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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Monday, February 11, 2008


borders by language and culture

posted by Aziz P. at Monday, February 11, 2008 permalink View blog reactions
Josh Trevino makes an impassioned plea against the inevitable, ie the pending declaration of independence by the province of Kosovo from Serbia. The following nugget of argument is in a sense the real heart of his argument:

The old Wilsonian idea that a geographically-bounded majority population deserves its own sovereignty dies hard. In this decade, with American foreign policy predicated more than ever on quasi-Wilsonian principles, it is especially formidable. It is also a recipe for disaster: with the United States engaged in two wars in multiethnic states, to explicitly affirm this precedent in Kosovo invites more serious problems and bloodshed elsewhere. With Kosovo independent, what grounds do we have for dissuading the independence aspirations of the Kurds, the Pashtuns, the Baluchis, the Assyrians, the Arab Shi’a, et al.? Furthermore, what prevents Russia from seizing upon this precedent to cause trouble in the Caucasus and Moldova? (They say they won’t — for now — but why give them the leverage?) Contra the rhetoric of some neoconservatives, we ought not be in the business of redrawing borders, nor sponsoring particular ethnic groups for their own sake.

This gets into an issue that interests me. Why do we feel that borders as they are now - often spanning ethnic and linguistic boundaries - are any "better" than ones that would be drawn taking them into account? Why not - in principle - have states for Pahstuns, Baluchis, Assyrians, et al?

I understand that in the post-Westphalian, post-WWII era today, the borders we have now represent a kind of stability from the horrific world-wide convulsions of the past. But now the convulsions are more localized instead, and no less horrific. Bosnia, Darfur, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine... the list goes on.

It should be noted that a conservative assessment of nationality must and does take ethnicity into account. Is this not the centerpiece of the argument against unfeterred immigration to the US?

My feeling is that multi-ethnic societies are a stage III society, and only work if everyone is on equal footing (in other words, if everyone is an immigrant). This is why the US works so well as a melting pot/salad bar of culture today (aside from some messiness at the outset, ahem). But most everywhere else, this is not the case. Even the UK is roughly partitioned into ethnic provinces, grouped under a federalist umbrella. Perhaps it's time to embrace a post-post-Westphalian approach and stop drawing lines in the sand.

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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.