt at its core, cannot help us if there are no modifications to the text. For example, that we have the Senate is the result of the Great Compromise which got small states to sign the new constitution; but the founders ideally did not want some small states to have more representation. They wanted the elite ruling class to ignore everyone equally, and make decisions independent of the popular policy will. But we cannot change this part of the Constitution to accommodate our new needs or values. The tension here can be summarized as Constitutional Literalism + no new amendments = a broken and forever breaking system.

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The second contradiction is between local representation and the whole will of the democracy. If we want local representation, then we need individual politicians, but to have individual politicians requires FPTP voting (apparently, I guess, because America). Here we find the root of the 2 party system which is always a poor caricature of the actual will of the people. Here we also find the difference between American legislatures and the European parliamentary model. However, if we want to have their more broadly representational model, we have to leave localism and conceive of ourselves strictly as one nation, which is the opposite of our current direction. We cannot make this move as long as our poor political representation model is in place, because it itself reinforces these localistic tendencies. So, since neither will budge first, this remains a contradiction.

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The third contradiction is between the values we hold dear as Americans, and the goals we have for our government in realizing those values. According to David Labaree, and he is talking about education here, we want “1. democratic equality (“education as a mechanism for producing capable citizens”), 2. social efficiency (“education as a mechanism for developing productive workers”), and 3. social mobility (“education as a way for individuals to reinforce or improve their social position”)”. However, these goals are immediately in tension, and nobody has yet to devise a political philosophy that achieves all three. This is why our dismal education system always resembles our equally dismal political system: they reflect the same value trade-offs, which are always a lose-lose. This is even the title of Labaree’s book, “Somebody Has to Lose,” which seems to be permanently true in all Western democracies.

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The fourth contradiction is between our nation as a biopolitical body and as one that “recognizes” “all people’s” equal status under the authority of the State. While we pride ourselves on multiculturalism and the inclusion of minorities, these are only included insofar as they assimilate (which the majority gets to decide). For example even though African Americans are 15th or whatever generation Americans, they are treated as equal to or less than 1st generation immigrants by the biopolitcal majority. This is also true of all immigrants. We paper over this reality with stock phrases like “all men are created equal” or “We the people” but we cannot define who the “all men” or the “We” are. Per Agamben, this is because the basic function of national sovereignty is the production of biopolitical life, and so homogeneity is required. To constantly add to the racial diversity of the nation is to undermine the idea of a nation, which requires racial differentiation. If you are only an American insofar as you are not Mexican, then what happens when Mexicans become a part of America? etc. for all nationalities. Thus the problem of nationalism is unsolved and indeed unsolvable.

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These four reasons are why Klein does not provide an answer to the issues he points out.. We can tinker with the current arrangement all day long (e.g., for #2, state-grouped parliamentary representation). But until we re-conceive of what we want from government, and so then create a new politics from scratch, we will never solve these problems.

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Trump, White Evangelicalism, Immigration, etc.

There is a lot to say about this new essay from Tara Isabella Burton at Vox. The key quote to focus on:

“This willingness to define seemingly straightforward passages in the Bible along politicized terms — reimagining what it means to be someone’s “neighbor” — speaks to a wider issue within white evangelicalism. The degree to which white evangelical identity is increasingly predicated on politicized whiteness — and on an insular and isolationist vision of community — reveals the extent to which white evangelicalism has become synonymous with Christian nationalism under the Trump administration. And, increasingly, white evangelicals are willing to selectively reinterpret the Bible to justify this.”

What disorients me is that I have experienced little of what TIB has described. The pastors of my parents’ church and my own current church have forcefully denounced Nationalism from the pulpit in messages on 1 Peter 2 (the church is “a holy nation, a royal priesthood”), on Revelation 5&7 (People of every nation will worship around the throne), on Ephesians 6 (that the Devil is our true enemy, not political or ethnic opponents) and Romans 14 (politics as disputable matters). My church is currently doing a series on politics and political engagement as a Christian, and the tone is nothing like an “evangelical identity predicated on politicized whiteness.” I go to the largest EFCA school in the country, and the rhetoric spoken around campus is always pro-refugee-life, pro-aid, pro-humanitarian. All of the Christian leaders who I pay attention to are similarly oriented when it comes to immigration topics — including the editorial staff for The Gospel Coalition, which is not a platform for liberalism.

