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The nation-state is a plague on all our houses by Chomsky, Rodney, and Zinn


"What would ultimately be necessary would be a breakdown of the nation-state system - because I think that's not a viable system. It's not necessarily the natural form of human organization; in fact, it's a European invention pretty much. The modern nation-state system basically developed in Europe since the medieval period, and it was extremely difficult for it to develop: Europe has a very bloody history, and extremely savage and bloody history, with constant massive wars and so on, and that was all part of an effort to establish the nation-state system. It has virtually no relation to the way people live, or to their association, or anything else particularly, so it had to be established by force. And it was established by centuries of bloody warfare. That warfare ended in 1945 - and the only reason it ended is because the next war was going to destroy everything. [1]

"The capitalist or bourgeois class is no longer capable of guiding the uninhibited development of science and technology - again because these objectives now clash with the profit motive. Capitalism has proved incapable of transcending fundamental weaknesses such as under-utilization of productive capacity, the persistence of a permanent sector of unemployed, and periodic economic crises related to the concept of "market" - which is concerned with people's ability to pay rather than their need for commodities. Capitalism has created its own irrationalities, such as vicious white racism, the tremendous waste associated with advertising, and the irrationality of incredible poverty in the midst of wealth and wastage even inside the biggest capitalist economies, such as the United States of America [2]

"The nation-state system was exported to the rest of the world through European colonization. Europeans were barbarians basically, savages: very advanced technologically, and advanced in methods of warfare, but not culturally or anything else particularly. And when they spread over the rest of the world, it was like a plague - they just destroyed everything in front of them. They fought differently, they fought much more brutally, they had better technology - and they essentially wiped everything else out. [1]

"The American continent's a good example. How come everybody around here has a white face, and not a red face? Well, it's because the people with white faces were savages, and they killed the people with red faces. When the British and other colonists came to this continent, they simply destroyed everything - and pretty much the same thing happened everywhere else in the world.

"Because of Columbus's exaggerated report and promises, his second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans' intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed he island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor. [3]

"Now from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were "naked as the day they were born," they showed "no more embarrassment than animals."

"So the process of colonization was extraordinarily destructive, and it in turn imposed the European nation-state system on the world, kind of a reflection of internal European society, which of course was extremely hierarchical and unequal and brutal. And if that system continues, I suppose it will continue to be hierarchical and unequal and brutal. [1]

"Europeans used the superiority of their ships and cannons to gain control of all the world's waterways, starting with the western Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast of North Africa. From 1415, when the Portuguese captured Ceuta, near Gibbraltar, they maintained the offensive against the Maghreb. Within the next sixty years, they seized ports such as Arzila, El-Ksar-es-Seghir, and Tangier, and fortified them. By the second half of the fifteenth century, the Portuguse controlled the Atlantic coast of Morocco and used its economic and strategic advantages to prepare for further navigations which eventually carried their ships round the Capeof Good Hope in 1495. After reaching the Indian Ocean, the Portuguese sought with some success to replace Arabs as the merchants who tied East Africa to India and the rest of Asia. I the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Portuguese carried most of the East African ivory which was marketed in India; while Indian cloth and beads were sold in East and West Africa by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French. The same applied to cowry shells fro the East Indies. Therefore, by control of the seas, Europe took the first steps towards transforming the several parts of the Africa and Asia into economic satellites [2]"

[All the text in this submission are by the authors listed, not by me. During a recent swim workout, I literally conceived this theme and assembled this exerpted conversation between these great thinkers. - LBD]

[1] Noam Chomsky. Understanding Power. The New Press, 2002

[2] Walter Rodney. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Howard University Press, 1972

[3] Howard Zinn. A People's History of the United States 1492-Present. HarperCollins, 1980

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  • Eugene Hamburger 5 years ago

    It's so wonderful to see someone quoting from Howard Zinn's _A People's History_. That amazingly biased book with absolutely no references, sources or bibliography. Please tell me what college professor would accept an undergraduate paper with the same degree of academic "rigor" Zinn used?

    If not nation-states, what do you advocate? That we live in little communes and just "help eachother?" That's not a recepie for leftist utopia, it's a recipie for ceaseless bloodshed. Help yourself to a REAL history book about Europe and see just how peaceful things were prior to the nation-state when the Vikings, Saxons, Celts, Visigoths et al were busy killing everything they could get their hands on. Comparatively, the modern world is a peaceful Nirvana. If you truly advocate a return to a star-lit Valhalla where blood is drank from the scooped-out skulls of the slain, then I applaud your honesty - but if you think the fall of the nationstate = socialist bliss, then you're a fool.

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