Praising Nation-States and Becoming Transnationally Connected

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Praising Nation-States and Becoming Transnationally Connected

  • December 17, 2020
  • By Admin: Osman
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

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“We live in a world of an unprecedented opulence, of a kind that would have been hard to imagine a century or two ago— the different regions of the globe are now closely linked than they have ever been. This is not only in the fields of trade, commerce and communication, but also in terms of interactive ideas and ideals… And yet we also live in a world with remarkable deprivation, destitution and oppression, including persistence of poverty, unfulfilled elementary needs, occurrence of famines and widespread hunger, violations of elementary political freedoms as well as of basic liberties, extensive neglect of the interests and agency of women, worsening threats to our environment to the sustainability of our economic and social lives… To counter the problems that we face, we have to see individual freedom as social commitment”  Amartya Sen “Development as Freedom” 2011

“The tribalization of politics is a global megatrend in today’s world… The key tendencies here are anti-globalism and identity politics putting cultural differences before dialogue, collaboration, and universal liberal values… by succumbing to identity politics that we see in many places and by reducing democracy to “the will of the people” without discussing who the people really are (or should be), we are abandoning the rights, ideas and principles we have fought for since the end of the Second World War” Marlene Wind “The Tribalization of Europe: A Defence of Our Liberal Values” 2020.   

“Pragmatic liberalism…seeks societies to govern themselves over diversity. In the 30 years’ war about a third of the European population were killed in a bloody struggle between different religious sects. The core of the pragmatic approach was to let people live with one another in a diversity. During the 19th to the 20th century the issue shifted from a religion to a nation. This led to two bloody world wars. Once again liberalism was called upon in the aftermath of the Second World War to enable Europeans to live together in ethnically diverse societies. That was the origin of the European Union which was an effort to move beyond nationalism to a new form of coexistence. That liberal world after 1945 led to the one of the most spectacularly successful periods of human history; there was material progress, there was stability, there was human freedom, there was flourishing human activities that can only take place in a liberal and therefore free society. Francis Fukuyama, speaking at Lowy Institute, November 2020

“The social question is back… Yet, today’s social question is not primarily between labour and capital as it was in the nineteenth century and throughout much of the twentieth… While class has always been crisscrossed by manifold heterogeneities, not least of all cultural ones around ethnicity, religion and language, it is these latter heterogeneities- that have sharpened in situations of immigration and emigration over the past decades. The contemporary social question is located at the interstices between the global South and the global North”  Thomas Faist “The Trans-nationalized Social Question” 2018

Beyond praising the unidimensional nation-state 

The globally renown academic and public intellectual, Francis Fukuyama, theorizes nation-state development as an imitation/emulation process. Together with colleagues, the transnational American-Japanese scholar strongly recommends the idea that the sooner struggling developing nations decide to move to a developmental situation similar to that of, for instance, the affluent Denmark, the better. Obviously, during his guest professorship (2009-2012) in Aarhus, Fukuyama fell in love with Denmark. In subsequent book publications and public speeches, reflecting his unique Danish experiences, Fukuyama contends that state-society development processes do not just concern about demographics or a country having abundance of natural resources and wealth. It is rather, he insists, the establishment and consolidation of effective and responsive trustworthy liberal political systems. Such political institutions will then ensure committed leadership that in return govern over often reliable and efficient bureaucracy and administration. Under such conditions, the point is, that a balanced rule of law prevails as well as the persistence of accountability in securing balances and checks in dynamically routinized and institutionalized state-society platforms. Despite the necessity, and probably unavoidability of state-society bureaucratization and professionalization in most societies, Weber warns us from the development of “extensive secrecy” and “iron cage[i]” while Durkheim highlights the side-effects of linear systematic organization of the state and society in bringing risks of anomie and even perpetual social malaise[ii].

Apart from the earlier mismatch of “the end of history” proclamation and the subsequent declaration of “the end of ideology” Fukuyama also suggested that potentially the pursue of societies in better and higher education for achieving prosperity will be replaced by the intense competition of satisfying increasing consumer demands within and beyond societies[iii].  Fukuyama also modified Lipset’s original take that liberal democracies often form stable, harmonious and non-violent oriented regimes within and beyond their boundaries[iv].  More recently Fukuyama shifted attention to the analysis of new forms of political identity formations in the world- particularly in the west.  In his latest book “The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment” 2018, Fukuyama projects an alternative proposition that new forms of identity frictions are emerging in particularly, and paradoxically, among liberal democracies[v]. According to Fukuyama this partially includes an intense competition of transnational consumer demands of “dignity versus resentment” in which societies dialectically and transnationally position and strategize. Consequently, the concern is that, the current challenges confronted by liberal democracies due to public pressures from within and beyond, might eventually generate some form of illiberal transnational democratic regimes, possible competitive authoritarianism- and even full-blown dictatorships.

