What Is a Nation?
Is it a group? Are they peoples who are bound by a common religion? What are their common values?
A friend of mine emailed me to complain about my support for Viktor Orban, the Hungarian PM. I replied to his question about what he was concerned by. He said that the media coverage on Hungary and Orban was misleading and ineffective. Perhaps there is something more to your concerns than you think, but I suggested that it could be possible for the media reporting to mislead people. According to him, he was raised in an environment that encouraged “ethnonationalism” and is concerned about Orban.
I responded by sending a link to Orban’s speech, so he could read the PM’s comments in context. He might disagree with me, I said, but he needed to be sure that Orban wasn’t talking about Magyar supremacy but Islamic immigration to Europe. I mentioned to my friend that he might find that objectionable (he’s a liberal, after all), but that the clash between Christian and Islamic culture has defined Europe since the Muslims invaded Spain in the 8th century, only ending with the final defeat of the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna late in the 17th century. He should also consider the fact that both the Hungarians and the Poles have seen the unsolvable and huge mess the French, Dutch, Germans and Belgians created by importing large numbers of non-assimilable Muslim populations in the past century. Practically, it is absurd that these European countries would want to make these kinds of problems. This is not about one civilization being better than another. It is more that they are so distinct that attempting to combine them into one is very difficult.
My friend and I decided to have a WhatsApp conversation about this topic. But that question came to mind again when I clicked on a Twitter link to this 2021 TAC essay by Darel Paul, musing on the question of nationhood. His words:
Every debate is afflicted by a confusion of terms, but the debate over American national identity is cursed seven times over. Is the United States a nation? In the sense of common descent (the root of “nation” is the Latin nasci, to be born), clearly not. The idea of American nationalism is frowned upon by many because of the widespread fear that such an ethnic sense will be a part of American identity. Most American elites prefer words like “patriotism” (never mind the Greek root patrios, of one’s fathers), a shared love of the law rather than a shared love of a people. The well-worn American creed, a belief in deeply American and yet simultaneously universal principles of liberty, equality, individual rights, and self-government, is offered as both the means and the object of this patriotic love binding the plures into an unum.
The problem with patriotism as a concept is its weak glue. There is ample proof in the recent US history. Liberty, equality, self-government, individual rights and liberty are not objects of agreement. One definition of equality can be advanced without violating another. The current struggle for religious freedom is the focus of political debate. In a zero-sum battle (viz. The current equity versus equality debate. Expanding individual rights to solve conflict is not an effective solution. This puts more and more republican common life in the hands of courts and private entities, making it less common to govern in common.
This is the reason for the anxiety expressed by American conservatives, who loudly proclaim the limits to diversity that no political community could survive beyond. Problem with the conservative complaint is that nobody knows where the American Rubicon is. In condemning projects that unify, such as “a city on a hill” or “the melting pot”, the left implicitly suggests that this line is far from being reached. Some centrists claim that nationalism has been a myth since the days of Pearl Harbor and Watts riot. However, there have always been strong divisions in cultural and political value. The republic survived.
How much unity is a political group really going to need? In the abstract, this question has no meaning. What is it needed for? Civil peace is the standard answer. A polity without unity is likely to fall into violence, as it is said. The current levels of civil and political violence in America is alarming. Still, Scotland’s secessionist party has governed it for 15 years with no incidents of violent conflict. Flemings, Walloons, and other political groups have led separate lives over decades with no sign of civil war in Belgium. Moreover, excessive demands for unity can themselves provoke violence, as happened in Spain in 2017.
Prof. Paul continues to assert that America’s only true strength is its imperial expansion:
It is this promise of greatness, this glory of the expanding republican empire that knows only the boundary of the earth itself, that has been the glue of America. The United States does not constitute a country in European, Asian or Asian terms. Therefore, the United States has only part of a common heritage, religion and culture. The whole is bound together by the common glory of empire expansion and a republican government that all citizens share in.
I don’t think it is fair to disagree with the assertion that imperialism is our bind. This strikes me instinctively as absurd, but it’s not something I want to think about right now. The statement “The United States is not a country in the European, Asian or Asian sense” really jumps out to me. He is referring to the fact that our ancestors did not come from a tribe. We might have thought at one time in US history that we were European nations and that we would follow an immigration system that maintained this. We didn’t and here we are. You can’t go back even if there is a way.
I believe it’s possible to unite the nation through shared values. However, “values”, as a concept, is weaker than “religion”, “ethnicity,” and “culture.” What else are we left with? Although I am skeptical about liberalism’s viability, I find it hard to believe that any political system could govern a nation as diverse and vibrant like America. Civil conflict is certain to result from the Left’s all-in support for racial identification politics. What the heck is all this?
The Left is abandoning liberalism in favour of racialism. It is amazing that the Left doesn’t see their actions. They are so blind because the kind of white people they surround themselves with are like the kind of white people who run most establishment European political institutions: filled with self-doubt, to the point of self-hatred, and unwilling to defend either themselves or a system striving to give people of all races equal opportunity (not outcome).
Hector St_Clare, a reader of this blog, wrote that Americans tend to be very ignorant about the way the rest of the globe sees them, both in terms of solidarity and ethnic community. Hector stated that Viktor Orban’s comments were not unusual elsewhere in the world. When I read the Prof. Paul line — “Widespread Fear of such an Ethnic American Identity Drives Considerable Homility to The Very Idea of Nationalism” — it made me understand why Americans are so irritated when they hear comments like Viktor Orban’s. It’s not wrong to pay attention to the American South’s history of racism. However, I think Americans are foolish to assume that they know all the answers and that everyone else in the world is a slave to American deracination.
If you explain to people that to become decent humans they must give up any loyalty they may have to their kind (their tribe or co-religionists) and any claims on land they claim, they should not be shocked when you tell them to go to hell. For most, these loyalties are so strong that they can be pre-political. If you are referring to “not liking ethnonationalism” and you do not like the way political leaders use ethnic minorities for their own benefit, I am totally in agreement. If you are referring to your preference for your tribal culture or religion as the basis of politics or solidarity, then I’m sorry. We don’t have to say to the Mexicans they should not want their country and culture to be dominated by Mexicans. The French, French? Or Georgians? It’s a redundant concept, and “ethnonationalism” in that sense is it not?
Maybe Professor Paul is correct. The last time I felt a strong sense of unity as part of the American nation was on September 11, 2001, and its immediate aftermath. And yet having lived through what America’s leaders did with that sense of unity, and what I personally allowed myself to support (the war) out of a sense of national solidarity, and solidarity with the dead of 9/11 — well, I fear making a strong claim on that again. But, should America be attacked again by terrorists so brutally, I’d likely feel the old urge to support them.
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Or would I? And I would also wonder what kind of country had been attacked — this, in a way that was unthinkable after 9/11. This means that so many fundamental aspects of American life and American values have come under severe attack over the last two decades, it’s difficult to claim that America is a country in any other sense than nominal. Look, there is a political and social order that trains children to believe they are the opposite of sex in public schools and other private venues (e.g. media). Although this would be a terrible thing for children, it is something that many in this country consider to be a good idea.
What ties unify people who believe this to be evil and those who consider it good?
Are the bonds that link us more powerful than our mutual hatred?
Viktor Orban examines how gender ideology is destroying our children and turning us against one another, and he wants nothing to do with it. You can’t blame him.