But TIB’s description is still true. I see tastes of it at conferences, or from across the Christian blogosphere, or from individuals in small group settings in-person or being interviewed on television. And the polling numbers don’t lie, at least, significantly outside the margin of error. Here’s what I am wondering: in the same way Conservative and Progressive voices online get locked into echo chambers where only supporters see their content, could something similar be happening even within evangelicalism? I am not suggesting that we have carved out sectors of the larger Conservative-Progressive social mediaspace, but that within the Christian mediaspace certain niches have been carved to accommodate each perspective.

In an essay from earlier this month TIB pointed out that White Evangelicals are the only religious group in the country who supports President Trump. Which is true. But what she does not acknowledge is that there have already been longstanding breaks between Mainline and Evangelical protestants, and even longer, historic breaks between Catholics and Protestants. Those breaks happened at the level of whole countries (e.g., Germany vs. Italy, England vs. France), whole denominations (e.g., PCA vs. PCUSA), whole universities (e.g., Princeton vs. Westminster), whole ideologies (e.g., Modernism vs. Fundamentalism). But what is really new, what is really damning, is that now, in this current transition, there is not much of an institutional shift. The separation between politically conservative Evangelicals, on the one hand, and politically moderate or just leans-conservative Evangelicals, on the other hand, is happening at the grassroots level. President Trump has galvanized something like a grassroots split within Evangelicalism proper, mirroring broader concerns over the “Death of Truth” or “Post-Truth” society we inhabit in the information age.

But regardless of the existence of a niche, politically-moderate voice within Evangelicalism that happens to surround me, here is what TIB nails: the new hermeneutic at use that subverts Jesus’s calling to care for the helpless. By redefining “neighbor” to be only fellow Christians (which is bogus), or to be only those who have not broken the law, Christians in the age of Trump are buying into an inward gaze. This inward gaze is the concrete result of Nationalist rhetoric, yes, but I would also say it is a result of Rule-of-Law thinking that became really popular during Black Lives Matter protesting a few years ago. Of course, of course, of course, the Rule-of-Law mindset is completely irreconcilable with Christianity. With Jesus’s rendering inoperative (katargeó) the Old Testament Law. But that doesn’t seem to be a problem these days, since the Old Testament laws about refugees and immigrants are also being ignored. TIB refers to Isaiah 10, Matthew 25, Leviticus 19:33–34, Jeremiah 7:5–7, Ezekiel 47:22, Zechariah 7:9–10, and the flight to Egypt by Joseph and Mary as Biblical precedent for a pro-refugee-life stance. Ultimately she employs Galatians 3:28 to say that the power of Christianity subverts political and ethnic identities.

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(The gross mishandling of Romans 13 by Jeff Session and Sarah Sanders, which I didn’t know about until reading this piece, is also important. Can you imagine Nero quoting Paul’s words back to the Christian community and saying, “Yes, you heard the man, now offer sacrifices to me”? When Rome quotes Romans, we have a problem.)

On that count, TIB is spot on. But what about the specific policies we support? What about the particular ways the federal bureaucracy maneuvers through these topics? Those are important, but disputable questions. However, we need to keep in mind that the most shocking statistic TIB cited was not about a specific policy: “more than half of white evangelicals report feeling concerned about America’s declining white population” is not a policy position; it is a generally racist sentiment. Such racism, obviously, has no place in Christian community. If not specific policy, when we focus on the topic of ethnic nativism: let’s not condemn ethnic nativism because “the Bible says that” you should care for the helpless and those who are fleeing persecution. Worse, let’s not default to citing “these Biblical writers who say that” we must be pro-refugee-life. If our doctrine of the Inspiration of Scripture informs our thinking on this topic, we can comfortably and boldly say that “God himself has said.”

