Tag Archives: nationalism


If I can be allowed a moment of unambiguity, the National Security Agency did not set up its vast spying program to collect personal information, or really even to “spy” on people in the usual sense. The NSA doesn’t really care about the many ways in which you are fascinated by your cat or about your consumer profile or preferences, which it could find through any number of corporate surveillance databases, or even about your political movements per se. Yes, the particulars of the latter could certainly be useful information and are within the purview of the NSA, but that’s micro, time-sensitive information more useful to local police or federal agents. So far as I know, the voracious NSA set of techniques and processes isn’t equipped to process that kind of data, even if the transmission lines to law enforcement did exist.

More unambiguity: The program is not even really about content. At least until it is. No doubt the information flows have been utilized in some instances, but for now it’s about instituting a system that counters existing networks, many, though not all, of which are digital and based on telecommunications lines. The goal of the program is to create shadow networks that stalk current and potential networks, ones that can mimic, surround, and anticipate in order to repress, short-circuit, and coopt. The Snowden documents so far seem to be silent on the methods for doing that.

As far as an end-game of how the US state might benefit from spying and its revelations, the NSA and the executive branch of course couldn’t and can’t predict what that will be. But if, as seems possible now, the Internet becomes fragmented and segmented, that’s a pretty good outcome for them. A nationalized Internet is much easier to monitor, and in times of crisis becomes much more susceptible to nationalist passions and open to emergency measures. The Merkel revelations might be bad for Obama, but they could certainly be good for the national security state.

The Danish model

If I have to hear one more goddamn time about the Danish model…. The Danes are the happiest people in the world! Denmark taxes oil companies highly to fund infrastructure! The Danish welfare system enables a wonderful life-work balance! Everyone in Denmark rides bikes!

Denmark, it’s said, is the model that the rest of the world should follow to find universal happiness. This widely circulated article, for instance, raves that Denmark has “lower unemployment than the U.S., less inequality, more social mobility, lower budget deficits, more opportunities for women.” It’s helpful, however, to read to the end:

I asked [Nick Haekkerup, Denmark’s minister for trade and European affairs] about Denmark’s problems incorporating poor, unskilled immigrants. He said “this has been an extreme struggle within my own party,” the Social Democrats. The party’s current policy, he said, is to limit—though not cut off—immigration to protect the welfare state.

Indeed. Denmark has some of Europe’s strictest immigration laws, which is also to say, some of the most nationalist and race-based: for instance, migrants to the country can only marry someone who is a citizen of the EU, and potential migrants earn “points” toward gaining residency by attaining advanced degrees, proving their language and cultural proficiency, and hailing from preferred countries. Also, if they might receive public assistance, they have to put 13,000 euros in escrow.

There are some other notable features of the Danish model, ones that are both politically awful and technically irreproducible: it’s essentially a petrostate-tourist state of just 5.5 million people; it has a monarchy; and it’s employment regulations are cutely called “flexicurity,” which really means it’s a right-to-work state, so that collective labor arrangements are nearly impossible and the acceptable form of association is communitarian nationalism.

This is a model I want no part of.

Proper victims

More and more, I’m amazed at how leftists (especially of the white male variety) assume that, by sheer will and intellect, they transcend the social order. The recently commemorated September 11th is a prime holiday for such displays, which usually get expressed in moral-equivalency arguments about empire, imperialist violence, etc. This year I noticed a new wrinkle, a leftist aspiration to define the border between legitimate victimhood and illegitimate:

On this twelfth anniversary of 9/11, I’d like to point out the pathology of coveting traumas, especially when you’re merely a spectator, not an actual victim. As someone wrote with total seriousness not too long ago, “If you were in the tri-state area on 9/11, you are a victim.” No, you’re not (and note the present tense). You’re just hankering for victimhood — and an easy mark, in that self-righteous and unearned state, for any scumbag who’d like to use that event to further his or her own agenda to go kill and crush some other group of people. Not my kind of memorial for mass murder. But do what you like.

Even though I agree with some of this, it’s really annoying on an analytical level, especially in its willingness to designate the proper victims. I lived in New York at the time of the attacks, and I sympathize with the revulsion at using the tragedy as a pretext for war (and the legal and extraterritorial architecture that went along with it), especially considering that most of the time New York is not really considered part of the nation.

But it’s precisely the contingent, partial inclusion of New York–and that other hotbed of anti-American activity, Washington, D.C.–that nationalism makes possible. There is nothing irrational or even surprising in this. The author–a disciple of Chomsky’s, to give an idea of the general politics involved–completely fails to understand, or pretends not to, the passions of nationalism that give rise to “victimhood,” of how nationalist solidarity is often founded on trauma and tragedy. It’s precisely those negative foundations that enable the creation of the not-national, the outsider, the enemy. Nationalism always operates by a differential inclusion. All the author has done is engage in a different kind of national-border drawing and drawn the circle a little tighter, all while assuring us he sees through the bullshit.

However, such distinctions are only available to the enlightened, or those that should know better. It would never be said by the author that, say, Afghans in Kandahar are victim-mongering if they are affected by a U.S. drone attack in Helmand, just as discussions of chavismo ignore the revolution’s segmentations and focus on its macro economic stats or its social processes. Difference doesn’t hold there.

Especially annoying about the above is that it contains an implicit critique of nationalism, but it’s a completely moralistic kind of critique, one that’s designed to allow the author to both escape implication in the response to September 11th and pathologize those who think differently. It treats nationalism as a choice (for some at least) rather than a social bond. It’s crap antinationalism, at a time when critiques of nationalism’s material and quotidian functionings are urgently needed and being vigorously tested on the ground.