Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 1-2006, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

The people: A terrible abstraction

What is a people?[*] According to what modern legislators have laid down as binding in practice, a people is nothing more than the totality of a country’s inhabitants whom a state power defines as its members. Regardless of the natural and social differences and antagonisms between them, these members form a political collective by virtue of being subordinate to one and the same state authority. Being obligated to the same rule and its agenda is the common cause they stand up for as a people.

1. The product and the basis of rule

A monopoly of force over a territory is established not in order to oppress the people living in it. Rather, these people’s designation by a state as subjects or citizens aims at using them, and requires that they actively recognize their rule, that is, serve the state’s concerns. No state’s interest in its human inventory has ever been taken care of by the formality that is celebrated nowadays by the issuance of a tamper-proof passport. It is the other way round: the members of an empire or a state prove their worth as a people by arranging their social life — their work and livelihood, the disposition of their needs, and thus their dealings with each other — as the public power intends. Its stipulations for how citizens are to interact, which invariably revolve around the national accumulation of wealth and power, are known as ‘law and order’ and organize the compatriots’ living conditions so as to turn their efforts into useful services for the national agenda.

These services come about reliably when the masses make no fuss about an authority using its power to impose many a tribute on them and requisition their lives and means of living in accordance with the fluctuations of “history”; and make no fuss about a rule whose order also puts everyone in his place, a rule that, by allocating all kinds of rights and duties, sorts society through and through, into rich and poor, classes and ranks, and so on, and thus decides on the nature and extent of the interests that the various sections of society can partake in. This requires “merely” that the people perceive all the various works the political sovereigns accomplish when shaping and overseeing the society they govern from the perspective of being affected and powerless. This perspective is by no means a creation of modern grievance-mongers, but rather the historically tried and tested code of practice of the people: the rules of order decreed by the state present the subjects of a prince and the electors of a legislative body alike with nothing more and nothing less than their living conditions, which they have to cope with. The habit of taking the deeds and institutions of one’s rule as “the prevailing conditions,” of toiling away under them and adapting to them, of accepting or grappling with the possibilities and limits of one’s social position: this characterizes a lastingly useful people at all times. Busy coping with interests that oppose their own and that all too often have superior resources at their disposal; always prepared to receive new duties and sacrifices from the prevailing enforcer of order: this is how a people makes itself at home in its dependence on the state’s decisions. All peoples take it for granted that a higher authority ‘establishes order,’ and not just because it’s all they’ve ever known — in light of the difficulties they meet with in their respective order, they actually come to appreciate their masters. Since living or just surviving turns out to be a struggle because it involves constantly colliding with the interests of other members of the polity, subjects of all kinds consider a superior oversight power to be useful. The ‘security’ being sought — that one’s own interest should rank as a sovereign-protected right — develops wholly into a common need, which unites the most diverse social characters into a people. Whether relating to ‘their’ rule passively as bashed-around subordinates or actively as responsible citizens, members of the people abstract from the antagonistic interests and resources a state management provides them with, and bank on the blessings of a powerful management.

This also means that every people is very well equipped to fulfill the special task that no society founded on rule ever spares its members. As history confirms, the need for wealth and power is not limited to the use of territory that has already been acquired, nor to the services of its inhabitants. The demands aiming at ‘globalization’ and asserted by states since time immemorial bring those states into conflicts that are decided sometimes directly, but always ultimately, by force. For these and also for all pending disputes below the level of war, statesmen are in the habit of enlisting their people — who else. And since the members of a state accept the guarantee of internal rules of order as a virtual means of sustenance that a sovereign power is responsible for providing, their due services are not long in coming. A sound relationship of wills between rule and people is not shaken by the fact that the preparation and conduct of armed encounters call for pure sacrifice — without the least semblance of a reward. On the contrary: the joining together of leader and led into the national “we” is necessary because the ‘existence of the polity’ is at stake. A people fights for its survival when the ruling power sees its ‘vital interests’ threatened.

The identity that proves itself in dealings with foreign states and peoples is obviously the same abstraction that a people indulges in in their civilian, domestic affairs. The slight intensification that is to be noted in the case of war consists in the fact that then the citizens take action strictly so that their rule will succeed in its test of strength with its enemies, whereas otherwise, in civilian life, they always support state power and stand up for it while citing the particular interest that they themselves have been conceded by the political management — demanding services from their rule as a farmer, a worker, etc. This also applies to commerce with foreign countries conducted in peaceful competition: when trade disputes are on the agenda, a sharp people — and there has never been any lack of enlightenment on this front — knows it is definitely affected in its various functions as wage earner, farmer, or craftsman by the machinations of foreign countries. In order that this abstraction — through which subjects band together with their rule’s foreign interests — becomes clear and at the same time appears to be a genuine ‘grass roots’ need, there circulates in all countries praise and glory for one’s own identity, which is threatened by foreign countries and foreigners. What has to be preserved, and defended into these days of ‘globalization,’ ranges from the way of life and traditional customs, through one’s faith and ancestry, to one’s language: every non- and pre-state characteristic of a people[1] is cited in order to supply really good, innocent reasons for a polemical, or at least risk-conscious, treatment of foreign misbehavior — as if cultural conservation were (or had ever been) the driving force for political rule across all epochs!

2. The call for good rule


For a decent people, it is no disgrace to serve as the base for a political power and go through the ups and downs of an entire human life as the dependent variable of the demands and decisions that a ruling power deems necessary. After all, a member of a people knows how to explain and justify his will both to follow the direction of a superior power and to make common cause with others in lifelong allegiance:

  • It is always appropriate, and more useful than ever today, to refer to the undeniable ‘reality’ of ruling powers and the peoples that go along with them that is found everywhere and always has been; from which it follows clear as crystal — according to the slogan, “If it’s real it must be necessary!” — that it is impossible for anybody to be spared the state-forming work of nature and/or a divine will.[2]
  • Some suspect, or actually voice the critique, that a people let themselves get dictated what social relations they enter into; that they let themselves get told whether and how they are to bring about mutual benefit with their contemporaries, and that some are authorized to use and exploit others; that they are thoroughly sorted into rich and poor by their ruling power, etc. Such socially critical objections to the work of sovereign power are just as easy for the voices of the people to rebut. They don’t at all deny the ‘reality’ of masters and servants, huts and palaces, poverty and wealth; on the contrary: every ‘social imbalance’ just proves to them the necessity of a rule to oversee and manage it. A people likes to imagine their ‘conditions of life’ without an originator — only to empower it to remedy evils of all kinds. Neither imperial princes nor modern party chairmen need to be told this twice; supported by the arguments of contemporary enlighteners from the intelligentsia, they proclaim the ultimate state agenda: rule exists to counteract hardships, which it has nothing to do with causing! That’s what it is needed for![3]
  • And it is absolutely no trouble, finally, to whole-heartedly endorse action against foreign countries, action that the rulers of a polity owe their citizens. The power and the glory of the states — which use the achievements and deprivations of a supervised people as their source, which also make extensive use of them and can never get enough — are indeed mutually exclusive. After all, they have to assert themselves against their peers. That is why a people would do well to recognize this ‘reality,’ too, and not cling to the utopian dream that their work and products could complement the efforts and wealth of other peoples as well as the natural resources in other parts of the world; so that — while politely respecting foreign languages and stimulating each other culturally — they were all enjoying a wealth they jointly produced and managed. Such dreams are clearly opposed by the fact that the “fate” of a people happens to stand or fall by what its rule is able to achieve in the competition of empires or nations. A people knows this from experience, is available when their rulers need to conquer additional sources of wealth in near or distant lands, and they make the expected contribution to ensuring that their rulers do not run out of the weapon of money, money for weapons, or the personnel for operating them. Their country’s gratitude, while not making the required services worthwhile, is at least guaranteed.


On the other hand, no people that stands by their authorities in unbreakable unity can avoid taking stock and checking what the leaders are doing with their people’s labors and sacrifices. Patriots suffer no lack of bad experiences that give them both reason and the right to criticize their rule. As shown by the testimony of past and present, they need not betray their ‘identity’ when their disappointments drive them to denigrate the mighty. For they interpret the restrictions and hardships that — contrary to their high expectations of their government’s social obligations — they are incessantly exposed to, not as its doing, but as the result of its errors and omissions. They think their privations arise not from the service that a people lets itself in for, but from their mismanagement by the mighty. When peoples become critical, they supplement their ‘realism’ — it is simply forever necessary to submit to a political power — with a seasoned idealism: they call for good rule; and with this demand they insist that their service to the polity’s masters of wealth and masters of power gives them the right to be well treated. Quite as if they were able, and actually willing, to set a price for letting themselves be used and governed and for meeting the needs of their masters. The price they get is, not coincidentally, never excessively high, because it is determined and set by the other party.

  • For a critical people with a will to distinguish between good and bad rulers, it is common practice to see a lack of resolutely active rule. The modern allegations worked up for the people in brain-storming editorial sessions maintaining that those holding ‘responsibility’ in government are passive and “sit out” everything certainly have their historical antecedents. Even kings and popes have been thought by some of their contemporaries to pursue unseemly activities instead of — exercising power, i.e., deciding on the duties of their followers. And whenever the rule over a society did not function properly because of external troubles and/or internal turmoil, peoples were neither helpless, nor eager, to set up a viable social life according to their needs and means and therefore do without a commanding power. They have always sought their salvation in offering themselves to a new authority, usually as troops in inconclusive power struggles; the latter especially when they see themselves as victims of a rule that is not merely bad because it is malfunctioning, but — far worse than that — is intolerable because it is foreign, a rule that a hostile superior power has imposed on the defeated people. This at times indeed meant tribute to pay or even slavery. But for an active separatism — this, too, not a prerogative of the modern age — it is not even particularly a matter of how badly the affected people are treated by their foreign-born authorities, or whether they are especially badly treated at all. In such a situation, ambitious leaders have always known to make it clear to dissatisfied sections of the population that the cause of all evil is that their own rule has been lost at some time (almost no matter how remote) and since then withheld — the “foreign yoke” — and that a restored autonomy is the guarantee, in fact the epitome, of good rule, and to convince people they have a basic need for rulers with the same mother tongue — whatever they have to convey and dictate in it.
  • Patriots deal with exploitation and poverty in the same spirit of critical longing for good treatment by those who have the say. Clashes with the economically powerful, who make life (or survival) hard for the majority of the people, supply more material for the historiography of the lower classes than their everyday services do: militant peasants and workers are held in high esteem in retrospect. There are actually two reasons for this. The first lies in the standpoint of observers who judge all incidents, older and more recent, in which social classes have clashed, by what they have provided in the way of beneficial or detrimental contributions to the current constitution of the polity in which the observers live and which they hold in high esteem. Accordingly, they cannot help but acknowledge that veritable class struggles not only shook respectable ruling houses and had a retarding effect on an unstoppable process of development, but also paved the way to progress. And progress leads straight to the emergence of the order that prevails today and is superior to its forerunners.
  • The second reason for the relentless embracing of these movements (in which criticism turned into combat) for the praising of today’s rule lies in the movements themselves. For as little as the rebellious masses had any idea of the social relations in whose establishment their action allegedly found fulfillment, in one respect they certainly supply a confirmation to devotees of modern statecraft: in their struggles to assert class interests, the ‘humiliated and insulted’[†] always remained a people. They subscribed to the lofty goal of justice and demanded its redemption by the reigning supreme authority. No matter that this rule demonstrated so unambiguously and forcefully how much it was interested in the effective utilization of the poor — the ‘historic’ movements insisted on winning over the political authority as a partisan for their concerns. They expected it to show consideration for the most urgent needs of the battered classes, who only demanded what they thought they were rightly entitled to — it was not on the agenda to get rid of their class or their rule. This was not even the agenda of the successful labor movement, which outgrew its communist inclinations and saw to it that all ‘social questions’ along with their solutions became government mandates.
  • In that regard, the representatives and admirers of modern nation-states would not deny that these states brought under their control not only the territories of former rule: their legacy also includes the unwavering will of the governed people to hand over their material situation, even and especially when it becomes unbearable, to the decisions of the ruling state power. A people not only knows that its well-being depends on which necessities the authority decrees — they recognize that the authority has this responsibility and let it dictate the useful extent of service and poverty that arises from its calculations. Because it generally provides the people too little, their dissatisfaction extends not only to their situation but also to the rule. But a people that is used to relativizing its material interests to the needs of its leaders can well cope with this chronic complaint: they readily fiddle about with comparisons in which the impositions of their rule are marvelously contrasted with the hardships to which subjects were formerly or elsewhere exposed, or still are. This in no way alters the grounds of their dissatisfaction, but does modify their demands quite a bit.


Conscientiously distinguishing between good, better, and worse rulers is the driving force behind all popular criticism, which starts out from the damage suffered from practicing allegiance but just won’t quit supporting — unconditionally belonging to — “one’s own” polity. This art also proves itself very nicely in the assessment of the services that a leadership offers its people when grappling with foreign countries.

