The nation-state as idol

Rod Dreher & Daniel Larison discuss the intersection of religion and patriotism. The issue of course isn’t adherence to a higher law vs. the nation-state; even those without explicitly religious motivations can reject loyalty to a state whose actions they feel to be illegitimate. Rather, the bigger issue are multiple loyalties. Religion is an incredible ideological and institutional system for transcending boundaries of nationality, but the inverse of that is that religious minorities have long been under suspicion. During the Persian-Byzantine wars of the early 7th century Jews notably sided with Persians and exacted revenge for 6th century persecutions in the Levant upon the previously dominant Christians. This was a rational act by a religious minority who aligned with the power which had a history of greater tolerance toward their faith, the Zoroastrian Sassanians.

But the relevance of multiple loyalties varies from group to group. There is for example one majority-Jewish nation. And there are only two majority-Hindu nations. There is only one Cuba. By contrast, there are ~1.5 billion Muslims scattered across the World Island. One reason Islam has bloody borders with other civilizations likely has to do with the fact that it has many borders, period. This means that Muslim populations are likely to be faced with a test of loyalty far more often than Hindu populations, or Sikh populations.

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7 Responses to The nation-state as idol

  1. Aaron says:

    To compare loyalty to one’s nation-state to loyalty to the Byzantine empire is just bizarre. That’s true even if you’re using the word “nation-state” in the current corrupted sense, as a synonym for “state”.

    Also, you’re making the same mistake you yourself criticized earlier when you use the word “faith”. While the Jews were oppressed for not believing in Christ, it was more of a nation being oppressed than a faith.

    You’re also using the word “nation” as synonymous with “state”. Then as now, national (in the traditional meaning of the word) and confessional loyalties mostly coincide. I think that’s more the historical rule than the exception. As I said in a comment on Larison’s blog, when you say (correctly) “loyalty to the state” instead of “loyalty to the nation”, it already starts sounding a lot different.

  2. David Hume says:

    aaron, until you publish an open dictionary on the internet on definitions as you understand them so that everyone knows how they should use specific terms, your fixation on semantics is getting old. i can see how daniel would make that analogy, but perhaps you know a lot more about byzantine history and polity than daniel or i do.

  3. Kevembuangga says:

    @David Hume

    Don’t be harsh to Aaron, he is doing the job he is paid for, propaganda

  4. David Hume says:

    no, i’m sincere. i can understand where aaron is coming form. he thinks that something like a “nation” has a clear & distinct definition, and he doesn’t want to muddy the waters. as someone whose training is in the natural sciences, i can appreciate good notation.

    that being said, this isn’t the natural sciences. with a ph.d. in byzantine history one can assume larison isn’t talking out of his ass (in fact, the shrunken byzantine state of the 7th and 8th centuries was really more a nation and less of an empire, though i refer anyone interested in understanding why to check out a history of byzantine state & society). there are no clear & distinct definitions for these sorts of things, and refutation by definition gets tiresome. especially when the definition is coming out of his mind so that the arbiter of right & wrong by semantics isn’t transparent.

    i’ve had plenty of disagreements with other people because of confused definitions, or my own idiosyncratic way of understanding something. but once the difference becomes obvious, i don’t then go on to repeat ad nauseam my own definitions as if they are the ones that must be used for any discussion.

    for example, my own understanding of what a nation-state is is very diffuse, sloppy, and often instrumental. i don’t think a tight definition is useful for most of human history, but neither am i going to berate someone for having a tight definition if they do think it’s useful.

  5. Aaron says:

    @David Hume
    Your point is well-taken, and I take back what I said about Byzantium. I still see big differences with modern states as far as citizenship and loyalty go, but I might be wrong.

    I’m saying (and you’re agreeing) that terminology deeply shapes the way we think about things. I’m not insisting that everyone follow my terminology. I’m just pointing out how muddled terminology leads to certain errors of thought and incorrect conclusions. Otherwise it wouldn’t be important. (Nothing I’m saying is original, of course.) But you’re right that I’ve said it too many times.

  6. Pingback: One Nation Under A Groove « Around The Sphere

  7. Clark says:

    Isn’t this multiple loyalties not limited to religion? Obviously religion is the easy example to find. But it seems to me the ideology of communism back in the 30’s through 50’s had a lot of parallels. Today, looking back we tend to see it all through the lens of a particular nation/empire: the USSR. But I think it clear at the time as naively enamored of Stalin or Lenin as some were, it was a larger ideology they were in favor with. The conflicting loyalties comes about because in a state they can consider the state to not living up to what it ought be – typically defined by these competing values and loose organizations. Once again religion is the simple example and you can find such conflicting loyalties even in the US. (Obviously Evangelicals provide a case but so too do say Mormons – who were actually in the 19th century feared on exactly these grounds)

    But then, just like anti-communist fervor led to overestimating the threat and overreacting (and some might say the same thing about fear of Jihadist Islam during the Bush years) I think one can over fear religion. And I think there is a lot of hyperbole in those sorts of fears.

    The more interesting question might be what multiple loyalties one finds among modern progressives.

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