Newt Gingrich and the Invention of Politics

“Remember there was no Palestine as a state,” says Newt Gingrich, current frontrunner for the Republican Party’s US presidential nomination (“Gingrich Describes Palestinian People as ‘Invented,'” Fox News, December 10). “It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people …”

First, credit where credit is due: Gingrich is right.

Throughout recorded history, the region known as Palestine has been a football kicked between empires (Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, various Caliphates, the Ottomans), its inhabitants usually denied anything resembling a “national identity.”

That began to change in the early 20th century. Local Arab leaders, responding to the succeeding waves of Jewish aliyah (“ascent,” return to their historic home) and hoping to cut a new state out of the territory instead of acquiescing in absorption by existing Arab regimes, attempted to counterpose a Palestinian national identity to incipient Israel.

Had those existing Arab regimes succeeded in quashing the new Jewish state, that’s likely the last we’d have heard of “Palestinians” (except in the sense in which the term was used prior to 1948 — referring to Jews born in the region). Those Arabs would have become Jordanians or Syrians or Egyptians whether they liked it or not, and that would have settled the question for a long, long time.

It was Israel’s victory in the 1948 war which allowed a Palestinian national identity to emerge and harden in exile, nurtured by Arab “leaders” who’d missed their chance to absorb and crush that identity and now found it a useful propaganda instrument.

All collective identities of this sort are invented, not least that of Israel, which its citizens self-assembled in less than half a century, operating from the dream of Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl.

“Americans” were British colonists seeking “the rights of Englishmen” until, in the second year of their revolution, Thomas Paine convinced them to invent themselves differently.

Germany and Italy didn’t come into existence as cohesive nations until they were forcibly united by men like Bismarck and Garibaldi in the 19th century.

Look at any of the imaginary lines drawn on the ground by politicians around the world — “borders” — and you’ll find that those lines started with invented identities, upon which power-seekers piggybacked their pretensions. Gandhi’s India and Jinnah’s Pakistan, Bolivar’s Gran Colombia — you name it. Nations invent themselves constantly and spontaneously, after which they’re boxed in and drained of their inventive energy by their own emerging political classes.

To condemn Gingrich for taking notice of this fact is to both miss his point and gloss over his real failure of imagination and character.

Minimized in most accounts of his statement is the fact that Gingrich supports adding yet another Westphalian nation-state — based, like all such states, on parasitic exploitation of invented identity — to the map.

That parasitic exploitation, statism, is no solution to social ills. In fact, it exacerbates those ills and prevents those who identify with each other from finding real solutions.

Political government inhibits the constant, natural process of invention and re-invention, attempting to freeze social and ethnic identities in place and channel their energy for the benefit of parasites. Parasites, like, in a word, Gingrich.

The first step toward peace — in Palestine as everywhere else — is abolition of the state.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory