Chapter 1: Is Nationalism Beneficial?
This chapter is evenly split--five 'pro' articles and five 'con.' One implicit theme in this section is the ambiguity not only of how we define nationalism, but also whether or not there are different types of nationalism. In general, it seems that the writers in the 'pro' camp believe that there can be positive, even liberal, strains of inclusive nationalism, or that nationalism can be a positive oppositional ideology for an oppressed or disenfranchised group--even as they acknowledge the possibility that nationalism can have negative and destructive consequences.
On the other hand, the 'con' writers seem to recognize only the most negative, xenophobic, and reactionary forms of nationalism; there seems to be little room for a concept of liberal nationalism in the essay by Ernest Erber, which concludes with this paragraph:
"AS we come to the end of the 20th century, the democratic left should see the nation-state, separatist self-determination and nationalism as road blocks to the progress, if not the survival, of humanity. We should begin with fierce opposition to all forms of nationalism--theory, doctrine, politics, and movement. It has outlived whatever usefulness it had and, like an unburied corpse, its continued presence contaminates the body politic wherever it is tolerated."
This seems to be a progressive and enlightened statement of cosmopolitan inclusiveness; but the harsh realities of the world as it is have a way of throwing ideological certainties out of whack. While I may hope for a world without borders, that hopeful future is some distance away and in the meantime the nation-state--hopefully increasingly bound by an international body of law intended to hold states responsible for the human rights of its citizens--remains the least-worst socio-political entity we've managed to successfully implement. The proper purpose of the state is to defend the economic interests of the citizens of the polity, to defend and respect their human rights, their property rights, and so on. The nation-state is not perfect, and the "nation" like all conceptions of human groupings is limited and far from universal; but it is far superior to any tribal notions of defining 'us versus them', nor does nationalism need to be as reductive as any purely ethnic or 'racial' definitions of inclusiveness.
Considering the totalitarian aspects of most universal social conceptions (whether religion or Communism), the nation-state is about the best we've been able to come up with so far. Once considered against the imperfect reality of the human condition today, Erber's uncompromising stance begins to look less like staunch idealism and more like unforgiving dogma.