“Forget about Europe!” shriek the neo-isolationists. “Only Britain and Israel matter. We saved the French twice in one century, and they still think they have a right to follow their own foreign policy.” Americans used to have somewhat longer memories. When General Pershing arrived in Paris in 1917, his aide and orator declared, “Lafayette, we are here!” not only in remembrance of the Marquis de Lafayette’s services during the Revolutionary War but in acknowledgment of the fact (not often recalled) that the French navy and army rescued the American cause at Yorktown. There were, in fact, more French than American troops on the ground when Cornwallis surrendered.
The American victory was important to the French army, whose memories of glory went back to the first half of Louis XIV’s disastrous reign, but, under the nationalist governments of the Revolution and the Empire, French arms dominated Europe. French soldiers fought and died bravely in World War I, and, although the nation was too worn out to sustain a second war against Germany, French volunteers in British forces and the soldiers of the Free French, led by the greatest statesman of the 20th century, made a good showing. My late friend Marcel Boisot, an heroic pilot who flew his plane out of Vichy France and crash-landed in Spain, flew many missions for the RAF and was highly decorated by both the British and French governments.
This is the nation of cowards currently being reviled by internationalist leftists who insist on describing themselves as patriotic conservative Americans. Most are none of the above. (How many have ever shot skeet, attended a church picnic, or joined the Boy Scouts?) The ironies do not end with the neoconservatives. Few anti-imperialist or “isolationist” conservatives know how to respond to the call for renewed patriotism. Libertarians can rightly say that they oppose all wars among nations, because they do not believe in nations, not even their own. But what can Pat Buchanan’s friends, who for years have been banging the nationalist drum, say in response to the neojingoists?
Few nationalist conservatives, in fact, support the projected war against Iraq, but they ought to be happy with the upsurge of patriotic rhetoric. We know they are not, but why? Surely not because they like Saddam Hussein. The nationalists would say that the war against Saddam is an unjust war, is not in the national interest, and is being undertaken out of a combination of bad motives: greed for Iraqi oil and a desire to protect Israel.
To a true nationalist, however, bad motives should be a small obstacle. “My country, right or wrong” is a nationalist cliché. If the success of the nation is the highest good, then how can it be right to promote divisions within the nation and to undermine the expansion of the nation’s power? At a time like this, nationalists would be expected to be found playing on the national team, not coaching from the bleachers. It is difficult for men who have spent their careers despising the ACLU suddenly to deplore the erosion of civil liberties and states’ rights over the past year and a half, much less the eruption of vulgar patriotism—the cult of the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the incessant droning of “God Bless America.”
The words nationalism and patriotism are often confused, and, even when political theorists draw a contrast, the result is often a distinction without a difference or a bizarre twist of meaning that defies everyday usage. The modern concept of nationalism (just like the concept of internationalism) took shape during the French Revolution, which implemented Rousseau’s theory of the general will and continued the process of centralization inaugurated by the monarchy.
According to 19th-century nationalists, the will of the nation—where nation is defined as an historic community of blood and tongue—had to find expression in a common and unified state. Hence, the Italian nationalist Mazzini, whose political lineage went back to the Revolution (by way of Buonarotti, the disciple of Babeuf), spoke always of the twin principles of unity and nationality. Italy presented a special case of a people that had not been unified since the fall of the West-ern Roman Empire and had been divided up into competing principalities, some of which were controlled by foreign dynasties (e.g., the Bourbons of Naples) and foreign powers, particularly Austria. To liberate and unify Italians in a centralized state was the nationalists’ goal, one that naturally overrode all the local patriotisms of Sicilians, Venetians, Latins, and Tuscans—to say nothing of Catholics loyal to the pope, whose estates were rudely stripped away by the French-speaking rulers of Piedmont. That process of unification culminated in the 1860’s, when the more developed North conquered and subjugated the agrarian South. The parallel with the American Risorgimento did not escape the notice of Pope Pius IX, who regarded Jefferson Davis as a fellow victim of nationalist aggression.
Most 19th-century liberals were sympathetic to patriotic and nationalist movements of liberation and unification, and even arch individualist John Stuart Mill embraced the notion that every distinct nation should have its own state. However, other liberals condemned the nationalist state as spiritually and culturally mortifying. Jacob Burckhardt pointed out that a divided Germany had produced Haydn and Goethe, but the unified nationalist German state was eager only for power, not for civilization, “hence the hopelessness of any attempt at decentralization, of any voluntary restriction of power in favor of local and civilized life.”
In England, Lord Acton condemned nationalism as the principle most inimical to human liberty, and he viewed a federal system, such as that of Switzerland or the Holy Roman Empire, as the best solution to ethnic conflict. States built on the national idea were, he argued, too confining to inspire the generous, cosmopolitan civilization that had been characteristic of European man.
If the nationalist standpoint narrows the human outlook, it also implies a willingness to divide the human race into the categories of us and them, and to define them as an enemy to be eliminated or subjugated. This attitude, as George Orwell pointed out, stems from “the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’” By identifying ourselves with a nation, he said, we place the state “beyond good and evil, . . . recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”
Propaganda and ethnic bigotry are the hall-marks of developed nationalism. While soldiers in the two world wars were sometimes willing to look upon one another as human beings, their governments, which enlisted distinguished writers in their propaganda campaigns, were not. The Germans, who were portrayed as savage monsters by the Allies, ridiculed the effeminacy of Britain and France and portrayed Jews and Slavs as subhuman. The United States, in denigrating the Jap-anese, resorted to the most sordid racial stereotyping. Such propagandistic stereo-typing on the part of the U.S. government goes back, at least, to the Civil War, when government and newspapers alike depicted Southerners as cruel and inhuman slave drivers. The propaganda was then used to justify the criminal actions of the Union.
For the most part, however, nationalists do not actually identify themselves with the real and historic country of their birth but with a fictional version. Robes-pierre’s France was the imaginary product of his scheming but uneducated mind, and the Jacobins reinvented French history as the struggle between the subjugated Celts and Frankish invaders who made up the aristocracy. Although the real Germany was divided between Catholics and Protestants, the Nazis’ ideal German nation had to be unified, and Hitler was more ready to persecute his family’s own Catholic Church, because it divided Germans and made some of them loyal to an international entity.
Rabid nationalism, so far from being a sign of strength, is actually an indication of a weak sense of nationhood. Lincoln’s United States, Masaryk’s Czechoslovakia, Pavelic’s Croatia, and Mussolini’s Italy were divided countries in which people were more loyal to their region, their church, or their ethnicity—to anything but the nation.
Modern Zionism, a nationalist movement par excellence, flourishes in an Israeli state divided between Jew and non-Jew and, more importantly, between Middle Eastern and European Jews, between ultrazionists and socialists, liberal secularists and the Orthodox who would restore Solomon in all his glory. Their only unity is in national solidarity against the Palestinians and other Muslims, whom extremist rabbis dismiss as Amalekites, a nation to be eliminated. Their hysterical propaganda, repeated by uneducated evan-gelicals in the United States, is perfectly understandable as a form of nationalist self-reassurance. To describe Zionism, as the Palestinians do, as a form of Nazism is to miss the point entirely: Arabic and Israeli nationalisms were forged in the same European laboratory of revolution. Arafat and Sharon are as alike as Eteocles and Polynices were—twins who fought even in the womb.
The nations adored by nationalists do not actually exist but are something to be realized in the future. The real Israel of downtown Tel Aviv is a far cry from the Zionist dream. Mussolini, it is said, dreamed of changing the Italian climate to harden the character of his people, and, after the war, