All the Germanies and All the Irelands

I've been having a merry old time over on the Daily Telegraph comments section, as I often do, over the issue of whether it matters that Angela Merkel breaks German law in guaranteeing the eurozone. One of the exhilarating things about the comments sections of online news these days is that they are more interesting than the reportage above, and often, in amongst the trolls whom it is fun to kick about a bit, one finds genuinely interesting and opposing points of view.

Like many in Europe, I'm not keen on the idea of a united Germany, though I think that the Germanies of 1848 and 1956-90 were near perfect states, and the present Federal Republic is a model in many ways to mankind. I think that the mixture of liberal nationalism's idea of a unitary state and the sheer size, position, and diversity of the German lands must always destabilise Europe. I am also not an automatic liberal nationalist; states claiming to be nations should not just present themselves and expect the approbation of mankind, but rather, they should expect to be judged against criteria which allow them to exist or not. A united german state will almost always be too big for Europe and too small for the world. It will inspire a push to link Saarland industrial resources either to French agriculture under the cover of actions that are beneficial to 'Europe', and exclude or drag everyone else along, or a push to link the resources of Germany to the agriculture and workforce in the East. I think that in the ideal, if such a process goes on, it would leave everyone else in a more equal position if it were done through several Germanies rather than one.

It's not as though Germany was a nation before it was an expression. Even today, Liechtenstein, two thirds of Switzerland, bits of France, Luxembourg, parts of Holland and Belgium, Austria, a shrinking part of Texas and Pennsylvania and the odd global community here and there are Germanies too, and within the federal republic itself there are many viable lands that could easily be states. The mistake of 1871-1990 was to assume that these areas were all areas of exclusive political sympathy because of ethnic heritage. In fact, Germany flourished as many; it was bitterly divided along reformation, economic, cultural, and interest lines as one. It also developed a very sinister pattern, which the contemporaneous United Italy of Cavour did not, of mass murder and expulsion, in South West Africa, the kulturkampf, the genocides, and the merry destruction of Russia in 1917-44.

But it's also not as if Germany is alone in being best seen as a collection of multiples rather than shoehorned into a classical state. There are at least seven Irelands, for example' ; Irish America, the other diaspora in places like Canada and Australia, the British urban or  London Irish, the Gaeltacht(s), Dublin 4, and the Ulster Irish or Scots-Irish--and that is not to even begin to divide into Catholic/liberal Catholic/Protestant and post-religious. 'Britain', 'Spain' and to a great extent 'Italy' are compound terms, and the Commonwealth, Hispanophone, Lusophone and Francophone are still viable global networks of influence, sentiment, and economic potential as markets and spheres of influence. Even within the Church, a memory and institutional reality persists of a corporate body in which Orthodox, Coptic, Anglican, Roman and Byzantine could all in a sense be Catholic.

I think that what we have to get away from is the idea that a state must be synonymous with a nation. It's good when it is, and national feeling is quite a nice thing. But, let's face it, most nations are inventions unless they are built on some sort of unhealthy linguistic racialism. It would be better for mankind to judge states against the criteria of whether they are vehicles by which families can live unmolested and as free of war and oppression as possible and of whether they advance or hinder the causes of mankind, which are peace, prosperity, exploration, and the creation of just societies. By those criteria, some nation-states would survive; others would be judged by reasonable people too destabilising and too divisive.

Human beings are creatures of the familiar. We learn our general duties to humanity, god and ourselves through our special duties to those we love. We should stop pretending that we still live in the nineteenth century and that only one sort of nation-state will do in order to legitimate democracy. It's much better to see economies and human societies as part of an ecology, and to make the argument for them on that basis rather than on the basis that one adjusted design should be fit for all.


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