In this paper, I want to investigate the collective action on the level of nation. I will try to show 1) Why the nation has characteristics which impede social scientists to grasp its nature. 2) I will try to offer a first definition of nation 3) I want to see the relation between nation, person and globality. 4) Finally, to lay out some elements for a democratic approach to nation.
NATION: THE UNGRASPABLE REALITY?
One of the most tantalizing issues in social sciences is the definition of nation. (nation-ethnicity-national identity will be used as interchangeable terms in this paper) The reasons are similar with these that Melucci points out as regards the approach of social scientists to collective action. One the one hand it has been perceived as “the sum of atomized events, which due to one circumstance or another, come together to form a collective reality.” (Melucci, paper,45) One the other hand, nation has been tried to be identified with various structures. I think that Hobsbawm has pointed out clearly this impasse: “ People can identify themselves as Jews even though they share neither religion, language,culture, tradition, historical background, blood-group patterns nor an attitude to the Jewish state. Nor does this imply a purely subjective definition of the ‘nation’.” (Hobsbawm,1990, 8)
Thus, in order to grasp the ‘nature’ of the nation we have to look at the “relationship between systems and actors.” (Melucci, paper, 44) What is perceived as a unified phenomenon from an outsider is actually “the result of multiple processes, of different orientations, of a constructive dynamic which the actors bring about.” (ibid, 48) The actors through this action they construct a “we” which is precisely what we perceive as the unified entity of nation. All these processes have been opaque in the efforts of scholars until now because they tend to take the place of the “objective” observer, thus becoming incapable of seeing that this “unity is the result of exchanges, negotiations, decisions, and conflicts that the actors continually bring about,” (ibid) “but,” Melucci continues, “which are never in the foreground.” The latter it seems to me somewhat problematic. For many of the processes that Melucci describes, occur in the open space of the nation.
One important insight, for our discussion about nation, is the other times visible existence of it, and other times, its latency. This is also a problem that the theory about nation is incapable to address: If the nation is not existent in the institutions how we can speak about it? On the other hand can we say that the nation doesn’t exist? What are all these people who are fighting for national independence? Some of the clumsy answers has been that “in reality”, these struggles are class struggles. The nation is an invention which some obscure nationalists invented in order to promote their satanic plans through the capture of the state, and the use of the educational system. Now, that many national liberation revolutions or movements have had as participants illiterate people this is unexplainable. As is unexplainable of why although the state had imposed the Soviet education, the nations have managed to survive!
Melucci gives an answer referring to collective action: “The actors - in our case nations - become visible only where a field of public conflict arises; otherwise they remain in a state of latency. Latency does not mean inactivity.” (Melucci, 1989, 71) What latency means? Means that “collective action is nourished by the daily production of alternative frameworks of meaning, on which the networks themselves are founded and live from day to day.”
Yet, the answer remains: What is a nation? Nation is a set of frameworks of meanings which actors use to make sense about their lives and themselves. Paraphrasing Melucci we can say: Nation is a dinstictive way of perceiving and naming the world.. Moreover, I would like to argue that this operations take place within a certain community of interlocutors. What is the main characteristic of this community is the agreement on meaning. And as Wittgenstein says “Agreement in meaning involves agreement in judgments.” (Quoted by Taylor, 1989, 35)
Now, another insight which is crucial in understanding nation is the notion of “prophecy.” (Melucci, 1986, 75-76) Prophecy for him is “an alternative framework of meaning.” (ibid) Thus this notion seems quite similar with what Castoriadis calls the “imaginary.” He defines as imaginary “ the elementary and irreducible capacity of evoking images... The imaginary stems from the original faculty of positing or presenting oneself with things and relations that do not exist, in the form of representation.” (Castoriadis, 1987,127) Castoriadis goes a step further, and defines the “social imaginary”as:
“a central signification, the organization of signifiers and signifieds into a system, that which supports the intersecting unity of both those components and which also permits the extension, multiplication and modification of this signification ...(ibid, 139) [It provides answers to questions as]: “Who we are as collectivity? What we are for one another? Where and in what are we? What do we want? What do we desire?...” (ibid, 146)
