Mariusz Turowski
Nationhood and Citizenship: Between Ideological Traps and Communicative Transcendence


In my paper I would like to elaborate a difficult question about the state-forming processes. The line of argumentation relates to crucial, in my opinion, distinction between nationhood and citizenship. In recent discussions in political and social theory one can see a concern for what to base social life, institutions, regulations and politics on. Some projects point out importance of the idea of nation, where others are trying to find some broader, more general, "cosmopolitan" framework of organizing society, the one that is traditionally labeled as citizenship. The topic is the most vital for the Balkans where the process of establishing social and political sets of institutions (the state) is still by no means finished. I will begin with determining the conceptual and theoretical basis for both nationhood and citizenship. Then, referring to the topic of our considerations this week, I will move to description of linguistic, argumentative, communicative origins of mentioned concepts, as a joint point of departure. Then I will attempt to point out features of those ideas. Finally, in the summary, I will reach the problem of hopes and fears about nationhood and citizenship as fundaments for social and political life.

1. Communicative citizenship

Most recent political theories are based on communicative, deliberative, discursive, argumentative model. Its primary claim is that all interactions among members of a given social order, formation of institutions and political decision-making are developed during the process of communication, which means transfer of symbols, meanings, values and attitudes. One of the most powerful conceptions of that type was offered by so called theory of communicative actions that secures the communicative structures of social coordination. Jurgen Habermas, the main representative of that option, claims that social coordination in general is effected through language. His explanation is based on so called "linguistic turn", which in philosophy of language means departure from researches on syntactical and semantic structure governing human communication, and focusing instead on "formal-pragmatic" role of language. Such theories like later Wittgenstein's, Austin's and Searl's, showed that the crucial for language are not analyzes of meaning and grammar, but of general structures that enable competent speakers to enter and participate in successful and fruitful way in interactions which are something considerably more than simple exchange of information. This reflects some ideas concerning social theory that now takes form of a search for possibility to set up linguistic, communicative interactions on validity (interest in communication that refers to norms) claims. This means a hope for overcoming the divergence between norms (transcendental, not limited to specific community ideals) and facts (particular, "local" and important only "here" and "now", standards and problems).

Social world is shaped according to two concepts: truth (claims about objective world that all are shared by all human beings) and moral claims (propositions connected with norms for interpersonal relationships that must by recognized as rational and acceptable according to justice and individuals' rights). Validity of claim means openness for acceptance of the claim on the basis of a good reason. Contentiousness means testing given claims according to neutral discourse based on certain arguments. So, when some dispute arises in a certain community, its members would like to resolve it. They will do it on the basis of validity claims. Possibility of resolution of the conflicts means involvement of three fundamental idealizing assumption concerning communication:

  • members must assume that they are thinking about the same things when using the same words and expressions;
  • they must consider themselves as rational;
  • they must accept that when they reach the agreement, the arguments used there will be determined as sufficiently justified, and that any claims to truth or justice based on them, will not be recognized as false or mistaken.

Consensus reached during the communicative process is always open for challenge. Certain consensus (the one reached in given historical and social reality) cannot itself serve as a basis for social integration, because social integration requires something more stable and solid. The stability is secured by rational communicative dimension of interactions. This dimension can exist because it has some fundament, some background that stabilizes a communicatively integrated group - a lifeworld. Lifeworld can be defined as a source of identities and possibilities of managing conflicts. Different options can appear within the same community, but there is possibility of bargaining - shifts in perspective, however, within the same lifeworld, the same transcendental claims of validity.

A theory of communicative actions is an abstract and formal theory. But it can be applied to certain, real problems of the real world. One of them, which was the subject of concern of Habermas himself, is idea of citizenship and the nation-state. Habermas in his article focuses on the processes of political transformation, which recently takes place in the world. One of the most important is the question of unification of Europe and possibility of developing of the idea of a "postnational society". With that problem there are connected two orientations concerning idea of citizenship and national identity. First points out a need for some shared historical destiny (Schicksalsgemeinschaft), which is secured by the idea of nation. The other is a republican view that tries to find some post-national sources of political identity. It argues that we are witnessing today dissolving of semantic connection between state citizenship and national identity, and that this process is a natural consequence of modern social development. The result of the process will be disintegration of the nation-state. Habermas describes three forms of uniting society: premodern - empire, federal, and nation-state. As show examples of Holy Roman Empire, Russian Empire or Ottoman Empire the unification function in those cases was rather weak. According to Habermas, federation, as in the case of Switzerland, was able to develop a strong balance between conflicting ethnic interests and create a stable multicultural association of citizens. Nation-state occurred as the most firm and long-lasting political organization. The structure of the nation-state could develop thanks to capitalist economy, rule of law and individual and collective rights. But the processes of modernization led to social homogenization that was a beginning of nationalism, with its exclusionist and oppressing features. Habermas thus criticizes idea of the nation-state and is looking for another perspective for organizing society, this time not united by shared ethnicity, culture, language and tradition. He refers to transformation of the idea of nation to conception of citizenship. State sovereignty was based there on nation, which defined possibilities of self-determination. Nation was slowly becoming a fundament for the political identity of its members. French Revolution introduced idea of nation only as a "functional operator" that was able to ground collective identity in the notion of citizenship which main feature was preservation of civic rights, not right of one nation to be able to self-determination against the other. Idea of citizenship was developed by Rousseau and Kant, who introduced the idea of civic contract and rules of law. Thus the legitimization for contractual, artificial social organization was constituted. Consensus in a society existed there only because of the unity of procedures. But Habermas is arguing for some deeper form of social coordination than contract and common interests. So he redefines the idea of procedures governing society. In his view procedures become a medium of democratic opinion- and will-formation. Human being becomes here a citizen, who doesn't focus on his/her cultural heritage in political life, but is looking for possibility of finding some background for living in a pluralistic society. Citizens want to regulate their living together according to principles that secure their equal interest. Political organization in the case of procedural democracy becomes an association structured by mutual recognition: equal protection and respect for human beings as individuals, as members of ethnic and cultural groups and as citizens - members of the political community.