  • When their government opens the borders for goods, money, capital, and persons, even many a modern people cannot readily believe that a state’s activities in this field will benefit citizens in the country. Sound nationalism and racism — which was cultivated and very useful for armed encounters not too long ago even in extremely civilized parts of the world — is occasionally so fervent that statesmen have to extensively propagandize for the benefits of the international friendship they are instigating. That attracts mistrustful examination of all the international deals they make — and the people, who go along with it all and are therefore affected, always discover what they’re looking for. Without at all examining the vagaries of the world trade their government holds so dear, housewives and shop owners, corporate leaders and employees start calculating benefits and disadvantages, which never really leaves them too thrilled. The promises that are bandied about in connection with a nation’s initiatives regarding the world market never correspond to the experiences that the good people tend to have with cross-border dealings. Not even the development of foreign countries for all sorts of holiday delights is a bed of roses, so that the leadership comes under fierce attack from all sections of the population. However, the damage done by the voice of the people is easy to bear: once an enlightened people has learned that consumption and jobs, the assortments and prices of goods, and the course of the economy as a whole are dependent on world trade, they translate their discontent into a rather simple mandate for their government. It must assert itself against foreign countries; relations must not be at “our” expense; when negotiations fail it’s the fault of the others, who insist on their own advantage in a way reminiscent of a nationalism long thought overcome, which “we” must not put up with…. In foreign governments and the demands of their industries, workers, and farmers, quite progressive peoples and not always those of yesteryear discover exactly the bad habits that they display themselves. Their indignation about this means that their own leaders — whom they encourage to be intransigent under the guidance of the national media — can continue to count on them as the reliable means of a competition they were never intended to be beneficiaries of.
  • Peoples are quite keen on violence, at least the violence that stems from their own rule and serves it. What they have done in the wars of crowned, noble, or freely elected leaders earns due respect; likewise what they have suffered — so that the dual use of commemoration days and monuments is perfectly fine. By contrast, it is embarrassing when they keep on making those timid attempts to distance themselves from war and present themselves as supporters of peace. When citizens refer to the sacrifices that fought battles have cost — especially in cases of dubious success — they become pointedly docile. They draw a comparison between the quality of life on the field of honor and that on the field of work in the home environment, and put on record that civilian life is preferable in any case as far as they are concerned. They blame their leadership for the carnage that they went along with “only” as followers and under duress.[4] It does not occur to them to put a stop to the leadership — they beseech it at most and beg the Most High for peace, thus leaving the power to decide on war and peace right where it belongs. Consequently, the leaders of an empire or republic determine time and time again when the machinations of another rule are incompatible with their ‘vital interests’ and therefore also with the continued civilian existence of their followers. When it then comes to light that nothing turns out for the better for said existence and perhaps not even for the power and glory of the polity for whose sake peace had to be terminated, then the people know their talent for making distinctions is called on once again. The good citizen knows that there is a kind of war that is senseless — futile, unnecessary — and wastes few words on the other kinds. However, he also recognizes — into the postmodern era — just wars, in which the people are not “sent to the slaughter,” but rather blaze the trail for freedom with their sacrifices. If such a precious good constitutes the purpose, then war becomes the appropriate measure for making peace; at any rate, that peace that makes every war worthwhile. Unless its effect could be achieved just as well by ‘political solutions.’ A good leadership decides after careful consideration whether this can be done — its critical people certainly gives it the mandate to induce other sovereigns to give in. But one thing that such followers cannot stand at all is a lost war. This subtype of war even leads a clever people to realize that they have been taken in by a bogus image of the enemy, and abused. Whereby the disappointed people are usually spared the duty of withdrawing the mandate from their perfidious rulers: after all, their power has been broken by the victorious enemy….

It would be wholly wrong to accuse a people of inconsistency due to the few contradictions they allow themselves in their will for rule. The quality of being a people, the abstraction they live — the habitual and stubborn, decidedly positive relation to their rule; their willingness, that has become ‘second nature,’ to submit to an authority armed with force: this they bring into play quite unconditionally. They have no reservations about the kind of authority, show no consideration for the basis and mode of operation of rule, have no doubts about the fine points of the particular ‘reason of state’ at hand. Democratic or dictatorial, republican or “by the grace of God,” founded more on religion or constitutional, successful or notoriously having less pull: rule can be any of these things — even simultaneously or successively — as long as the people have their own.

3. Democracy and market economy

Notwithstanding, the peoples of the ‘Western’ world have brought about some epoch-making progress. With the resolve to follow the maxims of the Western Enlightenment and put state power in the hands of freely, equally, and secretly elected deputies, they have, according to their modest self-interpretation, freed themselves from bondage and tyranny and govern themselves, as it were: they have democracy. As the name of their form of state (Greek for “people’s rule”) already indicates, this does not mean that the politically emancipated citizens of the ‘free world’ have put an end to the political power that creates an order and a social connection among them; or that they themselves have stopped being tied to and dependent on a monopolized power for establishing and regulating their social relations, or stopped being at the service of the responsible state power for its concerns; i.e., they have not stopped being a people. Rather, they have become virtually perfect at merging force and freedom — what one has to do and what one wants — both objectively and subjectively, and living their entire bourgeois existence self-confidently and conformingly as the product and basis of the rule that is governing them: they have achieved social relations that have the nature of objective constraints, and a sort of freedom that is extremely serviceable for rule.


As for political customs and procedures, a modern, western-style state is characterized by the fact that it acknowledges the people’s need for good rule in the very radical way of making it a right — not merely as a lofty moral obligation on the rulers’ part or as a certain practical necessity to humor its subjects. Democracy takes the people virtually at their word in their notorious dissatisfaction with their conditions of existence and the rule responsible for this, conferring on them the decision as to how and especially by whom they want to be governed. Their majority verdict on their incumbent government and the replacements always standing by to take over is no inconsequential muttering, but leads periodically by fixed rules of procedure to the electoral decision as to whether the current rulers have done well enough to continue, or whether another team should take over governance. This act of voting takes for granted that the management of the people’s interests, always so badly served, the regulation of their needs and the regimenting of their productive efforts, naturally belongs in the hands of a higher power; that, in other words, there is only one way for a free, self-determined people to deal with the social conditions of their existence and have influence on them, namely, by handing them over to a good rule. Democracy retracts nothing from the political relation of force as such — from the fact that the people have a rule over them and depend on their rulers’ decisions about what they may and must do. On the contrary, with each act of voting, in which the old or new leadership candidates are empowered to regency — for a time and then once again, i.e., ad infinitum — democracy has the people confirm and reinforce this relation of force. By exercising their political freedom in elections, a modern people affirms that they — being a people — need leadership. And that’s what they get for sure: leaders who are certified by their election victory, until the next time, as the good rule the people have a right to. Any dissatisfaction is satisfied until further notice by empowering rule anew, of all things.

What democracy so grandly has to offer a free people are the alternatives they let their electoral freedom play out on — i.e., the power struggle between parties and characters who feel called on to dictate to the people the further development of their living conditions and needs, interests and obligations. Power struggles of this ilk are not an invention of democracy; they are always part of political rule. Democracy, however, turns them into a highly organized perpetual event: a civilian competition — including attempted and occasionally completed character assassination — with extremely constructive, state-serving import. After all, political opponents try everything to outdo each other in credibly demonstrated strength of leadership — thus practicing full agreement on the main point that governing is about nothing other than, with all available force, effectively and successfully organizing the people to serve the ‘national cause’: they compete to impress the people more than all the others according to this criterion.


The ‘common cause,’ the material content of the rule for which democratically competing politicians seek their people’s vote, has likewise undergone a modern redoing in the course of this progress of civilization: ‘Western’ democracy includes its politico-economic twin, the market economy. The people enjoy official recognition with their necessities that are adjusted and restricted by their sovereign, their need for money, their legally required services, and their discontent, this recognition being aimed at their consequent will to be governed as well as possible and preferably ever better. Thus, the national ‘cause’ they are enlisted for also includes the formal recognition of their interests, under that sweeping, abstractly and generally holding proviso of the common good brought about by the state. So when citizens try to make a living, they are allowed and supposed to go about it in a fundamentally free and equal way, relying entirely on themselves and on the means guaranteed to them as their property by the impersonal rules of law. They are not merely allowed to provide for themselves and their families as well as they can, but they are supposed to, and not be deterred by any practical obstacles or defeats. “Enrich yourselves!” is the first economic maxim of the democratic state.

A people doesn’t need to be told twice. Following the market economy rules that the law at once dictates and grants as a people’s sphere of activity, they plunge into the business of making money — and find out that the equal and legal recognition that all rule-compliant economic interests enjoy is quite different than the equality of the economic interests themselves, and that everyone’s freedom to look only to himself in the pursuit of property involves almost unbearable hardship. Virtually automatically, a people freed from politico-economic bondage thus splits up, in extremely different proportions, according to the two complementarily connected, opposing ways of using work to create property and to earn money. The private power of command given to money by a free state through its egalitarian guarantee of property is utilized by a very small class of business people to make others work to accumulate their wealth. This class has enough of it to buy themselves this nice economic service; and in a functioning market economy, enough money is all that is needed to become richer. Conversely, the vast majority strive for their materialistic success by working for the wealthy elite, in return for a fee that does not make them rich, but rather reproduces the necessity of obtaining money to buy their living essentials in dependence on whether an employer benefits. They function as national labor power in the awkward dual role of production factor — i.e., the source to be abundantly exploited for newly created property — and cost factor to be pushed down; and a free, self-responsible individual cannot even count for sure on being needed and paid in that function. And there is another experience that modern citizens are not spared while so eagerly pursuing property in their allowed self-interest: taking part in the general competitive struggle for money costs a pretty penny by way of taxes and other charges. The state makes its members pay it for forcing them into an antagonistic interaction while making money — after all, it thereby gets itself a capitalistically aligned people, in order to use their self-interested economic efforts as the source of its means of power and the instrument of its success in the circle of state sovereigns.

The consequences that this triangular relationship between state power, private economic power of command, and productive service to others’ property has on everyday life — consequences also affecting the ‘mid tier’ located, with their efforts to earn sufficient money, somewhere in between labor and capital — are not good for the bulk of the population of a modern capitalist state. A free people, however, does not go out of its way to understand the politico-economic necessity of their struggle to survive. They uphold their freedom — the formal, egalitarian recognition of their material interests by the established authority, their granted right to enrichment — against all the bad experience they have with it, and think constructively “forward.” That is, first and foremost, they “understand” the mastering of their general politico-economic destiny to be a life task that is given to every individual virtually by nature — or is at least beyond any reasonable criticism — and post all the consequences to the account of an individual’s success or failure. And, secondly, insofar as politically mature citizens do pay attention to “the social conditions” under which the various classes and strata have to wage their struggle for existence, they look at their government — as is the right of a worthy people in general and a free electorate in particular — full of discontent; they demand that it improve their living conditions — while they apply criteria that don’t diverge at all from the maxims of success of the state power governing in line with the market economy: if everything is organized so that money-making is the universal condition of existence, but can only succeed in dependence on the successful growth of the wealth of the capitalist class, then the state, as guardian of the common good, must use its power properly to see to such growth; and if it needs money for that, and in addition for the social services that thereby become necessary, then the increase of wealth measured in money is even all the more in the interests of those who are and will remain excluded from it. The economic success of the class that commands society’s labor in its own favor with its money is the common concern of the nation, including the commanded people themselves.


So there is of course no change to the fact that the opportunities, constraints, and impositions that the common good of a capitalist society brings its various sections are extremely different. The different classes, despite the best will in the world, accordingly have extremely different kinds of difficulties latching onto the generally binding consensus on the market economy–based common good with their basically acknowledged money-materialism Their expectations of it are contrary and for the most part repeatedly disappointed, and they consider each other to be problem cases or even enemies of what they, through their own interests, deem best for everyone.

On such antagonisms, the democratic constitution of the state in turn demonstrates how politically productive it is. It grants all factions of a class society — in principle actually each one of its citizens — the license to found a party, to enter the competition for state power, and to seek corrections to the handling of the state monopoly on force in order to better adapt current business or living conditions. The only proviso, which is basically self-evident and not really restrictive, is that this license be exercised to precisely that end and not harm the system by interfering with the freedom to vote and make money. This offer is made, as mentioned, not only to the protagonists of the prevailing political-economic interests, but also to the representatives of the majority of the people enmeshed in wage dependency; and it is readily taken up by all, by the lobby of the ‘better-off’ and by the political advocates of the ‘common people,’ all of whom find plenty of fault with those in office. For the better circles, the common good basically coincides with the growth of their private wealth; but frictions can’t fail to arise because the ruling class itself consists of competing factions that never equally get their money’s worth from the state; moreover, the rich are also enlisted for defraying the expenses of managing their business location, which severely impacts the purpose of their wealth — its accumulation. That leads to a volley of criticism; and there are always political lobbyists to be found who draw up programs for more effective governance in the interest of business, which also makes an impression on the not-so-wealthy public. The political champions of the wage-earning majority have especially many occasions — but also their work cut out for them — to appropriately adjust the definition of their clientele’s material needs (which are so poorly compatible with the success of the location for capital) and to fit them in with the common good. From the stereotypical plights of the ‘little guys,’ they put together a catalog of requests for the public power, proclaim consideration for the national labor power to be an essential condition for sustained growth, and, with their own plans for governance, take up competition with their ‘middle-class’ opponents for majority approval for their leadership skills.

In this manner, the antagonistic social interests become politicized, i.e., subsumed under the political necessities of a market-economy state; incompatible positions are made commensurable as variants of the same thing— as different versions of the common ‘national cause’ and competing offers for leadership — with quite antagonistic consequences for the class interests thus reduced to a common denominator. The systematic damage to the “lower earners” is spelled out to them as the permanent precondition and immovable barrier to all the improvements that a sympathetic rule can possibly provide. They are informed of, tied down to, and, by voting in elections, called upon to recognize the paradox that their entire prospect for success involves restricting everything they want in life to what is ‘politically feasible’ — i.e., to a life and work according to the standards of capitalist profitability — and that no opportunity can be had without sacrifice. The better situated class is expected to recognize that if the generalization of their private benefit is to be effective in practice, it must be guaranteed in the form of a law-making sovereign whose decisions they too must obey and whose ‘faux frais’ (incidental operating expenses) they must help pay for. But from the standpoint of democratic culture, that means only that everyone has to ‘cut back’ and ‘live with compromises.’ This is how democracy pacifies the class antagonisms it establishes: all socially relevant points of view coexist in the pluralism of competing ideas for the political management of the nation.