Denmark, Civil Disobedience, and the Holocaust that was not.

We all know that civil disobedience in the face of injustice is a good thing. And we all know that it can be successful even when only a few (but still vocal) people stand up. The main example in the American subconscious is the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s, in which the majority of the country did not participate and against which many actively fought. If King, the NCAAP, and the SCLC could change society from a minority position, how much more incredible would it be if the entire society stood together? What does successful, society-wide civil disobedience look like?

Last week I devoured Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Everyone with an interest in the Holocaust, in totalitarian systems, or in the Problem of Evil should read it. The book is controversial, it is true, but primarily because Arendt does not reduce the trial or the events of the Third Reich to a simple good guy – bad guy story. Eichmann in Jerusalem is jam-packed with the ironies of a totalitarian state that cannot become maximally evil because of the classic failures of bureaucracy. Because the S.S., the R.S.H.A., the W.V.H.A., the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Transportation, etc. etc. etc., were in never-ending competition, they would logistically undermine each other to make themselves look good in the eyes of the Party leadership; yet, for exactly the same reason, they each tried as hard as possible to meet the goals of the First, then Second, then Final solutions. In this way the Third Reich was nearly, nearly as efficiently evil as a human system can be.

However, this was not true everywhere. “For various reasons,” Adolf Eichmann later said in his trial, “the action against the Jews in Denmark has been a failure.” What are those various reasons? By what acts of civil disobedience and subversion did the Danish people conduct undermine their Nazi occupiers? Rather than trying to summarize what is already a superb summary by Arendt, I will merely reproduce that summary here. As you read, take special notice of the lines I have bolded; they are especially key to her analysis, and may hold something valuable for a practice of civil disobedience today.


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At the Wannsee Conference, Martin Luther, of the Foreign Office, warned of great difficulties in the Scandinavian countries, notably in Norway and Denmark. (Sweden was never occupied, and Finland, though in the war on the side of the Axis, was the one country the Nazis hardly ever even approached on the Jewish question. This surprising exception of Finland, with some two thousand Jews, may have been due to Hitler’s great esteem for the Finns, whom perhaps he did not want to subject to threats and humiliating blackmail.) Luther proposed postponing evacuations from Scandinavia for the time being, and as far as Denmark was concerned, this really went without saying, since the country retained its independent government, and was respected as a neutral state, until the fall of 1943, although it, along with Norway, had been invaded by the German Army in April, 1940. There existed no Fascist or Nazi movement in Denmark worth mentioning, and therefore no collaborators. In NORWAY, however, the Germans had been able to find enthusiastic supporters; indeed, Vidkun Quisling, leader of the pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic Norwegian party, gave his name to what later became known as a “quisling government.” The bulk of Norway’s seventeen hundred Jews were stateless, refugees from Germany; they were seized and interned in a few lightning operations in October and November, 1942. When Eichmann’s office ordered their deportation to Auschwitz, some of Quisling’s own men resigned their government posts. This may not have come as a surprise to Mr. Luther and the Foreign Office, but what was much more serious, and certainly totally unexpected, was that Sweden immediately offered asylum, and sometimes even Swedish nationality, to all who were persecuted. Ernst von Weizsacker, Undersecretary of State of the Foreign Office, who received the proposal, refused to discuss it, but the offer helped nevertheless. It is always relatively easy to get out of a country illegally, whereas it is nearly impossible to enter the place of refuge without permission and to dodge the immigration authorities. Hence, about nine hundred people, slightly more than half of the small Norwegian community, could be smuggled into Sweden.

