Alberto Marco interviewed by Peru Erroteta – 22/02/2020 Image: Angel Guerrero
Pathologist. Professor of the Department of Animal Health and Anatomy. He teaches at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). He is the author of The nations, entities or entelechies. Member of Federalistes d’Esquerres.
Citizenship and nation, something of the past or cutting edge news, in view of the procés, for example?
In a conventional nation-state, dominant throughout the world, call it republic or monarchy, the subject of sovereignty, in principle, is always the “Nation”. However, in an ideal Republican State, the subject of sovereignty must be citizenship. This is illustrated in the current Spanish Constitution. In its article 1.2 it says that national sovereignty resides in the Spanish people, from which the powers of the State emanate. This, which seems naive, actually establishes a dissociation between the concepts “people,” in terms of citizenship (the population) that is, say, the subject of politics, of law, and “nation”. But it grants a preeminent rank to the concept “nation”, since sovereignty is attributed and associated with the nation. The citizenship holds it only subsidiarily.
Civility and nationalism, oil and water?
We must distinguish between civility, civic, citizenship, politeness, and nationality, national, nation or nationalism, which can never be comparable. Civility is not comparable to nationalism. They are concepts of different conceptual order. In a democratic and modern State (in which the subject of law would always be citizenship), the common bond of citizenship can never be either pre-existing, or transcendent to the citizenship itself that constitutes itself as a rule of law. A constituent citizenship cannot be previously constituted. A foundation of sovereignty prior to the constituent moment makes no sense. And it cannot be transcendent because sovereignty resides in the individual himself, in the people. There cannot be a foundation of sovereignty that, in some way, is of a higher nature than that of the other people who constitute society.
We are talking about sovereignty, something also very fashion. Where does sovereignty reside or should reside, if it exists?
Any legal-political system, which intends to establish a social contract between the individual and the State, cannot be based on arguments precedent to the citizenship of the historical present, on transcendent foundations or entelechies. The attributes that the subject of sovereignty should always have, from a conceptual point of view, are civility and citizenship. Civility, which is the natural dignity of the human being, inherent in every person by the mere fact of being; an exponent of the human condition itself. It is not granted, but inescapable to people. It is a “prius”, because it is prior to the rule of law. Citizenship, which is derived from it, is nothing more than the legal-political status that guarantees civility. Thing that is granted by a rule of law.
Are nations, then, social constructions, artifacts destined to disappear, when we overcome this stage of history?
When referring to citizenship, it is understood that the subject of citizenship law is always individual. The conception of the individual is inherent to citizenship. However, the nation, as a possible subject of law, is never individual. The nation is always collective, community, which generates a bias of uncertainty and doubt. That it is an individual, a person, has almost a tautological response. A person is a person, a unique, non-transferable, irreplaceable entity. Easily objectionable, verifiable, politically and administratively. The nation is an elusive and controversial concept. There is no consensus among historians, sociologists, politicians, jurists … about what a nation is. Historians, who have spoken the most about the nation, agree that nations are entelechies. Epistemologically, they are not viable. The states are. The nation is not definable in a rational way, but in an emotional, cultural, inter-subjective mode. The nation, as a concept, in the current moment of irreversible globalization, is anachronistic. Therefore, more nationalism goes against history. It is a retrograde concept.
There is not an absence, but quite the opposite, of those who understand the nation as an immemorial community, which has its roots in a long history of ties and culture …
In spite of the obsessive effort of national discourses to go back to periods of splendor, epics, glorious epics, all nations, and the concept of nation itself, do not go beyond the nineteenth century. They were the product of the liberal revolutions. No nation is secular. They are entelechies, imaginary collective utopian entities, community fictions. Rationally nobody is able to define a nation, not even a specific one. The State itself is the most important protagonist in the creation of these collective imaginary. The nineteenth-century liberal state needed prestige to legitimize itself. Following this, the current ideological nationalist movements, which we all know, do not derive from the existence of nations, but quite the opposite. It is the national discourses, which generate the nationalist movements (which are always of power), which contribute to creating the concept of nation. They are entelechies, which are real insofar as there are people who believe in them, but, in reality, they are fictitious, constructs.
How can it be that, in the 21st century, national movements and vindications are so valid?
Because they are definable as political-ideological, postmodern, performative discourses. The mere evocation of the legitimizing concept creates the nation, without necessarily having anything to support it. Thus, the nation, de facto, becomes a political subject of law, because political action is exercised in its name. Not because it has real existence. It is like divinity. And this happens because there are people, a collective of citizenship, who identifies with their ideology. Thus, there is a sociological nation, parties that vindicate a nationalist ideology and legitimate governments (for example, Catalan) that govern in the name of the nation. Therefore, there is an institutional nation. The paradox is that we have a discourse that is real and yet, from the scientific, historiographic, rational point of view, we cannot define it.
It is, in short, difficult to fight against a ghost that, like Count Dracula, is not objective, but exists …
A nation is always based on the identity premise. It belongs to a nation that group of people who identify itself with its symbols, its ideology, its historical discourse … Once the community of ideas, interests, vindications … is created, it generates a feeling of belonging. Something subjective, a personal experience, an individual prerogative. Not generalizable. If the feeling of belonging is the result of an individual prerogative, it is not susceptible to repression for those who want it, but also not to imposing it on those who do not want it. Consequently, something that is elective and individual cannot have a political legal character.
How then to get out of this loop, which Jon Juaristi called “melancholic”?
The nation has no historicity. The UN replied to Catalonia that its partners are the States, not the nations. This is the rational and intelligible of the national fact. But the nation is real, as long as it is vindicated by a national discourse, supported by citizens. If membership in a national community is an individual, volitional, subjective, voluntary prerogative …, the “nation” construct is private. The same as ideology, religious ascription, sexuality, cultural preferences … The national community is subsumed in citizenship and is of lower rank, like any inter-subjective community. Nation, in short, does not amount to citizenship at all, regardless of the degree of endorsement. They are totally different conceptual orders. In addition, the endorsement is temporary, contingent … It varies and can be reversible. A modern, open, globalized state … has to be always post-national. The least common denominator of political sovereignty in a modern state can only be citizenship, not the nation. To get out of here, you have to recover the enlightened, revolutionary spirit of the eighteenth century. The State cannot have its own ideology, religious ascription, or national ascription, among other things because the States are legal-political and administrative entities that host different nations. The State must be denationalized.