Friday, February 22, 2008

Our Poor Nationalism (part 1)

In August 1942, the following elucidatory statement was heard on the Berlin radio: the power of the state, whether it be Nazi, Fascist, or Democratic, is always the same, that is—absolute; the different forms of administration are merely a matter of the different activities which one agrees not to allow.

Ezra Pound
"A Visiting Card"
(1942, SP, p. 276)

In the last election, I voted for the Socialist People's Party. I don't hold any party membership for the usual reasons. In any case, Villy Søvndal, the leader of that party, recently devoted a blog post to the idea that Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a legal political organization in (what some think is a too liberal) Denmark, "is in the wrong country": "They have no business in Denmark and they will not achieve what they are striving for."

The reason, says Søvndal, is (to take one example) that they don't share his views on the equality of men and women. Here's the argument: many Muslim men discriminate against women. Sharia, which I am led to understand is the program that Hizb-ut-Tahrir pursues, justitifies such discrimination and would, of course, institutionalize it. Thus: Hizb-ut-Tahrir does not belong in Denmark, says Søvndal, because it is somehow (I take it) un-Danish to think women are different than men (especially lower on one or another social hierarchy.)

Now, I obviously agree with all the normal Western views on women. But I think Sharia is a legitimate political alternative. And if you believe in that sort of thing, and reside in Denmark, you are entitled, by your democratic rights (in this case), to push for the reassessment of the utility of women in various social positions.

The idea that certain opinions don't belong in certain countries (but might "go somewhere else", like Saudi Arabia ... ferfucksakes!) is ludicrous. It is precisely the sense in which nationalism is the opposite of democracy. So we have the disturbing (and somewhat bombastic) conclusion. Søvndal has declared the end of the party's "folksy" (i.e., "people's") socialism and inaugurated the era of its, well, yes, no getting around it, national soci........

Please don't understand me too quickly.


Kirby Olson said...

Thomas, Sharia law and Lutheran law may not have much in common. Danish law must be based on Lutheran law.

I'm reading a book entitled Law and Revolution: The Impact of the Protestant Reformations on the Western LEgal Traditions, by Harold Berman. Harvard U. Press, on my blog:

At any rate, there is a large
group of us reading it.

In England they are having similar
problems. The very arch bishop of
Canterbury has suggested that Sharia
law be incorporated into English law.

I'm not sure that you can just cobble together laws from different religious traditions in some sort of huge eclectic mess, and have anything but a Dadaist collage.

Berman is encouraging us not to do this.

In Iran, it is legal to kill a member of the Ba'hai faith, for instance. That is, there are no repercussions whatsoever. You can kill them, as legally as you can kill a fly.

Multiculturalism is one thing.

Multicultural law is another, am I right?

You were meant to be a Lutheran Surrealist. Come on down to my place, baby.

How can you incorporate that into Danish law?

Kirby Olson said...

Please don't think that any of these issues are going to be simple.

Now that every culture in the world is in every other culture's face, we have a huge legal mess to deal with.

We in the west ought to be standing up for universal human rights even for the Ba'hai...

Thomas Basbøll said...

My assumption is that not political project can be implemented all of a piece. Not even following a coup of some sort, i.e., a total power take-over.

Within any given legal jurisdiction (like national legal system) there are particular, practical and rhetorical, contraints on "the different activities which one agrees not to allow". There is nothing wrong with proposing changes to the list of those activities.

I would love to see a serious discussion in Denmark about the sorts of outfits one might agree not allow women to wear. For example, there is a small movement (it is getting the obvious sort of press coverage) to allow women to go topless in public swimming pools. There is a much stronger movement not to allow women to wear headresses of various kinds in various functions. And then there is the movement not to allow women to show hair or skin of any kind, etc.

All these are suggestions for how public spaces might look. The idea that some of these suggestions do not belong (even as suggestions) in a particular country is ridiculous and (in so far as its ridiculousness is not generally understood) frightening.

It don't think it's going to be simple. I have no idea what it would mean, in practice, to stand up for the universal rights of the Ba'hai. The law you describe is, to my mind, obviously unwise. But all countries draw lines.

Kirby Olson said...

The right to not be randomly killed (based on the 5th commandment) seems to me to be an obvious universal.

Even Hobbes thought it was sound.

Obviously there are people who think abortion is fine (I'm not one of them) but actual living and speaking people?

I think that Lutherans would agree that this should be ... universal.

But you're right: different cultures draw lines in different places. And perhaps it's arbitrary.

It does seem to be arbitrary.

Have a delightful day!

Thomas Basbøll said...

"Thou shalt not kill" is a commandment; it is not a right.

God did not command every state to have a law against it. He said that HIS law forbids it. For most of us, that's enough.

But if some infidel who isn't too committed to the fifth commandment(or reads it as you do: thou shalt not kill arbitrarilly ... or, perhaps, thou shalt not kill the righteous ... which leaves some room open in its application) comes along and kills you, your rights have not been violated.

Your rights have been violated when the state kills you ... or imprisons you, or deports you ... without trial. And this only if your state happens to have granted you the right to trial in the constitution under which (or onto which) you, quite arbitrarilly, happened to be born.

It's about the state sticking to its covenant with the people.

Kirby Olson said...

I wasn't thinking about the 5th commandment in this instance.

I was thinking instead about Locke's four basic rights: life, liberty, health and property, which he thought were the foundation of a just society.

Locke was Episcopalian, but it is those four rights that are often seen as the foundation of the American system. (Some demur.)

But Hobbes granted only the first right: life.

Locke thought that those rights were God-given.

It's a different terminology, and is somewhat outside of Lutheranism. But it's important within the Anglo-American legal paradigm.

On the other hand, Luther did permit execution for certain crimes, and said that it was fine to be an executioner. Someone had to do it.

I'm not a legal historian, but am reading a good book on legal history stemming from Protestantism. I am just about to enter into the Locke chapter, but haven't quite yet. The book is by Harold J. Berman, and I'm blogging about it as I go.

Perhaps if I had gone just another fifty pages, I would be able to compare Locke and Luther, but can't right as of yet. I'll be back if anything is clarified.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Keep me posted. I noticed the Just Price thing. I think I agree with Pound who thought, I think, that the state is just that entity which determines the value of yer money. Government is the business of fixing the just price. War is just an extension of that business.