“POLIS”-vs by asafwewe


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									Presentato al XXI Congresso Mondiale di Istanbul (agosto 2003). Riassunto pubblicato nel
volumi dei Riassunti del Congresso.

                                      BOGHOS LEVON ZEKIYAN
                           (Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, Napoli)


        Many a thinker has proposed to define man as animal politicum. Even if somehow
hyperbolic, this means however that reflection upon the various questions related to men‟s mutual
behaviour in society is among the basic tasks of philosophy. Among the most troubling problems
which at present challenge our attention, some are directly related to the very conception of those
principles and rules that govern the mutual relationship between peoples and nations. Problems
which in equivalent terms are described as interethnic conflicts. A great risk in this matter is that the
rich or the so called advanced world is normally inclined to look for solutions in function mainly or
exclusively of its own interests without a general frame of theoretical principles and of
deontological behaviour. Often they are also inclined to simply consider those conflicts either as of
secondary importance or of no importance at all. We also cannot forget that one of the most burning
phenomena of our times, namely religious fundamentalism, has strict connections with conflicting
interethnic issues. Therefore it seems urgent not to consider them as useless quarrels between idle
people, but to dedicate them all necessary attention, and above all to develop a satisfying theory to
govern interethnic conflicts, since present approaches have more than one gap.
        The present paper is only an attempt, a work in progress as a platform for discussion, on the
way to fill in this gap.
        A first consideration that becomes inevitable is the following: interethnic conflicts are a
circumstantial evidence, among other factors, of a strongly existing or even growing ethnical
awareness. Such a situation, in the context of ongoing globalisation, fills with wonder most of
commentators, and results almost incomprehensible; moreover it seems to them in a violent contrast
with the ongoing globalisation process, independently from the critical evaluation one may have of
this latter. Similar attitudes can find an explanation only in a superficial approach of the whole
question. On the contrary, a deeper insight into the inner dynamics both of globalisation trends and
of contemporary expressions of ethno-cultural self-awareness will discover between them inner
links and a direct ratio of growth.
        Why a direct ratio? I believe for more than one reason, and for reasons which are not lined
up one with the other. Strengthening of identity awareness can indeed be, on one side, a reaction to
globalisation, a mechanism of self-defence for minority groups, in order not to be lost in the
indifferentiated scenery of the global village. On the other side, strengthening of identity awareness
can also be a direct outcome of globalisation itself in virtue of a mechanism of imitation. In fact the
globalisation process puts on the “market” an interminable chain of patterns, values, idols, produced
by largely dominant groups, that stimulate imitation mechanisms in the subordinate groups leading
them to quest a strong self-affirmation.
        Another important remark would be the following. There has been a largely dominant
tendency to interpret interethnic conflicts, and even the persistence of ethnical self-awareness, in
function of economical factors. Marxism has played a considerable role in giving this argument a
scientific frame. The argument is not due however uniquely to Marxist premises. It can equally be
sustained and is, moving within a market ideology. This tendency too, in the contexts both of
Marxist and of market ideologies, has proved itself, like the former attitude, inadequate, to
understand the problem and to indicate eventual paths for valuable solutions. As to the Marxist
context, I make this statement not on the basis of the collapse of the Soviet Union; on the contrary,
on the basis of how the situation was even during the most prosperous periods of that Union. In
fact, notwithstanding the closest, and often balanced, economical relations between the Soviet
Republics, organised as an enormous and mutually interdependent network, a real “brotherhood”
among the various nations, as promoted and displayed by official propaganda, was never achieved,
and all conflicts that degenerated into bloody wars after the Union‟s tragic collapse – tragic in itself,
independently from one‟s political or ideological convictions – were already consistent
underground entities during its lifetime.
        A similar conclusion is also suggested, if the question is transposed into the context of a
market ideology. Let us see one example. The sixties have attested in Italy an active explosion of
South-Tyrolean irredentism. But South-Tyrol was and is one of the richest and most privileged
regions of Italy. If ethno-national troubles were exclusively or mainly due to economical reasons,
the South-Tyrolean case would have then no rational explanation. Nor is it sufficient nor convincing
to explain similar phenomena as due only to fanaticism. Such a hypothesis should lead us to deny
consequently the very legitimacy of the foundation itself that lies under those movements: the sense
and consciousness of ethno-cultural identity. Fanaticism exploits, there is no doubt, that sense and
consciousness cynically and in all possible ways regardless of ethical and legal legitimacy. But it
would be a grave error not to consider the sense of ethnic and national identity, in its real
dimension, as an expression, at higher social levels, of man‟s innate tendency to agglomerate
affirming a common identity.
        Risks of nationalistic, and even of worst deviations, cannot be a sufficient reason to see in a
negative light ethnic and national identity, or to confine them with contempt among the obsolete
aspects of social behaviour. The same is to be said of religion. Risks of fanaticism, or of various
kinds of integralism or fundamentalism, cannot be a sufficient reason to blame religion and
religious belief and sentiment as such. Risks exist everywhere, in everything belonging to man and
to his worldly adventure. To remain in our topic, if ethnic and national consciousness may
degenerate in racism or national fanaticism, we cannot also ignore the fact, to which history bears
witness, that ambitions of universalism have often degenerated into imperialism. Made the
necessary proportions, this is also the problem of the ongoing globalisation process, as I have
already hinted at incidentally, since it is object not only of hard contestation, but of serious concern
even by those who recognise its undeniable advantages as a process which can potentially
degenerate into new forms of imperialism and colonialism. But we must pay serious attention to
distinguish imperialism and „universalism‟ or „cosmopolitism‟, as one must not confound nation
and deviated nationalism.
        Negative approaches we are alluding to normally work not so much with regard to those
national entities which can be defined in relation to a corresponding statehood, but rather when this
is not the case, that is with regard to ethnic minorities.
        Why? This question introduces us into the core of our topic. Its reply reveals us the inner
dynamics of the current Western conception of nation and of national identity which is at the
ground of the modern conception of State, statehood and of all related items as well as of the whole
international law in the good and in the evil. This conception is essentially based on the Nation-
State ideology that took its roots in Europe‟s historic developments, since the late Middle Age, and
in the theoretical elaboration of State sovereignty carried out by the Renaissance thinkers, while its
formulation was completed during Enlightenment. French Revolution and its irradiation through
the world sealed its final triumph.
        At this point a basic clarification of concepts is necessary: we have to distinguish, I think,
between “Nation-State” and “national State”. This terms are normally used as synonyms while they
are not indeed. Western reflection of the last four decades and especially the developments of the
theory of ethnicity offer the theoretical bases for an adequate distinction between the two concepts.
While the first cannot realise any other identity but the one identified with the nation that forms the
State, the second on the contrary remains open to accept the existence of different ethnic identities
in the frame of the State‟s national identity. This distinction is of vital importance, if we wish to
open any possibility to overwhelm the absolute stiffness of the Nation-State system as many
contemporary instances almost everywhere claim insistently. It is not certainly due to the case that