The same idea, namely the existence of a system of meanings (significations) A which is capable of giving meaning to a system of meanings B, without the B to have the ability to give meaning to the A, is expressed both by Melucci and Taylor. The former uses this notion when he speaks about information which are capable of organizing other information. Taylor uses the same idea when he speaks about frameworks which can determine other frameworks but as he points out “B makes A obligatory and not vice versa.” (Taylor, 1989, 76) Here, it’s worthwhile to stress that for Taylor “framework is that in virtue of which we make sense of our lives spiritually.” (ibid,18)
The aforementioned can explain why particular groups of people through interaction have created distinctive “social imaginaries” in certain periods of time. These particular images, cognitive frameworks, although they are produced through day to day interaction have the tendency to resist change during time. Though they are created in a synchronic way they tend to be diachronic. This explains their durability, their cohesion, and why it is difficult for them to change during time. For they belong, like nation does, in the inner time. Hence and the inability of the social scientists to understand them . (For instance what annoys a lot of them is the mythic time of origin that every nation claims. These scientists are in a rush to show to the ignorant nationalists their misconceptions: “your nation didn’t exist back then!” They cannot see that they don’t deal with a linear time but with a time which is simultaneous, still, cyclical. (Melucci, 1986, 107) In other words, what I want to conclude at this point is that though nation is “definition constructed and negotiated” (Melucci, 49, paper) up to a certain point become unnegotiable and it is this which constructs personal identities.
Another characteristic of nation that puzzles scholars is the discrepancy between what people believe that they are and what are their real actions. Melucci targets the same problem when as he speaks about collective action he points out that : “what social movements say of themselves is not entirely taken in face value.” (Melucci, 1986, 22) What is the problem here? I think that Taylor can give us some useful insights. “There is an essential link between identity and a kind of orientation,” he argues. is “To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what not, what has meaning and importance for you and what is trivial and secondary...(Taylor, 1989, 28) It is the notion of orientation that concern us here. The nation is not merely a collective identity. It is the ideal identity. It is the values that you aspire to look up in order to become a full person. It is the standards by which we judge our behavior. As Ziakas have it :
“The exemplary collective identity doesn’t have a real topos into history. It is beyond topos and time, it is an u-topie. It is a measure of judgment and an axis of reference. A measure that permits us to know every moment where we are and where we are heading to. It is then a fundamental mistake for someone to confuse the historical self of a nation with the depiction that this nation has about itself.” (Ziakas, 1993, 53, my translation)
Let me return at this point to the issue of“ ‘ungraspability’” of the nation. Why is that? Besides the reasons that I have already pointed out, there are some others too. A significant one has to do with the nature of the action per se. “There is an opaque, hidden part of collective action which is due to the impossibility of the actor to simultaneously assume the position of actor and the point of view of the relationship which s\he is involved in and contributes to (Melucci, 1986, 50-51) Or as Castoriadis puts it in other words : The clarification and transformation of reality progress together in praxis, each conditioning the other...However, in the logical structure of the ensemble they form, activity precedes clarification, for praxis, the ultimate goal is not the clarification but the transformation of reality.” (Castoriadis, 19 , 76) Moreover there is another aspect which contributes to the “indeterminacy’ of the nation. The different interpretations that individuals attribute to the “social imaginaries” of their respective nations. For, if we give up the naive God-like position of the objective observer who sees nothing but a unified nationalism we can see that within the particular nation everybody talks about what he\she believes that is the “right” features of the ethnicity. One, as an ecologist, perceives as the true Greek-ness the perseverance of the wetlands. The modernist wants the wetlands to become tourist resorts for the sake of the Greek economy. The strength of the economy contributes to the strength of the nation for him/her.
NATION, GLOBALIZATION AND COMPLEX SOCIETIES
There are several reasons for the rekindling of the presence of nations in the global political and social scene. First of all this has to do with the fact that within the system that we live “information has become the core resource. Our access to reality is facilitated and shaped by the conscious production and control of information. ‘Forms’ or images produced through perception and cognition increasingly organize our relationship to the material and communicative environment in which we live.” Melucci, 1986, 185) It is clear from our previous analysis that these forms conflict with the “cognitive frameworks” of the nation in their struggle for domination thus producing an awareness of the specific national characteristics of the people.
