Sunday, April 23, 2006

From the LRC blog
Country vs state
Or ‘my country, , my state, no
Country is a concept of peace, of tolerance, of living and letting live. But State is essentially a concept of power... it signifies a group in its aggressive aspects...
- Randolph Bourne

Russian, for example, has different words to distinguish these. There’s народ (naród) for the people much like the Mr Bourne’s sense of ‘country’, наций (nátsiy) for the state and either отечество (otyéchestvo), fatherland (just like Germany)*, or, for the literal land itself, родина (rodína). There are also two adjectives for the different meanings: русский (rússkiy) is ‘Russian’ in the sense of belonging to the people (even if you’re a naturalised citizen somewhere else — you’ve simply got a different piece of paper in your pocket) but российский (rossíyskiy) means that in the sense of the state.

I was once told the story of Campbell’s Soup heir John Dorrance swopping his American citizenship for Irish to avoid the wicked inheritance tax in the US. He explained, essentially, that yes, he loved his country (the people, including his family whom he was defending in doing this) but to hell with the state.

It’s also why Robert E. Lee was heroic — he turned down command of the US Army because it would have meant turning his soldiers’ guns and bayonets on the people of Virginia (which the federal troops later in fact did). (By the way, he was paternalistic by our standards but not a racist and that war wasn’t really about slavery anyway but rather the raw naked power of the state.)

*As you can hear in the old Soviet anthem (‘Славься, Отечество...’) and the Russian name for World War II, Великая Отечественная Война (Velíkaya Otyéchestvennaya Voyná), often translated as the Great Patriotic War but really the Great Fatherland War.

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