It was in DENMARK, however, that the Germans found out how fully justified the Foreign Office’s apprehensions had been. The story of the Danish Jews is sui generis, and the behavior of the Danish people and their government was unique among all the countries of Europe – whether occupied, or a partner of the Axis, or neutral and truly independent. One is tempted to recommend the story as required reading in political science for all students who wish to learn something about the enormous power potential inherent in non-violent action and in resistance to an opponent possessing vastly superior means of violence. To be sure, a few other countries in Europe lacked proper “understanding of the Jewish question,” and actually a majority of them were opposed to “radical” and “final” solutions. Like Denmark, Sweden, Italy, and Bulgaria proved to be nearly immune to anti-Semitism, but of the three that were in the German sphere of influence, only the Danes dared speak out on the subject to their German masters. Italy and Bulgaria sabotaged German orders and indulged in a complicated game of double-dealing and double-crossing, saving their Jews by a tour de force of sheer ingenuity, but they never contested the policy as such. That was totally different from what the Danes did. When the Germans approached them rather cautiously about introducing the yellow badge, they were simply told that the King would be the first to wear it, and the Danish government officials were careful to point out that anti-Jewish measures of any sort would cause their own immediate resignation. It was decisive in this whole matter that the Germans did not even succeed in introducing the vitally important distinction between native Danes of Jewish origin, of whom there were about sixty-four hundred, and the fourteen hundred German Jewish refugees who had found asylum in the country prior to the war and who now had been declared stateless by the German government. This refusal must have surprised the Germans no end, since it appeared so “illogical” for a government to protect people to whom it had categorically denied naturalization and even permission to work. (Legally, the prewar situation of refugees in Denmark was not unlike that in France, except that the general corruption in the Third Republic’s civil services enabled a few of them to obtain naturalization papers, through bribes or “connections,” and most refugees in France could work illegally, without a permit. But Denmark, like Switzerland, was no country pour se débrouiller.) The Danes, however, explained to the German officials that because the stateless refugees were no longer German citizens, the Nazis could not claim them without Danish assent. This was one of the few cases in which statelessness turned out to be an asset, although it was of course not statelessness per se that saved the Jews but, on the contrary, the fact that the Danish government had decided to protect them. Thus, none of the preparatory moves, so important for the bureaucracy of murder, could carried out, and operations were postponed until the fall of 1943.

What happened then was truly amazing; compared with what took place in other European countries, everything went topsy-turvy. In August, 1943 – after the German offensive in Russia had failed, the Afrika Korps had surrendered in Tunisia, and the Allies had invaded Italy – the Swedish government canceled its 1940 agreement with Germany which had permitted German troops the right to pass through the country. Thereupon, the Danish workers decided that they could help a bit in hurrying things up; riots broke out in Danish shipyards, where the dock workers refused to repair German ships and then went on strike. The German military commander proclaimed a state of emergency and imposed martial law, and Himmler thought this was the right moment to tackle the Jewish question, whose “solution” was long overdue. What he did not reckon with was that – quite apart from Danish resistance – the German officials who had been living in the country for years were no longer the same. Not only did General von Hannecken, the military commander, refuse to put troops at the disposal of the Reich plenipotentiary, Dr. Werner Best; the special S.S. units (Einsatzkommandos) employed in Denmark very frequently objected to “the measures they were ordered to carry out by the central agencies” – according to Best’s testimony at Nuremberg. And Best himself, an old Gestapo man and former legal adviser to Heydrich, author of a then famous book on the police, who had worked for the military government in Paris to the entire satisfaction of his superiors, could no longer be trusted, although it is doubtful that Berlin ever learned the extent of his unreliability. Still, it was clear from the beginning that things were not going well, and Eichmann’s office sent one of its best men to Denmark – Rolf Günther, whom no one had ever accused of not possessing the required “ruthless toughness.” Günther made no impression on his colleagues in Copenhagen, and now von Hannecken refused even to issue a decree requiring all Jews to report for work.

