The unseen presence: a theory of the nation-state and its mystifications
Abstract Primary nation-state formation took place in Europe between the twelfth and nineteenth centuries, along with the emergence of a system of industry-based international relations. These processes kept mostly in step with changes in the cultural consciousnesses of their citizenries. The institutional pattern so produced was then imitated throughout the rest of world in more than 160 secondary nation-states. Unlike the primary nation-states, the secondary nation-states were declared into being overnight by political entrepreneurs concerned to ensure that their own territories could deal equally under international law with other such states. These rapid, externally generated processes generated a gap in consciousness between the statesmen and the rest of their populations that had to be closed before the secondary states could begin to fulfil their (mainly economic) international roles. The gap has been bridged by the deliberate engineering of concern for ethnic, gender, linguistic, class, cultural and religious “identity.” An abstract, outward-looking, gesellschaftlich mode of consciousness could now be taken for granted by the people as the unspoken terms on which they must live their lives. This process has been aided by the widespread employment of functionalist and systems-based approaches in the social sciences and humanities, which properly apply only to the nation-state). Consequently, a politically constructed institution has been made into the “natural” archetype against which all other phenomena are to be measured.
Keywords: Nation-state; state theory; sociology of the state; anthropology of the state; critical social theory; world systems analysis; identity; international relations; developing countries; élites
Geoffrey Benjamin has taught at the former University of Singapore, the Australian National University, the National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University. He is currently Senior Associate in the Centre for Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) at Nanyang Technological University. His ethnographic and linguistic research since 1964 has focused on the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia, with an emphasis on the Temiars. He has also published more widely on the languages, societies, cultures and musics of the Malay World, as well on areas of general socio-cultural theory that deserve more attention from social scientists. With Cynthia Chou, he edited the 20-chapter collection Tribal Communities in the Malay Word: Historical, Social and Cultural Perspectives (IIAS/ISEAS, 2002). His book Temiar Religion, 1964–2012: Enchantment, Disenchantment and Re-enchantment in Malaysia’s Uplands (NUS Press) appeared in 2014.