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The Separation of Culture from State by Liana Sakelliou-Schultz

The Effect of Increasing Internationalisation - The Separation of Culture from State



The paper was given at the Fifth Seminar, "Cultural Actions for Europe" held in Athens 1994



Liana Sakelliou-Schultz

Poetess, Professor, Athens University




























Less than half a century ago pictures came back from outer space showing the world what it looked like: a single related whole. Now, only half a century later, all nations are becoming more and more international. Telecommunications, multinational companies, and transportation have made the image a reality in our daily lives. As a result of this increasing internationalism, organisations are beginning to have some authority previously claimed by states.

These organisations have arisen to solve the new global problems: pollution, the environment, the economy, and the peaceful coexistence of diverse cultures despite their closer interaction. People of all nations must re-evaluate their particular cultural identities, if they are to fulfil their new political responsibilities to the global community.

Does this growing internationalism mean there will be a cross-cultural identity? Can the people of all the nations develop a single character just as the many immigrants to North America came to define a single American character in their melting pot of nations? Can there be a United States of the World? Will there be? Should there be?

Tremendous forces seem to be preventing such a cross-cultural identity of all nations based on the American prototype - preventing what we could call a citizen of the world. In the last three centuries each state has used culture to solidify itself and differentiate itself from other states with other cultures; consequently, the bond of culture to state has acted as a tremendous force counter to cross-cultural identity.

Concerning this bond keeping nations autonomous, consider the simple example of the Nupe State in central Nigeria, Africa:

"there is...that general knowledge which forms the basis for the concept 'we Nupe'. You will hear the Nupe talk about certain customs, i.e. the worshipping of idols or the belief in many gods, comparing themselves with other tribes. 'No', they would say, 'we never do that'. 'Yes, you will find it among the Yoruba or Igvira, but we Nupe have only one sky-god, Soko'. You might even hear them talk about a small Nupe community which, according to tradition, has lived in Lagos from the time when the powerful Nupe empire reached almost down to the sea: 'They are still Nupe', they say, 'they still speak Nupe and, above all, they still practice a Nupe Kuti' (ritual)"   (313, Nadel).

We could rewrite this example in two contemporary opposing ways. In the first, the expression of community would be "we are Macedonians"; "we claim the name Macedonia for our country and various symbols including the vergina, this language, this past, and those people living near the sea on our northern border are Greeks on Greek soil." In this second version of the Nupe declaration of identity, the fears of Greek Prime Minister Papandreou are expressed. It is not my intention now to argue against a Skopje that wants to be a Macedonia; instead I would like to emphasise this point: cultural symbols are used by state power to unite a nation and to differentiate it from another. In this case, we all hope, a dispute about culture is only about culture, as one side says, and does not become a dispute about borders and statehood, leading to war. Yet, if it were only a dispute about culture, why can an agreement not be reached to promote co-operation of states? Certainly, culture is not significant to a state's power.

For the last three centuries state power has used its culture as a mirror, a way to know its identity, as a child only comes to form a self when it can recognise itself in a mirror and answer to its name. In the words of the contemporary French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, the unity of the state is "played back to itself, through its institutions, its rituals, and its symbols" (9, Nancy). And in the words of anthropologist S. F. Nadel, myths of origin common to states "anchor the existing political structure" (297); an excellent example is the way Americans base their identity to a large extent on their revolutionary origin, which became resonated, reinforced, and anchored in subsequent literature and art. If cultural symbols - means of both personal identity and community membership - are taken away, the state may face a terror like immanent death, the terror of not maintaining its own unity and not being able to differentiate itself from other states.

In the twentieth century nations redefined the relation of culture to the state. In Nazi Germany, culture and state became identified as they had never been before. The consequences limited human freedom, just as the identification of church and state had done centuries before. The disastrous, self-destructive, extreme nationalism used its peoples' myths to unify the nation against others. For the first time in human history mass political rallies used traditional cultural symbols and ritual to erase ideological differences for the sake of a new national identity, the people of the Third Reich. The Nazis experienced their own kind of terror in the persona of the Jews, who traditionally rejected the idols and beliefs of others, rigorously maintaining their own symbols, their own autonomous community within a community.

There is much evidence to allow me to declare an emerging change in human society and its political organisation; culture is becoming more and more separate from state. Former state powers are being given to international organisations. In this process, sacrifices of the state's culture will have to be made if the increasing internationalism is to develop peacefully; sacrifices of language, religious intolerance, unit of money, and national everyday customs. Ideas about identity will sometimes have to become relativized and the national interests subordinated to the international. A new and higher political morality is needed to accept the new and higher responsibility for the entire earth's environment, or for the new problems of the global economy, or for the other international problems. This trend parallels the separation of church from state a few centuries ago, when human beings began to enjoy more freedom through higher moral insight. But the fact that culture is becoming separated from the state does not guarantee the road to a better world will be peaceful.

Four different political theorists warn the world about an end to peace after the end of the Cold War. Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington fears there may be a "clash of civilisations," particularly the West against Islam (20, Time, May 2, 1994, excerpted from Beyond Peace, to be published by Random House). Using Huntington's idea to offer advice about political policy, former U.S. President Richard Nixon writes: "The U.S. must not let the 'clash of civilisation' become the dominant characteristic of the post-Cold War era. As Huntington observed, the real danger is not that the clash is inevitable, but that by our inaction we will make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we continue to ignore conflicts in which Muslim nations are victims, we will invite a clash between the Western and Muslim worlds." A third political theorist, Richard Rosencrance, argues for a new "concert of powers", namely the U.S., Russia, Japan, China and the European Community, to make a new kind of stability for world peace. These three theorists all see a possible world disaster resulting from increasing internationalism and can only find our road to peace in political terms.

