Feb 152012

I am minded to ask the question because of this article Brian drew my attention to the other day:

One of our era’s foundational myths is that globalization has condemned the nation-state to irrelevance. [...]

The article – well worth reading in full – goes on to argue that in the absence of a true global consciousness, nation-states are all that we can rely on.  Indeed:

The global financial crisis has shattered [the myth that nation-states are irrelevant]. Who bailed out the banks, pumped in the liquidity, engaged in fiscal stimulus, and provided the safety nets for the unemployed to thwart an escalating catastrophe? Who is re-writing the rules on financial-market supervision and regulation to prevent another occurrence? Who gets the lion’s share of the blame for everything that goes wrong? The answer is always the same: national governments. The G-20, the International Monetary Fund, and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision have been largely sideshows.

Meanwhile, Chris summarises beautifully how, in the last fifty years, capitalism has become a force for anti-freedom:

During the Cold War, opponents of communism routinely, and not entirely wrongly, claimed to be champions of liberty. Freedom for capitalists and freedom of speech and thought go together, it was claimed. “Freedom is indivisible” wrote Bruce Winton Knight in 1952. “Economic freedom is…an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom“ wrote Milton Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom. And back in 1944 Friedrich Hayek complained that “We have progressively abandoned that freedom in economic affairs without which personal and political freedom has never existed in the past.”

Today, though, this seems wrong. Many threats to freedom come from capitalists. The story is no longer capitalism and freedom, but capitalism against freedom. Two of the world’s largest economies – China and Russia – show that capitalism can exist quite happily without political freedom.

Whilst also quoting Nick Cohen who describes with a chilling precision exactly my perceptions of what working in a massive corporation is like:

The managers of private and public bureaucracies justify their elevated status and salaries not only by attempting to run efficient organisations (a task that is often beyond the poor dears) but by monitoring and intimidating those beneath them.

And so it is that I come back to the question at the top of this post: what if an excluding nationalism could actually become a positive force?  Not, however, a traditionally excluding nationalism – but, rather, an economically excluding nationalism.

If, through the channelling forces of a different kind of cultural identity, we could raise barricades against the rapacious actions of a latterday capitalism – a latterday capitalism which prefers to localise to their clear disadvantage the actions of workers even as, to its clear advantage, it globalises the movement of money – perhaps we could create cultures based more on a shared desire to fight the anti-freedom of planetary economics than to battle, maybe a shade dangerously, on behalf of the discrete freedoms of individual ethnicity.

In this sense, then, we could conceptualise our nationalisms around:

  1. how we do business instead of how business does us – which is to say, always attracting business on our own terms;
  2. how we define community instead of how community defines us – which is to say, creating shared spaces which are tolerant to every person but not to every intolerance;
  3. how we see the future instead of how the future sees us – which is to say, empowering the people who live under the umbrella of a nation-state rather than giving in to the inevitable currents of a ruling elite;

That a certain kind of capitalism is now the anti-freedom of us all is no longer in doubt.  The question is how we can wield most effectively the little power we have to recreate the conditions that once proudly connected good business with political freedom.

And perhaps we are too late.  For if this is no longer possible in the 19th century birthplace of corporate capitalism, and is no longer necessary in its 21st-century powerhouses, how can small people across the globe even contemplate changing anything?

Except, as this post might suggest, little by little – and nation-state by nation-state by nation-state …