Best went to Berlin and obtained a promise that all Jews from Denmark would be sent to Theresienstadt regardless of their category – a very important concession, from the Nazis’ point of view. The night of October 1 was set for their seizure and immediate departure – ships were ready in the harbor – and since neither the Danes nor the Jews nor the German troops stationed in Denmark could be relied on to help, police units arrived from Germany for a door-to-door search. At the last moment, Best told them that they were not permitted to break into apartments, because the Danish police might then interfere, and they were not supposed to fight it out with the Danes. Hence they could seize only those Jews who voluntarily opened their doors. They found exactly 477 people, out of a total of more than 7,800, at home and willing to let them in. A few days before the date of doom, a German shipping agent, Georg F. Duckwitz, having probably been tipped off by Best himself, had revealed the whole plan to Danish government officials, who, in turn, had hurriedly informed the heads of the Jewish community. They, in marked contrast to Jewish leaders in other countries, had then communicated the news openly in the synagogues on the occasion of the New Year services. The Jews had just time enough to leave their apartments and go into hiding, which was very easy in Denmark, because, in the words of the judgment, “all sections of the Danish people, from the King down to simple citizens,” stood ready to receive them.

They might have remained in hiding until the end of the war if the Danes had not been blessed with Sweden as a neighbor. It seemed reasonable to ship the Jews to Sweden, and this was done with the help of the Danish fishing fleet. The cost of transportation for people without means – about a hundred dollars per person – was paid largely by wealthy Danish citizens, and that was perhaps the most astounding feat of all, since this was a time when Jews were paying for their own deportation, when the rich among them were paying fortunes for exit permits (in Holland, Slovakia, and, later, in Hungary) either by bribing the local authorities or by negotiating “legally” with the S.S., who accepted only hard currency and sold exit permits, in Holland, to the tune of five or ten thousand dollars per person. Even in places where Jews met with genuine sympathy and a sincere willingness to help, they had to pay for it, and the chances poor people had of escaping were nil.

It took the better part of October to ferry all the Jews across the five to fifteen miles of water that separates Denmark from Sweden. The Swedes received 5,919 refugees, of whom at least 1,000 were of German origin, 1,310 were half-Jews, and 686 were non-Jews married to Jews. (Almost half the Danish Jews seem to have remained in the country and survived the war in hiding.) The non-Danish Jews were better off than ever before, they all received permission to work. The few hundred Jews whom the German police had been able to arrest were shipped to Theresienstadt. They were old or poor people, who either had not received the news in time or had not been able to comprehend its meaning. In the ghetto, they enjoyed greater privileges than any other group because of the never-ending “fuss” made about them by Danish institutions and private persons. Forty-eight persons died, a figure that was not particularly high, in view of the average age of the group. When everything was over, it was the considered opinion of Eichmann that “for various reasons the action against the Jews in Denmark has been a failure,” whereas the curious Dr. Best declared that “the objective of the operation was not to seize a great number of Jews but to clean Denmark of Jews, and this objective has now been achieved.”

Politically and psychologically, the most interesting aspect of this incident is perhaps the role played by the German authorities in Denmark, their obvious sabotage of orders from Berlin. It is the only case we know of in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds. They themselves apparently no longer looked upon the extermination of a whole people as a matter of course. They had met resistance based on principle, and their “toughness” had melted like butter in the sun, they had even been able to show a few timid beginnings of genuine courage. That the ideal of “toughness,” except, perhaps, for a few half-demented brutes, was nothing but a myth of self-deception, concealing a ruthless desire for conformity at any price, was clearly revealed at the Nuremberg Trials, where the defendants accused and betrayed each other and assured the world that they “had always been against it” or claimed, as Eichmann was to do, that their best qualities had been “abused” by their superiors. (In Jerusalem, he accused “those in power” of having abused his “obedience.” “The subject of a good government is lucky, the subject of a bad government is unlucky. I had no luck.”) The atmosphere had changed, and although most of them must have known that they were doomed, not a single one of them had the guts to defend the Nazi ideology. Werner Best claimed at Nuremberg that he had played a complicated double role and that it was thanks to him that the Danish officials had been warned of the impending catastrophe; documentary evidence showed, on the contrary, that he himself had proposed the Danish operation in Berlin, but he explained that this was all part of the game. He was extradited to Denmark and there condemned to death, but he appealed the sentence, with surprising results; because of “new evidence,” his sentence was commuted to five years in prison, from which he was released soon afterward. He must have been able to prove to the satisfaction of the Danish court that he really had done his best (170-175).

