Max, Angela, Chris, DL

Rob Schaap rws at
Sun Apr 11 00:15:56 PDT 1999

G'day Doug,

>"Uncivilized," unable to resist temptation, "essentially hooligans" -
>sorry, Rob, that's racist claptrap. If you said that about Jews or
>Africans, your ass would be rightly fried.

I said I disagreed, didn't I? Anyway, I was trying to get at a claim Boddhi has made since. That his is a culturalist discrimination, not a racist one.

'Uncivilised' is an intereresting one. The civilised person is, I take it, a self-consciously social being who acts towards others in the community as subject-to-subject. For liberals, it's a matter of observing rules of conduct during the never-ending pursuit of each person's perceived self-interest. For others, it's to do with practicing what one's liberal rights and obligations should, but actually do not, encourage: recognising a collective interest which concerns all particular citizens, and seeking to engage in undistorted discourse towards a co-ordinated understanding and agreement on matters of communal interest.

Of the problems that arise on these accounts is the one of who's a citizen and who's not. In the age of the nation-state, that would have to be determined through institutions particular to the nation state. For the Serbs as political culture, there is no Habermasian public sphere (ie. no discursive space unpenetrated by the formal powers-that-be), and hence nowhere for social civility to manifest. As it is a corporatist state, we may guess there is no liberal civil arrangement either (eg Milosovic simply threw out a provincial election result). I submit, Albanian Kosovars have not been disqualified by any process a democratic theory of the state could countenance. I suspect there is no democratic legitimation for what Serbian militias have been getting up to in Kosovo (nor in erstwhile Bosnia) either. We've been told that Belgrade's population was never told of it by its mainstream media, for a start.

The capacity of civilised people to manifest their civility at any moment does rather depend on their institutional setting. Conceivably, a 'civilised' majority can be institutionally bound for a time such that they manifest, *as a polity*, in an uncivilised way. This is how I understand Boddhi - the essence in question is that of the polity, and the Serb polity has been demonstrably and essentially hooliganistic.

Where I differ, is on his belief that American violence sprouts somewhere other than does Serb violence (I'm gliding past Albanian violence because I'm even more ignorant of those details than I am of these). I am sure America would never bomb England or Ulster on behalf of the Provos (an analogous situation in many other respects) - not because the UK is in NATO, but because the same ethnic distinctions are being made by Washington as by Belgrade (the same 'ethnicity-as-degree-of-citizenness' crap that blighted Germany).

(When I came to Australia, toilet grafitti told me at once that white Australia had as significant a racist undercurrent as did the white South Africa of my youth; South Africa was just more open about it. And I don't say it ain't just so everywhere else I've ever been. Oz is a better place to be 'other' than some, I reckon. - it's just that Aboriginal Australians wear the worst of it.)

So I accept Boddhi's point about Serbia, but reject the significance he affords it, as I don't see the distinction he tries to make.

In fact, I reckon this has been the lot of us all since first the nation state crowned. Nation states behave as citizens may not, yet the contradiction goes either unrecognised or beyond practical resolution at this time. Derrida is right to point at the need for going beyond the mutually constituting state-citizen pair, but, as always, offers nothing practical to that end.

So we have a world full of civilised people effectively impoverishing, exploiting and killing each other. The Burkean conservative believes our institutions make us behave better than we otherwise would (positing our essence as that of a lonely Hobbesian brute), and a Socialist Humanist believes we are capable of better than our institutions allow. I guess antihumanists could *effectively* agree - for them, we are as good as our institutions because it is through them we are constructed.

I don't reckon temptation has much to do with anything. The nation state is an institution which has never shown it can rise above these obscenities. Even its transnational constructs are ultimately doomed by the primacy of the state as 'sovereign individual'. The UN has gone the way of the League of Nations, no?

A new mode of solidarity is called for: one that aims not only at consigning the nation state to the dustbin of history, but one that recognises the logical death of its own identity at the moment of its ascendance.

I guess I approach my Marx and Habermas in the vain hope of making sense of that little aspiration. I don't pretend I'm close, but I've read enough of Derrida to know he'll take me nowhere.

Cheers, Rob.

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