For the democratic state, that means emancipation from all plans and needs — in fact from all aims of a will to rule — that are not functional in terms of effective capital site management. In the interaction between the classes and interest groups via political parties, the state authority makes capital’s need for power absolute; it sets itself up as the necessary, independently operating power of class society and, as such, takes up the competitive fight with its peer states — any other sort of rule is torn down worldwide. Complementary to that, the people emancipate themselves from their traditional and no longer functional dependencies and relations to authority. They become nothing more than the expedient, self-operating interaction of functional subdivisions of the nation’s capitalism — an interaction based on the forced abstraction from all incompatibilities and antagonisms — and they aim their whole political will, as manifested in free elections, at being nothing else.


The peoples of the Christian West did not simply get their democratic, market-economy freedoms as a gift. For a long time the traditional authorities in capitalistically advanced Europe, legitimized by noble birth and the ‘grace of God,’ were unwilling to see that they, as lords of the land, should have to maintain their rule by recognizing their subjects’ material interests according to market-economy regulations and by being of service to them by guaranteeing freedom and property. They could at first see in the new class of capitalist profiteers nothing other than an ambitiously aspiring ‘third estate’; the superior means of power that regimes more open-minded in this respect could draw on first had to generalize the insight that a sovereign was extremely well served by a business-minded bourgeoisie: a social class acting out of pure self-interest — and therefore reliably, so as to be quite deserving of support — to transform the whole people into a great big money-accumulating machine and produce abstract wealth in undreamt-of quantities, which the ruling power could use for its own interests. The ruling houses found it even harder to see the wretched ‘fourth estate’ of completely propertyless wage workers as an indispensable player in the new political economy of capital growth, and to acknowledge it as a full-fledged part of the national citizenry. This was, of course, not necessarily in the interest of the new ruling class; the proletarians themselves had to flex their muscles and fight for their civic equality. This they did and were finally successful, under the direction of social democratic parties that very soon revised their initial program of a complete overthrow of prevailing conditions, making it clear that their aim was not to abolish capitalist class relations, but to participate in controlling and developing them so as to preserve the nation’s labor power. For the license to participate in this way and to win its place within the pluralism of official parties, ‘the Left’ expressed its thanks in the appropriate manner, doing its bit to transform the labor movement into a voter base.

Digression on ‘communist’ ‘People’s Democracies’ and leftist ‘People’s Liberation Movements’

In contrast to social democracy, the erstwhile communist parties were not content to get the proletariat its right as an indispensable part of the people within the democratic class state. They considered the ‘working people’ — wage-earning industrial workers, self-exploiting small tradesmen and farmers including farm hands — who stoically and honorably created the nation’s wealth without getting much of it themselves, to be the whole and actual people, the real basis of the community, the true citizens. The class of non-working property owners — idle parasites feeding on the industriousness of the masses, according to the same lofty thinking — were flatly denied any right to see themselves even as only part of the people as a whole and to claim a firm place in it. A truly democratic governance, not bought and corrupted by the bourgeoisie, but committed to the productively working, real source of its power, had to give the working people their right as the sole creator of societal wealth, eliminate the class of exploiters, and bring about a community of ‘workers and peasants.’

It never crossed the mind of these weird revolutionaries to criticize the political and economic calling of the people to serve the community willingly without greatly benefiting themselves. On the contrary, they considered this very service as the point of honor of the working class and its allies, as the basis of its right to sole possession of the state, and fought for a system of fair compensation for its selfless efforts — with success in the collapsed Czarist empire. There, and in the ‘socialist camp’ they installed one world war later, they therefore wrested control of the state’s apparatus of rule from the ‘forces of reaction’ and used its instruments of power to replace the cynical freedom of money-making — with one’s own wage labor there’s not much to make, but with purchased labor plenty — with a new political economy. These ‘communists’ enlisted the entire people to serve on the model of capitalist exploitation — appreciated as a method of surplus-value production — but without capitalists, and combined that with a system catering to the material and social needs of the masses, which turned out to be pretty hard to reconcile with achieving a maximum of surplus value. There was no place in this system for a pluralism of political parties, because a united working people knows only one political interest, namely, to effectively combine a surplus-value economy with social welfare and be successful with this combination in the competition of nations: a ‘contest of systems’ that, from then on, was no longer to be waged merely over the most potent wealth and most impressive power, but over truly democratic consent of the peoples to their state. So the masses found only one target for their inevitable discontent, namely, the functionaries of the ‘party of the proletariat’ ruling without alternative, or the ‘popular fronts’ forged by the Party, which was not exactly conducive to the desired consent to the great ‘socialist cause’. The fact that the people’s satisfied or enthusiastic approval — required by the party program but in reality lacking — was orchestrated did not make matters any better. Still, this is one way to run a state and govern a people. However, these alternative, people’s democracies did not win the real competition with the capitalist empires, and eventually admitted defeat.

The idea that “a people united will never be defeated” — again referring to the “true,” namely, honestly and selflessly toiling “simple” people made up of workers and peasants — also sounds very good in Spanish and Portuguese; and for several decades the belief in it prompted, above all, South America’s Left to revolt militantly at times against brutal military dictatorships. But the latter had the more powerful weapons and the North American world power on their side — if not as principal — which is why the social revolutionaries again and again marched to defeat under their so hopeful slogan. That does not excuse, however, the political mistake condensed to the phrase about the people’s invincible unity that has warmed many a heart. In well-meaning idealism, such a belief disregards the fact that a people, even in a South American dictatorship, is assembled from social groups with very different if not conflicting interests, who by no means experience the state’s dictate to interact productively as oppression all across the board, and certainly not all in the same way. The “simple” people whose unity the Left invokes are furthermore occupied primarily — having no other choice — with trying to adapt in order to make ends meet, and have moreover become accustomed to enduring, and accepting, their inevitable failure. They first have to be broken of this bad habit, alienated from their polity in which they live together so loyally, and agitated for a really rewarding, really common goal, if their “invincible” unity is to be more than the pure abstraction from all social and political differences, hence also from all the particular material needs and political interests that, in the best case, really move people to resist. A unity so abstract lets all sorts of incompatibilities persist, and so can be maintained at best as long as the combated regime itself takes indiscriminate action against opposition of every kind. And when successful — in fact, the military dictators have meanwhile stepped down, though for very different reasons and under very different circumstances than as a result of a revolutionary emancipation of the oppressed masses — such a unity turns most consistently into the unified people that a new state power creates by committing all classes and segments of its society to the national concerns it redefines.


One after another, all the competing interest groups playing an important role in bourgeois society organized themselves as political parties and fought for their share in the state power’s organizing of the common good To the degree that they achieved this, not least the activists of this political pluralism themselves raised the demand that all factions of the people absolutely must agree with each other in their common will for a state, over and beyond all that divides them. The diversity of parties had to be justified by all the more, acknowledged, and desired agreement among those entitled to vote or be elected, and thus was suspected of endangering this precious good. Even today, democrats do not trust the dialectic of their system of rule one hundred percent: a system involving the political recognition of divergent interests and disgruntled views as a method to politically pacify and integrate them. The corresponding distrust has always been aimed primarily at left-wing parties, whose program is to fight for the particular needs of one class that clearly has drawn the shortest straw in the ‘people’s community,’[‡] thus has every reason to reject the established order, and at first actually did show fairly strong tendencies in that direction. The fact that social democracy, with its support for political equality and social welfare for the ‘underprivileged,’ made a crucial contribution to the integration of these folks into the ‘people’s community’ in which they were allowed to occupy the lower class position, and to the success of the democratically constituted class state, was not even for all Social Democrats immediately beyond doubt. To their political opponents, it was immediately obvious that their politics was apt or even calculated to alienate honestly and humbly working people from their destiny, to maneuver them into a conflict with the community and its higher classes by creating an — “artificial!” — class consciousness; to awaken ‘social envy’ (as everyone knows, this charge is still leveled today against anyone who isn’t instantly pleased about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer); and thereby to undermine the national community.

The suspicion that, instead of the ranks of the people being closed behind its leadership, all kinds of special interests are being promoted, ruptures allowed, disenchantment with politics produced, and other attitudes harmful to the national public spirit let loose: this suspicion is habitually extended by patriotic minds and critical advocates of an assertive state power to democracy as a whole — to the license to organize interests politically, and to the institution of free elections — as soon as they find an occasion for serious concern. If one elected government after another appears to them too weak, the opposition too impertinent, the nation too unsuccessful, the people too disunited, then they don’t merely reject the officials currently in office, but declare their distrust of the whole system: political leaders, who have to “woo” the favor of a majority of the people, with their egalitarian right to vote, show far too much consideration for special groups and especially for the problematic needs of the masses; political partisans are basically not at all suitable for uniting the people and leading it to new national successes.[5] When things get really bad, not even the political economy of the community — the free market economy — is safe from political suspicion. With its way of soliciting egoistic money interests everywhere and rewarding ruthless competition, this economic system — which is now called ‘capitalism’ again, with some ugly adjectives tacked on as well — is given some of the blame for disrupting an otherwise entirely harmonious ‘people’s community.’

Remarks on the fascist exaltation of the ‘people’s community’

The familiar doubts about democratic pluralism, about leftist champions of a ‘workers’ cause’ as opposed to the nation’s cause, and about the effects of capitalism on the morale of the people are put into action by fascists as their program. The people: their right to exist, their success in world history, the power they represent under the right leadership, their unity that all this requires — that is what fascists value most. Therefore they are sworn enemies of anything sounding like proletariat or labor movement: they recognize no classes, only state-enforced cooperation of all social strata as a serviceable people, and the difference between those willing and those unwilling to serve. From this perspective, though, they are indeed professed and energetic supporters of the ‘common’ people — insofar as that means good workers who stay poor but still keep honestly committed, i.e. obviously selfless, in their readiness to serve the larger whole. This appreciation doesn’t much differ from that of their socialist and communist enemies, but aims in the exact opposite direction: while the radical left identifies the working people as the true and actual people, and their social concerns as the entire public interest for the state to enforce, fascists, conversely, subsume working people under the contribution they make to the cause of the people as a whole: to the global success of the might that lies within them. Fascists aren’t satisfied until wage earners acknowledge their dependent servile position within the whole as their life’s calling, and feel that the community mobilized for great deeds at their expense is their own, beloved home. The people, the way fascists like them, have no greater demand than for a leadership to bring out the utmost from them. They have a right to a rule that leaves nothing to their arbitrary choice, that instead provides justice in the sense that everyone in his station serves the might of the nation in a manner befitting his station. That is why fascists oppose democracy, which according to their (and not just their) judgment raises the arbitrary choice of calculating interest groups — this being the antithesis of the honorable ‘station’ — to the status of a guiding principle of politics, thereby betraying democracy’s own ideal of powerful leadership. Finally, they also show critical discernment when it comes to the capitalist conditions of use into which their revered people are in fact functionally sorted: they fight ‘rapacious capital,’ that is, capitalists in whose business they can see no contribution to the wealth of the nation, but only useless self-enrichment, in favor of their ‘productive’ competitors, those to whom they give kudos for using the private power of their property to act as true leaders of their small or large business empires and extract the optimum effort from their workforces in service to the common good.

The goal of all the fascists’ efforts is to “purify” the people into a powerful fighting community, with which its appointed leader, proven as such by his successful seizure of power, can achieve great things in imperialist competition, which, in its fascist version, is a struggle for survival between peoples and a tough “natural selection.” Their program therefore encompasses a massive moral cleansing: the purging of all social strata of “elements” that lack the people’s natural fighting spirit or even sabotage it — primarily those engaged in class struggle; but even paupers who “won’t work,” unkempt idlers, and those “unfit for life” end up on the hit list, in addition to capitalists who have attracted negative attention, stubborn liberals, intellectuals with excessive critical detachment, people with no patriotic conscience: all of them alien to the people, for fascists relentlessly adhere to the delusion (which democrats also like to take into consideration as a suggested interpretation) that man, quite outside his own volition, is determined by his innate natural endowment to be unconditionally committed to his people, and can only be led astray by deception and entrapment. Thus, fascists have an internal enemy to fight before, alongside, and in addition to deploying their people in the international “struggle between the peoples.” To fit this enemy in with national customs, Germany’s Nazis reinterpreted the tradition-steeped exclusion of Jews from Europe’s indigenous ethnic communities and radicalized it to the extreme; by the same logic, nationalists of more recent times discover “foreigners” in their own country — its poorest population group of all things — as being an obstacle to their own people taking their rightful place. This is about a ‘master race’ whose precedence over the other peoples as a primordial natural right literally lies in their blood; fascists like to imagine their ideal people as a naturally destined community in the manner of a world-historical predatory pack.

They always find followers among dissatisfied democratic citizens; Hitler never once lacked willing helpers, neither for his ‘Greater German war of liberation’ against the Soviet Union and Germany’s imperialist rivals nor for his internal campaign of annihilation against the Jews. A decent people doesn’t need to adjust too much for this transition, to lay the blame for all damage suffered or feared — of a general or private nature — on deficient democratic offers of leadership, to yearn for a “strong man” and go after identified national parasites under his command and fight against unfairly advantaged neighbors. The major fascists of the twentieth century lost their world war, though; against the Red Army, which the losers countered with revanchism, and against the most advanced democracy, which made a lasting impression on the conquered peoples: after all, it thoroughly disgraced fascism on its own terms.

