Wednesday, April 9, 2008

re-thinking the primacy of the nation-state

William Cavanaugh challenges us to re-think our idea of the nation-state as primary. This is all well and good (at least, I think it is, but I would love to hear disagreements), but how do we do it?

When we start to think about it, our concept of the nation-state has been imposed on us our entire educational careers. We learn about Italy in a way that makes it seem like it has always been, even though it has existed for about a hundred years. Later, we learn that nation-states have not always existed, but even as we are learning of the existence of tribes and Empires, the idea that the nation-state was always meant to be is imposed on us; we learn of tribes and Empires as silly things people did in the past, in a less enlightened time, and all of political history is culminated in the nation-state.

Honestly, I am not sure we can fully recover from this education. It takes an entire re-structuring of the way that we look at the world. To work towards this re-structuring for ourselves, I think the first step is to live in a community in a substantial way, and this community must be one that is connected to something greater other than the nation state (the Church). Then, when we discuss what "we" are going to do about the Sudan or Iraq, we think of "we" as the Church and as our small community, not as the nation-state of the United States. Our primary identity becomes our identity as Catholic, as it should be, and the Church becomes concrete in the flesh and blood people we share our lives with.

In addition, the education our children receive must be substantially different from our own. First, they must actually learn history. They must actually learn the way the tribes emerged out of the family unit, and then conquesting tribes became empires and what empires were, etc. Second, political science should be taught at a younger age, introducing competing notions of how the world should be, without introducing the nation-state as something primary.

Agreements? Disagreements?

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