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Anarchist Views on the Nation-State

Lecturer: Sagar Sanyal

Originally Taught: Winter School 2013

Lecturer: Dr Sagar Sanyal
Wednesdays 6-8pm, June 19 - July 24 (no class July 10)
Room 0104

The course explores perspectives on the nation-state from philosophy and related disciplines. It is not a course in Continental political philosophy. However, it is not a course in analytic political philosophy either. The latter is dominated by a broadly liberal perspective, and even the Marxist currents in it are largely restricted to matters of conceptual analysis rather than institutional analysis and political economy. The tradition of political philosophy that the course follows most closely is that of Noam Chomsky and the left wings of the disciplines of history, political economy and sociology.

Course Schedule

Lecture One – The founding of a European nation-state:
The lecture looks at the creation of the British nation-state, emphasizing the role of the enclosure of the commons, colonialism, the industrial revolution. Throughout, I note the connection between private wealth and the instruments of state. A key private actor in the story is the British East India Company, which helped bring India into the British empire, and smuggled opium into China in the lead-up to the Opium Wars.

  • Among the authors discussed here are three political economists Adam Smith, Karl Polanyi and John Hobson, and the historian Eric Hobsbawm.

Lecture Two – The budding and souring of a third world nationalism:
We begin with some of the cultural changes occasioned by the British rule of India, including the progressive religious and social reform of the 'Bengali Renaissance', and the subsequent dawning of an Indian nationalism as a tool in the struggle for independence. The story continues after independence with nationalism featuring heavily in a path to economic development that sees the country's new elites extracting great wealth from the poor and powerless, and ends with the civil wars being waged today against the Indian nation-state.

  • Among the authors discussed here are Rabindranath Thakur, Arundhati Roy and Vijay Prashad.

Lecture Three – How a powerful nation-state maintains power today:
The lecture is a selective history of the effects of the US military and economic order in the Middle East, South America and Asia since World War 2. It looks at some of the industrial, financial and geo-political interests in the US who stood to gain from the order. The complicity or ineffectiveness of international bodies such as the UN Security Council and the IMF is also discussed.

  • Among the authors discussed here are William Blum, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky.

Lecture Four – What makes a powerful nation state act as it does:
The lecture looks at contemporary political theory on the oligarchic system of the US. This includes matters of electoral campaign finance, lobbying, revolving doors between government and industry, and between government and academia, mass media institutions, influential opinion-shapers such as industry-funded think tanks, and the military-industrial complex.

  • Among the authors discussed here are Thomas Ferguson, William Domhoff, Chalmers Johnson, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky.

Lecture Five – Obstacles to reform:
The two previous lectures also discuss obstacles to reform, but this lecture focuses specifically on US covert and intelligence agencies' actions both domestically and abroad. On the domestic front, I discuss surveillance and infiltration of dissident groups, and persecution of whisteblowers. In foreign policy, I note some of the instruments available to the covert agents. These include foreign aid to rebel groups (arms, training, logistics and intelligence), covert action that is not declared to the US legislature or the US public, and President Obama's assassination laws.

  • Among the authors discussed here are Alfred McCoy, Jeremy Scahill, Glenn Greenwald and Michael Ratner.


Level of Difficult: This is an introductory course, requiring no previous philosophical understanding.