In the course of time, the democratic parties have found a suitable answer to the skeptical concerns — especially their own — about democratic pluralism, first in the United States in an exemplary way. They have developed into national mass parties in the sense that they expressly represent no particular group — let alone class — interests, but rather want to be ‘electable’ by all sections of the people; all social concerns of any importance are supposed to ‘be reflected’ in their offer of programs and personnel. The necessity of redefining incompatible demands and irreconcilably conflicting points of view as elements of the common good, as conditions for the success of the nation as a site for capital, and thus “integrating” their supporters, has been dealt with by these parties and put behind them. They devise offers for long since politicized interests. In doing so, they start out from the market-economy and imperialist needs of their polity, spell out on that basis, for each subdivision of their capitalistically arrayed people, its function and importance within the whole, praise the capitalists for creating jobs, the wage-earning masses for being so understanding and willing to adapt, in fact everyone for serving in the way required by the polity, and commend themselves as the leadership team, standing above all special interests, that makes everybody and everything work together successfully. At the same time, they watch out for their party’s own “unique selling points,” which, on the one hand, are supposed to secure a committed electoral base, while, on the other hand, attracting a majority of the unattached ‘swing voters.’ To this end, they foster their particular political culture, composed of an ideological firmament of values and a civilized way of speaking within the party, a distinctive, promotionally effective presence, and a stock of traditions, symbols, memorable representatives, and role models; in this context, they calculatingly come back to the special interests and particularistic standpoints they started off as champions of. With all this and their accordingly streamlined leadership figures, modern mass parties provide the level of political alternative that — under well-ordered conditions — is necessary to interest a democratic people in the competition of aspirants for power, and absorb all the discontent that the advance of the capitalist polity inevitably generates over and over again, even among the most adaptable citizens. After all, in the course of the universal competition of capitalist firms and states, these citizens are continually confronted with new conditions for working, earning money, and spending money — usually worse ones; they are required to perform ever new services — as a rule harder ones, but increasingly also no longer any at all, which sends those affected into the downward spiral of pauperization. The few gambits with which the rank and file nevertheless attempt to get through life and get their money’s worth are regularly thwarted, and their will to keep at it takes somewhat of a beating. The constantly “pent-up” popular anger “”is latched onto by the national parties, which functionalize it for their bitter rivalry for power, making sure it is taken out on the leadership personnel of the other parties. So this anger systematically helps a new ruler or the old one (back) into office.


The propaganda work that seasoned democratic parties do to achieve this goal is a separate department of dialectical popular education, combining calculating veneration and open contempt for the “lowly” masses.

“The people out there” are unconditionally respected by their democratic politicians as bearers of a political will to the extent that the particular party can notch it up for itself as a vote. Esteem for the voting citizenry already starts to waver when a majority of them turn their political sympathies to the political opponent. Democrats wanting to govern are firmly convinced that, in this case, the people have not simply exercised their electoral freedom, but made a mistake. This mistake is really serious, the time until the next election when it can be corrected becomes nearly too long, and the sympathy that disappointed power holders and aspirants have for their base suffers when there is any appreciable — meaning somehow electorally relevant — protest against social-policy or other advances of the polity that the major parties otherwise all consider necessary and implement by mutual agreement. And when the people put up a resistance that goes beyond an ultimately ineffectual protest vote, they make themselves quite unpopular indeed.

In such a case — an exception in functioning democracies with well-bred voters, thank God — the domination-free discourse that responsible officeholders have with their citizens who are not responsible for anything turns somewhat gruff. The verdict of “refusing to accept reality” is slammed against the protesting base: without any intermediate thought, without any argument — no matter how wrong — the sad reality that the protest is directed against and for which alternatives are requested from those in power is asserted against any substantive justification for protest, as proof of the impossibility of any alternative and authority to appeal to. As soon as the masses put in a disruptive word, the antagonism between their needs and the practiced reason of state is right away held against the ‘troublemakers’ as gross stupidity, and the stupidity as ill intent: as ‘refusal to cooperate.’ Peaceable demonstrators are excluded from the citizenry that rules itself (with a little help from the authorities); the former are regarded as ‘the street’ that elected officials must not give in to if only because they would thereby betray the true will of the people that has bindingly manifested itself with their election. Democratic parties have a duty to remain immune to any discontent from below that is not served by the electoral alternatives offered, and to take harsh action against unruly victims of policies deemed non-negotiable. Politicians who seek to exploit such proscribed agitation of the people for themselves are unmasked by their reality-grounded colleagues and an outraged public as ‘rabble-rousers’: an accusation that betrays a fair bit of the contempt that the ruling elite in a democracy harbors for that part of the people who, for whatever reasons and with whatever concerns, come in conflict with the prevailing reason of state, thus belonging neither to the high earners whose notorious anger over taxes and bureaucracy is perfectly fine, nor to those who fit the modern ‘civil society’ so perfectly, those pleasure-loving, ‘alternative’ citizens,” who are quite nonchalantly on good terms with the government because they don’t feel really limited by it anywhere on their highly personal path to success. The simple folk, of course, must by no means take offense at being called rabble, even when they turn sullen and start voting for ‘protest parties’; at least not as long as they can still be ‘reached’ by one of the major parties that serves their side on the ‘fringes’ of the political spectrum. They should only be reminded that it is as wrong and contemptible as rabble is to run after demagogues — which literally only means “leaders of the people” but refers to the wrong ones, those not licensed by the consensus of proven democrats, and which makes it clear that honest anti-demagogues take their people for an easily manipulated flock of sheep that therefore has to be led by the right people so as not be led astray by the wrong ones.

The reason why the common people are held in elitist contempt by their political representatives is always the finding that their basic needs, even when they are in principle already politicized, that is, take their measure from the common good as far as possible, are never really a one-hundred percent fit for the requirements of a successful capital location and world-order actor. But there is no talk of this antagonism between the people’s needs and the state’s necessities; once it is ascertained, what concerns democratic representatives of the people is only how to give the people the right ‘orientation,’ with their consent, so that they reliably want to do what they have to do. That is why parties that deviate from the prevailing general line by advocating people-friendlier policies meet with so little debate on the merits of their position and are so much better attacked with the charge that they are making common cause with the people’s needs — which everyone has long since agreed are wrong, absurd, reprehensible, “primitive,” etc. — just in order to get approval and afterwards be able to make up their minds for them. By contrast, the mass parties endeavor to get voters’ approval with the proper line in order to be able to make up their minds for them in the proper way, thereby of course not making up their minds for them at all, and certainly not leading them astray but rather showing true leadership. What democrats argue over with their opponents is the only correct position toward the people; namely, one that beguiles the voters while at the same time taking careful account of the political immaturity of the masses and the wrongness of their needs, and serving their political views co-optively in order to correct them, not to exploit them.

The parties conduct this dispute, not only with righteous rancor against left-wing and right-wing dissenters, but also against each other as competitors who are of one mind on the matter at hand. Not just when self-evident points of the nation’s agenda are called into question, but whenever political opponents ‘stake out issues’ and (even only potentially) meet with too positive a response, democratic mass parties jump to the accusation that the others merely want to appeal to the people’s ‘base instincts’ — no matter which ones — instead of following the moral code of democratic rule that they hold up to each other and indicating clearly, while at the same time courting the popular vote, that rule is fundamentally detached from those ruled and their irresponsible wishes. The charge is one of ‘populism’ — a remarkable accusation for supporters and advocates of a form of rule that bears the Greek word for “people” in its name rather than the Latin one. The democratic ethos demands that politics not just carry through its antagonism to the people, but also not conceal it. The emancipation of rulers from every kind of need of the masses is the essential condition, and a recognizable rejection of the unreasonableness of these needs is the touchstone, for the right to pounce on the people and their political will in order to co-opt it for one’s own party. Only someone who declares that for the sake of the common good he will not shy away from unpopular measures — what they are actually supposed to be is no longer of much interest — has a right to popularity; only someone who maintains the distance existing once and for all between the “reason” of state and the limited powers of understanding of the people is allowed to make common cause with the ordinary electorate and have himself fêted at street fairs as an approachable father of the nation and a power player with the common touch. Whoever succeeds at this has a demagoguery that attests to charisma — a borrowing from the vocabulary of the ancient Greek worship of the gods that praises the art of convincing without argument, and thus well fits politicians who find approval for their use of power from those who bear the cost.

So democracy doesn’t alter this, either: the unity between government and governed it establishes is based, in the final analysis, on rule impressing its subjects with the force it wields.

Recalling the story of decline of a strange protest slogan: “We are the people!”

In the final phase of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), disaffected citizens of this state took to the streets in protest; with their ever larger demonstrations they brought about the end of their republic, according to the official history of German ‘unification.’ Interestingly, the famous slogan under which they gathered together in increasing numbers contained no subversive aim, not even any demand — it was simply: “We are the people!” That was already enough to make it clear they were rejecting the existing rule on principle — a connection that was only apparent due to the particularly great importance the ‘real socialist’ state party attached to its people: a people that was not merely to be the formal sovereign that took care of its political career by empowering the real sovereign through a free act of voting, but, as the ‘honestly working’ base, was at the same time to be the soul of the polity, the single national aim of the ‘Workers’ and Peasants’ State’ incarnate; not merely the theoretical authority appealed to by the rulers, but real beneficiaries of a just order; fulfilling the people’s need for social justice was to be the sole justification for seizure of the state apparatus by the ‘party of the proletariat’ and its allies. When this base, which was held in such high esteem, continuously called on as the legitimizing purpose of the state and urged to give its explicit consent, actually spoke up on its own authority and reminded politicians that it was the entity whose welfare was supposed to be at the center of all politics, this already called into question the seamless unity between people and leadership that the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) claimed to have established; it exposed the repeatedly called-up consent of the masses to their republic as an organized swindle. That in itself was tantamount to the legitimizing authority of the people terminating the legitimacy the state party laid claim to.

On the one hand, that is not very much. Apart from the fact that the people of the GDR were still a bit divided on the whole purpose of their ‘Workers’ and Peasants’ State’ right up to the end, the demonstrators were not terminating their status as a people according to the ‘real-socialist’ constitution, as the basis of the polity, and as the flesh-and-blood justification of a ruling power. On the contrary, they were insisting on their position as the ‘honestly working’ crew ready to serve, whose welfare the Party and the state power had committed themselves to. Their slogan was a call to order to the authorities; what they were demanding was rule in keeping with the promised unity between people and leadership — even in their protest and refusal, the people of the GDR proved to be political creatures of their ‘leading party.’ This is precisely why they hit the trouble spot, not merely of the ideology of rule, but of the reason of state of the SED. With the entire complicated organization of their political system — a “planned economy” operating with quasi-monetary economic indices and a culture of relentless instructing and moral uplifting of the masses, a party involved in everything and a social system of luxurious dimensions by bourgeois standards, etc., etc. — the ruling ‘communists’ had indeed tried to implement a ‘classless’ alternative to capitalism, and insisted that their success had to be reflected in the unbroken consent of the people, who they intended to be the beneficiaries of the whole undertaking.

Nevertheless, the little bit of overt rejection announced under the slogan, “We are …,” would not have overthrown the GDR if that had been and remained the entire objection to the SED republic’s raison d’être — or if the state parties of the Soviet “bloc” had remained faithful to their alternative cause. But they had long since been in the process of replacing their own criteria of national success by those of their imperialist enemies and shelving their time-honored party line as being a historical stepping stone, if not an aberration, on their nations’ paths to state power and glory; at the highest level, Soviet power and the ‘free world’ came to an agreement about the peaceful capitulation of the ‘socialist camp.’ No wonder, then, that the peoples with ‘real-socialist’ governments lost any faith they might have had of some day being better off than the poster figures they modeled their idea of the golden West on. Moreover, the people of the GDR found themselves invited to defect by their more powerful German neighbor and saw that as their great chance in life when they were hardly, and then not at all, prevented from ‘fleeing the Republic.’

So when the demonstrating masses started to speak out self-assuredly using the unique numeral instead of the definite article — “We are one people!” – and this took on a new importance and thrust, it wasn’t because they had reached a decision on the basis of lengthy discussions about freedom and democracy. The motion of no confidence in the old East German government which didn’t deserve such a first-rate people; the loudly proclaimed standpoint of having a basic right to a completely different and much better rule; the popular petition for an authority that would make good on the ideal of a democracy truly devoted to its good citizens: all that was heard by the West German state (FRG) and settled to the effect that the East German citizens’ dearest wish of belonging to one German people should be fulfilled. The ‘people’s own’ will for a state was to be treated to a new object and substance — as was that of the long-serving West Germans at the same time. The new citizens got to flatter themselves that they had single-handedly abolished a state and acquired the FRG.

The double disappointment was not long in coming. It turned out that so many additional ‘honest workers’ were not at all needed for the genuinely important needs of the now all-German site for capital; along with the formerly nationally-owned industry, the East German workforce, which had been so capable under ‘real-socialist’ production conditions, proved to be pretty much completely superfluous. Their material existence, which was supposed to improve radically in the new state and under competent capitalist command, was suddenly thrown into doubt practically all over the ‘Zone’ — and not only that. The newly incorporated people furthermore found that their moral existence — their acquired attitudes and views, their accumulated experience and habits, their everyday and holiday customs and their rules of decency — had lost all their validity in the new state; they had not only been the dependent variable of the ‘real-socialist’ political and economic power with their working and living conditions, but were still the product of the rule, whose base they no longer wanted to be, with their whole way of life and morality. In their complaints about “devalued biographies,” the intellectuals of the liquidated state, who had been “uprooted” in their own way, bore witness to what it means to be a people — and not being able or allowed to be the people they had just ceased to be: the now rampant retroactive moral condemnation of the SED regime had a fundamental bearing on the life they had lived as its people, taking for granted their active service to the abolished state.

So adjustment was the order of the day — the newly incorporated people from the Eastern Zone didn’t think of criticizing rule or the subsumption of their existence under its concerns any more under their new masters than under their old ones. Instead, they provided, in a condensed form, an example of how a state creating its people works: the political production process consisted in the governed people making incessant efforts, throughout their everyday life and even on Sundays, to adopt the institutional and habitual standards of the new polity, the necessities and practices of living in a capitalist, global economic power. But that failed often enough; for some, through a lack of demand for labor, which, for many residents of increasingly depopulated areas, meant the beginning of a paradoxical career as overpopulation of the national territory. Others were subsumed, with their hopes for a bourgeois existence, under the former SED’s ‘crime’ of having started up an alternative political system and having maintained it for four decades, and found themselves excluded from the expanded people’s community.

