Democrat Broadsheet (Number 12)
Ten principles of democracy
The Nation, State Sovereignty and the European Union
Nations and Nation States make up the international community. The trends constituting "globalisation," or the supranationalism of the European Union, affect the environment of Nation States, but do not make them out-of-date. Shared nationhood is the normal basis of democratic States in the modern world, as is shown by the advent of many new Nation States since 1989, and the likely advent of many more in coming decades. These ten democratic principles are proposed as fruitful ways of approaching questions of nationhood, State sovereignty and the European Union.
1. INTERNATIONALISM, NOT NATIONALISM, IS THE PRIMARY CATEGORY
We are internationalists on the basis of our solidarity as members of the human race. As internationalists we seek the emancipation of mankind. The human race is divided into nations. Therefore we stand for the self-determination of nations. The right of nations to self-determination was the basis of the American Revolution. It was formally proclaimed in 1789 in the Declaration of the Rights of Man of the French Revolution. It is now a basic principle of international law, enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
As democrats and internationalists we assert the right of those nations that wish it to have their independence, sovereignty and a Nation State of their own, so that they may relate to one another internationally on the basis of equal rights with other nations.
The democratic principle of internationalism does not mean that we are called upon to urge people of other nations to assert their right to self-determination; but that we respect their wishes and show solidarity with them if they decide to do that. It is as true of the life of nations as of individuals that separation, mutual recognition of boundaries, and mutual respect - i.e. political equality, neither dominance nor submission - are the pre-requisite of free and friendly cooperation, of internationalism in other words. Good fences make good neighbours.
2. NATIONS AND NATIONALITY COME BEFORE NATIONALISMS AND NATION STATES
Nations exist as communities before nationalisms and Nation States. To analyse nations and the national question in terms of "nationalisms" is philosophical idealism, looking at the mental reflection rather than the thing it reflects. Nations evolve historically as stable, long-lasting communities of people, sharing a common language and territory and the common culture and history that arise from that.
On this basis develop the solidarities, mutual identification and mutual interests that distinguish a people from its neighbours. Some nations are ancient, some young, some in process of being formed. Like all human groups - for example the family, clan, tribe - they are fuzzy at the edges. No neat definition will encompass all cases. The empirical test is to ask people themselves. If they have passed beyond the stage of kinship society, where the political unit is the clan or tribe, people will invariably know what nation they belong to. That is the political and democratic test too.
If enough people in a nation wish to establish their own independent State, they should have it. For democracy can exist normally only at the level of the national community and the Nation State. The reason is that it is within the national community alone that there exists sufficient solidarity, mutual identification and mutuality of interest among people as to induce minorities freely to consent to majority rule and obey a common government based upon that.
Such solidarity is the basis of shared citizenship. It underpins a people's allegiance to a government as "their" government, and their willingness to finance that government's tax and income-transfer system, thereby tying the richer and poorer regions and social classes of particular Nation States together.
The solidarities that exist within nations do not exist between them, although other solidarities may exist, international solidarity, which becomes more important with time, as modern communications, trade, capital movements and common environmental problems link all nations together in international inter-dependence as part of today's "global village."
3. MANKIND IS STILL AT THE RELATIVELY EARLY STAGE OF THE FORMATION OF NATION STATES, AS THE DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLE OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION - THE RIGHT OF NATIONS TO SELF-DETERMINATION - WORKS ITSELF OUT IN HISTORY
Fewer than a dozen contemporary Nation States are more than a few centuries old. The number of States in the United Nations has gone from fewer than 60 in 1946 to nearly 200 today. The number of European States has gone from 30 to 50 since 1989. This process is not ended even in Western Europe, where people have been at the business of Nation State formation for centuries. It is still ongoing in Eastern Europe. It has scarcely begun in Africa and Asia, where the bulk of mankind lives, where most people still form part of clan-tribal society, and where State boundaries were drawn by the colonial powers after World War 2, with little consideration for the wishes of indigenous peoples.
There are some 6000 distinct languages in the world. At their present rate of disappearance there should still be 600 or so left in a century's time. These will survive because in each case they are spoken by several million people. There clearly are many embryonic nations. There are also long-established nations without Nation States, which have a national identity but no political independence.
A nation can keep its identity in servitude as well as freedom. Many new Nation States, probably a couple of hundred or more, are likely to come into being during the twenty-first century. They will thereby acquire those two classical pillars of independent statehood, the sword and the currency - the monopoly of legal force over a territory and the monopoly of the issue of legal tender for that territory. A world of several hundred Nation States will also be a world of several hundred currencies.
4. MULTINATIONAL STATES, WHETHER FEDERAL OR UNITARY, MUST RESPECT THE RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION OF THE NATIONS COMPOSING THEM, IF THEY ARE TO BE STABLE AND ENDURE
The right to self-determination of nations does not require that a nation must seek to establish a separate State. Nations can amicably co-exist with other nations inside a Multinational State, as for example, the English, Welsh and Scots do within the British State. But they can do so only if their national rights are respected and the smaller nations do not feel oppressed by the larger ones, especially culturally and linguistically. If that condition breaks down, political pressures are likely to develop to break-up the Multinational State in question.