On being in London during the Royal Wedding

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The best view of the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was ours. Because the couple decided to host their ceremony in St. George’s Chapel, in Windsor — rather than the traditional venue, Westminster Abbey — there was little to no activity in the city of London concerning the wedding. To the extent that I paid attention at all, the most I noticed was a single, sad t-shirt booth selling clothes with “I was in London during the Royal Wedding!” printed across the chest. To be in London during the wedding, as we were, is indeed the best view because it is no view at all.

To be my wedding-watching grandmother, or any average American, is to have a worse view. Why do Americans, in particular, have such a fascination with the Royal Family? I assert that the British Monarchy is a mediating image, propelled by a larger culture rooted in Spectacle — to draw from Guy Debord’s 1967 seminal work The Society of the Spectacle. To live vicariously through the social images of another culture is to experience, in an even more American sense than normal, the malaise of modern industrialized life.

So, the wedding. While I thankfully cannot describe it firsthand, I find from other sources that the total cost was around 32 million pounds sterling. Meghan Markle’s dress was a “double- bonded silk cady cushioned by an underskirt in triple silk organza,” not to mention the 16-foot long veil, the gold jewlery, a diamond tiara, etc. William wore military attire to reflect his membership in the British Army, and his time served in Afghanistan in the early 2000’s. The Archbishop of Canterbury — whose parents met while serving as personal secretaries to Winston Churchill during the war — presided over the ceremony.

In the 1980’s, the wedding of Princes Diana and Prince Charles was a superbowl-level event for television; after Diana’s tragic death in 1997, her funeral was similarly publicized. Tabloids have for decades sprung upon the Royal Family’s youngest new additions, the birth of royal babies, as was the case in 2013 with Prince George and in 2015 with Princess Charlotte. We can expect the same for the forthcoming child in early 2019. One professor of history in a CNN interview even claimed that the American fascination with British royalty “has been alive pretty much since 1776,” and that almost “as soon as we severed ties, we were back to being fascinated — captivated really — by the royal family.”

Such events as the recent royal wedding image the good life for American audiences in a different way than British audiences. The key difference is the American folk narrative where anybody could wind up at the top of society. While this was not confirmed by the recent wedding, where Meghan Markle, though of mixed race, was raised in an upper-class Los Angeles family… it was confirmed in 2013 with Kate Middleton’s entrance into the family, who was essentially a social nobody before accidentally and unwittingly beginning to date Prince William. I remember at the time hearing the comparison made all day between Kate Middleton and “any of us that it could have happened to!” though of course that is nonsense. Where the British from their youth understand the strong role that socioeconomic Class plays in deciding your ultimate role in this world, Americans pretend that Class does not exist and so fantasize of elaborate weddings, grand receptions, life in a fairy castle, and so on.

The fascination with British royalty does not begin or end with the American Dream. Though propelled by The Dream, it exists in another social space divorced from The Dream by the malaise of everyday under- and middle-class life in America. This is the space where, as Debord claimed, “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity” because our relations to one another are mediated by images rather than just existing in their own right. In this transition, which is only possible after the rise of a nation-wide media culture, nothing is authentic and everything that we consider real is a symbolic representation of what lies behind it. Famous actors become sex symbols, important musicians attain cult-status, Royal Family members are stars of a soap opera, and politicians are reduced to boogeymen.

This smokescreen effect extends not just to politicians, but even to politics itself, where no true debates happen in the 21st century, only minor tinkering among policy wonks. True change is impossible in a system where R&D does not mean research and development but rather Republican and Democrat, parties with major incentives to race to the center and thereby eliminate any possibility for radical change of the system that they sustain and which in turn sustains them. In a world where we are defined by our relationship to brands, to parties, to celebrities and generally to symbols, we all have a bad view to the Royal Wedding.