This did end up provoking a certain spirit of opposition — which was precisely the old one: East Germans felt they were unfairly acknowledged, spurned as willing rank and file, governed below value; in short, treated as a second class people. Then the social welfare politicians of the nation also started to find the maintenance of its useless overpopulation too expensive — and no wonder: the system was contrived for conditions when unemployment still involved a reasonable hope of reuse; a radical reform brought the assistance on which many East German ex-’honest workers’ had to live in line with their hopeless situation. And those affected roused themselves, for a few heavily symbolic Mondays, to a reaction that combined the imaginary right to be needed, recognized, and fairly paid as the useful (or desperately wanting to be useful) base of the nation with the idea of having been, as a demonstrating people, an impressive force that had brought the ‘SED dictatorship’ to its knees, and being able to be that again especially easily under the conditions of freedom and democracy. The old motto was freshened up; the protest demonstrations were held under the slogan, “The people are us…” — so altered, it rhymed (in German) with the humble demand long since declared to be unattainable, “… down with Hartz IV!” (i.e., with the new reforms integrating long-term unemployment with— lower! — welfare payments).

This was an easy opening for the other side to make rather a lot of noise clarifying how a harassed, dissatisfied people had to function in a democracy. Quite differently than under SED rule, a democratic people is allowed to protest and demonstrate; the government does not use secret police and police power to insist that those affected by its measures agree with them and make their satisfaction known. However, the free state requires a small favor in return, namely, that the opposed measures be accepted. And not because the state’s assurance that its measures are firstly unavoidable and secondly reasonable is ultimately convincing; this is allowed to remain controversial. Whatever measures have been decided on must be accepted solely because they have come about constitutionally, lawfully, and by majority vote of those in charge. The procedure justifies the result: this principle must not be challenged. In a democracy, therefore, protests against lawful acts of government are not the starting point for an open and unbiased dialogue between public officials and victims about some contentious matter. The only appropriate response under the rule of law consists in checking whether the objections keep to the framework of what is permissible, namely, satisfy the criterion of unconditional respect for the formal requirements of proper governance and the incontestability of properly made decisions, i.e., do not aim at exerting practical influence. With regard to the “Monday demonstrations” against the social reforms of the Schröder government, this due respect was highly doubtful. Doubtful, first of all, if only because they deliberately chose that day of the week to rekindle the memory of the uprising that was generally considered to have had dramatic, practical consequences, namely, ousted a government and finally eliminated a whole state — which at the time against the ‘illegitimate regime’ of the SED was only just, but now under conditions of freedom would be absolutely inadmissible and would have to be strictly prohibited. The same applies, secondly, to the revived protest slogan: in a democracy, a minority that speaks up as “the people” virtually usurps office and, in any case, crosses a line when this is intended to have a practical influence and compel the government to yield. For under a democratic constitution, the exertion of influence by the nominal sovereign on the sovereign acts of government is exactly codified and defined — this is precisely the guarantee of freedom that is institutionalized in this form of rule; influence from below takes place on election day and concludes with the empowerment of a governing team. Forcing oneself on an elected government outside these bounds as the people, i.e., as if one were the sovereign assigner of tasks, is a violation of the true democratic civil rights and liberties of the people.

At least the protest was polite and ineffective enough for the official side to file it under the heading of “permissible expression of opinion”; the only annoying consequences it had involved a few election campaigns of minor importance. However, the critical public, the fierce guard dog of democracy, was not done with it so fast. It could not get worked up enough about the symbols of the struggle that the GDR opposition had waged for freedom now being dragged through the mud of a struggle over money. It blared out a hearty “That’s no way to behave!” at the protesters and provided extensive coaching on the question of how much and which protest a democracy would tolerate and where the right to be publicly dissatisfied ended. And since tragedy is often known to turn to farce, the business and intellectual elite of the nation also spoke up with a newspaper advertisement to express their dissatisfaction with the dissatisfaction of the Easterners and their impermissible choice of words: prominent figures, who reckon on having an effect because they are anything but the mere people and definitely won’t and can’t be confused with anything ‘common,’ announced their agreement with Schröder’s reform policies under the bold headline “We, too, are the people!” From way up high, they denied the anti-Hartz protesters their dubious, last honorary title, quite incidentally also teaching a little lesson about democratic peoples: a people cannot of its own accord be an entity capable of action, if only because its so unequally distributed dissatisfaction prevents it from ever finding a common denominator — except the one its rulers reduce it to.


No matter how tightly democracy and market economy belong together, a decent people does not actually need democracy to function within a market economy as a capitalist money-creating machine in the interest of its state. This is how it was in the Christian West and the New World, where modern class society ultimately found democracy as its adequate form of rule. A multiparty system and free elections were not needed to make their peoples obey the imperative of everyone having to earn money with wage labor; in fact, those in power typically took their time introducing such achievements, reacting to such demands from their society most prudently, making sure that fulfilling them by no means interfered with the productive private-property order. In the rest of the world, which was completely ‘integrated’ into the global capitalist economy by the turn of the last millennium, governments have likewise applied all kinds of quite undemocratic methods to subject their masses to capitalist relations. Especially in the most prominent cases in recent decades, state parties ruling unchallenged have adopted the politico-economic practices of the major global economic powers as their own recipe for success, and forced them on a people with whom they had — according to the way they officially see themselves — already gotten beyond the “stage” of capitalist exploitation: without asking, they terminated the social services handed down from the ‘real socialist’ era and imposed the status of free wageworkers on their ‘honest workers,’ turned functionaries into managers and owners, and committed their people to the idea that the new path to success of the nation would some day bring ‘ordinary people’ something of the standard of living they already get to admire in the nation’s newly created ‘gilded youth,’ the nouveau riche with their flaunted wealth and fashion. In particular, the government of the People’s Republic of China has achieved internationally admired success by not giving up any control of their newly formed class society: it has bet everything on enforcing capitalist exploitation and competition as the ‘reality’ to which there is no alternative and with which their citizens have to live. As long as private enrichment and productive impoverishment are not firmly established and accepted as ‘givens,’ it won’t even run the risk that political recognition of all social interests, party pluralism, and free elections could give major sections of its people the idea that the new situation itself was up for vote, or at least that the necessarily associated “social evils” could possibly be voted away.

Conversely, it is in fact difficult for peoples to function democratically without nationwide capitalist exploitation. This is already evident in cases where formerly ‘communist’ state parties have adopted not only their former enemies’ politico-economic formula for success but also their techniques of rule, without the new national market economy seeming about to achieve, or having actually achieved, national success, let alone new chances of survival for the masses subsumed under it. In post-Soviet Russia, for example, there is no lack of an urgent need for good government on the part of the people nor of competing parties willing to serve it; but among politicians and in the population that has become acquainted with new poverty and very new wealth, what’s missing is the absolutely self-evident certainty that the nation is on the only right path of ‘transforming’ into a market economy, regardless of the ruinous consequences. There are contrary notions of a common good in Russia, but only since the regency of the second president have there been attempts at a monopoly of force that enforces a raison d’état of all-round market-economy moneymaking in practice as the binding common good that all party and group interests must take as their measure. Under the first president, the ‘withdrawal of the state’ and the country’s democratization celebrated in the West brought about more anarchy in any event than democratic politicians would ever allow in a state of emergency.

In many other countries, ‘market economy & democracy’ prevail without even one of the two having been introduced by the rulers themselves either out of calculation or actually at the request of the indigenous population; and the outcome reflects this. Capitalist world business, which the ‘third world’ state in charge makes every effort to have a share in, makes some use of the country and its resources, but excludes major sections of the population from any capitalist use and thus also from any appreciable participation in the capitalist world market, degrading half the people to the status of ‘relative over-population’ of the globe, relative, that is, to the all-decisive criterion of what the global market economy needs. In such countries, there is there is no such thing as a common good: the prevailing rule has no political economy that would impose a practical constraint on people to preserve themselves in the public interest by accumulating and acquiring money; it does not have its real material basis in the masses it formally governs, but in the interests of foreign businessmen and imperialist rulers, and the domestic public essentially only gets in the way of satisfying these interests.[6] Of course, even under such circumstances, people get declared eligible to vote; clan leaders, warlords, preachers, and other dignitaries get registered on lists of candidates, ballot boxes get set up, and the masses get invited to cast their vote with the help of easily remembered symbols. What such an election manifests, however, is anything but a pluralistic yet unified will for the state, let alone one having its material basis in the politicized interests of a pacified ‘civil society.’ Instead, it reflects kinship relations, tribal loyalties, religious obedience — that is, nothing but ruptures of a pre-political kind — or just the misery of people who will readily sell their vote, which they get nothing from anyway, for a hot meal. Conversely, if, under such circumstances, a party of enlightened politicians displays a serious state will, mobilizes the masses for itself across all demarcations and fronts, and defines a common politico-economic ‘popular cause’ in whose service the population might actually find a basis for a livelihood, then it is inevitably placing itself in opposition to the function that its country had long since been given within the system of global capitalism — and to the norms of a free democracy with its diversity of opinions and parties, which the moral guardians of ‘our one world’ nowadays unrelentingly make sure are kept to. For this is the advance in human rights that the leading members of the family of nations finally committed to, after the political suicide of their ‘real socialist’ enemy: they no longer advise the rulers of “insecure” states against free elections, which could end up giving a chance to left-wing parties with a program of creating an autonomous national people, whereas they used to certify the resident peoples as being ‘not yet ready for democracy.’ Instead, they set themselves up as protagonists of foreign peoples’ longing for freedom, insist on the fulfillment of democratic procedural requirements in countries that have no generally binding bonum commune’ and no ‘res publica’ whatsoever which ambitious politicians could compete to serve, and send out election observers who are so attentive to whether the procedure is formally perfect that they politely overlook what an insane business they are helping to stage.

A functioning democracy simply presupposes a people functioning in keeping with a market economy. Negative proof is provided by the many peoples whose rulers do not get along so well with this form of state, and positive proof by all the enlightened citizens who regard the necessity to earn money as their actualized materialism, the right to do so as equality come true, and the state supervision of this as the guarantee of their freedom, and who see nothing wrong with consenting to their rule time and time again, voting discontentedly.

4. National Identity in the age of ‘globalization’


Democratic leaders, educators, and advocates of the people are very proud of their method of involving the people in having control over themselves. In the ‘comparison of the systems,’ which they have even developed into a separate discipline in their scientific cosmos, they praise political freedom as the highest value in human history, without concealing that they see the most important, or at least most tangible, merits of this constitutional principle in the contribution it makes to ensuring the continuity and stability of political rule through all personnel changes and against all manner of challenges from below. On the other hand, they think very little of “mere” ‘constitutional patriotism’: a partisanship for the home polity that invokes the granted freedom as an important or even decisive argument seems to them to be feeble, superficial, unreliable, in any case entirely insufficient. Not that they have any better argument at hand: they just don’t think the proper attitude toward one’s native country should have to be argued for at all. What they demand is not that people take sides for some reason or other — no matter how bad — but rather that they be one-sided as a matter of course for no reason, having a partisan standpoint that coincides with their national identity without being imparted in any way. One should not espouse one's national identity as if it were something to be chosen and actually decided on; one should harbor it like a natural impulse. At the same time, of course, this should not lead to ‘flag-waving patriotism,’ much less the ‘blind’ kind, which is so easily ‘misused’ by non- and anti-democrats: the primordial human thrill at being tied to the destiny of the national site for the growth of capital should remain under control — under control of the appointed authority, that is — and show no ugly sides that could deter investors from other countries and just generally damage the image of one’s country. A bit of pride is allowed, however: the feeling of total affirmation of one’s personality — due in this case to the absolutely impersonal fact that one belongs to the nation one happens to belong to. There is even talk of the most intimate of all appreciative emotions: of love — for such an utterly asexual object as one’s fatherland. One is supposed to consent to being pigeonholed and subordinated through the mediation of force, this consent taking the form of a both prudent and spontaneously felt immediacy: it is this absurdity that free-democratic educators of the people have in mind as a binding norm a decent people has to satisfy.[7]

Quite some effort is put into imparting this spontaneous feeling. This is done first and foremost, unceasingly and inescapably, by a critical public opinion, which, in its free-democratic version as an autonomously acting ‘fourth estate,’ by far outdoes the propaganda for rule that dictatorially controlled state media bring off. Quite freely and on its own initiative, the public press already bases its neutral, factual reporting on the standpoint of a first person plural that notionally embraces no more or less than the nation: it acts as the people’s organ of perception, corralling its audience, as if it were the most natural thing ever, into a view of the world that is already biased even before the judging and commenting starts. After all, the perspective of the collective subject quasi-automatically links a finely graded level of being affected by the spotlighted run of things with the interest that “we” make out as well as possible (whether it be a military involvement or the weather), that “we” might succeed in doing what “we” mean to do (increasing the number of children per woman, reducing unemployment rates…), that “our people” might win (whether playing football or manufacturing aircraft), etc. Whether this is the case, how well or badly the way of the world complies with “our” interests, may then be a matter of some controversy among the assessments and opinions explicitly declared as such; this is where each particular discontent comes into its own, being served by someone or other with the appropriate critical comment — about adverse conditions, sneaky competitors, lame ducks in one’s own ranks… The standpoint that what matters ultimately and crucially in all world events is what’s best for “all of us” remains in full force through all this; it is the common denominator pervading the many freely expressed opinions, is taken for granted as the basis for all serious judgments, and thus defines the bounds of what can be regarded as a respectable view.[8]

However, the everyday habituation to a partisanly biased national view of the world does not satisfy the advocates of a genuine patriotism by a long shot; especially since in the diversity of concerned opinions they at once see a particularism of interests at work again and fear divisiveness. They would like the identification of the people with the national cause to be unquestionably self-evident and at the same time explicit — an express partisanship for a national “we” that is never called into question and underlies all partisanship. The contradiction in this desire does not bother them: they put it into action as a method by promoting a firm commitment to natural love of country, and by staging occasions to do so. In the process, proven democrats resolutely resort to the means that have always been in use wherever a ruling power has invoked its identity with its subjects. They present to the people the highest official of the state, preferably a symbolic figure beyond and above all party strife, as the representative of the general will for a state that is deeply rooted in the people itself, and foster a cult around the person that is seen through and despised as a ‘cult of personality’ in case of a lack of persuasiveness, as well as in foreign countries, by a public opinion forever out to criticize. For instance, on high holidays they have the top figure give a speech that they declare to be ‘great’ beforehand, inaugurate buildings of national importance, distribute medals by which the community honors good citizens and thereby itself, etc. In this way, the guardians of the proper attitude give power an ‘appealing face’; quite a few modern democracies even specially maintain for this purpose a monarchy with an endless family history in whose ups and downs the bourgeois family man can see his own personal life reflected in a refined version generalized into an affair of state, making rule seem human and even endearing. National holidays, an indispensable requisite for educating the people in patriotism, are used for serving up great moments of national history, preferably major victories, as objects of collective remembrance, as if the public had experienced them as their own fate. The victims are commemorated as one’s own close friends; in this way, they function as proof of the magnificence of the fatherland, for which they were not sacrificed but rather sacrificed themselves, and which those who follow after have to hold in the highest esteem if only for that reason, since those who came before were so willing to sacrifice themselves. According to that maxim of popular pedagogy, actually quite effective in practice, that the demonstrative implementation of respectful rituals will — as long as no one laughs — rub off on people’s convictions and ensure feelings of respect, the same hymn to the nation is always intoned on these and other occasions, and an unmistakably colorful cloth is glorified: such things can never be started early enough, to make sure that children, at the stage when they have to get used to all kinds of stuff without understanding the reasons for it, already develop the right attitude that will continue to bias them when they are adults.

