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Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Idea of a Nation State

Recently I have been wondering about the idea of the nation state. I wanted to get a better idea about what it means to people to belong to this particular political-economic arrangment. What do people (rightly or wrongly) expect that membership--the legal term is citizenship--will provide them. It was obvious to me that "the nation" meant to more people than just the Hobessian idea--providing security in return for allegiance and obedience. I wrote:

The idea of a Nation or in this case a State. It's obviously a complicated, imagined and for the purposes of this post a parochial and un-meritocratic, idea. The Shiv Saniks went on rampage because, in essence, they think that since Mumbai is a city of Maharashtra, it is legimitate for Maharashtrians to demand a certain amount of preference in how the resources (including jobs) of the state are allocated regardless of efficiency concerns. Basically, "I should get a job in Mumbai even though he will make a better gangman than me, because my name is Wadekar (Maharashtrian) and his is Kumar (Bihari)."

Amy Chua has an excellent article on something related in The Wilson Quarterly. She writes:

A World on the Edge by Amy Chua

One beautiful blue morning in September 1994, I received a call from my mother in California. In a hushed voice, she told me that my Aunt Leona, my father's twin sister, had been murdered in her home in the Philippines, her throat slit by her chauffeur. My mother broke the news to me in our native Hokkien Chinese dialect. But "murder" she said in English, as if to wall off the act from the family through language.

The murder of a relative is horrible for anyone, anywhere. My father's grief was impenetrable; to this day, he has not broken his silence on the subject. For the rest of the family, though, there was an added element of disgrace. For the Chinese, luck is a moral attribute, and a lucky person would never be murdered. Like having a birth defect, or marrying a Filipino, being murdered is shameful...

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