Biopolitics and Race

The difference between European countries and the US on race is that the former do not have it.

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At least, not in the same way that we do. Where European countries — say, Romania, as was the case in a conversation I had today over the book scanner at the library with a Romanian — have nationality, this does not mean the same thing as nationalism in the US. What we call Nationalism in the US is not really nationalism.

In Romania there is a strong identity, (“being Romanian”), that is understood biologically. My friend Jon. He has a Romanian face. Romanian blood. Romanian DNA. In this way, his very nature, his biological life itself, is bound up with a group of other people into the nation of Romania.

Importantly, the nation of Romania and the State of Romania are not the same thing. Within the boundaries of Romania there is another group of people called the Roma — he used the term Gypsy, although someone told me once that that is a really loaded word. The Roma are another group. A person in that group could be said to have a Roma face, Roma blood, Roma DNA. Yet they live within the State of Romania, not the State of Roma, which does not exist.

These two separate concepts — (1) the nation and (2) the state — refer to (1) a group of people who are associated together by common biology, and (2) the governing structure that occupies a certain territory within really, really specific boundaries. Like, wars happen if those boundaries get crossed. The boundaries are really important. The land too.

But something strange has happened in the course of history. I’m not sure when it happened, or if it was destined to happen. But at some point these two separate concepts blended together and became the same thing. This is called the nation-state. Clever name. The nation-state is when a state gives up the territorial definition and instead tries to define itself by the biological life of its people. Instead of saying, “Romania is this land mass,” the governing authorities began to say, “We, the ethnic Romanians, are Romania.”

The connections to Thor: Ragnarok are too obvious to pass up. Loki takes the set of antlers from the death god (whatever his name was) and resurrects him. Death-god comes back to life, fights a massive 1v1 against Hela, destroying the entire city of Asgard. Then, repeatedly, at least five times — a truly nauseating number of times to hear the same sentence in a film — the lead protagonists all declare that “Asgard is not a place; it’s a people.” Of course, they have to say that, because the place has been destroyed. But in their minds, if all the citizens of Asgard got onto a ship and landed somewhere else to plant a new city, that would be Asgard. The nation-state defines itself not in terms of its territory, but its people.

The same is true of all the European countries. The bloodiest century in recorded history was the 20th century for exactly this reason. States were able to mobilize their young men to war because those young men believed that they are their State, biologically.

volk recruitment poster

What is the problem with all this? Why is this not the best system? Better put, why does this always spiral out of control into a ghastly, totalitarian death-machine? Because biological identity is not flexible, but who lives under the jurisdiction of a government is very flexible. A Roma person cannot change their face, their blood, their DNA. But their location can change. And they are the minority in the place they live now.

Key today is immigration and refugees. Refugees cannot decide their biology. That isn’t flexible. But the place where they live is, clearly, something that can change. Especially when their country descends into war-torn Failed State chaos. They can run away. But the problem with running away is that the State in whose jurisdiction they will later arrive has defined itself in terms of the nation, the biological life of its people. And so the refugee cannot truly assimilate. They cannot actually “become” a part of that new State, because they cannot possibly become a part of the Nation that resides there.

You can change states. But you can’t change nations. Sounds pretty 50-50. Except that there are no states anymore. Only nation-states. So, it’s really 0-100, and everyone living outside their home nation-state loses.

Enter the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave. A nation of immigrants. While European states can define themselves in terms of the nation, and so can group themselves by face, blood, and DNA collectives… The US doesn’t seem to have much going for itself in terms of nationhood. Is there a “nation” to the US? Is there anything physiologically or biologically that can be called “American?” What would that look like? I can sort of tell you if someone is German, but can a German tell if someone is an American?

