A premature review: States Without Nations by Jacqueline Stevens

Last year, Columbia University Press sent me a review copy of Jacqueline Stevens’ States Without Nations, at my request — and unfortunately I let it sit for a year. This is unfortunate not only for reasons of politeness, but also because I’ve finally started reading it and absolutely love it. She argues that birthright citizenship is one of the primary causes of injustice and suffering in the world and that it should be abolished, along with any state recognition of essentially anything hereditary (inheritance of wealth, ethnic groups, etc.).

While she acknowledges that capitalism is also a major source of injustice and suffering, she believes that the left has historically been blind to the need to combat nationalism and family ideology, believing them to be “holdovers” from previous eras that will essentially go away by themselves. I find her focus on the family and on the fantasies underlying national loyalty (namely, the fantasy of obtaining immortality through identification with the eternal being of the nation) to be an interesting variation on the Marxist turn to psychoanalysis to figure out why the revolution failed to take place or whatever — instead of just plugging psychoanalytic concepts into a framework where it is presupposed that the economy should be primary but is being spuriously covered over, she directly confronts the primary domain of psychoanalysis, namely, the family unit.

As a long-time opponent of nationalism and family values, I’ve found that Stevens’ book provided a nice combination of confirming previous intuitions and giving me more food for thought. Her analysis and proposals are as far-ranging as any “continental” figure, yet her approach is much clearer and more argument-centric than Agamben or Foucault. I will definitely be using this book in my future work, even if the second half inexplicably falls off in quality.

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One Response to “A premature review: States Without Nations by Jacqueline Stevens”

  1. bjk Says:

    I took a look at this, it’s an interesting book. My favorite proposal was putting drug addicts in charge of drug treatment centers – what could go wrong? Also a little bizarre was the proposal for a poll tax and literacy tests for “active citizenship” (p. 56) – I’ll keep my no-cost, no-obligation “passive” birthright citizenship, thanks. It reminded me of the libertarians who see indentured servitude guest workers as the way of the future.


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