If industrialization was in 18-19 centuries the main force that produced the awareness of the nations because they had to face the homogenizing force of the new technology and thus they were enforced to redefine themselves according to the conflict with it, now information becomes the “adversary.” Information has the peculiar characteristic of abhorring difference because it impedes its fast transmission and consumption. In another level, information targets at the hearts of the individual’s identities.
Globalization has significant implication on national identities too. First of all, it forces nations to become more preoccupied with the other. In today’s world it is at least naive to claim that the “central imaginaries” of a nation are determined by the nation itself. Nations are captured in a network of information which compete with each other to define the nature of the respective nations. The actors which are involved in the attempt to define the ‘meaning’ of a nation are not only within the limits of this nation. In the case of the dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslavic Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) we have had the following participants: Greece, FYROM, neighboring states, EU, UN, USA, Russia, media, scholars throughout the world. A nation nowadays in order to defend its rights, history, identity, it has to do that in a space which its main characteristic is globalization on the one hand, the lack of rules and institutions on the other. Secondly, nations “for the first time ...become radically aware of their contingency; they realize that are thrown into the world. They discover that their existence is not a necessity and that therefore they have no choice but to take the responsibility for their own destiny.” (Melucci, 1986, 88)
INDIVIDUATION VERSUS PERSONIFICATION?
One problem that I have confronted reading the “Nomads of the Present” is the notion of individuation. “The fact that the main actors within the system are no longer groups defined by class consciousness, religious affiliation or ethnicity, but - potentially at least - individuals who strive to individuate themselves by participating in, and giving meaning to, various forms of social action.” (Melucci, 1986, 185) It seems that Melucci wants to take into account only two levels of existence : The global and the individual. In other words he is trying to avoid the problem of other levels of human existence, levels which have to deal with what he calls “unity,” “integralism,” “intolerance.” (ibid, 181)
It is not to say that he doesn’t speak about these levels. True, he mentions ethnicity, collective identity, the struggling of the social movements to construct a “we.” Yet, it seems that he avoids to incorporate these groups into his analysis of complex systems. Namely he avoids to acknowledge the fact that in order to become individual you have to belong to a group, a “web of interlocutors” as Taylor would say. Even in the most individual experience, namely the psychotherapeutic process, the individual is never alone. For what does it really mean the expression “we allow to illness space and time?” Doesn’t this process include already another person who operates as a “container” as Samuels would say? So even this experience is a group experience. Thus, though we have to find ways of escaping from the unitarian images of older theories, from the single keys which unlock all the doors, on the other hand we should avoid to fall into an other cosmos which is inhabited by isolated individuals. For it is a world of persons which we are longing for.
What is the difference between personification and individuation? Personification is the process of embodying an idea or a quality in a real person. Individuation on the other hand - but not entirely on the contrary - is to make someone fit for life in companshionship with the others. The difference although it seems slight, actually is immense: For in the first occurrence our target is to create what Melucci would call an autonomous individual with the capacity of having the tools to analyze his\her life to make sense of it. In the second instance you just want individuals who adapt to situations. (I want to make machines which could be handled by monkeys was the ideal of Taylor) Yet, we have always to bare in mind that both processes are not completely separate. Personification includes processes of adaptation and individuation, too, it has the need for some level of personification. For instance a business executive is perceived as a good catch when he is at his thirties, male, unmarried. Because it has a certain level of personification but not so much as to impede him to have the mobility that his firm wants from him. A family, one of the crucial “mechanisms” for personification is perceived as a burden. (It is also paradoxical that family is not mentioned, not even once, in Melucci’s account of the present reality.)
