Democratic nation and national state (Part 2)

In the first part (1), an attempt was made to give a small insight into the discussions on the democratic nation and nationalism. In particular, the apoist historical perspective was examined and statehood and nationalism were elaborated as preconditions for capitalist modernity. In this part, several ideologies from Protestantism via liberalism to capitalism, will be analysed with a focus on the consequences in terms of the history of mentality.

“Only when state power is organised as a nation state can capitalist modernity, and in particular its profit maximisation and capital accumulation, be realised through the economy”, (2) Öcalan states. It is not enough to interpret the nation-state as a tyrannical and monistic model; the ideology of liberalism was also decisive for the rise of capitalism. Dealing with the ideology of liberalism becomes all the more important if we want to understand social life and mentality (3) in capitalist modernity in Germany.

The emerging liberal ideology is closely linked to the interests of the rising bourgeoisies and can be seen as the political and economic equivalent of the bourgeoisies’ quasi-religious dogma – nationalism. The first part outlined how nation-building was linked to the development of internal markets. Liberalism is the ideology that softened the control of the monarchs and dukes as well as the guilds and other associations over the markets and opened the way for the emerging bourgeois classes.

Steps towards a capitalist economy

While in medieval Europe production, especially in the cities, was not oriented towards competition but towards the needs of the community and, if necessary, its feudal lords, it was necessary to change this mode of production in order to enforce profit maximisation and accumulation. This was especially true in rural regions, where villages had their commons and produced for their own subsistence and not primarily for the market. Similar institutions to the commons exist in the most diverse regions as commons, ejido or also saynoca. In Europe, these forms of life are or represent mostly living collectivity, as it must have characterised life before the stratification of society and the appropriation of private property in the means of production. This non-alienated form of society is what Abdullah Öcalan calls “natural society”. In medieval Europe agriculture was collective and the community had to pay its dues in the form of labour and/or goods to the feudal lords. The value model of medieval societies also had features adapted to collective life; generosity was respected, while stinginess was one of the deadly sins. (4) People resisted the personalised manifestations of power – the secular and clerical feudal lords – in collective movements. There was a fundamental difference between urban and rural resistance. The cities had become centres of capital accumulation, while the rural areas were increasingly converted from subsistence production to the production of “cash crops”. We can see here a shift from use value to exchange value. The rise of the Reformation and Protestantism must therefore be interpreted against the background of the mercantilist, state capitalist mode of production. (5)

Protestantism – from social liberation movement to absolute control

Marx observed: “Hegel remarked somewhere that all great world-historical facts and persons occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: one time as tragedy, the other time as farce.” (6) We can see the development of the Reformation as a harbinger of the betrayal of the bourgeoisie by the French Revolution. Martin Luther based his Reformation on the strength of the sixteenth-century peasant social movement, but entered into an alliance with the feudal lords, betraying the peasant revolutionaries around Thomas Müntzer to them and to the proto-bourgeois classes who sought access to land and people under the control of the Catholic Church. While social revolutionaries such as Thomas Müntzer preached the illegitimacy of rule and liberation from princes and clergy, drawing on both urban bourgeoisie and the peasant movement, Luther took his cue from the authorities and presented the status quo as God’s will, Müntzer invoked a right to resist oppression. (7) He relied on the resistant collective to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth, while Luther agitated for salvation from individual access and individual interpretation of biblical teaching. The enforcement of this counter-revolutionary tendency enabled the development of capitalist society through the doctrine of predestination (everything is willed by God and predestined accordingly) and the related unconditional election. Predestination doctrine and unconditional election in this context mean that God has already chosen those who should be saved. Next was the consistent, Calvinist interpretation of this dogma, that God’s favour thus manifested itself in prosperity on earth. Even charity was thus no longer part of Calvinist practice, as it became especially prevalent in the centres of emerging capitalism, such as in the Netherlands or even Great Britain, because people were considered to be poor because of God’s disfavour of them. This laid the foundation for the Protestant ethic described in detail by Max Weber. These developments, which took place in the context of emerging mercantilism and early capitalism, were accompanied by massive expropriations of communal land from the municipalities. Resistance to what were called enclosures also developed in many places, such as the Levellers in Britain. The expropriation also had an economic downside, providing the basis for the labour force for the new imperial projects and eventually for industrialisation. (8)

