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Culture and Coercion 3

 This post answers Bill Benzon’s comment, here.


“It’s a very powerful complex that we cannot take at face value.”


Yes, I agree. It’s not an unproblematic form of social organisation.

If it is a development of the sovereign state, then it has to be considered as the product of warfare. Whether its constituents were commandeered through explicit conquests, or rallied to the banner of a prevailing force that could provide protection, the underlying impetus would’ve been the threat of war, and perhaps internal disorder.

And it is this culture, of destructive contentions, that I am calling ‘coercion’.

And, arguably, this ‘coercion’ permeates all modern cultures, nationalistic or otherwise, all the time.


“It presumes an essence, but it is by no means obvious that such an essence exists.”


Yes. It attempts to presume an essence, and through networks it imposes official narratives of this essence, suppressing alternative or rival interpretations.

Whether it’s the culture of a ‘people’, or a purely ‘political’ contrivance, construction and maintenance have always been involved. So, in a sense, it’s always a contest of different ‘essences’.


“I have no problem with thinking of some “human groupings” as nations and even of thinking of those nations as historical actors. My problem is with treating those groupings as cultural groupings. They aren’t. They’re political groupings.”


Any national configuration, no matter how abstracted from the ‘common culture’, is a cultural expression of a group of people. The political game is a cultural development.

Is it possible to distinguish the’ political’ from the ‘cultural’ so easily? The ‘political’ emerges out of social practice, where else could it come from? And does not social practice fall under the rubric of ‘culture’?

And is there any ‘group’ that is not an ‘interest group’?


“I’m saying that their reality cannot be understood in terms of the CULTURE of the people in the nation, except, of course, for the core complex about national identity.”


I agree that political cultures do not necessarily express the interests, or the more immediate, ‘lived’ cultures, of the people they are allegedly meant to serve. But then, are those ‘lived’ cultures always so great? Are they not themselves often bastions of injustice, or based on prior political injustices, enabled by war crimes (e.g. unclaimed and unreturned gold, illegally requisitioned by the Nazis)? It’s a difficult topic, with a lot of variables to consider.

Perhaps, to simplify, the truism about ‘management’ not being ‘in touch’ with ‘workers’, and the real conditions of work, applies here? When a ‘worker’ is seen only as a productive unit, when an ’employer’ has to be an ‘enterprise’ competing in the market, and has to produce ‘profits’, the worker’s culture is not the highest priority at this intersection of economic warfares.

Local cultural desires can be reflected in networks, governmental or global, to the degree that they have access to power: if they are sites of concentrated power (kapital, resources, cultural media, technology, military expertise, etc.) those desires have far-reaching effects. And wherever there is a concentration of power, there is often psychological manipulation and intrigue, otherwise known as politics.



“But that’s only a small component of any one individual’s cultural equipage.”


This statement reflects a certain type of individual. An individual with cultural kapital sufficient to exceed having to fall back on mere national privilege. And, wherever national privilege exists, it is often as a result of geopolitical coercion.



“As a geopolitical concept, it has its uses, but as a cultural one there are real problems.”


This was your first statement, and you are absolutely right. Culture cannot be reduced to the geopolitical convention of nationhood. Cultures have an autonomy, an independence from national considerations. They may even have an influence on the nationalistic. But the “geopolitical” is not only limited to questions of the nation-state.

‘Multi-national corporations’ have more geopolitical influence, arguably, than many nation-states. If one considers that culture, too, is an industry, in Adorno’s sense, then we begin to see how the labour of cultural production fares no better under the patronage of ‘the people’, and corporate business, than under that of national governments.


Take contemporary pop music as an example, the “Amen Break” which has been sampled on many thousands of tracks, generating income of hundreds of millions of dollars.


“Neither the performer, drummer G.C. Coleman nor the copyright owner Richard L. Spencer has ever received any royalties or clearance fees for the use of the sample nor has either sought royalties. Spencer considers musical works based on the sample “plagiarism”.”



The fact that an entire industry is quite content to exploit the work of two musicians for decades, whilst simultaneously offering proclamations concerning its importance in documenting ‘artistic’ expressions against social injustice and exploitation, is surely an irony of the greatest geopolitical significance, one that somehow reveals the essence of both polity and people.

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