18 October, 2017

Citizens, Nations And State

By Rajasingham Narendran

Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

Dr. Rajasingham Narendran

“As all men have a right- to be free, so all nations have a right to live freely. However, the larger nations whose freedom is secure still tend to consider freedom a privilege to which they are entitled. This is why even when the ‘threat’ to the ‘free world’ is mentioned, only the still free nations come to mind and silence covers the enslaved, their freedom not being a matter of concern. Not genocide alone is the shame of our century! Equally shameful is the silence of the world which call itself ‘Free’,  ‘the closing of eyes’ ( and of consciences too) in the face of this genocide. If we consider other centuries, we can agree that always those who were free tended not to notice those who were oppressed by slavery. Because of this, in all ages the consciousness of freedom has glowed most clearly among the enslaved. Fate has determined that we, the enslaved of all nations, testify to freedom in this age. A free nation in an independent State such is the authentic nationality principle, and such is our ideal” (Juozas Girnius)

The terms Country and State are synonymous and both apply to self-governing political entities. A nation however, is a group of people who share the same culture but do not have sovereignty. A state with the ‘s’ in lower case, constitutes a part of a whole country, with limited self-governing powers. Citizens are free and thus have freedom when they can lead a life of their choice;  are free to choose their leaders; are treated equally, justly and with dignity in a State that functions within just laws; and within the parameters of a constitution that guarantees his/her rights on the basis of universally acceptable civilizational norms.

What makes an independent State are: Has permanent residents; has absolute sovereignty over its territory; has organized economic activity that regulates foreign and domestic trade and issues money; has a transportation network for moving goods and people; has an education system; has recognition from other independent States.

A nation is a group of homogenous people- community who share the same culture, language, institutions, religion, and history- usually a group of people larger than a tribe or community. Territorially is not a necessary precondition, although it provides a necessary pre-requisite for sharing power within a State. When a nation of people has an independent State of their own it is called a nation-state. There are nations with States and nations without States (Kurds & Tamils). France, Germany, Egypt and Japan are nation-States. Canada and Belgium are States with two nations. The USA is called a nation-state, because of the shared American ‘ culture’ , despite it being a multicultural society. The Tamils of Indian origin working in the plantations in the hill country in Sri Lanka were a stateless people until J.R.Jayewardene finally resolved the issue.

In Sri Lanka, we are even after 68 years independence and a prolonged civil war fought across an ethnic divide, yet have not resolved the issue whether we should be a multiethnic State expressing its identity through forging a ‘Sri Lankan Culture’- Not Sinhala, not Tamil and not Muslim- that transcends our diverse ethnic identities or whether we will be a country or a State with two nations, with shared values and vision.  Sri Lanka, would never be stable if the Sinhala nation stamps its identity as the State identity to the detriment or degradation of the Tamil nation identity- an act that will not recognize the multicultural nature of the country.  On the other hand, the Tamils who have the pre-requisite of a territorial presence, demand they be recognized as a distinct nation within a united, but not unitary Sri Lanka and have devolved powers to manage their affairs in parts of the country where they are a territorial majority.

I set out to explore what the various terms and issues mean in a universal and philosophical plane. This essay is the result of that effort.  I have borrowed thoughts, words and sentences from various sources and authors to give form to this essay, though the nature of the medium in which I want to publish this essay, have prevented me from referencing them, as I would have in an academic publication.

The American Foundation of Lithuanian Research reviewed the concepts of nation and national loyalty in a study published first in 1961. It highlights that a community is something spontaneously formed, an innate group, while an organization is a group consciously formed for the sake of definite ends. A community exhibits organic relationships, an organization mechanical relationships. However, it recognizes that the distinction between communities and organizations does not distinguish two kinds of groups, but rather, the different kinds of relationships which we find in groups. The interplay between the Sinhala community and the JVP, and between the Tamil community and the LTTE would be apt examples of such a situation.

It identifies the concept that a nation is primarily a community of culture. A common perceived race (in our case ethnic identity), way of life, and history, all help to form nations and solidify national ties. However, national ties can exist where any one or more of these elements is/are lacking. Thus a common culture is the basic foundations of a nation.  Further, it emphasizes that the ties that bind the individual person to his nation are moral ties. A person ought to be loyal and love his nation. While in exile, national loyalty in particular becomes a moral task. These obligations hold regardless of the outcome. This seen quite explicitly in the Tamil Diaspora. More over a community in exile may become extinct in a few years. However, this fact apparently makes no difference to moral obligations felt. The moral task likely is not to foresee the future, but to create it.

What relations hold together the members of a nation? The answer is a nation is a group of the communal type, while the State is a formal organization. The distinction between community and organization helps also to distinguish nations from States.  A nation is a group of the communal kind, for its members are held together by communal ties. It unifies its members congenitally and internally, not formally and not for some definite purpose. In a double sense, a nation is an innate or a spontaneous community. It is first of all in the sense that by ourselves, from birth, we attach ourselves to the appropriate nation. Birth within a family is at the same time birth within a nation. We do not select this nation (Does Karma?) or that nation consciously, but from the very beginnings of consciousness we grow in the nation of our parents and are members of it. In a second sense a nation is an innate or unfounded community because it grows by itself and it is not established for a purpose.

A nation is formed in the course of history by a common life, which brings about a common life-style, a common language, common attitudes, and convictions. A nation is a ‘Result’. A nation is a ‘global society’ because it is a unity of a global kind, uniting the whole life of its members (eg: The Tamil Diaspora and the various organizational manifestations of it). A nation does not keep count of its members and does not bind them with a formal code. However, various members exert their influence on others, when their thoughts echo in the minds and hearts of their nation, wherever they may live.

Benedict Anderson in 1983 said, “ In an anthropological spirit, then, I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community- imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”  Another interesting definition I came across was that “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.” This implies that ‘true communities exist which can be advantageously juxtaposed to nations. In fact, all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact are imagined  The nation is imagined as limited because even the largest of them has finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations.  It is imagined as sovereign because the concept was born in which Enlightenment and Revolution were destroying the legitimacy of the divinely-ordained, hierarchical dynastic realm. It is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that made it possible, over the past two centuries, for millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings

In the case of the State, the opposite is true. A State is an organization, in its true sense. It is not the product of the natural course of living, but a creature of man’s thoughts and will. NATIONS ARE A MATTER OF BIRTH, BUT STATES, A MATTER OF CONTRACT.  They are not necessarily incompatible. On the contrary, what is incompatible with nature cannot be brought by contract. The State also benefits man’s social nature: social life is impossible without some order, and order needs a State to maintain it. However, it is man himself who has to develop the ways which would make possible a meaningful life. They were created not naturally by birth, but by man himself. For this reason, we can date the founding and fall of States by explicit acts. At the same time, it is almost impossible to date the rise and fall of nations. Nations are not the result of actions but processes occupying longer periods of time. The nation and the State can also be distinguished by another factor. A nation is a historically formed community of a common language, a common way of life, common customs and so on. But the form of a State, since a State is something produced by man undergoes change. The Greek city-State (Polis) differed from the Roman Empire. The feudal States of the ‘Middle Ages’ differed from the democratic States of the present age. A nation is a fact and there is no reason for wishing that it be different. But a State is subject to normative criteria and hence has to be always open to criticism which seeks better solutions.