This is because, again, the US is a nation of immigrants. The British came over, also the French, also the Dutch, latter Germans and Italians, and even later Polish, Ashkenazi Jewish, Russian, Slavic, and so on. And over time everyone mostly integrated with each other and now I have no idea what my ethnic heritage is. I’m probably German, maybe some Irish? Am I British? I usually tell people that I am Swiss, but I made that up. Who knows? 23andMe has probably already collected data from some relative of mine and is now creating a probabilistic map of my entire Genome. Wonder if they could just tell me without my paying the $129 fee…

And yet, this has not really forged much of a common American identity. It has almost totally excluded the African-American population from the integration process. Plus all Native Americans. And it has led to us using terms like “White” and “Black” instead of “British,” “German,” or “Italian,” “Gambian,” “Ghanan,” or “Cameroonian.” We have a general sensation that the US is “mostly white,” but what is whiteness? Is it just having light skin? Because many, many people in Europe have light skin but would recoil at being tagged together with similarly-skin-colored Europeans of other national backgrounds. Meanwhile, white Americans are the descendants of those same groups, and have no issue with it.

To put the problem shortly. There is a deep contradiction in the way that the American State defines itself. It has abandoned the land-based understanding of statehood. So, you would think that the other option is to have the understanding of statehood be some biological national identity. But, alas, there really is no way to understand American identity biologically.

Not that our country hasn’t tried!

eugenics photo burden

This is the same problem facing all Nation-States. The US just tries really, really hard not to resolve the tension. Want an example of a country that has tried to resolve the tension? Let’s go with the most obvious one. Germany in WWII. Definitely a nation-state. Defined itself explicitly in terms of the nation, the biological life of its people. The term they used for this was Volk, which just translates to “People.” But it could not be avoided that Volk cannot be everyone, or it would be a meaningless term. To define who is the nation is also to define who is not the nation.

So, they had to define Volk, and this definition did not include the Jews. They did not share in the same face, blood, and DNA as the Germans. So, they were not included in the Nation-State. Which is really, really bad if the German government has labeled you The Problem. As someone who is not a member of the nation-state, you have no citizenship within its jurisdiction. And since you have no citizenship, i.e. you have no part to play in the national scene, you do not “exist” in the same way that a German does. You are not “alive” in the same way that a German is. In the eyes of the Nation-State.

(All of this comes from Agamben, by the way, not me. Here is a primer video).

So, the United States is not returning to the land definition of the State. But it also doesn’t have much of anything to go on as far as defining who, biologically, is in the nation. So that decision remains capricious and arbitrary. Don’t get me wrong — that decision is made every day when the Black body is deemed outside the nation, and thus expendable. This racism is palpable. There is an Us-vs-Them mentality in the minds of many of my also-white friends. While my friends would never say something as forward as “Black people do not deserve life,” there is certainly an underlying mentality that sees the Black body as different and therefore incompatible with (white) American life. That same mentality, transposed from my normie friends to a police officer with a gun and 0.4 seconds to respond, leads to death.

why is color separating us

The United States absolutely has the power to make arbitrary and capricious decisions about whose life is on the inside and whose life is on the outside of the American body. And while European governments may have the semblance of national-biological identity to them, they are just as arbitrary and capricious. Every country in Europe besides Portugal has a separate national identity somewhere within its jurisdiction. Should the gun be drawn and Camps be built again, these national-others would be the first to experience the destructive force of the now-militarized police. Nobody really has any basis to decide who, biologically, is “in” and who is “out.” That is legal fiction used by atrocious rulers to keep their power. And anyways, when one of these countries invades another country and sets up shop, everyone in the occupied country faces this fate.

Something like “race” was necessary to develop because it mirrors the European concept of “nation.” In the biopolitical nation-state, whoever holds power must decide who is in the nation. Without some construct like a common identity based on the people who had always lived on that land (Hence Nazi “blood and soil“), a new identity had to be formed, somehow. For most Americans this is probably as simple as “my ancestors have always lived here.” But African Americans, and certainly Native Americans, have been here just as long if not longer than your white ancestors. Than my white ancestors. Yet, they are excluded from being considered part of the nation-state. They are seen as a thorn in the nation’s side. And so the biopolitical machine will seek to remove them.