The problem with the notion of individuation becomes more complex when he speaks about information. I have already mention the distinction between information and information which have the specific characteristic of working as languages, codes which give meaning to other information. I could have said that the second set of information is the one that power is trying to conceal under the cover of “processes.” Yet, this would imply that the strata that they have access to this information, according to my point of view, they would have the ability to become persons, because they can posses meanings. Yet, what we can detect in present societies is that many times the possession of power means precisely your ability to become cynical namely, not to address the question of meaning at all, or better to address only two sorts of meanings: How much money do I get out of it? How much power does it give to me? So it seems that these people who are closer to power and have access to “meaningful” information they have to undergo a sort of de-personification in order to become adaptable individuals. This is the reason, I think, of why the “system” - if we can speak with such terms at all - it needs to advertise, create and enforce needs, meanings.
It is clear that the actual process is not clear to me. Because on the other hand I don’t want to reject totally the idea that the flow of information is enormously rapid in our societies, more easily accessible, and thus it promotes a increasing level of self-awareness. Yet, my problem is that this produces phenomena that lead to the longing of integration, precisely because this flow is out of the grasp of every human being or group. Melucci seems to give credit to the process per se, yet, this reminds me of the credit that was given to industrialization as a process of globalization. When we turn, however, to the level of the micro-cosmos and see what this meant for the people back then we are tempting to reform a lot of our ideas. We have to remember that totalitarianism was nothing else but the imposition of the “meanings” of industrialization in a short span of time. Namely, communists they were right - in a chilling way - when they said that they didn’t anything else but to commit the crimes that the West had committed during four centuries of development, in a thirty years period.
The same is true I think with our information society. It is clear that the two processes coexist in Melucci’s theory: On the one hand the empowerment of the individuals to affirm their selves, one the other hand a vast sense of meaningless. The individual who is jumping from the one set of meanings to the other trying to adjust itself to every new one set invokes a rather frustrating image. “None of these roles is able adequately to offer the individual a stable identity [precisely because the system doesn’t want to offer an identity] Selective mechanisms of de-differentiation thus come into being to provide identity via a return to primary membership.” (Parsons, quoted by Melucci, 1986, 89-90) Yet, one the other hand, the individual through the challenges that he\she faces promotes his\her self awareness. (Or sometimes these processes lead to de-personalization) And to make things more complex, if this “instability” is precisely what gives freedom to the individual, it is the same instability which stripes him\her from freedom, because it casts him\her sooner or later in the trap of integralism. Because , as Melucci, too, acknowledges, the more the freedom augments the more is the longing of stability. We have the same pattern in psychotherapy too. The relation between the psychotherapist and her/his patient is precisely a relation of stability. It is only through it that the patient can express her/his inner self and s\he can promote his/her autonomy.
PERSONIFICATION, NATION, AND DEMOCRACY
Let me change the level of discussion to the level of inter-national relations. One of the most useful insights, according to my point of view, with regard to the concept of nation is its “imagined” nature. As Anderson says a nation is imagined both as limited and as sovereign. (Anderson, 1983, 6) [It is important here to stress the commonalties of expressions. Melucci referring to individuals would have said :autonomous and interactional] Contrary to the dominant perception of the nation I want to argue that these two characteristics of the nation are the ones which make it, I would dare to say essentially, democratic. In what sense?
First of all its self-limited nature. The community which is called nation coexist - and it has the awareness of this coexistence - with other similar communities. This is the meaning of its limited character. The nation can be perceived only interactionally! Thus, what I claim here is the quite opposite of the current social thought (Gellner, Hobsbawm...) “Originally, nationalism developed as democracy,” says Greenfeld (Greenfeld, 1992, 10) The nation seems to be the source of the idea of the self-limited which Arato and Cohen praised so much as the new characteristic of democratic movements of our time. Moreover , reading Touraine’s book “Solidarity,” it is more than obvious that the “limited” character of this movement stemmed from the interweaving of national and democratic aims of the movement. The nation in order to exist needs the present of the other.