A State is for a specific purpose for which it was made and reflects the natural relatedness of its members as in the case of a nation. The purpose provides the norm for evaluating States.  The purpose of the State is to maintain order and execute justice in the territory within its jurisdiction –the whole of Sri Lanka in our case- watch over the welfare of all its citizens and guarantee their freedom. This purpose involves a variety of functions: to defend the country against external enemies, to guarantee internal security, to watch over the economy of the country, its finances, transportation and so on. To carry out these functions, a government has to be formed, which represents the State. Since it must organize the country, the State itself is a formal organization: it has its leaders, the ‘head of State’, in charge of a complex government apparatus and representing the State. Membership in a nation is a fact of nature or birth, but membership in a State is a formal question determined by the votes of the citizens in a democracy. No external agency can take away one’s nationality, but citizenship can be constricted, repudiated or revoked.  However, governments can be changed by the citizens through their vote or through popular resistance.  Although devised to be just, the State can become unjust, arbitrary, corrupt and brutal. The unity of a nation is based upon the natural relatedness of its members and their solidarity, not on legal definitions.  Aristotle said of the State, “Justice which unites in itself the whole of morality, is a matter for the State.”

Nations and States should not coincide.  There are nations whose members belong to a number of States- Diaspora, and there are States that have several nations within their jurisdiction-Sri Lanka and India. There are nationalities holding diverse citizenships.  Nationality means membership in a nation and does not change no matter what country a person may be driven into by fate. Citizenship is membership in a State. Citizenship obliges one to be loyal to a specific country and its system of government, but it does not change the human being himself. If the idea of a State is born in a national community, this is only because the State provides the circumstances.

In a formal legal sense the political body- the State- is the sum total of citizens. All citizens must be equal before the State in the same unconditional way that moral norms hold for everybody equally. Thus, the distinction between a body politic and a nation should be understood. The duty of a State is to watch over all its citizens equally and create the conditions that accommodate the needs of individual citizens and the nations within its jurisdiction. Every State in fact, is based upon the concept of a larger all-encompassing nation, even when the State contains several nations.  With few exceptions, as history (particularly in Sri Lanka) vividly testifies, the OTHER nations within do not live freely, but are more or less repressed. The longing for freedom gives rise to the idea of the nation-State.

The deaths that result from the clash between nationalisms, bring us face to face with the central problem posed by nationalism: what makes the shrunken imaginings of recent history generate such colossal sacrifices? The answer probably lies in the cultural roots of nationalism.

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Latest comments

  • 5
    1

    Democracy cannot deliver ‘Sri Lankan Culture’- Not Sinhala, not Tamil and not Muslim – that transcends our diverse ethnic identities or whether we will be a country or a State with two nations, with shared values and vision.

    People vote / elect on the basis on their race / religion / ethnicity. The majority rules.

    “Democracy is the most vile form of government. … democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as the have been violent in their deaths.”

    — James Madison (1751-1836) Father of the Constitution, 4th President of the U. S.

    • 2
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      Yes but what Madison did not say that the genocide of the native Americans was inhumane and unlawful. The Bill of Rights was meant to secure the freedom of all but the Native Americans, the Afro Americans and the Chinese labourers who built the west bound railroad. Quote who you want the French, the British. The Dutch Spanish or Portuguese law makers. Their crimes against humanity were worse and that was all done in the name of the Christian God!

      • 2
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        David

        Good to hear from you.

        Keep writing, name does not matter.

  • 5
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    ‘With few exceptions, as history (particularly in Sri Lanka) vividly testifies, the OTHER nations within do not live freely, but are more or less repressed. The longing for freedom gives rise to the idea of the nation-State’

    Senater S.Nadesan,Q.C., a noted Civil Rights Advocate, speaking in the Ceylon Senate on Genocide ’58 stated, ” The Tamils are the pawns in a political game.It does not matter to anybody how we suffer, how we feel, so long as in this game one Sinhala party is the victor and the other Sinhala party is vanquished…if one party said,”We will kill the Tamils”, the other party could go one better and say, “We will eat the Tamils…”In other words it was the competition as to who will hold down the Tamils most.And the party which was going to hold down the Tamils most was going to have the support of the Sinhalese masses…that is all…that is why I ask you not to make us pawns in your game…we are willing to go….every Tamil man,woman and child is willing to go…we do not want Language Rights from you…we will look after our language…please have Sinhalese only.No Tamil worthy of his name is ever going to study Sinhalese. You have stumped it out.WE WANT THE RIGHT TO LIVE IN OUR AREAS. WE WANT THE RIGHT TO BE ABLE TO WALK THE STREETS WITHOUT BEING MOLESTED. Those are the rights we want. The elementary duty of a government is to afford protection to its citizens (note-HERE IT IS OBSERVED IN THE OPPOSITE) and the duty of its citizens is to be loyal to the government.The moment that government fails to afford that protection, it forfeits its right to that loyalty and affection. This govt. has forfeited that right…”

