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«Andreas Pickel TIPEC Working Paper 04/2 Abstract The central argument of this paper is that the global expansion of sovereign nation-states has been ...»

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Homo Nationis

The Psychosocial Infrastructure of the

Nation-State Order

Andreas Pickel

TIPEC Working Paper 04/2


The central argument of this paper is that the global expansion of sovereign nation-states

has been accompanied by the emergence of a particular type of modern individual, homo

nationis. The general significance of this argument lies in the fact that this personality

type, which is either taken for granted (untheorized) or ignored, constitutes an integral

component of modern social order. That is, in addition to the constitutional and institutional foundations of the state and its political economy, the nation-state has a psychosocial foundation – a “national habitus.” The concepts of homo nationis and national habitus underscore that modern individuals are historical individuals, i.e. they have personality structures that are unlike those of individuals in other historical epochs, and that they should be explicitly conceptualized as such, rather than as a transhistorical homo oeconomicus or homo sociologicus. Many fundamental social processes, including those discussed under globalization, can be better explained with such a conception. The historical-structural context for homo nationis is the world order of nation-states that has only recently finished formally incorporating all other social formations from tribes to the remnants of empires, as well as the specific state-society to which the individual belongs.

The paper notes the interest Durkheim and Weber had in habitual behaviour and draws on the exemplary work of Norbert Elias on national habitus to sketch its conception of homo nationis. The paper then assembles further evidence for the existence and significance of national habitus by perusing a diverse set of scholarly literatures, including national culture in business studies, national economies and economic nations, nationalism, comparative sociology, and normative political theory.

Introduction: Theoretical and Historical Contexts In the social sciences today, the so-called “Hobbesian problem of order” is widely accepted as a foundational problem. The Hobbesian problem of order, simply stated, centers around the question, “how is social order possible?” Hobbes’s famous image of the individual in the “state of nature” – condemned to live in an unceasing, brutal war of all against all – has been elevated into a paradigmatic challenge for social and political theory. It sets up disorder and chaos as humankind’s natural state – a perennial threat to establishing or maintaining any stable human social order. This image of “man and society” is embodied in the homo oeconomicus that informs neoclassical economics and under the name of rational choice theory has made considerable inroads into other social sciences. More surprisingly perhaps, this view of the individual is embodied not only in homo oeconomicus but also in his traditional opponent, homo sociologicus. Both types of humans are ultimately conceived as isolated individuals in need of social order. In the economic approach, it is above all individual interests that, coordinated through particular social arrangements such as free markets and laws, produce social order. In the sociological approach, it is social norms, common beliefs and values through which individuals are integrated into society.

This formulation of the problem of order has become widely accepted as fundamental. The individual “and” or “vs.” society has been a constant theme in methodological debates in the social sciences for more than a century.

How to conceptualize individual and collective dimensions of social life, and the corresponding implications for how to study political, economic, and cultural phenomena, do of course represent fundamental questions for social science. The problem with the “Hobbesian” conceptualization is that it turns the individual and society into two separate entities working with or against each other. In reality, individuals (whether primates or members of the genus Homo) have never existed prior to or outside society but always as part of societies.1 Societies, in turn, do not exist apart from individuals – in fact they are entirely composed of individuals and their artefacts. We should therefore not be speaking of “society and individuals”or “individuals and

1 Society is used in the generic sense of social group.

1 society,” but in Norbert Elias’s memorable phrase, of a society of individuals.2 It is the so-called Hobbesian problem of order that turns a useful analytical distinction into a misleading ontological separation. “The problem of social order” is a generic name or category for what are always concrete, historically situated problems of order in particular social systems. In its contemporary historical context the problem of order refers above all to societies contained in sovereign states composed of increasingly individualized members.3 But “the problem of order” can refer to any social system, from the global system to the family, from organizations to loose networks, in the past and in the future. The globalization debate has called into question the future of the sovereign state framework, exposing the historical character of this basic pillar of modern social order. What has not been exposed and problematized in the same fashion is the historical character of the membership making up modern societies. In what sense are individuals historical?

What I want to argue in this paper is that neither homo oeconomicus nor homo sociologicus is a sufficiently rich, sufficiently historicized, concept to deal with the dominant type of human beings that has emerged in the twentieth century. I propose as an alternative the historically specific homo nationis: the individual who is born and raised in a particular national culture, and who lives most of her life in a nation-state of which she is a citizen. As a product of the emerging global order composed of nationstates, homo nationis became a truly global phenomenon in the second part of the twentieth century after two world wars and numerous anti-colonial struggles, all fought in the name of the nation. The globalization debate has drawn our attention to migrants, transnationals and binationals who do not neatly fit this conception. However, it is important not to exaggerate the relative significance of such populations and ignore the larger historical trend. Homines nationes have become the overwhelming majority of the world’s population in the course of the twentieth century. I will argue that this element of personality structure is not exclusive – real people have many additional personality characteristics – and it is not necessarily the dominant personality structure in every 2 This is the title of one of his major works (1991).

3 I’m purposely speaking of nation-state societies as composed of “individualizing members” rather than individuals. This is to emphasize that individualism is not somehow opposed to society but rather has emerged in particular types of societies. More on the “historical individual” below.