the cradle of the Nation-State system was in France, a country that had already achieved in its
interior, long before the Revolution, an almost absolute linguistic and cultural homogeneity of its
         Interethnic conflicts are in front of an impasse today. The reflection that I shall try to
develop now will primarily regard those relations and eventual lighter conflicts which remain
within the basic unity of a given State. There is, however, a more dramatic aspect of such relations
when conflict reaches the limit of separation. But this more intricate chapter requires larger
         Distinguishing between Nation-State and national State can help, but is not enough to come
out from the impasse. It will be necessary to open other windows yet. Since the grounds of the
contemporary world-wide debate on the given topics lie essentially in the historical and cultural
developments that took place around the Mediterranean, we can find further help, if we look back to
the entire history of Western political thought since its origins in the Greek polis. If some basic data
of that evolution are clear enough, not all of them are however well known, nor their current
interpretations must be considered as unquestionable1.
         In Western antiquity we do not meet a relevant national structure, based on an ethnic
community. Polis can be, on the contrary, the rival of a sister city formed by the same ethnic stuff.
The concept of “citizenship”, a pilaster of Western law, meant as a juridical status independently
from the ethnical stuff and other discriminating factors (sex, religion, etc.), is originated there.
Rome makes its own this concept in the frame of an empire, an empire which probably offered in
history the widest claim for universality, and which also offered a great model – of course, within
the limits of the time as slavery, sexual discrimination, etc. – in so far our problem is concerned. All
Roman citizens, of whatever ethnic or racial origin, enjoyed equal rights. But we also know that
even some non territorial ethnic groups were recognised in their own ethno-cultural identity. This is
true at least of the Jewish communities 2. Such a legal structure is far different from that of a
Nation-State. I shall call it “imperial order” in the sense of an “order claiming for universality”. I
will also add that ancient Rome has given of it a better image than its late Eastern derivation,
Byzantium, which pursued, openly or deceitfully, a policy of ethnic assimilation, anticipating thus
the model rather of a Nation-State ante litteram (effectively grecized).
         The old Roman heritage has, in a true sense, survived, on the contrary, as far as our present
topic is concerned, to different extents, in different forms and within different ideological frames, in
the various Empires that blossomed from Central-Eastern Europe through the Iranian steppes. A
special mention, however, must be done of the Islamic Empires, both the Ottoman and the Safavid,
as far as non territorial ethnic minorities are concerned. This speciality can be condensed in the
Islamic ethno-religious conception of milla that found its full achievement in the Ottoman millet
system. This system recognised, according to established criteria, the communitarian identity of the
various ethnic groups, even if not territorial, with a limit, however, which did not exist in ancient
Rome: that of being somehow citizens of second degree in so far the members of the various non
Muslim millets did not fully enjoy the same rights owned by Muslim citizens. In ancient Rome all
citizens were equal in front of law, however citizenship was acquired.
         The millet system shows moreover that fundamentalism was alien to the traditional, classic
Islam in so far millets had their own law and procedures. This is not to say that there was no
fanaticism therein. Fundamentalism is not simply fanaticism, and not even mere integralism.
Fundamentalism is a modern and technical concept to denote the imposition of some religious law
to all the members of a given political community whatever their religion may be. In this technical