    This was said in the late Fifties, the JRJ government allowed it to happen in 1983 again and now it continues under Mahinda or is it Gota, the Ruler?

  • 5
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    Rajasingham Narendran

    A useful study.

    I seek clarification for the following:

    Do you consider Veddahs constitute a nation?

    Under the globalisng world, sovereignty seems a luxury even the most richest nations cannot afford.

    Many in this forum believe the state and the government are one and the same. In this island it is true that people come to treat both as one and politicians love it.

    Need more explanation as to how governments can pervert nation building process and ruin the state and subsequently destroy the country.

    The power balance between the people and the state cannot be allowed to tilt towards or in favour of state. Whatever mechanism (“checks and balances”) that safe guarded people’s rights have been weakened as a result of skewed parochial national/party/individual interest.

    The relation between imagined history (mostly myth) and the nation building process has shaped the state and destroyed it.

    It seems Jean-Jacques Rousseau was right when he wrote “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains” probably he foresaw a future Sri Lanka or Sri Lankan state is catching up with his assertion, making it come true.

    • 2
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      veddas like you are not a nation , and more than a band of monkeys are a nation .

      Cheers

      Abhaya

      • 3
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        Abhaya

        “and more than a band of monkeys are a nation.”

        You mean the Aryan Sinhala/Buddhists.

        Well I don’t intend to insult monkey family.

        Last time the southern Vanaras arrived Ravana lost his head and the kingdom. Remember Vanara army engineers built the Adam bridge with their bare hand.

    • 1
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      Not just Sri Lanka Narendran but every country whose butt you kiss – UK USA and France! You have enjoyed what ever privileges when the Brits ruled now it is time for you to be servile. Accept the reasoning of the majority. The Tamil people in Sri Lanka have no complaints. You have to see to believe. Don’t go an intellectual rant and strangle yourself with your racist views.

    • 0
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      Native Vedda,

      Our Veddas are a also a nation in terms of their culture (or what is supposed to be their culture), distinct genome, a territorial presence and primordial history. They merit being declared the FIRST NATION in Sri Lanka and given all the encouragement to retain their culture and traditions, while also stepping into what is best and not the worst of a bastardized culture that is consolidating itself in Sri Lanka. They are a besieged people at the edges of our society who have been also made a tourist attraction and a museum piece. I was sad to see their plight during a recent visit to Dambana. I however have my doubts as to how many of our Veddas are pure by decent.

      The relationship between the State/Country and her government is akin to that between a organization/ association and its elected management committee. The government is not the State. A government is elected to manage the State. Sri Lanka is the THE State. Sri Lanka is also all its people, land, rivers, mountains, valleys and seas. However, it is the people who elect a government to manage their affairs and the physical attributes, during its allotted tenure. The Sri Lankan people-every single one of them- are the State. The members of the government elected by the people are the paid servants of the State, to carry out constitutionally mandated tasks on behalf of the people, who are the State. The public servants are also the paid servants of the State, appointed to assist with the administration of the State. The people are sovereign in the country/ State.

      Although the governments in Sri Lanka are elected largely by the vote of the Sinhala people, who are larger in numbers, they are mandated to govern on behalf of all the citizens in Sri Lanka, including those who are smaller in numbers. This is democracy. If they govern only to please the Sinhala citizens at the expense of the others, they cease to be the government of the whole of Sri Lanka. They become the government for the Sinhalese only. This majoritarianism is not the democracy expected in a multicultural State.