The deprivation of subsistence led to new modern profound dependency relationships. In terms of mentality, hard work as the meaning of life became the ideal through the Protestant ethic. A stark contrast to the Middle Ages, where work was seen as punishment and not as a means of salvation. In the Bible translations of this period, this ideal manifests itself in the use of the terminology “hew wood and carry water.” (9) Just as Abdullah Öcalan describes the imposition of patriarchy in the late Neolithic and every subsequent imposition of domination and statehood as violent processes, the imposition of bourgeois domination that led to modern neoliberal capitalism was also such a violent process with an unclear outcome at any point in time. First subsistence and later the collectivity of the workforce had to be smashed again and again in order to guarantee the functioning of capitalism. This process of destruction also manifested itself on an ideological level through the development of liberalism, whose roots were deeply buried in Protestant ethics. Calvinist churches in particular were not places for the salvation of souls but disciplinary institutions of God’s reason of state – the preordained decision of damnation or salvation. (10) Thus, the individual is increasingly made responsible for their own social position by Protestant ethics. Being rich, rational, methodical, success-oriented action testified to the grace of God. A brutal ideology that even allowed the legitimisation of the genocide of the indigenous population of North America. Thus, Puritans argued that their genocide of the indigenous population of North America was “manifest destiny”, i.e. manifest foreknowledge – following this logic, there was therefore no missionary policy. The Puritans saw themselves on the winning side and the indigenous population on the losing side, because God had decided this long ago. (11) The bourgeois class with its global sense of mission created the Christian God in its image – white, male and world-dominating.

Protestantism and Liberalism

We can thus see a clear intertwining between the thinking of capitalist modernity and Protestant ethics, which extends into the familial, into the patriarchal nuclear family as the reproductive nucleus of labour power and domination in contrast to the medieval extended family unit. In capitalism, as in Protestant ethics, the value of a person is linked to their productivity. This school of thought forms the basis for the development of liberal theories from Adam Smith to Thomas Malthus. Adam Smith, in his work “Wealth of Nations”, developed the concept that the pursuit of individual profit in an unregulated market was the best way to generate wealth. His theory was based on projecting the concept of exchange value into the distant past. So far, there is not a single piece of archaeological or ethnological evidence for this – on the contrary, we see in non-capitalist societies that instead of “exchange value”, “use value” is central and economies are organised through gifting, redistribution and reciprocity and other mechanisms. (12) Smith’s concept breathes the spirit of individualism – the sum of self-interests would add up to the total interest. Here foundations are laid for central contradictions of capitalism – profit maximisation at the expense of people and nature may be profitable in the short term, but in the long term it means destruction. While Smith applied Protestant ethics to economics, Malthus reached into the bag of tricks of population policy. His concept of poverty alleviation was to reduce the number of poor through starvation. “Manifest destiny”, predestination, punishing the poor for their self-inflicted poverty; Malthus is still respected when it comes to population policy.

Positivism – the Method of Liberalisms

The theorists of liberalism openly show that everything can be quantified and rationalised. Early Bourgeois rationalism consciously distances itself from Catholic mysticism and gives patriarchy a new push. In rationalism, which is as white as it is male-dominated, there is no longer any room for women figures like Mary – heaven depopulates, there are now only God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – at least for the time being. For positivism reduces the world, nature, humanity, thinking and feeling to “proven facts” – everything is measured and categorised. “Objective” analytical thinking is presented as free of ideology and social conditions. But scientific objectivity itself in this context represents the transformation of discourse and ideology into “facts”. Just as the Sumerians codified, even essentialised, social hierarchy for millennia in their first occupational lists, objectivity attempts to do this with the prevailing social order as the starting point of “objectivity”. For positivist classification, splitting and structuring is nothing other than the method of liberalism. Positivism reduces humanity to singularities acting only for their own advantage and nature to passive matter to be controlled. Religion is rationalised in this direction and reduced to the concepts of man in the “struggle for existence”. Thus, in the 19th century, Darwin’s theory of evolution was transferred to society in the sense of the nation state – thus paving the way for Nazi terror. The power interests of the nation states were cast in the form of supposedly objective necessities through racial theories.

Biologistic racism and the pathologisation of women under the diagnosis of “hysteria” in the 19th century are cornerstones of this new form of power. Dichotomous thinking in pairs of opposites, the categorisation of everything in the world by an “objective” exterior (e.g. the researcher) is deeply rooted in the Christian-Jewish belief system – in the Book of Genesis in the Bible there is the telling instruction of Yahweh to humans “Be fruitful and multiply, populate the earth, subdue it…”. (13) Man is subject, the earth is object. The ruling classes are subject, while the ruled in capitalism are reduced to terms like “forces” or “human capital”. Positivism exacerbates this concept by linking the idea of progress with domination over nature. We could speak of a new form of sacred rule, a sacred rule by the bourgeoisie, whose substitute for religion is nationalism and the citizen its priest – with or without religious disguise.

