Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Intoxicating Self

The idea of a Nation was a push back on Empire building and hereditary power classes. Many countries (and political party flags) are modelled on that of the French Revolution. Three Colours. Perhaps those colours were about universal ideals like liberty, equality and fraternity, but they became about Self-determination. Shifting power from the few to the many. It is an intoxicating idea. My favourite play is Les Misérables, and it is hard not to feel your blood stir listening to La Marseillaise. 

Shifting sovereignty to 'the people'. Creating a people through song, stories, flags, history and appeals to deep emotional triggers. Nations were not born out of 'idea-determination'. They were not born out of, 'Let's build a constitution and a social contract almost all of us agree with. Those who are willing to abide are welcome. Those who want to leave can leave.

Romantic Nationalism pushed ideas of language, race, culture, customs, religion and other factors to create 'them' and 'us'. Often those doing the new nation building were the oppressors deposed by whoever the previous empire builder had been.

It is an unpleasant truth that belief in Eugenics and Racial Science was widespread mainstream thought in the first three decades of the 20th century.

'If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly, and then I'd go out in back streets and main streets and bring them all in, all the sick, the halt, and the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile at me.' 
 D.H.Lawrence (1908)

The one thing everyone agrees on now is that Nazis were bad dudes. The thing people are less willing to admit it that many of the ideas around race science, and central government 'efficiency' were main stream. Breeding people like we had learnt to breed animals. Taking control of evolution. Many Imperialist and Colonialists of the past genuinely believed they were liberals, on civilising missions to make the world better. They had the answer. They would spread the truth. Many of those 'ideals' were part of the project to build separate Nations based on race. That is, by definition, Apartheid.

I don't think this is because people are necessarily trying to be manipulative or malicious. I just don't think many people spend much time reading the history behind their movements. They judge things based on current intentions. A lot can be learnt by looking back at the origins of how our huge mistakes of the past arose. There weren't clear good guys, and bad guys. Many of our attempts to solve problems had unintended consequences.

The biggest lesson history teaches is that all those who thought they knew the answer, didn't.

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