Public Interest vs National Interest

A bit on the longish point and some of the ideas are subtle, but there is a critical thread running through this talk that I summarise below.

1. National Interest is a corollary of nationalism.

2. Nationalism is a project of elites.

3. Nationalism rests on ‘effective myths’ of communal solidarity

4. For the myths to be effective, large sections of the masses must buy into it.

5. Sometimes what is purported to be in the ‘national interest’ will self-evidently not coincide with ‘public interest’, classically defined.

6. Yet, the logic of national interest is what usually builds the institutions that enables effective state capacity (including the ‘rational consensus’ institution), which in turn galvanise the elites in control to respond to public interest at all.

7. Never having had a proper national interest framework, the ‘public interest’ conversations and processes of most African countries are usually hollow and patchy.

8. Never having had a culture of elite solidarity around sacred doctrines of any kind, which a national interest framework would have lent, the public interest efforts of most African countries are usually confused, disorganised and incapable of galvanising elite action.

9. Civil society makes do with what they can get.

10. So they step in purporting to define the public interest but are met with cynical claims of misunderstanding national interest, which action breeds further dissonance, as there has never been any real articulation of national interest to begin with. So in the confusion of articulating a confused public interest against a confused national interest, African activists encounter a messy din in which rational consensus suffers even further.

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