Danish transnational connections cases       

For Fukuyama and colleagues, a small country like DK maintains the preferably stable liberal progressive political system. Meanwhile, many other societies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, continuously struggle with the basics of attaining sincere leadership and proper administrative and qualified governance schemes[vi]. Obviously as human development indexes routinely confirm, Denmark and other successful comparable societies sustain relatively fairer political systems and balanced bureaucratic structures governing these societies better than many of the underprivileged societies in the world[vii]. For societies in most African and the Middle Eastern countries, oligarchs interested mainly in own personal or group gains- rather than pursuing objective society development and prosperity- occupy the reign of power- mainly through coercion, intimidation and manipulation.

However, the propagated unilinear developmental proposition lacks historical contextualization such as the inclusion of the colonization and neo-colonialization pattern- as well as the notorious externally generated developmental proxies and de-developmental impositions[viii]. We also need to consider the location and the context in which particular countries or societies find themselves- as well as the kind of transnational connections such societies engage. For instance, Denmark was trans-nationalized in the past as Danes engaged in profitable global seafaring explorations and overseas trade for centuries. Such adventures transplanted privileges eventually building up and sustaining the society towards more stability and prosperity. In addition, Denmark also participated the specific European transnational trajectory- benefitting specifically from the liberal transitional restructuring of European states after the Second World War. Such processes transformed the giant Danish neighbour- Germany-to be a lesser warrior and aggressive nation.  So far, EU remains as one of the most successful transnational projects in the world. European societies- through their political leaders- had for some time ideally longed for overcoming state and nation differences by creating supranational institutions, transforming societies through the dynamics of local-national and transnational connections.

More significantly, apart from the state-oriented processes, there exist multiple transnational connections such as the consolidation of highly profitable transnational corporations as well transnational civic humanitarian efforts. So, the point is not just, as Fukuyama and colleagues insist, that if a particular society singlehandedly install suitable administration with committed leadership, then positive development follows. Though increased publicity and exemplary ideal political elites remain critical, particularly during transitions, it is not always imperative. While the Danes, for instance, consolidated a nation-state, the society did not severe its transnational engagements- socially, politically and economically. Not just that numerous Danish transnational corporations quest for prosperity and economic collaborations in relation to different parts of the world- but also Danish transnational NGOs engage in transnational humanitarian efforts. Such encounters might occur through bilateral connections- but also often take place through transnational connections.

Then comes the issue of transnational communities- often belonging to one or more nations and societies. In the past decades, due increased human movements and mobilities, people settled and linked into multiple places.

Overview of percentage of transnational communities’ presence in Denmark, October 2020- Denmark-statistics 

For instance, there are about 40 different transnational communities with active history and concrete bases in the Danish society. Such transnational groups include Germans, Polish, Turks, Romanians, Syrians and many others. The specific rights regulating the German transnationals in Denmark remain enshrined into historical treaties and the realities through trans-border-connections between Denmark and Germany. There are also other powerful transnational communities such as the Turks, the Chinese and the Vietnamese. Such communities also maintain and demonstrate strong community solidarities within Denmark- but also sustain good relationships with their societies and homeland states. Among the Danish transnational communities also include refugee transnationals such as the Afghanis, the Iranians, the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Somalis. Though adjusting into the Danish society, many of them confront complications mainly related to the spill-over of political instabilities and civil wars raging in their home origin. For most such groups, the diversification of societies and state-mechanisms remain crucial for their survival and integration in multiple transnational spaces and societies.

As cases such as the Danish naturalized Somali entrepreneur- Qasim Nuur[ix] and the case of German naturalized Dirir- transnational community members simultaneously pursue adjustment and investment in numerous societies. In differentiating family transnational entrepreneurship and legal citizenship connections and needs, communities like Qasim and Dirir diversify their transnational connections as they reorganize in, for instance, placing the legal dimensions of their needs in one favourable society, while putting economic and entrepreneurship endeavours in other society.

“Dirir moved to Germany in the early 1980s as student. He applied and was granted asylum. After receiving German citizenship in the mid-1990s, the family moved back to East Africa – to Nairobi in Kenya…wishing to have own business. Their children went to the German school in Nairobi and later moved back to Europe to study and to work. Dirir started his business by exporting lorries from Germany to Kenya, later he imported Chinese electronic goods into Kenya via Dubai. His economic success came by cooperating with Safaricom (the biggest mobile provider in Kenya) in 2001. Dirir now heads some 30 electronics shops in Kenya. In addition, he supplies logistics for international organizations in Somalia. Dirir planned to keep his mainstay in Kenya…. Yet, also to Germany his links were still active. During vacation time they [he and his wife] visit their children there and some years ago Dirir bought them a flat in a big city in southern Germany, thereby investing in Germany” (Tabea Scharrer, 2020)[x].