  Cf. for instance the recent debate between Charles Taylor (The Politics of Recognition, Princeton
University Press, 1992) and Jürgen Habermas (Kampf um Anerkennung im demokratischen Rechtsstaat,
Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1996).
  Among other testimonies, The Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul‟s Letters give us an impressive image of
sense fundamentalism supposes a conception of law as a pure form which is a typically Western
conception, and has known its most remarkable developments in modern era, especially in the
culture of Enlightenment and of Kantian philosophy. Generally speaking Ottoman Sultans or
Savafid Shahs did not think to impose Islamic sharī‘a to their Christian subjects. Sometimes
fanaticism lead them to attempt converting those subjects by force. But it is evident that this did not
happen neither universally nor constantly. Hence fundamentalism, injected into modern Islam by
Western models, is historically and ideologically one of the most crushing betrayals of traditional,
classic Islam.
         Some conclusions:
         a) in this long evolution of nearly two-and-a-half millennium a basic concept works as a
keystone in the various systems: citizenship (or its downgrade equivalent, “subject/subjection”, in
theocratic-monarchic contexts). Consequently to Renaissance and Enlightenment and to the French
and American Revolutions it stays at the foundations of the whole modern building of human
rights, the rights basically of human person;
         b) in this modern context, citizenship develops essentially within the frame of the Nation-
State ideology which, in its rigorous formulation, leaves no space to different ethnic identities
within a given statehood. A distinction, nonetheless, between “Nation-State” and “national State”
seems necessary;
         c) the imperial order, having its prototype in ancient Rome, offers an alternative system in
which different ethnic identities are expressly recognised. This recognition, however, has, in later
ages, often been limited, since minority subjects did not enjoy equal rights with majority members;
         d) a synthesis between the two systems, taking the best of each, seems possible and suitable.
Two millennia passed to arrive from the ancient, cosmopolite Rome to the modern Nation-State.
Putting together the best of their achievements should be the task of the present era, and why not?
of our present generation. May it be implemented without waiting for another millennium.

                                                             BOGHOS LEVON ZEKIYAN
                                                    (Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici, Napoli)

İstanbul, 16 Ağustos 2003, Lütfi Kırdar Spor ve Sergi Sarayı, Politik ve sosyal
Felsefe Bölümü, Salon Sultan 1.

Değerli meslekdaşlarım, sayın dinleyiciler,

çok renkli ve engin sanat-kültür zenginliğiyle yeryüzünün sayılı merkezlerinden biri
olan İstanbul, aynı zamanda doğduğum şehirdir de.

Şehrimde, evrensel felsefi düşünce ve düşünmeyi temsil eden böylesi seçkin bir
kitleye hitab ederken çok mutlu ve heyecanlı olduğumu itiraf etmeliyim. Bu, benim
için özel bir kıvanç kaynağıdır.

Kongre Düzenleme Kuruluna, aynı zamanda Uluslararası Felsefe Federasyonu
Başkanı da olan sayın Prof. Ioanna Kuçuradi‟nin şahsında nazik davetlerinden ötürü
teşekkür ederim.

Başarı ile gerçekleştirdikleri bu büyük inisiyatifden dolayı kendilerini içtenlikle

Felsefe Doktoramı vermiş olduğum İstanbul Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi Felsefe
Bölümü Hocalarım, merhum Prof.ler Halil Vehbi Eralp ile Macit Gökberk‟i rahmet
ile anar, sayın Prof.ler İsmail Tunalı ve Nermi Uygur‟u saygı ile selamlarım.

Şimdi İngilizce devam etmeme müsaadelerinizi arz ederim.


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