      When this majoritarian distortion is entrenched, the government loses the part of the sovereignty in the country represented by the ‘OTHER’ peoples within Sri Lanka. This in turn paves the way for disenchantment, disenfranchisement and isolation of the ‘OTHERS’ from the national mainstream. The consequences of this process was experienced through the Tamil militancy and the LTTE phenomenon. We have not learned our lessons from the national soul searing experience!

      Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 4
    2

    Democracy today means rule by the collective emotions of the majority community.

    These emotions may be harmful or benign: As JR said in 1983, If we starve the Tamils Sinhalese people will be happy.

    That is the collective unhealthy emotion that rules Sri Lanka under the guise of democracy today.

    • 1
      1

      How do you want the voting system to be? Each Tamil counts for two votes and the Sinhalese count for half? If Democracy was clarified I am sure you will see that it means the choice of the majority and if 1 million of the Tamils are refugees in the socially beneficial countries then you have to accept that Sri Lanka will have a Sinhalese Government with a few Tamils and Muslims making up the numbers. You tried to win by the gun now shut up and accept defeat.
      If you need to see what the Tamils enjoy then make a trip to the Vanni. The people there are happy and don’t want your intellectual excrement to soil their lives. It is simple.

      • 0
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        “make a trip to the Vanni. The people there are happy”

        peter,i think you are right.when i see Dr.Narendrans smile the north must be indeed a paradise now.Lot of wine,women and song and now i think i am also going to plan my retirement there,not colombo.

        You also can come from paris i believe and join me and Dr.RN.

        • 1
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          shankar

          “You also can come from paris i believe and join me and Dr.RN.”

          Well, are you planning a communal life (open marriage)with David Blacker (whom you liked very much in the past), Peter Casie Chetty and Dr RN?

          Do you think you can you please all three all the time?

          Are you planning to bring your husband too? It would be an interesting experiment.

        • 1
          1

          Shankar you Muslim:

          You can come back from Canada as long as you don’t flip your hat.
          Even your boss Hakeem is now talking to Sambanthan and that is because we have a new Sri Lankan order under Modi and the Iron Lady and the only place safe for you lot is the North. I thought you are senile now after long years of “Vanavasm” in Canada. Why do you need women . Is it for a bit of comfort.

  • 11
    2

    There is nothing much to disagree. More than agreeing, first I wish to respect your view/s. I was thirteen, when I read EW Adikaram’s discourse on communalism in 1958 just before the riots. I believe it was based on Buddhism. I was also influenced by my own uncle who became a Buddhist in 1955 and who told (or taught) me that ‘nations’ are ‘relative truths,’ but not ‘absolutes.’ This is well before my academic studies on the subject. If the Sinhalese are a nation, the Tamils are the same and the Muslims also should be treated similarly. Most important in a practical sense in Sri Lanka at present is to douse the inflamed feelings and not further arouse the nationalist passions. In this sense your essay is objective, tempered and food for thought.

    It is incumbent upon us the Sinhalese to understand the pain and the agony that the Tamils and the Muslims are going through. This can be done without compromising with the extremist views of any side. It is becoming apparent day by day that what might be necessary for reconciliation in the country is a strong civil society movement of citizens (professionals, academics, seniors etc.) without waiting for the politicians to resolve the question/s and to influence them on all sides.

    • 3
      1

      Though your last paragraph is a profound statements however, your system of governance will not let the professionals and academics to set things right. The only realistic solution is to enforce a system with a superior just Dictator who can fulfill the aspirations of all communities. A Ruler like in Dubai.

    • 0
      0

      Dr Laksiri your comment is better than the main article. The editor should have reversed it. A sharp brain verses a old rusting one.

