Mon 1 May 2006
We have countries that are truly nations. Sweden, Norway and Finland are stereotypical examples, in that they are geographically integral areas that have a people who are linguistically, culturally, religiously and ethically similar. These nations also have sovereignty: the power of self rule.
Even these examples include interesting variations – For example post world-war two Finland needed to maintain its soverignty in the face of an overpowering neighbor: the Soviet Union. The Finnish President Paasikivi had to make a Faustian bargain. It’s foreign policies were constrained under a restrictive agreement with the Soviet Union that remained in place until the fall of communism. Finland, under this bargain was able to maintain neutrality, peace and control its own affairs at the price of standing by while much of eastern Europe was swallowed whole. In spite of Finlandization no one would identify Finland as anything other than a nation.
Empires are by definition not Nations. They are an amalgam of diverse cultures brought together for economic power, usually by force.
The British Empire brought together a wide variety of cultures through force for economic development and power. The mixture was untenable in the long term because there was too small a common shared interest. For example: Although many Indians learned English, most were Hindu or Muslim, and shared little of their worldview with the imperial Christian British.
When the British empire broke up its artificially imposed borders could not last. Muslim Pakistan seceded from Hindu India. Even in the British homeland, Ireland became first a free state and then a republic. Wales, England and Scotland are all considered semi-independent nations under a single monarch, but independent internal governments. These adjustments are rarely accomplished without great bloodshed.
The Soviet empire’s artificial borders similarly fell when its hegemony waned. East and West Germany immediately reunited at great expense and in spite of two generations of cultural separation. The artificially united Balkans promptly broke into a firestorm of Christian/Muslim – Serbian/Bosnian violence which had been held at bay for five decades only by brutal oppression.
The United States is unique in that it welcomes diversity in its peoples, although not without problems (eg. the Civil War) . What is it that makes the United States able to maintain nationhood in spite of its diversity of cultures and people?
I believe that there are several principles at work in American nationhood :
- Relative wealth – most Americans feel that they can have a successful life in this country, and that there is plenty of opportunity in spite of one’s initial status. Thomas Malthius’ principles of “them or us” are not well accepted here.
- Reasons for coming to America – Americans, except for First Peoples and decendents of slaves came to America from elsewhere for economic opportunity or to escape oppresson.
- Liberty – The ability to believe as one wishes, enjoy personal privacy, to change socal status by one’s own actions, move within the country, and freedom from oppression
- English language – The ability to communicate between our peoples allow the resolving of grievances, facilitatges understanding of other points of view, and permits a shared secular mythology. (ex: the stories of Abe Lincoln, Audie Murphy, Tom Sawyer, George Washington, Paul Bunyan and John Wayne)
- Assimulation – The American educational system and economic realities of our culture entice immigrants to become assimulated within two generations. This might seem to members of some groups to be too much like the Borg, however it is necessary for the success of the nation.
- Open political dialog – The issues that concern individual groups can be brought to the table. These then become bargaining chips which are used to move constituencies to support other issues in return for consideration of their own.
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