Monday, 1 November 2010

The New European Political Racism, Pt. 2: The Nationism - Ethno-racism Paradox

In the first post of this series, I argued that – rhetoric suggesting the contrary notwithstanding – the ideological core of the new European political racism is actually about neither race biology, nor ethno-racism (or -centrism). Instead, it is about what I called Nationism; roghly, the idea that there is of some value in itself for a nation state to apply lower standards of treatment to people who are not born by citizens of this state (or who do not meet some similar condition for immediate citizenship, ICC). I contrasted this idea with the notion of applying such lower standards for pragmatic reasons connected to the fact that the world happens to be organised into a multitude of nation states, and held out the lack of understanding of the difference between this latter idea and the nationist one as a crucial factor for explaining the recent success of the new racism.

Now, even if I am right about this analysis, it would be foolish to think that such an explanation is to be found only in the ideology of the new racism and the inability of people and other political parties to spot it in time. For sure, the rhetoric employed by the new racists also plays a part. In the first post, I described how this rhetoric wields familiar ethno-racist elements, where socio-cultural signifiers (such as language, clothing, traditions, mores) are allegedly associated with features that many people would indeed find to be reasons for less favorable treatment (criminality, cruelty to others, general antiociality, blameworthy costliness for society, and so on). Moreover, I pointed to how the introduction of the nationist ideology actually has helped this rhetoric to function more effectively: whenever an alleged link between a socio-cultural signifier (e.g. "muslim" or "gypsy") and some feature held to be morally important is questioned – factually or morally – the new racist campaigner can simply drop it and retreat into the nationist position. This since the latter is, as a matter of fact, not dependent on any ethno-racist arguments or assumptions, neither factually, nor morally. So, summing up, while nationism is the ideological core of the new racism, its success is best explained by the combination of (1) an initial rhetoric making use of classic ethno-racism, and (2) an ideological core of pure nationism and political suggestions built on that.

What I want to point to now is that this combination, while indeed helping to explain the recent success of the new racism, is in fact also its Achilles' heel. For hidden inside this seemingly clever politico-tactical set-up lurks a bona fide paradox. This paradox, I suggest, is what must be exposed in a serious and convincing way by politicians, journalists and others, for the electoral support of the new racism to start to falter.

This is the paradox:

The ethno-racist rhetoric is about the idea that national states should apply lower standards of treatment to people who don't sufficiently conform to a "national culture". This is not to be confused with the idea that a nation is permitted to enforce its own laws - culture is not the same as actual single behaviors or actions, culture is composed by things like languages, worldviews, traditions and mores). Applied to the issue of what conditions for citizenship to apply (a favorite issue of the new racists), this idea implies that it should be more difficult to be awarded citizenship of a country, the more a person deviates from this country's (supposed) national culture or "identity". In contrast, the nationist ideology pays no attention to cultural belonging or identity. Its sole center of value is the distinction between those who are born by (or connected by lineage to) people who are already citizens of a country and those who are not. Applied to the issue of conditions for awarding citizenship this means that people who are born by citizens receive immediate citizenship (what I called the ICC), while people who are not need to perform according to additional requirements (what I called ACC) in order to be awarded citizenship. Now, as briefly pointed out in that context, the nationist idea implies no ideas whatsoever about the citizens of a country conforming to any particular culture or having a certain "national identity". Quite the contrary! By the awarding of citizenship via ICC, the nationist model leaves the country wide open to limitless cultural variation among citizens. In addition, people who do not meet ICC, but who indeed have the sort of national culture or identity that is valued by the ethno-racist are met by extra difficulties should they desire to receive citizenship. In short, nationism is open to awarding citizenship to exactly such people that ethno-racists want to deny citizenship to, and is open for impeding citizenship for exactly such people that ethno-racism want to award citizenship. Thus, ethno-racism and nationism are not only different, they are incompatible and, in combination, inconsistent.

This incompatibility or inconsistency appears just as clearly if we instead proceeds from a basis where the ethno-racist position is the starting point. From this point of view, then, only people who can demonstrate (sufficient) conformity to a national culture or possession of a national identity are to be awarded citizenship. That is, the fact that you are born by (or can demonstrate lineage to) a citizen is of no concern whatsoever. On the contrary, regardless of your heritage or where you come from, if you meet the ethno-racist culture/identity condition, citizenship is within reach. In other words, the ethno-racist citizenship idea will both block citizenship for people who, according to nationism, should receive automatic citizenship, and award citizenship to people, who nationism would want to impede from receiving citizenship.

Thus, combining the ethno-racist idea with nationism leads to a paradox. The message is that some people both should and should not be awarded or impeded from receiving citizenship. This paradox is built into the totality of the ideas conveyed by the new racist political movement. If the rhetoric and the ideological core is taken together, the result is a state of deepest confusion. Exposing this confusion, I suggest, is a powerful political and rhetorical weapon.

This leaves the question what wielding that weapon will result in. Hopefully and presumably, weakened electoral support of the new racism, of course – after all, voters are as a rule not prone to subscribing to obviously idiotic ideas. But where will that move the racists – those who have been engaged in these sort of parties or movements for decades? That will be the subject of the third, and last, posting in this series.