Monday, December 28, 2009

Changing Views on Self-Determination

7 January 2010 edit to this post:

Read Eric Hobsbawm's Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, specifically chapter 5: "The Apogee of Nationalism," for a killer modernist perspective on the transformation and use of the self-determination principle in the post WWI period. an excerpt below:

"Given the official commitment of the victorious powers to Wilsonian nationalism, it was natural that anyone claiming to speak in the name of some oppressed or unrecognized people -- should do so in terms of the national principle, and especially of the right to self-determination...It was anti-imperial. Insofar as there were proto-national identifications, ethnic, religious, or otherwise, among the comon people, they were, as yet, obstacles rather than contributions to the national consciousness, and readily mobilized against nationalists by imperial masters...." (137).

I'm writing a final essay for my good ol' Theories and Case Studies in the Theory of Nationalism class in Turkey, and so I'm back in this whole nationalism thing. Specifically I'm looking at how modernists address something I judge to be the "contemporary reality" of "ethnonationalism." So far what I'm looking at is that modernists have focused their efforts on proving the emptiness of the "antiquity of nations" - ethnic nations, linguistic nations, and very importantly proving the recent invention of connecting the presence of a nation with the demand for a nation-state. However, when we look at contemporary separatist nationalist movements, many, arguably most of them are ethnic nationalist movements. I ask, so now what, modernists? Is it 'enough' for the school to write it off as an "imagined community," or part of the "inventing of tradition?" Essentially my first reaction is no. I think as theoreticians of nations, they have to address something that, while perhaps invented, is now "a reality."

Yeap, we'll see how this essay goes. Probably end up shoddy because I less than 24 hours to complete it...


In my last spring quarter at UCSD, I began a research project on the King-Crane Commission (a.k.a the American Section of the Inter-Allied Commission on Syria) - an arm of Wilson's self-determination philosophy, born in the Council of Four meetings at the Post WWI Paris Peace Conference. A short history of the Commission: Wilson goes to Paris, finds out about all the Allied Powers' secret treaties and divvying up of the old Ottoman territories, gets disgusted and demands that they send in a "fact-finding" commission into the region and figure out what the people there want. The French and the British reluctantly agree, but never actually send anyone. So what's left of the "Inter-Allied Commission" is the American Section, headed but Charles Crane and Henry King...HENCE the King-Crane Commission.

I was infatuated with this commission because IF it and its report had been a bigger deal at the Paris Peace Conference, the state order in the Middle East, the construction of the mandates, of Israel, the partitioning of Syria -- all of it would have been different...but after a long time of not touching my research and just thinking about it, it's time to get real and admit that probably the reason I was so interested in this commission was because I believed so fiercely in self-determination. This became so clear every time I began to describe my research to my professors, family, friends, fellow students, etc., and I described this commission and its report as a failed opportunity for the United States. (I realize this is a little difficult to follow without knowing what happened, so another brief history lesson: The Commission was dispatched to Syria, conducted extensive interviews and research in the region and then produced a report and recommendations, all of which were later completely ignored. The consequences of this negligence were almost perfectly predicted in the Commission report, and well, "the rest is history."

Anyways let me get to the point of this post, which is that I've stopped thinking so highly of self-determination. It has ceased to be an uplifting idea, associated with freedom/independence. In the past semester, inundated with the study of nationalism and seeing the effects of a world order based off of nation-states, national self-determination, nationalistic factions, interests, obsessions...well, it's possible that nation-states were a mistake. nationalistic-ness...mistakes mistakes mistakes that possibly catapulted us into this century of "small scale endemic warfare" (see Joseph Jaffe's most recent article in Foreign Affairs).

Do I have an alternative world order? Meh, not really. I'm just doubting the viability of the one we've got now.

1 comment:

  1. Kimberly! (laughing) I'm a bit out of the rhythm of intellectual conversation, BUT! my interest lately has been oil, and business, and industrial development (and of course education) and this is such an awesome example of something I want to teach. My experience is that a lot of people have this deep-seated assumption that the people in charge are superhuman and make superhumanly excellent decisions. My students need to let that go. This would be such a great illustration of how the world is actually formed.