“What is a nation in the era of neoliberalism? Is community, under any umbrella, possible? Margaret Thatcher was perhaps more influential in shaping the modern times than anyone outside of Ronald Reagan. Thatcher famously asserted that there was no such thing as society—there were only individuals. This logic is still being carried out, as evidenced by the United States’ response to situations in Israel and Venezuela.”
By Nick Pemberton
Published on Counterpunch, Feb 21, 2019
What is a nation in the era of neoliberalism? Is community, under any umbrella, possible? Margaret Thatcher was perhaps more influential in shaping the modern times than anyone outside of Ronald Reagan. Thatcher famously asserted that there was no such thing as society—there were only individuals. This logic is still being carried out, as evidenced by the United States’ response to situations in Israel and Venezuela.
Ilhan Omar pointed out a simple and undeniable truth. The politicians in the United States supports Israel’s apartheid state because they are getting payed to do so by lobbying interests, such as AIPAC. This was soon seen as anti-Semitic because of stereotypes of Jewish people being rich and running the world in a secret way.
Omar though actually created a possibility for a shift away from anti-Semitism. What she said actually created a way out for the Jewish people of Israel. To less educated people, particularly less educated Muslims, one could look at the state of Israel—which massacres people simply for being brown and Muslim—as a state that operates on the logic of Jewish supremacy. Omar paints a more complicated picture: Western money, with the interests of imperialism, capitalist exploitation and white Christian supremacy, also play a role.
The United States establishment demonstrated its unwillingness to take anti-Semitism seriously when it sidestepped Omar’s critique of their own corrupt politicians. It instead, once again, chose to blame Israel’s apartheid state on Jewish people. Anyone with any knowledge of Israel’s human rights abuses will blame it on something. Either you choose to blame it on capitalism or on Jewish people. Unable to confront capitalism, the Jewish people become the scapegoat.
Jewish people play the function of white women in our Christian white supremacist patriarchal society. Donald Trump justifies his turn to a whites-only state based on the assumption that he is protecting white women by splitting up brown families. His announcement speech for President came with the warning that immigrants are raping “our” women—with the implication that there is no such thing as white rape simply because white men own everything.
Likewise, the elites in Israel are given the green light to slaughter brown Muslims as long as they claim it is in the interest of Judaism. Judaism can only be seen by our Christian nation as our wife. To a conservative Christian, Jewish people can be tolerated because they are also generally white Europeans. Just as women must to some degree be tolerated in these conservative societies because they grew up in the same neighborhood and know the same rules as the men. However, with Jewish people there is always a lacking, and they will never be accepted as full Christians. What they lack is the belief in Christ. Similarly, women will never be accepted by MAGA American men, even if they are given a roof over their heads. What they lack is not Christ, but a penis. The phallic image of the cross is significant in this parallel, but for the sake of all of us, let’s look no closer.
What is clear for Jewish people is this: you will be accepted at the dinner table as long as you play by the Christian’s rules. In a religious sense, this means that Jews are going to hell. But in a geopolitical sense, it means that every conversation surrounding Jewish people must begin and end with the Jewish only state of Israel. To keep with the parallel, Israel for the Jew acts as the white woman’s “home”. Unwilling to accept Jewish refugees as our equals when they were being systematically massacred by the Nazis, a new and separate space was formed. As long as Muslims were killed and the Middle East could be controlled, we told the Jewish people that this was their own state. But just as it is impossible that women’s idea of freedom is taking care of men’s children and homes, it is impossible to believe that Jewish’s people idea of freedom is taking out the United States’ trash (Muslims) in the Middle East.
Ilhan Omar wanted to break up these dynamics. She told the children: do not be so hard on your mother. Look at your father. He controls her, he tells her how to treat you, and if she disobeyed, she would suffer a fate akin to yours, if not worse. But Daddy Yankee failed to listen. Instead Israel’s apartheid was once again framed as the natural condition for a weak and persecuted people. No other factors could be involved. It is what she wants. And if you dare to question the Christian conception of Jewish freedom you are now an anti-Semite.
This is all to say that a social conception of the nation is still accessible in today’s day and age. Israel is primarily a nation in a social sense. The perception of Israel, like the perception of the family, relies on a certain set of social principles that must be accepted in order for any sense of national identity for the individual to be performed. The meaning of the state and of the family is formed through each individual finding their function within it and their relationship to the other people within it.
This can of course be a progressive state of relations—some states and some families are. The progressiveness of the relations naturally relies on an equality between the actors involved. While clearly the idea of the nation in Israel is supported, the idea of equal relations are not. To the contrary, there is a fear that if the hierarchy is upended, the relationships will split. Feminism, gay rights and children rights are seen as a threat to family—when it may be the only thing that will save it as a legitimate institution. Likewise, a stance against the Israel lobby and the apartheid state is seen as anti-Jewish—when in reality this is the only politics that encourages peace for both Jews and Muslims.