  • 7
    3

    In simple terms,
    The island of SriLanka can be a state/country consisting of two nations based language and historical population distribution existed before independence from European invaders. Within each Nation, you can have different administrative units based on existing language,races or culture. For example North East Sri Lanka and rest of the country can be two nations. Within the North East of Sri lanka you can have administrative divisions for Sinhala, Tamils and Muslims based on the current population distribution. Similarly, you can have two or three administrative divisions.

    Every citizen within this island should have the right to choose to live and work in any part of the state. Throughout the state all citizens should be given opportunity to learn Tamil, Sinhala and English. All religions should have equal status in all Nations.

  • 4
    10

    There is no contract between Tamils and SL because Tamil Nadu is just across the sea.

    From Jaffna Tamil Nadu is much closer than Colombo.

    Tamils must live peacefully without demanding racist demands. If they do, 1983, 2009 are enough examples how they will pay for it.

    • 6
      2

      “Tamils must live peacefully without demanding racist demands. If they do, 1983, 2009 are enough examples how they will pay for it.”

      what an arrogant drivel! Have you thought of a scenario in which you Sinhala will have no say in the future of the Tamils? If you do not pay attention to the democratic cry of the Tamils, there will come a situation where you have no say; keep this in mind you arrogant fool.

    • 3
      1

      Tam Madaiya:

      Let me tell you “NO MORE TAMIL BLOOD”. Americans went to war to stop Sadams axis of evil. Mahinthas axis of evil has come to a dead end.
      MR has finally conveyed to Modi that he will implement 13th Amendment but that is just a starting point.
      This is what we need and this is what we will get and Modi inderstands the Tamil aspirations.

      1) Land and Police powers
      2) Our own IGP appointed by CM
      3) Sri Lankan army confimned to barracks. What that means is when the Army moves from one camp to another advance notice must be given to the Police ( Tamil) when we have a Civilian Administration and no State of emergency.
      4) Reunification of North & East so the we control our historic Temples in Nallur Trinco and Mannar the AXIS of Tamil Culture and Heritage.
      So come to terms with and get used to it.

    • 2
      1

      Tamodaya

      “Tamils must live peacefully without demanding racist demands.”

      Such as ????

  • 0
    1

    If Tamils have ANY dignity they should be leaving SL.

    Unfortunately Tamils don’t have dignity.

    And the others know it!!

    • 3
      1

      Tam Madaiya:

      The Tamils are not leaving. Many are coming back including new arrivals from Tamil Nadu. When we develop the North we need work force who can speak Tamil. In Sinhala Lanka dignity under the Hambanthotta Thug is a rare commodity.

    • 2
      1

      Please note that Tamodaya is Fathima Fukushima also known as Lorenzo (from Canada) at Lankaweb

  • 2
    0

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. I am wondering how you can apply your analogy to 1.2 billion homogeneous culture and language in China. Where similar size India has more than 60 recognized languages and associated cultural traditions existing as of today and we don’t see anything closer to this in China 1.2 billion people. Is this could be natural process or foircibly implemented as result of 1936 China revolution? But it is working …
    For example, mainland Chinese character set used is called ‘Simplified Chinese’ and one used in Taiwan is called ‘traditional Chinese’, this is a proof of forcible implementation of homogeneity but it is successful. Just inquisitive….

    • 0
      0

      AVB,

      China is yet a highly controlled communist State, although it has adopted a free wheeling capitalist credo. It is an experiment in progress,but I have my doubt the graft can hold for long.

      The ‘Communist’ credo of absolute control over everything else but the economy, has put a heavy lid on the linguistic and cultural aspirations of the diverse people within China. The Tibetan issue and the continuing crack down on the predominantly Muslim regions are only the tip of an iceberg.

      Dr.RN

  • 2
    1

    True democracy cannot be achieved without shedding our affiliation to race, caste,language and religion, as well as all the support structures that go with it such as land, money, etc. To me it is about establishing individual rights and obligations: in other words sharing and caring. Governing legislation must totally focus on establishing and enforcing individual rights. Democracy will be the end result.

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