Effects are inevitable. It doesn’t stop with citizens getting used to their subsumption under a national state power and habitually dealing affirmatively with the conditions of life this involves. They recognize the “imprint” this makes on them, which becomes their ‘second nature,’ as their collective national “character” and part of their personality. They see themselves as a special kind of people, connected and standing out through their history, landscape, language, tradition and so on, quite beyond their real social relations that hardly serve to form a communality. A people get fully endorsed in this conviction by their intellectual elite, who egg them on and give detailed guidance. The great minds of the nation attest that the people have a character that manifests itself in all sorts of specific virtues but also vices, and is expressed in a quite unique way of life. As for themselves, they see and style themselves as the critically reflecting representatives of the national culture; on the one hand, they are fully “rooted” in everything native, above all in the native language, whose untranslatable profundity no one can sense like them, and quite generally in both the continuity and the tragic discontinuities of their people’s intellectual tradition. On the other hand, their distance from the masses is no secret: all the magnanimous compound words involving the people — from folk school to folk dance, from folk customs to folk theater, from popular music to public baths, public defender, public health, public housing, public library — already make it clear in language use that a people is not simply the one big tribe unifying all the members, but, all democracy aside, the lowly base of a system of rule. And as long as those who form this base not only put up with being utilized as such, but actually accept it as their national character, they can be sure to be honored. Their folksy customs are not merely exhibited in folklore museums, but cultivated along with dialects that are dying out — regardless of the small contradiction that is involved in staging a tradition in order to maintain it. The less a national class society has to do with an ethnic group — not even ethnologists would in all seriousness apply this label to a modern, ‘civil society’ — the more the tone-setting elite is intent on promoting a folk culture: the pretense of an elemental bond among the members of the people.

And it doesn’t stop with mere pretense. The state itself does not only call for a people’s own ‘dominant culture’ and its maintenance. It views and treats its native subjects as its “born” base; not only in regard to the legal determination that the descendants of nationals or children who entered the world on its territory are intrinsically included without having to be specially naturalized. A new national generation, a homebred reproduction of its people, is so important to even the most modern capital-site administration that the arrival of problematic demographic statistics already makes it fear for the survival of its traditional people and, as part of an ‘active population policy,’ even “put up good money” to give away to mothers soon to be and parents already become. Just as a decent people insists on its rule, so does a national rule insist on its people; as if it could only rely on its citizens one hundred percent if they were produced by sexual intercourse between natives of the country.[9] Apparently, even a bourgeois state of the twenty-first century does not merely want to be reproduced politically and economically though the habitual, loyal participation of its folks day in and day out, but also biologically through their birthing behavior and family life; it doesn’t merely want to be its people’s determining environment, but to be grounded in their genes. In any event, it tries to influence its masses to this end: by means of laws, finances, and definitely agitation.

In this way the citizen gets his national identity. Which he positively feels as soon as he has anything to do with foreigners, if not before.


There were times when the population of a country hardly ever set eyes on members of other nations, perhaps even had little idea of the existence of any peoples beyond their closest neighbors, and only came into closer contact with the subjects of foreign rulers when they got a belligerently intended visit from them or were sent out by their own lords on a raid further afield: the peoples were foreign to each other, and this foreignness meant danger and hostility. Anyway: those days are over. Borders are porous; not only for goods, money, and capital, but — under certain conditions and vigilant control — also for people. From time to time, foreign workers are even recruited by the authorities and then can be found not only at their places of work but also right out in the open. Peoples know of each other; one is acquainted with members of other nationalities and encounters them in normal, everyday life. The inhabitants of the important nations of world politics are informed about happenings around the entire globe, if need be “in real time”; and many travel for pleasure to distant foreign countries, returning with videos. Conversely, natives of the less important areas of the world know in which distant regions power and wealth are at home; quite a few try everything to get into countries with a better functioning economic life than their own, and once there, if they make it and are allowed to, crop up as the lowest section of the proletariat. Et cetera. One can hardly speak of any real foreignness any more, or say that experience with foreigners is mainly of a belligerent nature. In quite down-to-earth terms, a native knows “foreigners” as people like himself: trying to cope in the struggle for survival in a market economy; plagued with financial and other well-known private worries; at the same time variously situated in the same way he knows from the different milieus in his own society. When necessary, it is even possible to communicate about essentials using the infinitive and bits of English.

Nevertheless, the standpoint that the citizens of other countries are fundamentally foreign has not died out at all. Not on the state’s part, of course: a special immigration law decrees the basic exclusion and conditional inclusion of people with foreign — or even no — passports, and special government agencies keep an eye on those people who actually belong to a foreign power. Among the people, this point of view has not been watered down either, but rather contracted and intensified into its elemental substance: whether the modern native actually identifies “foreigners” as such around him or only knows of them and bothers to think about them, he perceives in them the other “we” complementary to his own; namely, a kind of people differing from his in basically only one, but one very essential, way: with their rights and obligations, their habitual expectations and their basic partisanship, they lie outside the polity the native knows he belongs to, outside the common good he is committed to. “Foreigners” are not foreign because they do outlandish things — some compatriots alienate one another considerably more — but because they do the same as one does oneself while being fundamentally partisan to another country, being favorably oriented towards maxims of order that regulate a different national way of life — even if the maxims hardly work differently from one’s own — and that co-opt the people as the base of a different political body. The foreigner, whether he wants to or not, is subsumed under this other “we” with its own interest-driven relation to the world; and what is subsumed is not just some particular thing he might actually do differently, or his strange inflection, but the person as a whole. As a representative of a standpoint and a morality that are the spitting image of one’s own, but once and for all not one’s own because they belong to a different national cause, he is a foreigner. The native makes this “finding” clear to himself by means of images of the peculiar sort of person he is dealing with that are taken from the stock of his nation’s dominant culture, and actually considers the result to be the experience “one” has had with “them.”

This doesn’t always have to be polemical. Through encounters with foreigners, a civilized native at first feels challenged to reflect on his own national identity. He sees and feels himself to be partisan, a representative of his nation and its kind of people; obliged to stand up for it, even when he doesn’t agree at all with what his government is doing at the moment or what is regarded as being characteristic of his people, and doesn’t want to be held responsible for such things. A decent citizen won’t hear a word against his home country from foreigners; whatever is to be criticized, he criticizes himself, thereby bearing witness to the superior — meaning self-critical — virtues of his home team. He actually thinks one mustn’t disgrace the nation, and manages to be ashamed of ill-mannered compatriots. Conversely, he is quite seriously proud of his people’s virtues, achievements, and heroic deeds, of historical monuments and the culinary culture, even of landscapes and other things recounted, for example, in the second stanza of Germany’s national anthem (German women, German loyalty, German wine and German song). At the same time, a foreigner is definitely also conceded the right to esteem his own homeland; one would wonder at someone who was visibly lacking in a fundamental bias for his country and people.[10] But one thing is clear: a foreigner is not allowed to run down one’s own nation and nationality, not even by way of comparison by claiming some kind of superiority of his native country. A decent people will not surrender the conviction — even when they are not making any offensive use of it for a change — that no other people can ultimately hold a candle to them, at least not in some especially valuable respect. So international understanding between patriots always includes a portion of contempt. Such contempt is in any event no lapse, but rather necessary: by cherishing their own respective polity as the binding greatest good, peoples are and remain set on their fundamental, mutual incompatibility.

As was noted, that doesn’t automatically signify xenophobia. But in the last instance, every people knows they are in the right, against all the rest. And such righteousness is ever ready to turn into hostility.


When, against whom, and how this happens: here, too, the people, with their fundamentalist sense of honor and their unwaveringly partisan knowledge of the world, faithfully follow the political directions given by their ruling authority. The latter informs its citizens extensively about its plans and deeds, explaining to them the necessity and justice of the competitive struggle it is incessantly waging for its international standing and for the harsh foundations of this standing — sources of wealth and capacity for violence — against other nations; the more violent its actions, the more politicians like to commend them as enforcing the right that their people are entitled to due to the grand position they have conquered, or are about to conquer, by virtue of their nature, with God’s blessing, and ordained by Providence.[11] Thus, by the facts it creates, and by interpreting them in a way that both presupposes and demands partisanship, a ruler sets the agenda for the outwardly directed nationalism from below, the public feeling toward other countries and foreigners. The people, for their part, imagining themselves to be waging a contest between national characters and fighting for their natural right to succeed, prove their worth — particularly when expertly instructed by a free, pluralistic ‘fourth estate’ — as a more-or-less fitting echo of the calculations, strategies, successes, and failures of their political leaders, who, these days, especially if they govern a site in one of the centers of ‘globalized’ capitalism, are very discerning in their international amities and enmities.