A fourth theorists, James Kurth, sees the threat posed by the increasing internationalism of all countries in less political, more cultural terms. Like the others, he does see a "titanic struggle"; this struggle, however, exists now and it is not between different nations forced to be at war by their unique cultures. Kurth concludes, "....early post-modern history will involve a ...struggle...between multicultural enterprises...on the one side and....national culture...on the other" (13). In other words, within nations there is a struggle of multinational interests against national cultural interests, and this struggle may lead to one between nations.

An exemplary arena of this struggle is the European Community, which is a new type of political organisation above the level of a state. Unlike the formation of the United States of America from relatively new, decentralised colonies of people with similar origins, Europe begins with fully developed, formerly autonomous nations, as a result, the anti-community forces are greater than those in colonial America, and any resulting community will be more loosely and more abstractly defined; I mean that it will be more distant from specific cultural realities than the United States was for the first colonists.

As anthropologist S.F. Nadel points out, the formation of larger political units from smaller ones occurs through "processes of untying bonds and of loosening contact; they dissolve homogeneous, naturally grown units" (325). If one studies the wars resulting from British, French, and Spanish colonisation, one can see that the resistance to colonisation increases in proportion to the degree of centralised authority previously in power. A reflective person might at first think that more modern nations would welcome the chance to become much more modern, but ironically when this means changing the nation's identity through its culture, the resistance can be unexpectedly fierce. (See Comparative Political Systems, Ed. by Cohen and Middleton for some examples.)

Due to the threat that internationalism poses for some nations' sense of cultural identity, will there be a clash of civilisations? Is the war in the former Republic of Yugoslavia an example? The idea of "ethnic cleansing" seems to be an expedient to establishing state power; cultural conflict does not seem to be the primary declared reason for the conflict. It is, nonetheless, one of the reasons. The role of culture in the idea of a "clash of civilisation" should be redefined according to the idea of "a clash of states". Then, the differing cultures would be like the plates beneath the different continents, waiting to slide along a fault line, under the border of a state, and cause a disastrous earthquake; the states would be the surface where the conflict is played out. Culture seems to be this underground source of stable community, but also this potentiality for conflict of states.

My main point today is not so much about the clash of one culture with another. I do not think the world is experiencing the emergence of cross-cultural identity; a United States of the World is not emerging.

Instead my main point today is that the world is experiencing a separation of culture from state; a second world state is arising above individual states and this one will become separate from national cultural interest. This separation involves the splitting of the sense of political identity, which was based on the fusion - or perhaps confusion - of culture and state. We hope this splitting will not release tremendous destructive forces as the splitting of the atom was forecasted to do by Einstein in 1906.

I would like to suggest a solution to the threat of a clash of civilisations caused by a resistance to the separation of culture from state. We should develop cultural dialogue and international cultural projects so that a sense of cultural co-operation works as a vaccine against its destructive differentiating power. About the possible conflicts during world unification, the French philosopher Jacques Derrida offers advice surprisingly like that of Richard Nixon in one important respect: nations should not close themselves off from other ones; they should not demand to change others nor refuse to be changed. Derrida goes beyond Nixon's idea when he rejects the idea of a capital of Europe in the sense that America has a capital city of authority and when he cautions against permitting cultural differences to remain obstacles. He writes,

"..if it is necessary to make sure that a centralising hegemony (the capital) not be reconstituted (that one larger state like the U.S. be formed), it is also necessary, for all that, not to multiply the borders, i.e., the movements and margins. It is necessary not to cultivate for their own sake minority differences, untranslatable ideolects, national antagonisms, or the chauvinisms of idiom. Responsibility seems to consist today in renouncing neither of these two contradictory imperatives. One must therefore try to invent gestures, discourses, politico-institutional practices that inscribe the alliance of these two imperatives..." (44)

All of us here today are perhaps trying to invent such discourses, trying to foster the needed cultural co-operation through which we can learn to accept the new world responsibility beyond our individual cultures.



Derrida, Jacques. The Other Heading. Tran. from L'autre cap by Pascale- Anne Brault and Michael B. Naas. Indianapolis; Indiana University Press, 1992. This is a book about the unification of Europe, as well as the role of the media today in relation to democracy.

Kurth, James. "Towards the Postmodern World." The National Interest. Summer 1992. Reprinted in Dialogue 100 (2/1993), pp. 8 - 13.

Nadel, S. F. "Nupe State and Community". In Comparative Political Systems: Studies in the Politics of Pre-industrial Societies. Ed. Ronald Cohen and John Middleton. Garden City, N.Y., The Natural History Press, 1967, pp. 293 - 338.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Inoperative Community. Ed. Peter Connor. Tran. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland and Simona Sawhney. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

Nixon, Richard. Beyond Peace. To be published by Random House. The excerpt was taken from Time, May 2, 1994, pp.20

Rosencrance, Richard. "A New Concert of Powers." Foreign Affairs 71, 2 (Spring 1992). Reprinted in Dialogue 101 (3/1993) pp 2-8.





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