Friday, 17 November 2017

What is a nation?

What is a nation? Is a nation the territory it occupies? Is it the machinery it occupies? Is it the people who make up a nation? Is it the flag or symbol? Is it the presence of an army? What it is, it is definitely not something physical and therefore has to be an abstraction of the mind. There is one argument that can be used against all the questions posed here – fluidity. In the modern world, there is nothing static – borders, machinery, people, flags, symbols or the army. Nations come and nations go, empires rise and empires fall. There is nothing more fluid than concepts and living beings. People take birth, and people die.

The formation of a nation is based on certain principles – may be history, may be language, may be culture and heritage or may be just random divisions or political gameplay. There is no fixed criteria for the formation of nations, and hence there is no set criteria for self-determination as well. What is the right to self-determination? The expression, “the right to a future, and the right to have political, social and economic autonomy” is quite a vague expression and this leads to the wrong idea that there is a “right to a nation”. Nation-states are inherently abstract and fluid and therefore subject to abuse of political process for individual gains. The feeling of nationalism stems from freedom and autonomy of the political process – breathing the Indian air free from external influence is an essential part of the feeling of “Indian-ness”.

This feeling comes by inheritance through a feel of security for the economic, social and political future of the people that are the subjects of the government of a nation – that they have a voice in the policy that shapes their daily lives today. This had been achieved either through the bullets that were fired from guns or through means that were not as physically violent but conveyed the same message – “We want you gone.” Does this feeling of security constitute the most of nationalism that we see in the world today? Where else does this feeling of protectionism come from? The protection of cultural heritage and traditions are the primary reason for a nation to exist so that they are not wiped out by other external influences in the wake of easy governance and standardisation.

What then is a nation? What then is nationalism? It is the abstract superstructure to protect abstract substructures of an abstract society – abstractions over abstractions over abstractions. There is no physical existence of a nation, but only a perceived abstract existence.


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