But it was not only for the racist division of society and the legitimisation of colonialism that Social Darwinism was used. Social Darwinism became one of the central pillars of what we now call neoliberalism – and what should more concretely be called the class struggle of the ruling classes. Herbert Spencer, who is repeatedly referred to as the “father” of neoliberalism, used categories of Social Darwinism in his expositions to explain capitalist exploitation and accumulation. His studies had been paid for by John D. Rockefeller and Thomas Edison and so he stated that social inequalities were “natural and necessary”. (14)

Liberalism and Nationalism

The symbiosis between liberalism and nationalism may seem contradictory, but it is more relevant today than ever before. In particular, the neoliberal ideology of locational nationalism clearly demonstrates this, with the state increasingly vying as an institution for the favour of international capital. The “national competitive state” (15) is defined as a political-economic project of neoliberalism through which all parts of society are subjected to the paradigm of international competitiveness. (16) The main goal of liberalism is to bring the state completely under the control of capital. (17) While liberalism gives itself an anti-state appearance, a strong state is its foundation. Adam Smith defined the protection of private property as the core task of the state – i.e. the state as defender of the class system. While liberalism asserts equality for all, it also preserves and exacerbates inequality by transforming the social contradiction of collectives and classes into a contradiction between individuals. The effect of this is that in Germany, for example, there is hardly any awareness that there is a problem with patriarchal violence, despite the fact that 35% of women in Germany reported having been victims of such violence in 2014. The number of unreported cases is probably much higher. (18) Patriarchal violence and feminicide are described as singular family dramas when they take place in one’s “own” society, while patriarchal violence is located in the “other”.

Individualism in the context of liberal thought

As we have shown, liberalism produces individualism, or rather egocentrism, which splits society into isolated, competing micro-units. Liberalism can therefore never mean freedom, but only the opposite of collectivity. It has the inherent paradox that on the one hand it places a lot of emphasis on individual behaviour, but on the other hand it rounds off this concept with a form of “manifest destiny” fatalism: In concrete terms, this means that the individual, deprived of any collectivity, is given the attitude of being only a small grain of sand, a small subject that can only resign itself before the enormous machinery of the state. Freedom is promised under the paradigm “the individual is everything, society is nothing”, which interestingly leads to the same result as its antithesis, “society is everything, the individual nothing”. Both deprive society and thus the individual of its power, its ability to shape reality. This form of absolutism automatically leads to divided individuals – division between public and private, between service and leisure, between the mentality of a political person and a working person, between the activity of an enforcer of deportations and a loving family father …

Society is made up of collectives and individuals – liberalism attacks precisely this structure of society and creates characters as befits capitalist modernity. Responsibility for the status quo is handed over to the state and gladly taken from it – life without the state becomes unimaginable. Individuals in their fear of each other see each other as wolves, they can only “become god” to each other through state power. (19) Hobbes wrote these sentences in the early 16th century, when capitalism and the modern state were beginning to develop – if we look at the following centuries, capitalist modernity, nationalism and etatism have produced more “human wolves” than ever before. A side note, Hobbes does the wolves wrong, they are certainly not that cruel – the Hobbesian axiom of etatism has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Through the naturalisation of state power, all forms of reasons of state become acceptable. But nevertheless, democratic modernity exists everywhere and in all of us, it shows itself in historical moments like the revolution of Rojava, but also in all the collective and solidarity actions all over the world.

  1. Approaching the Concept of the “Democratic Nation”: A Continuous Change in Self-Perception,
  2. Abdullah Öcalan, KÜRT SORUNU VE DEMOKRATIK ULUS ÇÖZÜMÜ, Kültürel Soykırım Kıskacında Kürtleri Savunmak, 2016, S. 45
  3. Mentality is addressed here as a form of basic attitude.
  4. Cf. e.g. painting: Avarice, Greed (Avaritia) – after the Petrarch Master (1st third 16th century).
  5. Weber, Max, Economy and Society
  6. Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels – Werke, Band 8, »Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte«, S. 115.
  7. Vgl. Goertz, Hans Jürgen, Thomas Müntzer, Revolutionär am Ende der Zeit.
  8. Linebaugh & Rediker, S. 50
  9. Ibd.
  10. Weber, Max, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, S. 913.
  11. cf. Scott, Donald M., «The Religious Origins of Manifest Destiny” Divining America, National Humanities Center. 17.01.17 ESSAY.<>
  12. cf. Graeber, David, »Debt – the first 5 000 years«.
  13. Bibel, Gn 1:28.
  14. Comp. Monbiot, George (2016): How did we get into this mess? Politics, equality, nature. London, New York NY: Verso. Pos. 92.
  15. Hirsch, Ludwig, »Der nationale Wettbewerbsstaat«.
  16. Comp. Hirsch, 1995, S. 13.
  17. Comp. Smith, 1974, S.  106.
  19. Hobbes, 1966, Widmung 59.