  • With their peers and in their dealings with many less economically capable capital locations, the leading powers currently carry on their competition in the way of cooperation, ‘opening’ their money and goods markets to each other with plenty of calculating and blackmailing; they expect to achieve more from having their national business community participate in growth elsewhere than from excluding each other from business opportunities, although this certainly hasn’t gone out of fashion.[12] For the mass of their people, even for parts of the capitalist class, this open-market policy involves hardships, which are therefore extravagantly explained: as conditions for everyone’s long-term benefit; as necessities that one simply cannot escape; and, when it comes to the disadvantages also affecting the nation as a whole, as nasty machinations of competitors. The people listen to what they are told about who is to blame, their competitive spirit is vigorously aroused, but they have to let their nationalist aversion to neighbors be dampened since these latter are, in fact, ultimately useful. The same applies in an intensified form when countries open their doors to foreigners who do not simply bring money and leave it there, but want to earn some. In the centers of international capitalist business, such people are for the most part the most wretched adventurers of “globalized” capitalism; but the necessary meanness and practical constraints of this capitalism are the last things for a modern, civilized people to direct their aversion and critical spirit to. They much prefer — supported calculatingly by their elected representatives with relevant information — to follow their basic conviction that “foreigners” don’t belong “here” anyway, imagining that “those people” with their need to make money and have a private life are only taking away “our” jobs, “our” women, and “our” very living space; only to find their “budding” hatred of foreigners not simply supported by their own government, let alone encouraged to be put into action, but rebuked, and having to respect the fact that their leaders reserve the right to admit aliens from various utilitarian points of view, some economic and some political, and will certainly not tolerate anyone acting on his own authority. So they must curb their fundamentalism and exercise the virtue of tolerance according to the politically binding national view of things as it is variously interpreted by the free media: they suffer mentally from their foreign neighbors; they hold every success of their foreign rivals against them — no need to make much of a distinction between successful growth rates of the economy and victories in sports competitions, since just about everything becomes commensurable when informed by national ambition. But they resolve to bear their suffering, to tolerate foreign colleagues, and not to completely subsume the allied rivals of their own nation under the charge of foul play one has every right to bring against them. The ‘moderate’ section of the citizenry thus add to their national partisanship the pride of not overdoing it — unlike certain other peoples…. Other concerned parties rather suspect themselves, their fellow citizens, and above all their leaders of being so tolerant they’ve forgotten their healthy national self-interest, and would like to see more of the unadulterated patriotic consciousness that other nationalities undoubtedly have much too much of. The great majority have precisely this false consciousness.
  • Sometimes, countries categorized as useful business spheres by the leading world economic powers take advantage of opportunities in unexpected ways and cause serious problems as competitors for their big sponsors — the old EU nations are currently experiencing this with their new Central and Eastern European acquisitions, and the U.S. with the People’s Republic of China. The governments in charge — not only in Berlin — respond according to the ambiguous motto, “we must be all the better the more expensive we are!” This is how they announce to their troublesome partners their determination to employ the superior capitalist wealth and the accumulated power of blackmail at a “better” capitalist nation's disposal in order to maintain and expand this superiority. And their own people are informed that their role is to be employed as an instrument in this fight, and they are informed how: if they are not “better,” i.e., fit and necessary to achieve superior competitive results for the domestic economy, they will be made cheaper, meaning poorer; conversely, their only chance to escape becoming poorer lies in the competitive results to be achieved on the basis of their moderately priced labor services. Of course, the brutal, practical content of this information comes second to the aggressive appeal to national conceit: The people are reminded that they have always thought themselves better — it doesn’t really matter how: just in general and overall — than their mediocre neighbors, not to mention the ant-like populations of distant lands that can only impress with their mass. The planned hardships thus spur on the imperialist sense of superiority that democratic leaders take quite for granted among their fellow citizens.
  • This consciousness finds an even nicer arena with regard to the large number of states that definitively rank somewhere among the inferior-to-hopeless variety in the global comparison of capital sites. Towards such states, the leading nations act as controlling powers that are entitled to intervene at will; the sovereignty of the political entities they control counts for nothing. The actions they consider necessary for preventing a ‘power vacuum’ from arising — the natives have to remain under control, after all — and for extracting whatever resources from these countries are left to be extracted, they chalk up as a burden, which they manage very carefully. This gives their peoples a look at a world of poverty which, according to the latest findings, is to be blamed on failed attempts either to start up states everywhere that have their own, perhaps even competitive, national economies, or to bring about a development to that end using a lot of money and force, both aims being actually impossible under the circumstances prevailing there and with such terribly poor people. What is even more clearly impossible, on the other hand, is that energetic young people from such regions risk their necks attempting to get into “our” “rich North” and land a job here: it may be their only chance, but they still can’t have it. On this basis, the better-off peoples are prepared to feel sorry for the victims of the modern world order, so long as the latter are good and stay home and are innocently stricken by spectacular disasters; they are also prepared to donate a pittance and even, in exceptional cases, to be concerned about the ‘excesses’ of an ‘unjust world economic system.’ In order to protect ‘economic refugees’ from shipwreck in the Mediterranean and similar misfortunes, one can also warm up to the idea of one’s government funding reception camps that are impeccable in terms of human rights and close to their home countries. So long as these are not yet available and a few desperate folks actually make it into the ‘first world,’ those in power reserve the right to ‘tolerate’ or to deport; and popular sentiment follows: there is no desire to accommodate “the misery of the whole world,” and many even imagine they are “swamped by foreigners.” Otherwise, there is a minority who have nothing against a bit of folk culture coloring the cityscape; and everyone knows of some foreign family that should on humanitarian grounds be exempted from the rule of having to go back to where “we” otherwise say all human rights are lacking; a first-class people owe it to themselves to be so generous. But this is all over as soon as the government informs its citizens of the burden it has to bear with the ‘illegals.’ Then it is very quickly clear that the latter have to be sorted out for disposal. The selection process functions entirely without racism: the criterion for this exclusion is foreign poverty.
  • Now and then, the important peoples are confronted not only with more-or-less powerless objects of control in the less important countries, but with autonomous stirrings: unsanctioned acts of force which create unrest; even a rebellion, which in the extreme case turns into war and terror.[13] Their governments then immediately see this as their business and as an invitation to take violent action against enemies of their choosing — and their understanding citizenry promptly make it all the more their business, have the official (and the many unofficial) government spokesmen explain to them who is right and who is wrong, condemn the ‘fundamentalism’ found to be bad, and — with their universal sense of justice — have no inhibitions about becoming mentally militant. Since imperialist governments at present do not as a rule find it necessary to put their nations in a proper state of war — military interventions are conducted as international crime-fighting actions, by pros and ‘asymmetrically,’ with hands-down superior means — their peoples show an attitude of extreme entitlement: they are not only sure that they have the right, if not the duty, to force deviating rulers and their followers to see reason; they additionally demand of their commanders a no-trouble total victory without their civilian lives being disturbed by the burden of a proper war.[14] This plan never quite works out. If world-ordering operations are to be carried out with irresistible superiority they cost at the very least a lot of money, which has to be taken out of the money-producing society in one way or another, thus making itself felt as an additional burden; and people die, too. At this point, a decent people lose patience with the ways of the world and insist that their government put it back in order and make mincemeat of the “rogue states” defying the beneficent regime of the ‘first world,’ a ‘world’ that culminates the history of mankind, having developed into the ne plus ultra of humane statehood. When it comes to the necessary means of force, an indignant people have even less scruples than their military pros.
  • With their world-ordering interests and in their corresponding maneuvers, however, the leading powers of the democratic world all too easily become problems and barriers to each other: just as they have organized world peace as the united ‘West,’ they need to guarantee its maintenance and enforcement with the cooperation of their major competitors, who at the same time continually get in each other’s way. This requires that their world-order strategists perform a few dialectical tricks — and these, too, are extensively explained to the people with the necessary moral coarseness. Pluralistically, as is only fitting, free public opinion weighs up the qualifications of its own nation versus the qualifications of the others for the role of chief commissioner for global political standards; it evaluates by what right one can lay claim to being an exemplary political model for, and having custody over, the rest of the world in need of an ordering hand, and with which hard-hitting arguments one can support this claim; and how weak and questionable the corresponding ambitions of others look by contrast. The peoples go about problematizing the world-ordering morality and competence of the competitors, arrive at very negative findings — and forbid themselves the obvious transition to seeing any proper enemy, because (and so long as) their governments stop their disputes long before they develop into an open rift, and spare themselves and their nation the transition to an enmity that, after decades of intra-imperialist ‘burden sharing,’ would, in fact, terminate all the calculations that have become habitual. Thus, the citizens of the ‘western world’ can actually see themselves as being extremely peaceful and conciliatory in the midst of their idealized imperialist power struggle.

5. The people today: A terrifying abstraction, unadulterated


No question: modern peoples, even those with a democratic ‘defining culture’ and an enlightened public, show plenty of pride in their home country; the spirit of national rivalry is rife in all fields, from sports to the growth figures of the gross national product, as is the penchant for rating other nations disparagingly; immigrants are ostracized as soon as they show symptoms of deviant behavior; nationalistic arrogance and feelings of superiority are as much in use as images of the enemy that are updated as needed; and responsible citizens will even advocate war, just as they always have. But also no question: the peoples of today, in any case those with that progressive ‘defining culture,’ are basically cosmopolitan, tolerant, inclined to be civil, and prepared to esteem each other; mentally, they are at home all over the world (and when on holiday, even physically, wherever the tourist infrastructure is right); informed through youth exchanges and television, they are convinced — and rightly so — that, although everyday life with its dubious consumer pleasures and unquestionable burden of making money doesn’t work half as well elsewhere as at home, it in principle follows pretty much the same guidelines all over the world; they understand each other even without understanding any foreign language. And as for their domestic condition and coexistence in their own polity, modern peoples are becoming more and more alike, no question about that either: their essential social relations are of a highly functional nature, namely, mediated by money; they have long since cut out the elements of spontaneous development, of tribal or familial closeness, of ‘ethnic distinctiveness’ that may have played a role in the pre- and early history of today’s peoples; inherited customs, traditions, and even religions have been reduced to folklore, to objects of a transnational business of edification, entertainment and amusement, to selling points for travel companies and retailers. The everyday life of modern citizens is a practical denial of the rumor that peoples are still constituted and held together by the way they live together distinguishing them as a particular breed; when there is talk of a “Global Village” they can only nod; and when some peoples take a different view of all this and narrow-mindedly act on the traditions of their forefathers, they are regarded by their liberal-minded contemporaries as decidedly backward.

In fact, in practical life the members of the modern family of nations strip off from their national identity — which they still count on and think the world of — its enmeshment in different traditional and local ways of life; those people especially who go to great lengths to inflate every vestige of difference into a native idyll have pretty much completed this progress. They realize in the pure form, so to speak, what really constitutes them as peoples materially: their common bond consists in the functional interaction that is dictated by a national state power that is exclusively in charge of them; their ‘identity’ lies in their existence as the crew on the capital location managed by their government; what really distinguishes them from each other as peoples is therefore the position their state has achieved in the struggle for shares in the accumulation of capitalist wealth and for respect and influence on world events, and the efforts their ruling power makes to gain ground in this competition, i.e., the efforts it imposes on the personnel of its location. This banal, brutal truth about “the essence of peoples” comes to light when modern citizens emancipate themselves from their “ethnic nature,” from the more or less dysfunctional remnants of the history of their polity’s emergence and the traditional, local, special conditions of their social existence, without quitting being a people.


Friends of the people on the European side of the Atlantic have long noted symptoms of this march of civilization, diagnose the sell-out of their sophisticated occidental culture while adopting the standpoint of an offended patriotism, complain that their native living conditions are being increasingly “Americanized” — and probably never even suspect what they are right about, namely, the extent to which the people of the United States are actually the perfect model, not only in matters of fast food and motion pictures, but for a modern people’s way of life altogether. There, a complete national people was constituted — originally with negro slaves and a few non-exterminated Indians as “ethnic” components… — from the start as a capitalist class society of free citizens geared toward gainful activity, who, while not leaving their “national character,” the peculiarities of their people, and their religious beliefs behind in Europe or East Asia as the case may be, instead made them their collective private affair and continue to maintain them as such; by their still unalloyed pride in having created in the U.S. the state that is right for them, they express just slightly the wrong way round that their view of themselves as a people amounts solely to their belonging to this power with its remarkable capitalistic and imperialistic success.

Somewhat more recent is the buzzword “globalization,”[15] which includes an entire world view according to which national characteristics are quite generally being lost, national “nature reserves” for uncompetitive businesses and “social problem groups” are becoming obsolescent, and the power of nation-states altogether is waning, all this being seen as an economically necessary destiny and at the same time a productive challenge. With its intentional fuzziness, this buzzword does allude, on the one hand, to the fact that capitalism has completed what Marx & Engels — credit where credit is due — already recognized in their “Communist Manifesto”[16] as a necessary achievement of this type of economy. The global population has now been made into a global class society: with an internationalized financial and business elite, including cultural appendages; with a huge overpopulation of entire continents, which has been discarded as useless, for the most part “farmers” barely capable of subsistence; with a working class ordered hierarchically according to the profitability of their labor, the most advanced parts of the class paying for each subsequent technical advance with a leveling down of their ‘living standards’ and the transfer of those made obsolete to a socially organized pauperism; with the staff of gigantic state apparatuses, which a free world economy, for all its notorious aversion to bureaucracy, absolutely requires for its smooth functioning. The talk of “globalization” alludes to this devastating triumph of the capitalist economy and its completion by the self-abandonment of the Soviet alternative system and Chinese socialism’s total revision — and fails to be explicit about any of this — in order to invoke an unstoppable trend towards disempowerment of nation-states, especially with regard to a people-friendly social policy; reducing social spending might be unpleasant, but if the people will only do with less and work harder, then globalization could be managed for the good of all; and this cynical message is quite interesting in its way. In fact, it bears witness to a brutal intensification of competition between states. Speaking from the perspective of these states and calling for a new kind of exertion, such critics refute their own assertion that the nation-states’ power machinery hardly matters anymore — all talk of how powerless governments have become is aimed at states deploying their power unhesitatingly against the anachronistic “social security” of their rank and file.

And by assuming that nations are subject to a passive fate, this “theory” turns the matter it is dealing with completely upside down. The competition that states supposedly have to face nowadays, whether they want to or not, is actually staged by no one but them. They are the sovereign political actors who use their power to maintain the global system of exploitation and ensure that everyone is sorted perfectly to fit class society; and they do this by competing against each other constantly and on all levels, fighting for their nation’s proceeds from “globalized” capitalism and for their share of the rule over the world of states or at least their standing in the “world order.” The comparatively idyllic times are in fact over — this, too, is indicated by the talk of “globalization” — when kingdoms and republics had to make a special effort to vie with each other by civilian or violent means and gain booty peacefully or by war. In the world of today, nation-states are at work as competitive actors at all times and in all their actions; even what they do at home they do for the competitive success of their capital site and their own might; they arrange their internal civilian life as a means for an imperialist trial of strength that never takes a break and allows for no “niche of history” (as Helmut Kohl called Germany’s forced break from normal imperialism following World War Two). For this agenda they hold to duty as their maneuverable mass the portion of global class society they command. And this “common cause” gives a modern people plenty to do: that is the content of their ‘identity.’


To this agenda a people does not say ‘yes’ and does not say ‘no,’ but — “WE!” They do not take a stance, but rather identify with their role as the crew on a capital location in the global competition of states, the role their own state imposes on them. As a people, they refrain from consistently and critically assessing their own material needs and achieving a concrete generalization of their desires and accommodation of their interests, i.e., from creating an order in which their living requirements are taken care of, without any substantial cuts, by the general scheme of things — they let all this be dictated to them as their living conditions by their ruling power, thereby abstracting from themselves and their concerns in this respect. And when it comes to the real purpose the state has predetermined for all their social interactions with each other, they also show a considerable ability to abstract. The content and the aim of the relations their state imposes on them, the political interest according to which their daily life functions and is constantly reformed, this does not draw their attention either. Instead, a people faces these “realities” with the firm, idealistic prejudice that all of this is, in principle, a useful order, without which it would in fact be impossible to live together in society with a division of labor and mutual satisfaction of needs (a prejudice that the official agitation with the slogan of “globalization” actually exploits when representing the machinations of their government to people as a benevolent defense against inevitable troubles and as a fight for “best solutions”). What they have to come to terms with, because their nation-state wants to promote its power and its capitalist source of wealth, modern citizens of the world make their life agenda, both in the way they conduct their lives and in their attitude to life, just as every decent people before them: because “it” doesn’t work any other way, their existence has to work the required way and then should do so to their satisfaction. In the conditions of existence that mark out for them a path through life as instruments of capitalist wealth and state power — the only alternative being absolute poverty — they look for nothing but instruments for themselves, tools for their lifelong struggle for happiness. They respond to their inevitable failure with a dissatisfaction aimed only very obliquely at the national author and guarantor of their living conditions, since they stubbornly insist on disregarding the real reasons for these conditions — the imperialist purpose of the whole business — and on upholding the standpoint, despite all their bad experiences, that it should actually be possible to succeed in life under the prevailing conditions; for actually state and economy, i.e., power and money — of all things — exist in order to provide individuals with the means necessary for a successful ‘pursuit of happiness’ — as if the private power of money and an ever-present sovereign with a monopoly on force would be needed if it were really a matter of promoting the concretely general welfare. At the same time, the particular government in power can definitely come off badly in the judgment of a dissatisfied public: loyal citizens couch their complaints in the “we” form, remaining steadfast in taking a positive view of their dependence on the competitive struggle their public power is waging, and in seeking their personal chances for success where the nation in reality is sapping its personnel for its success.