Thatcher’s right of the individual then is naturally crippling not only to the community, but to the individual. What the doctrine of neoliberalism encourages is an extreme freedom of the individual to reach their highest capitalist heights. Whether this means poisoning the water of entire communities, raising health care costs so high that people die, or shorting workers money they are owed, neoliberal doctrine asserts that this is simply an individual acting out their freedom and that the beauty of such a system that in theory anyone can make this much money if they put their mind to it. What this does to the whole of the community is ignored—it is replaced by a largely theoretical right to gain the highest freedom of controlling and exploiting others.
This mentality was created by the elites and as it is exercised it can only compound. Now we are in a situation where maybe a couple thousand, a couple hundred, maybe as few as 6 people are really running the show and winning really big from it. What is encouraged though is the idea of the nation as a social relation. Loyalty to family, to the nation, soon becomes loyalty to the boss, loyalty to the job, loyalty to the status quo, loyalty to mass inequality. As long as this relationship remains hierarchal, and therefore divisive, there is no threat in having it.
Israel, despite its backwards notions of human rights and democracy that are seen as essential to the nation state, remains a good steward precisely because it has a national identity that is primarily social (Jewish). To the contrary, Venezuela became a dictatorship seemingly overnight in the eyes of the United States precisely because its national identity was economic. America, despite its jingoism, has never had a clear economic national identity precisely because competition always has been our main objective. Competition, while naturally creating bonds between communities against each other, does little for economic unity within a nation as a whole. Instead, private companies rule from the outside in.
The crime of the Venezuelan government under United States rule seems to be that they wanted to move away the dollar and nationalize industries. Such economic unity under the nation was seen as not nearly as important as the right of the individual capitalist to exploit working class Venezuelans and the resources their country has. The United States demonstrated that it still holds a lot of power, as it sanctioned Venezuela to the point of mass starvation, and convinced much of the international community that despite decades of disaster regime change, that now the United States is a reasonable actor.
If the United States became just as upset about Israel’s form of ethnic nationalism, perhaps we could have a similar effect on their political landscape. But Israel presents no threat to the freedom of the 1%. Hierarchal divisions within the working class, while often being openly condemned, are in the interests of the 1%. To the contrary, when Nicholas Maduro wished to form a national identity that relied on economic unity that strived for equality, literacy, health care, and even racial and gender justice, this was seen as a tremendous threat to the freedom of capital.
In the United States there is so little difference between our definitions of freedom of capital and freedom of humanity that we cannot believe that they ever could be separate, let alone contradictory goals. It is then rather ironic that the United States will only allow social nationalism, and never economic nationalism. Social nationalism for the masses, economic nationalism for the few.
The danger of economic nationalism is that some force other than the 1% now would control the economy. The government would now control the economy with the expectation of providing for the people it is elected by. If it did not, it could be voted out of office. The government would have the goal of providing an economy that works for the people who give it power, while economy controlled by the 1% has the only goal of profit. Therefore, the more unequal the 1% makes the economy, the less power the people have to question their rule. The more equal a government makes the economy, the more likely they will be elected. The 1% has no such incentive because they were never elected, and no one likes them.
Economic nationalism is on the steep decline as power consolidates in the hands of the global 1%. This gives to a rise of social nationalism, not only for nostalgic reasons, but for altruistic ones. Communities in decline form groups and scapegoats. This social nationalism is rising globally, and the movements appear to be largely independent of each other. Each is homegrown from the misery of communities in decline and the prejudices and insecurities of all the individual communities. The rise of such social nationalist communities are only used to demonize the last stand of economic nationalism, such as the effort in Venezuela.
We are told that the only safe space for the victims of social nationalism is economic Darwinism which naturally targets the communities with the least social standing as its only calculation is victory. These dynamics, along with the capitalist induced crisis of global warming, leads to masses of stateless refugees who do not fit within social nationalism’s definition of human beings. These people are left for dead.
What the world is facing is really an organizational crisis as much as a social one. Redistribution of wealth, education to the masses, housing for the masses, and real programs for refugees organized by the state would lead to a unified identity under the flag.
A simple act like kneeling for the national anthem is so divisive precisely because the state is designed to divide. The United States’ nationalism can only define itself by its Empire—which itself relies on ethnic nationalism that divides and lacks economic nationalism that unifies. Venezuela is assumed to rely solely on dictatorship because we can only imagine people supporting a government by force. Indeed, the only thing our government provides for us is what it takes by force from other countries through economic and military imperialism.
There is a truth that lies in Venezuela that scares America. The fact that the government and the revolutionary people who put it in power radically changed society for the better is still scary. As this crumbles for mostly exterior reasons, we hope desperately that the people have forgotten how they got there. We hope that they too abandon the idea of unity and instead make a deal with predatory capitalists for their own survival.
Nationalism will persist, one way or the other. As Marxist theory goes, the elites have a choice between socialism and barbarism. If there is no economic unity and community for the masses, other groups will form—and give the social communities they can provide. Donald Trump’s America is literally hollow. It is only defined by the wall we can build around it—not by what goes on inside. Any sense of economic nationalism is replaced by a social idea of the nation which mirrors the home. Right now the only merit in the home is that it has walls—and we can feel safe from the outside world. But within these walls there is no unity besides the monsters we imagine outside. The children are hungry, the rent is high, and there isn’t even a roof to stop the capitalists reaching down from their thrones to take all we have left.