The historical tendency seems to be for Multinational States to give way to national ones, mainly because of the breakdown in solidarity between their component nations and the development of a feeling among the smaller ones that they are being put upon by the larger. Civic nationality is the political basis of Multinational States, shared ethnic nationality the political basis of Nation States. In both cases, if the State is democratic, all citizens will be equal before the law and the rights of minority nationalities and national minorities will be equally respected.
Historically, Multinational Federal States are all twentieth century creations - the USSR, the Russian Federation, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia etc. Several have lacked, or lack, the stability and popular legitimacy that comes from centuries of tradition. Some have already dissolved, others may do so in time, as various peoples within them assert their right to national independence.
5. THE EUROPEAN UNION IS FUNDAMENTALLY UNDEMOCRATIC AND CANNOT BE DEMOCRATISED
It is the absence at the level of the European Union of anything like the underlying national solidarity which binds Europe's Nation States together that makes the EU project, and especially the euro-currency scheme, so problematic and therefore unlikely to endure. The EU is a creation of powerful political, economic and bureaucratic elites, without popular legitimacy and authority, and is therefore fundamentally undemocratic.
There is no European "demos," no European people, bound together by solidarities like those that bind nations and Nation States. Rather, the EU is made up of Western Europe's several nations and peoples. Every Nation State is both a monetary union and fiscal union. As a monetary union it has its own currency, and with that the capacity to control either the domestic or external price of that currency, the rate of interest or the exchange rate.
As a fiscal union it has its own taxation, social service and public spending system. By virtue of citizens paying common taxes to a common govern ment in order to finance common public spending programmes throughout the territory of a State, there are automatic transfers from the richer regions and social classes of each country to the poorer regions and classes. This sustains and is sustained by a shared national solidarity.
By contrast, the euro-currency project (EMU/Economic and Monetary Union) means a monetary union but not a fiscal union. Never in history has there been a lasting monetary union that was not also a fiscal union and political union, in other words a fully-fledged State, deriving its legitimacy from a common government and shared national solidarity, which in turn underpinned a common fiscal transfer system.
The euro-currency scheme deprives the less developed EU States and the weaker EU economies of the right to maintain their competitiveness or to compensate for their lower productivity, poorer resource endowment or differential economic shocks, by adopting an exchange rate or interest rate that suits their special circumstances. But it does not compensate them for this loss by the automatic transfer of resources entailed by membership of a fiscal union. Compensatory fiscal transfers at EU level to the extent required to give the Monetary Union long-run viability are impossible, in view of the amount of resources required and the unwillingness of the richer countries to provide them to the poorer because of the absence of shared national solidarity that would impel that.
At present expenditure by Brussels in any one year amounts to less than 1.3% of EU annual Gross Domestic Product, a tiny relative figure, whereas Nation State expenditure on public transfers is normally between 35-50% of annual national products. In other words, the solidarity that would sustain an EU fiscal union and an EU Multinational State does not and cannot exist.
Democratising the EU without a European "demos" is impossible. The EU's adoption of such traditional symbols of national statehood as an EU flag, EU anthem, EU passport, EU car number plates, EU Olympic games, EU youth orchestra, EU history books, EU citizenship etc, are so many doomed attempts to manufacture a European "demos" artificially, and with it a bogus EU "nation" and supranational EU "national consciousness." They leave the peoples of Europe indifferent, whose allegiance remains with their own countries and Nation States.
The more European integration is pushed ahead and the more the national democracy of the EU Member States is undermined, the more the EU loses legitimacy and authority. Consequently the greater and more inevitable the eventual popular reaction against it. To align oneself with such a misguided, inevitably doomed project is to be out of tune with history. It is to side with a supranational elite against the democracy of one's own people, to spurn genuine internationalism for the intoxication of building a Superpower.
6. RESPECT FOR STATE SOVEREIGNTY IS A FUNDAMENTAL DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLE AND THE CORNERSTONE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW
Insistence on the sovereignty of one's own State is a natural right as well as a social duty. It is in no way an expression of misguided national egotism. Sovereignty has nothing to do with autarchy or economic self-sufficiency. The national sovereignty of a democratic State is analogous to the freedom and autonomy of the individual. It means that one's domestic laws and foreign relations are exclusively decided by one's own parliament and government, which are elected by and responsible to one's own people.
State sovereignty is a result of advancing political culture and is an achievement of modern democracy. It is not an end in itself but is an instrument of juridical independence, determining the possibility of a people who inhabit a particular territory deciding its own destiny and way of life in accordance with its own needs, interests, genius and traditions. It is the opposite of every kind of subordination to foreign rule.
Without sovereignty a nations's politics become provincialised, dealing only with marginal and unimportant issues. Maintaining State sovereignty alone guarantees the political independence of a nation and creates conditions for its members to continue to assert their right to self-determination.
The sovereignty of a democratic State means at the same time the sovereignty of its people. The end of the sovereignty of a State is at the same time the end of the sovereignty of its people. The sovereignty of a State and of its people are democratically inalienable. No government, no parliamentary majority, has the right to alienate it, for they have no right to deprive the next generation of the possibility of choosing their own way of life. Therefore the only mode of international cooperation acceptable to democrats is one that will not demand of a State the sacrifice of its sovereignty. That makes possible the free cooperation of free peoples united in sovereign States on the basis of juridical equality, which is fundamental to a stable international order.