A people thus lives the fiction of a common cause that supposedly satisfies both the imperialist concerns of the state and the material interests of the people; and they have points of view at their disposal for declaring their support for it: through a national ideology that accords their servile existence a predetermined fate, a divine mission, a racial distinction — for example, Germany as a “nation of poets and thinkers” — or some other deeper meaning. In this area, modern peoples, the ones with a democratic ‘defining culture,’ have achieved something remarkable: they believe in the democratic method of empowering their rulers through “the voter” as the — maybe not especially good, but only, and therefore — optimal guarantee that the actions of the state and the will of the people will coincide as far as possible, hence as the fundamental principle of the “common cause” uniting the material success of the nation with that of its inhabitants. This doesn’t mean they do without legends that appeal more to the emotions; but beyond all such delusions, democrats derive their certainty — that what the state obligates them to do is basically what their civic reason makes them want — from their system-specific delusion that electing a ruling figure or party (somehow, ultimately…) turns them into the ruler of the rule exercised over them by those they elect. Through their democratic dogma, they learn what their own political insights and intentions are; to the effect that the competitive efforts the authorities surprise them with are pretty much what they themselves have quite freely commissioned — truly a stroke of genius when it comes to abstract thinking.

This is how modern, enlightened citizens, as a people, live the radical abstraction from their material living requirements and from their political discontent. And they do this — like all peoples before them — to the last extreme. When a state lashes out against a foreign rule because it sees its “vital interests” threatened, thereby assaulting the life and means of subsistence of foreign subjects, risking the life of its own citizens and sacrificing national wealth, then its people “recognize” in their total appropriation by their supreme power their identity with its violent demands, and want nothing more than that they “together” succeed as promptly as possible; and they underpin their certainty of having the profoundest right to this success by citing national heroic sagas, crusade ideas, and other such deeply meaningful business. Over and above that, democratic peoples crown their willingness to wage war with the firm conviction that they are missionaries of the only true method of rule, bringing nothing less than freedom to the peoples they attack. At the same time, alongside and in addition to their missionary enthusiasm, they allow themselves the luxury of meticulously examining — this is where a critical public likes to show off — whether the government has made its military decisions in keeping with the legally prescribed democratic procedures. For this decides, as far as democratically mature peoples are concerned, whether the government is truly executing their will for war when deploying them as a resource in its military campaign; whether, in other words, the people have really ordered what their commanders are up to and are doing with them — i.e., whether here, too, the people actually want what they have to do. In the end, of course, the crucial thing in a democracy, too, is that good wins over evil. And to that end, no means is too brutal for a democratic people, just as for any other people or any “suicide bomber.”

No question: for all their cosmopolitanism and their democratic culture, modern peoples still remain true to what a people is. And not only that: they exhibit the terrifying abstraction they live in a pure form that is hard to beat. Now if they only don’t make the mistake of dying out. Then they can keep on being used to achieve great things.

Translators' Notes

[*] The German term Volk refers only to the totality of people belonging to a state, as opposed to people as individual human beings (Menschen, Leute). English uses only one word for both, whereby the rarer singular usage, although formally correct, sounds archaic if not downright peculiar (“Behold, a people is coming from the north…” Jer 50:41). This translation will therefore often resort to the modern blend of singular and plural for the sake of readability.

[†]Dostoevsky, 1861.

[‡] German Volksgemeinschaft: ideal of a people’s or national, ethnic community apart from all economic and social differences; especially used by the Nazis — more below.

Authors' Notes

[1] The pre- and early history of many a people began with tribal communities, i.e., really natural kinship relations; and often enough clan chiefs, underground movements, a Church, and similar authorities have cited all kinds of shared culture to stand by the fact that their crowd see and maintain themselves as a particular society with an autonomous right to a rule from their own ranks. Modern states and peoples distinguish themselves, however, by having irretrievably left behind such primeval relations: with their national territory, monopolists on the use of force also fence off their peoples from each other. It is a bad ideological joke that in this very world of states, there is such a fondness for explaining the sorting of mankind into peoples by some pre-political or even natural connection, and for interpreting state power as the desideratum and product of a kind of tribal community.

[2] Among critical citizens, the rhetorical question, “How else is it supposed to work?,” has always been regarded as a sound argument against any doubts about whether the prevailing relations of force really have to be. There is never any serious consideration of why they actually have to be, what necessities they are based on (at most, the idea of a justifying necessity is projected by ‘political science’ onto “man,” who “by nature” does not function without force); much less are these necessities explained, which would, incidentally, be their critique and the first step towards abolishing them. Which is no surprise. After all, if “it,” i.e., all the social constraints that man has gotten accustomed to in this particular case, “is supposed to work” in the well-known and accustomed manner, then there really is not much in the way of an alternative.

[3] Critique of the state was once a domain of leftist intellectuals, who considered politics to be systematically mean for its services to the wealth of the wealthy and for the poverty of the poor, and expected or demanded that revolution be the end of force in society and the “dying out” of its monopolist. In those days, pointing to human evils that could hardly be attributed a “societal cause,” or could easily be denied one, in particular pointing to violent individuals — who are in reality usually people who have somehow misunderstood their lesson from the “struggle for existence” in society — was virtually raised to the status of a derivation of the state: generations of political scientists have cited crime as unbeatably good grounds for crime-fighting by the police, not in order to reduce state power to this fine service, but to legitimize it with its entire range of tasks. Meanwhile, the ideological fronts have reversed themselves, without the arguments getting any better. These days, politicians espousing individual liberty who push for power and have a precise idea of the hard, freedom-based conditions of work and competition they want to impose on people, as well as permanently appointed experts who regard themselves as indispensable and underpaid, consider government social policy a pure waste of money and have introduced into the “public discourse” the extremely honorable insight that the government is not looking after poor people because of their — politico-economically useful — poverty, but rather poverty exists because it is totally unnecessarily being looked after; without the state, its welfare cases would therefore be better off. (Obviously, they wouldn’t be cases anymore, just poor.) In light of the fact that the modern state expends some effort to keep within bounds certain devastating effects of the modern mode of production on the natural conditions of life, especially dedicated representatives and lobbyists for business have become sworn enemies of “bureaucracy” and propagate “deregulation” as the guideline for the ruling activities of a state as they would like it. By contrast, socially and environmentally minded experts raise the objection that only the wealthy can afford “less government,” while the masses remain dependent on the “general services” of government — not exactly a derivation of the state, but a fine retrieval of the state’s honor, which doesn’t criticize the hardships of poverty, nor challenge the private nature of social wealth, but rather simply draws attention to the need to maintain order in the midst of these conditions.

[4]Pacifists additionally have an enormous sense of responsibility: they feel so responsible for the actions of their government that they demand it renounce wars that they might be to blame for, or at least share the blame for.

[5] In such a critical situation, democratic educators of the people then anxiously wonder whether their people might only function democratically in political ‘fair weather,’ that is, only so long as they are spared tougher tests, but would like to feel the hard hand of a dictator in times of crisis. In the meantime, democratic politicians compete over the mandate for proving in practice that they can well understand the people having such a need, are able to serve it proactively, and that a ‘militant’ “all-weather” democracy managed by them easily achieves what their suspicious critics think only a führer figure standing above all democratic procedures capable of.

[6] This has been the case above all where, in the decades after the Second World War, militant national liberation movements, citing and supported by the oppressed and worn-out natives of their countries — and never without calculating support from abroad — transformed Europe’s colonies into sovereign states or succeeded dictators first maintained and then dropped by the U.S. The main “revolutionary” mark of quality the new rulers had to offer was just this: being the people’s own. In many cases, they at least made the attempt to use their liberated subjects to produce wealth and create a political power to let them hold their own alongside their disempowered colonial masters or sovereign neighbors. They liked to give this undertaking the label ‘socialism’ and the nation’s name; in part with a view to the Soviet Union and its ‘socialist camp,’ from which they hoped to get assistance, which they often did. But they were also alluding to their political will to abstract from all internal demarcations, differences, incompatibilities, and antagonisms, especially those arising from pre-state traditions, and to actually create a national people with a will for a state, a project for which state parties on the ‘real socialist’ model were founded. These attempts regularly failed, sometimes being ruined in imperialist ‘proxy wars’; and many a “people’s liberator” — especially those sponsored by Western democracies — did not even try out such a “path to development” in the first place. Both cases have resulted, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in specimens of the new categories of ‘failing state’ and ‘failed state’ as well as impoverished masses who cannot be called a people in any real sense, since they hardly find and pursue their ‘common cause’ in the power of the state.

[7] This sort of thing is regarded in Germany, too, as being absolutely necessary again, after a few decades during which exuberant nationalism and “unreflective” enthusiasm for one’s people and country were officially out of favor in the land of the ‘legal successor’ to the Nazis’ ‘illegitimate regime,’ due to the Nazis' “misuse” of them for twelve years, through a whole war and a fairly complete internal genocide. With ‘reunification’ and the ‘end of the postwar period’ proclaimed by the government, the times when an upstanding president would publicly profess that he loved only his wife are over. Since then, efforts have been made in Germany to overcome the aloof attitude to one’s country that is regarded as the moral burden inherited from the “1968 generation” and their cultural revolution that subverted the people.

[8] Those who voice dissenting opinions and critical arguments showing no such standpoint of concern for the nation are therefore not proved to be wrong, but rather accused of ‘fouling the nest’ — a very appropriate image for the “we” consciousness that responsible public opinion makers start their work with and that they impart to their informed audience. Particularly when one’s own nation is being judged, the judgment must be based on its interests; criticism may only be made for the sake of what is being criticized; it must be evident that the critic identifies with the thing he is criticizing and is arguing for it to work better.

[9] Accordingly, whoever wishes to immigrate cannot be naturalized before undergoing an examination of his basic convictions. The ridiculous nature of such tests only underlines the principle that is being applied.

[10] Taking it for granted that foreign nationals will also behave like fan clubs for their country is the basis of the rumor spread by educators of the people that appreciating the national pride of others is the sign of true love of country and the all-decisive dividing line between patriotism, which is good, and — usually or always — bad nationalism; conversely, the rumor goes, one must love one’s own country in order to be capable of genuinely appreciating foreign peoples and achieving true understanding among nations. In fact, this edifying reflection is only an especially anti-critical way of demanding that mere nationality be sufficient reason for a decent citizen to show unconditional partisanship: patriots can’t imagine it any other way, for themselves or for foreigners!

This mutual understanding between patriots is a sure basis for any transition to polemics that might be required.

[11] When a state prepares its people for a war, i.e., makes them war-ready, it always makes sure they consider themselves a master race who have been bequeathed the right and the mission to destroy rogue states and “have the world healed by their spirit” (“Am deutschen Wesen mag die Welt genesen,” a slogan from German Romanticism taken over by the Nazis — trans.), who thus simply cannot help striking the enemy strictly for the purpose of making the world a better place. This high opinion that war-mongering leaders have of their people, coupled with the belief that this high calling of world history is genetically grounded in their nature, is the ideological “murky water” that Germany’s Nazis fished in to promote their racial fanaticism.

[12] These calculations, from the perspective of world history — namely, the state’s interest in plundering being superseded by an interest in the incomparably richer returns from a transnational capitalist commerce — are the factual basis for the political-science dogma that the market economy possesses a fundamentally peaceable nature. The sad fact is, however, that the competition of nations doesn’t play out in the field of commerce, but gives rise to disputes of the higher kind, namely, over control of the terms of world trade and, hence, over the power to enforce order among the state sovereigns in charge of these terms of trade. The powers competing at this level have never entertained the illusion that they could peacefully agree on such a thing to everyone’s advantage. The politicians in charge, as protectors of their nations’ worldwide interests, as aspirants for a universal control regime, and as experts in the art of blackmailing, know only too well the necessity and benefits of a gigantic military apparatus. They therefore also maintain one in the era of the perfected global market economy and know how to deploy it in a great variety of ways.

[13] To the great displeasure of the imperialist world public, the inferior world of states (numbered from the third to the fifth) also occasionally produces rulers and oppositional leaders who fill their people with enthusiasm for a ‘common cause’ involving an uprising against the ruling power structure; in one case against a government that is denounced among certain sections of the people as foreign rule, in other cases against the exploitation of the country for imperialist interests, either through the authority in office or against its aspirations for autonomy. Then it might very well happen that discontented sections of the people let themselves be mass-maneuvered by leaders who — citing supposed entitlements just like those that all fully developed nations hold in highest esteem as the heart of their ‘identity’ — occasionally stir up the established world order in quite a useful way (an example being the ‘desire for freedom’ of the peoples of Yugoslavia, who had forgotten their separate nationalism for a few decades), but mostly disturb it, for instance when they still hang on to their obsession with emancipation after coming under imperialist tutelage (the Balkans again providing examples). In cases of the latter kind, enlightened peoples cannot understand the partisan fanaticism of foreign ‘ethnic groups’ or religious militants at all.

[14] Of all things, it is this standpoint — namely, that the whole world of states should comply with the world-order requirements of the imperialist democracies, hopefully even being grateful for them, and put up with the corresponding rebukes without resistance, on pain of immediate liquidation, and that this should not cause any losses whatsoever for ordinary civil life, business and money-earning — it is this standpoint that ensures the unshakable persistence of the rumor that democracy and market economy, the hit successes of modern world rule, are inherently anti-war and imperatively demand a permanently stable world peace. That is correct in one very brutal sense: democratic imperialism has a fundamental material interest in imposing its peace on the entire rest of the world and being able to guarantee it with its own instruments of power.

[15] For more on this, see “The myth of ‘Globalization’ — The World Market as an Objective Constraint,” translated from GegenStandpunkt 4-99.

[16] The criticism of this work in issue 2-98 of this journal is recommended for further reading: “The Communist Manifesto: A flawed pamphlet — but still better than its good reputation today”.