In April 2002 the Center hosted a conference titled “Nationalism, Globalization, and Terror: A Debate on Stateless Nations, Particularism/Universalism, and Radical Democracy.” The conference was ambitious in scope, attracting globally renowned scholars; opportune in timing, coming as it did in the wake of the then relatively recent events of 9/11; and prescient in its findings in light of later international developments.
The Center subsequently published a book that included papers delivered at the conference. Titled Empire & Terror: Nationalism/Postnationalism in the New Millennium and edited by Begoña Aretxaga, Dennis Dworkin, Joseba Gabilondo, and Joseba Zulaika, we think this is a work well worth revisiting some fifteen years after it was first published.
Specifically, the issues is discusses–the nature of democracy and capitalism, the challenge of stateless nations to the established political order, and the rise of international terrorism–are as important today as they were back at the turn of the millennium, indeed arguably even more so. In broad terms, the book addresses the themes of nationalism, globalization, terrorism, democracy, and culture.
Quoting at length some passages from the introduction:
We do not see the concrete and specific cases discussed here in merely particularistic and exceptional terms. Rather we think of them as providing specific political contexts in which are dramatized crucial questions about contemporary relations of power, sovereignty, statehood, ideology, and fantasy. We see them as sites of psychic investments in the particular that nonetheless have implications for the universal dimension. Particularistic claims, such as self-determination, ultimately appeal to universal principles. Moreover, specific interests, if they are not to be merely relational or differential, invariably end up in conflict with other such interests, mediated by a field of power relations that is structured by forms of dominance, subordination, and exclusion . . .
A genuinely democratic society permanently shows the contingency of its foundations, the gap between the ethical moment and the normative order. Critical in this context are antagonisms, which have no objective meaning and which produce empty signifiers with no necessary attachment to any precise content. While authority attempts to establish an objective order of social relationships, it is subverted by antagonisms that lack a definitive ground. At the level of political subjectivity, historical analysis shows that oppositional identities are simultaneously antagonistic to and dependent on the status quo from which their opposition and hence identity is derived. Issues pertaining to antagonism and oppositional identities repose at the center of our reflections . . .
As scholars, we are concerned with issues of particularism/universalism and democracy. The spiraling circle of violence and the narrowing scope of the discussion about it likewise preoccupy us. We see this volume as a contribution to expanding that debate beyond the idea that terrorism is intrinsically evil and therefore can only be condemned, or the notion that it is part of an inevitable clash of civilizations. Situating terrorism within different historical contexts and analyzing how it functions as a stimulus for discourse are the preconditions for opening up that discussion beyond today’s stultifying polarities.
Empire & Terror is available free to download here.