It seems the Left’s conception of nationalism as a reactionary force froze by WWII. The nationalism Leftists oppose is the one that summons images of workers killing each other in inter-imperialist wars, and men in brown shirts and boots thirsty for revenge against Jews, immigrants and other minorities. Leftists oppose a right wing nationalism that they see as mystification that blurs class divisions for the sake of manipulating workers into the defence of the state and capitalism. Yet, although the nationalism of angry white men driven into violent hatred for anyone that looks and speaks differently still exists, the mainstream of nationalism is not the one of the blood, soil, and the fatherland, but that of technocratic management of capitalism. In other words, the nation-state is, at a first order approximation a national firm, and civic nationalism is the managerial ideology that encourages the firm to become more competitive and profitable. Not only that, the well being of the average worker is also tied materially to the profitability of the firm, given that the citizen receives indirect “dividends” through infrastructure, public services, and decently paid jobs. Because the nation-state is a firm, leftists projects that amount to the management of the nation-state simply become the management of the firm, and therefore, will always be constrained the imperatives of competitiveness and profitability.
The ideology of the national firm can be gleaned from the way pundits, politicians, and the everyday workers talks about the nation. The national firm has a ” national economy” that is a function of not only the exogenous factors like the global economy, but endogenous dynamics, such as policy and labor regulations. This gives rise what is commonly known as “politics” in western, developed countries, which more often than not, is merely a technocratic debate about policy and management, rather than a real clash of world-views. This technocratic discourse contrasts to early 20th century, fledging liberal democracies that appeared in Europe, where political discourse took a highly ideological flavour; political parties not only waged a battle for fundamental values in parliament/congress in contrast to just managerial policy (e.g. socialists and communists versus conservatives and fascists), but had large parastatal infrastructures including street-fighting units and partisan taverns. This shift in the nature of politics, from a worldview based discourse, that was also enforced in the streets through partisan formations, to technocratic managerialism, also came with a change of the ideology of nationalism. In short, the conversion of the narrative, from a highly ideological nationalism speaking about blood, soil, and the fatherland, to a technocratic nationalism that concerns itself with the health of the national economy as a function of managerial decisions and policy, correlated with the transformation of the nation-state into a national firm.
Discourse is only one aspect of the national firm and is ultimately tied to a real material element. The State, a bureaucracy made of career politicians and institutionalized paper-pusher, has at its end goal to maintain economic growth for the national firm. This behaviour is analogous to the corporate management of the traditional firm, which is also focused on competition and profitability. Much of austerity, the slashing of labour regulations, and the offshoring of jobs into the third world, is more often than not justified as necessary for maintaining the competitive edge required for increasingly marginal returns. One could say, that as a first order approximation, the policies of the national firm are a function of economic growth and strengthening of the national currency. Therefore, it would be quite vulgar to simply state that the policies of the “national firm” are merely a function of enriching the capitalists – they are about, first and foremost, generating profit for the national firm, which sometimes could mean that it could affect negatively the interests of certain factions of the capitalist class.
It is in this context that modern, 21th century nationalism should be understood. It is the ideological expression of the nation-state as a firm, an ideology that comes in all sorts of political flavours, from the leftist nationalism of the “oppressed”, which was associated with the developmentalist regimes in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, to the right wing nationalism that conjures the libidinal impulses of overzealous men protecting marble Rome from hordes at the gates. It’s not merely a “mystification” to manipulate workers and poor into the defence of the nation-state and therefore capitalism, or a psychological conspiracy to extract the primal impulses of the populace in order to render them to the service of the mighty State, but also the rational expression of a population that is tied materially to the future of the nation-state as a firm, where the availability of jobs, social programs, and infrastructure is contingent to the profitability of the firm.
The Left has many examples where their governments collapsed due to reduced profitability of the nation-state as a firm. Venezuela’s PSUV, Brazil’s Worker’s Party, and Greece’s Syriza, are some of the more recent examples where ostensibly “socialist” and “anti-capitalist” governments collapsed due to attrition of the national firm’s returns. Unemployment, scarcity of basic goods, and collapse of the national currency’s value were not merely willful conspiracies enacted by the capitalists against leftist governments, but a real effect rooted in the reduced competitiveness of the national firm. This is if anything, evidence of the materiality of nationalism – that it isn’t merely a “mystification”, but the rational expression of a global economy mediated by nation-states in competition. Indeed. Modlbug, the neoreactionary intellectual, in a moment of clarity where he understood his position as the spokesperson of purified capitalism, argued that the nation-state should be managed literally as a corporation, with shareholders deciding the board of directors, where he called his model neo-cameralist. Yet, he failed to notice, that liberal democracy, the system he loathes, already asymptotically approaches his fevered dream.
Sometimes it seems the condition of the nation-state as a firm is better understood by the liberal centre and the conservative right wing than the left wing, even when this nature is almost never vocalized, with the exception of Moldbug. Canadian “progressive” immigration policy, is for example, almost entirely a function of technocratic policy making, with the amount of available visas, work permits, and permanent residentships, being contingent to national demand of certain trades and professions. The far right, although drunk with ideological wine, makes arguments that appear to defend the profitability of the nation-state, with exaggerated statistics on the fiscal and social cost of immigrants. However, the Left positions itself in an ineffective, contradictory, and weak-kneed centre: it pays lip service against imperialism, border-controls, austerity, and outsourcing, while promising to maintain the national firm competitive in order to keep workers employed at acceptable salaries, and infrastructure and social services functioning. In short, it has cornered itself into the same logical framework that drives centrist and right wing policy making, which is the profitability of the national firm, while defending universalistic and humanistic values that run counter to market imperatives.
The form of the national firm has not been friendly to Leftist aspirations – from reduced profitability destroying leftist governments, to Leftists getting cornered to the defence of imperialistic and xenophobic policies (e.g. Lexit) given the constraints of the national firm. Yet, because the popular imagination remains bounded by the market – where the possibilities of this world are always imagined to be embedded in a system made of rational agents and firms, not unlike the most boring textbooks of micro-economics, the Left chooses to frame its arguments in these existing logical frameworks. Yet, the battle for the national firm will be a battle that the Left will ultimately, always lose, because the aspirations of a more humane, internationalist, and leisurely society run counter to the optimized imperatives of national competitiveness. Rather than the Left merely jumping into the constrained discourse of the national firm only because it is the only narrative available, they should create their own discourse that exists beyond nations, borders and capitalism – that aspires for a global and universal, worker’s republic. With the advent of climate change, a global phenomenon that cannot be tackled in a system made of fractured national firms that compete against each other, perhaps Einstein’s aspiration for a universal republic is now more necessary than ever.