In West at least, nation was one of the guarantors of the democratic rights of the individuals. Arendt says about it:
“From the beginning the paradox involved in the declaration of inalienable human rights was that it reckoned with an “abstract” human being who seemed to exist nowhere...the whole question of human rights, therefore, was quickly inextricably blended with the question of national emancipation; only the emancipated sovereignty of the people, seemed to be able to ensure them.” (Arendt, 1975, 291)
I want to relate the latter idea with what Ziakas says : “Can it be that nation is but the par excellence collective person, the agent of the subjectification? Is it possible that the emotionally strong relation with it is but the eros towards the collective person out of which we derive our hypostasis as subjects?” (Ziakas, 1993, 86) Nation is one of the crucial mechanisms that give to the individual the tools to build up boundaries, because it per se is a boundaried construction. And this is the reason nation plays such a crucial role to personification.
The question that emerges is the one that we have avoid to point till now: Why, if the nation is a such benign unity, we have phenomena as racism, fear of the other, annihilation of the individuality in the name of the defense of a nation, aggressiveness? I don’t have a satisfactory answer. My only guess is: fear, in other words, the lack of stability. It is precisely that people are afraid for the loss of the meaning in their lives that are capable to reach to extreme limits and actions.
Let me employ a historical example. Let us look in two countries: Egypt and India. Both countries have some striking common characteristics. Their national liberating struggles were deeply connected with the participation of women in them. This participation permitted women to gain certain rights. The difference between India and Egypt has been that after the defeat of Egypt by Israelis, a reverse trend has taken place. Fundamentalism. Society seems to close, to be oriented towards integralism because of the loss of its dignity. On the contrary, India, which it didn’t have to face such a threat, manage to maintain a democracy - no matter its shortcomings - and an energetic feminist movement. Threat is a mechanism that leads individuals and collectivities to try to cling to what she\he\they perceive at the present time of conflict as the only stable characteristic of identity. Which means in other words, that he\she\they are incapable of defending the plurality of the aspects of their perspectives identities. It seems, that as everything else in this paper, conflict too has this twofold implications. When you are for instance fighting with the police, you stop been Kostas, who is the son of Sakis, the lover of Maria, a student at New School, an ecologist, a music fun, and so on and you become a “unity” which is fighting for the democratic rights of the soldiers.
Is this a way out of this? I think that the new idea about democracy that Melucci is describing can give us some directions. Let us paraphrase again: “Democratic relations within nations require conditions which would enable nations and individuals who belong in different traditions within these nations - and here I don’t mean by tradition only ethnic ones, but also, class, gender, individual, etc.- to be recognized for what they are and what they want to be. That is, they require conditions for the enhancing of individual and collective signifying processes in everyday life and in the interaction with other nations. The formation, maintenance and alteration through time of a self-reflective identity requires personal, social and global spaces free from control and repression. Spaces where individuals and collectivities they can find a stable ground to use in order to promote their identities. (Melucci, paper, 71)
I think that we have to affirm the fact that “The need to give unity to rapidly changing and multifaceted social experiences triggers a search for a point of reference for individual identity.” Yet, we must avoid this point of reference to be just one. How is this possible? I think that this is possible only with the creation of spaces, scaled from the individual to the global level. We have to imagined spaces into which the individual would be accepted as such, namely with the plurality of his/her identity. Spaces in which s\he would be accepted not as a representation but as a person. This, it seems to me, has been the effort of many of the movements of the last three decades.
Finally the problem of the equality and dignity. As long as our societies produce atomized individuals oriented to adapt themselves in different situations, we cannot speak about equality and dignity. Because these are traits of persons, individuals who are interacting with other individuals and they are capable of grasping the meanings of the others. Thus instead of trying to “adjusting” the other they affirm s\he as a person. As the agent of a history of a present and a future. And all of these they must occur in the present time.
Melucci, Alberto. Nomads of the Present, 1989, Temple University Press,Philadelphia.
Melucci, Alberto. Liberation or Meaning?, paper.
Taylor, Charles. Sources of the Self, 1989, Harvard University Press.
Castoriadis, Cornelius. The Imaginary Institution of Society, 1987, MIT Press.
Ziakas, Theodor. Nation and Tradition, 1993, Alternative Press, Athens.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities, 1983, Verso.
Hobsbawm, E.J. Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, 1990, Cambridge University Press.
Greenfeld, Liah. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity, Harvard University Press.
Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1975, Harvest, New York.