Similar, but different, transnational community connections, occur at the political level with, for instance, the case of the Danish Ambassador Mette Knudsen celebrating Maersk’s return to Mogadishu- after over 30 years of absence. Together with a Somali-Danish minister, who simultaneously lives in Denmark and his home origin, while remaining an active member of the Danish transnational communities, the ambassador shares with us the point that transnational connections prevail in multiple fronts.

More local-transnational encounters and connections

Development, as Fukuyama and colleagues, suggest might not be just a unidimensional process in which nations and states hierarchically organize in constant struggle and pursue of improving their situations with continuing upward mobility. The 2020 pandemic have shown us that it is not your imagined or presumed real power and bureaucratic capabilities that determines how societies respond and overcome obstacles and major crises. For instance, it became clear that poorer societies dealt with the pandemic crises better than the US- a global superpower. We should therefore admit that development in our current world is more complicated than in the past. We should probably conceptualize development as a diversely fluctuating and a circular socio-political phenomenon or process rather than a pre-given linear situation following hierarchically structured trajectory. In consequence, we should not rule out that local authorities and diverse forms of transnational communities could also be more influential[xi]. Transnational communities were active in the past in forming and reforming states and societies. But most were interested in contributing to a particular national and state consolidations[xii]. In contrast, recent transnational communities remain interested in states while simultaneously investing in multiple states, societies and locations. As we move on, this will increase and consolidate more- particularly through South-North and South-South transnational connections.

Media has also shown increased interest in transnational connections. While in 2020 global media focused on reporting of the pandemic havoc, media also covered other transnational concerns-in somewhat similar but also different ways. For instance, while some were interested in general transnational cooperation and exchanges, others were emphasizing transnational political structural transformations on the regional and political dimensions. Specifically, threats coming from both internal- domestic and external- foreign radical groups were emphasized. Despite existing national and transnational challenges, following the 2020 pandemic anxieties and restrictions, at least discursively, the world media and politics remains entangled in traditional transnational state-society challenges – such as trade, security, business, political mobilization and radicalization. Aspects most states consider could undermine their developmental potentials in an increasingly competitive and uncertain world.

In the post-pandemic world, firstly, we might therefore see the continuations and consolidations of North-South and South-South transnational connections. Particularly, emerging and prospering Asia, specifically China, India and Vietnam will attract increased transnational connections and mobilities from the rest of the world. Turkey will also benefit from its transnational community reach. In Africa, Nigeria and South Africa have potentials for dynamic transnational capabilities.

Secondly there could be an increased trans-nationalization and interconnections between the local regional and municipal level authorities of the world. It is becoming obvious that nation-states alone cannot solve challenges with increasingly local and global significance[xiii]. This could lead to local authorities and municipalities expanding their transnational engagement with the aim of improving local, national and transnational social, political and economic conditions.

Finally, transnational communities will expand and consolidate further through multiple transnational efforts in not just providing remittances to the needy in their homeland societies, but also through diverse forms of entrepreneurships as well as through diverse political, economic, cultural and social engagements with local, national and transnational authorities. Under such transformative conditions, transnational communities will combine formalities with informal transnational engagements and mobilities- ensuring them agency to navigate within and beyond state oriented institutional restrictions and development.

 

[i] Weber, M. (2009) From Max Weber: essays in sociology. Routledge.

[ii] Durkheim, É. (2013) Durkheim: The division of labour in society. Macmillan International Higher Education.

[iii] Ward, S. (2020) Education at the end of history: A response to Francis Fukuyama. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1-11.

[iv] Lipset, S. M. (Ed.) (1985). Consensus and conflict: essays in political sociology. Transaction Publishers.

[v] Fukuyama, F. (2018) Identity: The demand for dignity and the politics of resentment. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[vi] Fukuyama, F. (2014) Political order and political decay: From the industrial revolution to the globalization of democracy. Macmillan.

[vii] https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home.html

[viii] Kadri, A. (2015) Arab Development Denied: Dynamics of Accumulation by Wars of Encroachment. Anthem Press.

[ix] https://www.dfi.dk/viden-om-film/filmdatabasen/film/qs-barbershop

[x] Scharrer, T. (2020) “It Is Better to Do Business in Africa than in Europe”–Socio-Economic Positionings among Business-Minded European Somalis Moving to Kenya. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 18(3), 270-285.

[xi] Barber, B. R. (2013) If mayors ruled the world: Dysfunctional nations, rising cities. Yale University Press.

[xii] Schmitz, H. (2006) Transnational mobilization and domestic regime change: Africa in comparative perspective. Springer.

[xiii] Busch, H. (2016) Entangled cities: transnational municipal climate networks and urban governance. Lund University.