2 contemporary society – some societies have little national coherence and strong regionally, religiously or linguistically based subcultures. Nevertheless, the “nationalized personality structure” is fundamental in most state-societies today. Homo nationis, like homo oeconomicus is driven, by individual interests and, like homo sociologicus, by social norms. However, a particular nationality – or national identity in a broad sense – gives a crucial and distinct psychocultural specificity and political and economic context to people’s individual interests and social norms at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

It should be emphasized again that there are many other competing and complementary elements that go beyond, or make for internal diversity in, distinct “national characters.” But for the most part “national habitus” – a key phrase that I will explain in detail below – expresses what has become a dominant habitus type in the world over the past century. The national habitus, a nationally specific personality structure, is the socio-cultural complement to the nation-state structure. It has emerged gradually at different times in different places under different political and economic conditions and is constantly evolving. Being historically specific, it is unlikely to remain a dominant social habitus in the long run as globalizing political and economic forces seem to be weakening the foundations of the national habitus – the sovereign state, the national economy, national culture. It is unclear, however, when and how this shift will occur. One future scenario is the gradual eclipse of the national by transnational or global forms of habitus and postnational identities, another the further fragmentation of the modern self into a variety of postmodern identities. A third is the survival of national habitus alongside, or in combination with, transnational and postmodern forms of habitus.

Of course all three may come together in particular combinations. In other words, these different forms of habitus are not mutually exclusive. The focus of this paper is on revealing just how pervasive and yet largely unrecognized and taken for granted national habitus is at the current historical juncture at which globalizing processes dominate the collective imagination. One implication of the deep-rootedness of this psychocultural formation is that it is likely to stay around for some time even amongst processes of rapid economic and political “denationalization.” Psychosocial change is widely assumed to lag behind social-structural change (Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Elias). The national 3 habitus therefore has to be taken seriously even if, or perhaps especially if, it is increasingly anachronistic.

This paper will make the case for the central place of national habitus in contemporary problems of order. It will sketch the outlines of homo nationis in general terms. Since every concrete national habitus is historically specific, it would be mistaken to generalize that the national habitus has the function of integrating modern society. It may have that effect, but not necessarily so. Take extreme forms of nationalism that lead to violence and the collapse of state institutions. Or think of a weakly developed national habitus that plays at best a secondary role relative to other habitus forms rooted in religious, class, tribal or local social systems. In a world system composed of formally sovereign states, what one can say in general terms with some certainty is only that, for better or worse, national culture matters – for political legitimation, economic development, social conflicts. This may not be much, but it does allow us to pose as serious historical and empirical questions how national culture matters, and whether it is more or less functional for a variety of political and economic processes such as democratization and postcommunist transformation. Stability and change of national cultures and forms of habitus are historical processes that, as the historical record shows, have been unfolding in a rich variety of ways. The nationalization of culture and habitus has helped to establish and maintain arrangements of social order largely compatible with and conducive for progressive development in some states (such as Britain, France, the Scandinavian countries, Costa Rica, or Botswana). In others (such as the United States, most in Latin America, Germany, Japan, or South Africa) this process was accompanied by periods of profound political and economic crisis from which these countries emerged or are emerging only gradually. Then there are the postcommunist countries whose political and economic order simply collapsed.4 Finally, in a large number of states (most of them post-colonial states), the nationalization of culture and habitus has occurred in the context of colonial legacies, domestic instability and economic and political dependence on other states. However, regardless of country-specific circumstances, the 4 Whereas the economic and political regimes of communism, and in three cases the federal state itself, collapsed, national identity and culture survived and thrived. In spite of certain ideological declarations to the contrary, communist states did not de-nationalize their populations, and more often than not reinforced their national specificity.

–  –  –

What is habitus?

In current debates, the concept of social habitus (the Latin term for habit) is usually associated with the recent work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (e.g. 1984; 1990).

who is widely known and cited not only in the social sciences, but also in the biosocial sciences and in applied fields such as medical sociology(e.g. Lyndbladh and Lyttkens 2002). Habitus to the scientifically minded appears as a somewhat vague and dubious concept. It has no place in the dominant frameworks and approaches that speak about preferences, interests, behaviour, attitudes, values, cognition, rational action, social structure, and perhaps even emotion and passion, but not about habits. Why introduce a concept of questionable value when there are so many more rigorous, established and operationalizable concepts that refer to the same things?

First, the concept of habit does not have to be newly introduced into the discussion; it has been around for a long time. As the quotations below illustrate, the concept of habit has an important place in the works of the founding fathers of modern sociology who themselves continued a tradition going back to the Enlightenment and Greek philosophy. The concept was embraced equally by English utilitarians and German idealists. “Despite the efforts of biologists, physiologists, and psychologists to carry habit off in other directions, it remained a standard term by which social theorists captured those forms of action in the social world that were seen to be less reflective and more self-actuating. It was in this context that Emile Durkheim and Max Weber wrote (Camic 1986, 1050, emphasis added).” Take the following short examples which are

extracted from the detailed analysis by Camic (1986). First, Durkheim:

[I]t is not enough to direct our attention to the superficial portion of our consciousness; for the sentiments, the ideas which come to the surface are not, by far, those which have the most influence on our conduct. What must be reached are the habits [...] these are the real forces which govern us (Durkheim 1905-1906, 152; quoted in Camic 1986, 1052).

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