2."Negative communication", ideology, and stereotypes

Theory of the communicative actions descended from the abstract levels of "formal pragmatics" and took shape, in Habermas' conception, of civic republicanism, optimistic idea that society based on shared values defined as common lifeworld can always find consensus, agreement and solution of certain problems. But is this perspective of ideal, undisturbed and rational discourse promising in terms of providing us the picture of social and political life that cannot be challenged?

Rastko Mocnik in his conception of ideology-and-stereotypes-generating (also) "rational" discourse offers us another picture, quite different from the one proposed by Habermas. He also starts with the conception of language-mediated political and social structures. Also for him the most important function of language is not presented in its grammar and semantic structure. Utterances have all described above, pragmatic functions, which reflects communicative, rooted in a certain set of beliefs, lifeworld. The process of understanding is connected not only with recognition of language rules, but also with some communicative context. But communication is captured here first of all as transmission of meanings with some critical and negative coloring. This negativity can be defined as ideology. Thus public life appears here first of all as a sphere of ideological force, violence. Rhetoric in this conception is not a medium of rational, neutral and searching for validity claims argumentation, but it functions as arbitrary, framed justification of particular interests. To be sure, the mechanism of ideological interpellation is not based on instrumental, strategic actions. We still operate in the realm of communicative actions, based on the lifeworld. But the lifeworld is defined here as a trap, which is waiting for both: speaker and interpreter.

Mocnik bases his conception of society on the theory of rational choice, where individuals, members of certain social organization (political order) act according to some formal rules. Rationality of behavior according to those rules can be described as "individual rationality depended upon the subject supposed to believe (SSB) as an objective, constraining and social ideological instance". Individuality excludes in this frame of reference any cooperative actions directed towards common good, because from the strategic point of view cooperation, even if it could bring some profits, is worse option:

"I know perfectly well that the common good is desirable and that collective action would benefit everybody. The others may know it too, but they also most probably believe that humans are generally self-interested, even selfish, even to the point that they prefer certain private benefits to uncertain public goods".

Here are fundaments of modern liberal society, that now is being deconstructed and presented not as a result of cooperative initial contract, but as an effect of ideology - liberalism is nothing but ideology. As well as other conceptions and designs of human social organizations are. Mocnik focuses specially on one of the ideologies - nationalism. He discusses the idea of nationality and nationalism offered by Ernst Gellner. According to that conception nationalism is an ideology that supports the Nation as a socio-political structure. Thus he refuses to distinguish both concepts and sees them as related to each other. Mocnik defines Gellner's idea of nationalism as based on "one Culture - one State, one State - one Culture" formula. Nationalism, as well as other ideologies, serves as unifying factor, creates the sense of belonging. But, again, this is only an ideology that covers basic social divergence. Mocnik employs here Marxist ideas and says that the unity in the nation-state is broken down by the fact of, connected with class structure of the society, capitalist exploitation. Nation-state was supposed to introduce a social harmony that was presented in the slogans about liberty, equality and fraternity. But, according to Mocnik, as well as other critics of traditional form of liberal democracy, those two first concepts are totally conflicting. Idea of fraternity was introduced as a kind of reconciliation. But the liberal society is far from exercising any of ideals it claims it is based on. So, the interactions among members of the society are possible only because they are based on some original, fundamental lie, which is a center of ideology. The lie leads to creating continuity between liberalism and racism: liberal politics eliminates lack of communication and introduces nationalism as common basis, common background in the class-divided society. Class conflicts within the society are softened by the ideology that is looking for enemies among "the Others".

As we could see, there can be many pictures of social, political organizations. One offered by Habermas, that reflects optimistic belief in rational communication and possibility of discursive consensus can be replaced by idea of society based on negative elements of language. In the cases of both theories linguistic dimension in social theory is the crucial one. But while in the first idea language is a medium of symbols connected with transcendental norms and values, for the second it is rooted in initial lie taking form of ideology. Kantian and Enlightenment hopes are eliminated by Hegelian, Marxian, Althusserian, Lacanian and deconstructionist suspicions about social life.

A contribution to: The Bright Side of the Balkan - Ohrid Summer School (position paper 2) <powrót>

Wroc³aw, 10.07.2000