State and nation

The ongoing discussion raised by the Guyana Police Force (GPF), on their usage of the terms “Negro” and “East Indian” in their designation of two ethnic groups, is an aspect of our still unresolved contradictions arising from the fact that, at Independence, we inherited a state and not a nation, even though we were designated a “nation-state”.
While the state and nation were stipulated as identical, in reality, the state could never become identical with the people living within its territory. The state may represent the people, but the people inevitably would identify easier with their “nation”, as constructed by their personal experiences living within a common language, culture, and traditions, than their state.
This does not mean that the state cannot be a site of identification for its people, but since the values promulgated by the state are more abstract and “drier”, these would have to be transmitted independently. Where there are different “cultures/ethnic groups/ nations” within a state, inevitable systemic strains are unleashed; since, to create a unified nation, there has to be continued application of force – symbolic and even physical – on some groups to maintain the “imagined community”.
It is self-evident that groups defined as being “different” on account of their disparate cultures have always existed in the same country, but for most of the history of mankind, it was accepted that these groups could define themselves by their birth in a particular territory simultaneously as “citizens” of that territory or state (legally: jus soli), or as a particular “nationality”, depending on their “ties of blood” – culture and heritage (legally: jus sanguinis).
While all citizens would have all of the rights and obligations of citizenship, each “nationality” was governed, for instance, by the personal laws of their culture. Cultural communities therefore were the bearers of rights. It was only in the last three hundred years that Europe, led by England and France, began to insist that all citizens of a particular state only had rights as individuals, and they must also practise one culture – become “one nation” – giving birth to the nation-state.
However, while the concept of the “nation-state” has become a central pillar of the dominant European political paradigm and dogma in modern politics, it is but a contingent moment in European history that definitionally insisted on the “societal consensus” and the “melting pot” theory of assimilation. Even within Britain itself, the Scots, the Welsh, and most obstinately the Irish, never fully accepted the homogenizing premises of the nation-state. Within the bosom of this arch-empire-building nation-state, Ireland declared it would go its own way early in the twentieth century. The cracks have now become yawning chasms.
The actuality is that national unity is always ultimately impossible if it means homogeneity, since such a unity will have to be created (or, more mildly, be represented) by a suppression of differences.
The contradictions and problems of the nation-state were compounded after those Imperialistic European states – again with England and France in the lead – during their 19th-century consolidation phase, partitioned the world into empires and “spheres of influence”. Claiming huge areas, which they divided into colonies for administrative convenience, the multitude of ethnic groups (which, in some cases, as in Guyana’s, were created) within each enclave were suddenly told they had to become cohesive “nations”.
The onus was even greater in those colonies where the local groups were practically wiped out, ensuring there were no “natural” cultural strains, as in the European model, to evolve into any “national” culture, and the society had to be created almost sui generis. The local politicians who inherited the colonies adopted this imperialistic homogenising premise and insisted on even utilizing force to create “nation-states”.
We are reaping the whirlwind, for, while in theory both the modernization school of the West and the Marxist school of the East had prophesied the eradication of ethnicity and the creation of unified “nation states”, history has proven them wrong.
Unity in diversity has to be the goal.