7. THE EU'S CONCEPT OF "POOLING SOVEREIGNTY" IS A PROPAGANDA COVER FOR<br>DOMINATION BY OTHERS AND FOR THE EFFECTIVE RULE OF THE BIGGER EU STATES
Concepts of "shared sovereignty," "pooled sovereignty" and "joint national sovereignties" are covers for having one's laws and policies decided by European Union bodies one does not elect, which are not responsible to one's own people and which can have significantly different interests from them. In the EU it is impossible for a single country or people to make or change a single European law.
In practice countries and peoples which surrender their sovereignty to the EU become ever more subject to laws and policies that serve the interests of others, and in particular the bigger EU States. The claim that if a nation or State surrenders its sovereignty to the EU, it merely exchanges the sovereignty of a small State for participation in decision-making in a larger supranational EU, is simply untrue. The reality is different.
The EU continually reduces the influence of smaller States in decision-making by limiting or abolishing national veto powers. Even if bigger States similarly divest themselves of formal veto power, their political and economic weight ensures they can get their way in matters that are decisive to them.
Equally false is the statement that membership of new States in the European Union and their surrender of sovereignty to the EU would increase their sovereignty in practice. The nation which gives up its sovereignty or is deprived of it, ceases to be an independent subject of international politics. Its politics become provincial. It is no longer able to decide even its own domestic affairs. It literally puts its existence at the mercy of those who are not its citizens, who have taken its sovereignty into their hands and who decide the policies of the larger body.
In the European Union the Big States, in particular the Franco-German axis, decide fundamental policy. Juridically EU integration is an attempt to undo the democratic heritage of the French Revolution, the right of nations and peoples to self-determination. It is an historically doomed project because of its fundamentally undemocratic character.
8. DEMOCRACY MEANS RIGHTS OF EQUALITY, WHICH PEOPLE AGREE TO ACCORD ONE ANOTHER AND WHICH THE STATE RECOGNISES
Democrats acknowledge the possession of equal rights by all citizens of a State, as well as equality of rights between people of different sex, race, religion, age and nationality. Ethnic minorities too should have their rights protected within a democratic State. Majority rights and minority rights are different, but they are not in principle incompatible.
The struggle against racism, sexism, ageism and national oppression are all democratic questions. By contrast, the traditional issues that divide political Right and Left, proponents of capitalism and socialism, are concerned with inequality - in ownership and control of society's productive forces, in power, possessions, income and social function.
The mass democracy first achieved under capitalism serves to legitimate and make more tolerable the inequalities of power and income characteristic of capitalism. The political Left contends that capitalism creates the material conditions for the application of the principle of democracy to the economic sphere. This takes such forms as liberalism, the social market, social democracy or socialism.
9. GLOBALIZATION CHANGES THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE NATION STATE, BUT DOES NOT MAKE IT OUT OF DATE. INTERNATIONALISM, NOT GLOBALIZATION, IS THE WAY TO A HUMANE FUTURE
The notion that "globalization" makes the Nation State out of date is an ideological one. Globalization can be at once a description of fact and an ideology, a mixture of "is" and "ought." It refers to significant trends in the contemporary world - the internet, ease of travel, free trade, free movement of capital. The effect of these on the sovereignty of States is often exaggerated. States have always been interdependent to some extent. There was relatively more globalization, in the sense of freer movement of labour, capital and trade, in the late 19th century, although the volumes involved were much smaller than today. In those days also most States were on the gold standard, a form of international money.
Modern States do more for their citizens, are expected by them to do more, and impinge more intimately on peoples' lives, than at any time in history, most obviously in redistributing the national income and providing public services. Globalization refers to new constraints on modern States, but constraints there always have been. States adapt to such changes, but they do not cause States to disappear or become less important.
Globalization can also refer to the ideological interests of transnational capital, which wishes to be free of State control on capital movements and seeks minimal social constraints on the private interests that possess it.
The relation of transnational capital to sovereign States is often ambiguous. On the one hand it may seek to erode the sovereignty of States in order to lessen their ability to impose constraints on private profitability. On the other hand it looks to its own State, where the bulk of its ownership may be concentrated, to defend its economic and political interests internationally.
10. PEOPLE ON THE POLITICAL RIGHT AND LEFT HAVE AN OBJECTIVE COMMON INTEREST IN THE ESTABLISHMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF STATE SOVEREIGNTY AND IN UPHOLDING NATIONAL DEMOCRACY
The political Right wish the State to legislate right-wing measures, the political Left left-wing ones; but neither can get their wishes unless they are citizens of an independent State with the relevant power and competence in the first place. Likewise within each State different social interests align themselves for and against the maintenance of State sovereignty, seeking either to uphold or to undermine national democracy.
This is the central theme of the politics of our time. That is why democrats in every country today, whether on the political Right or Left, form part of an international movement in defence of the Nation State and national democracy.
by Anthony Coughlan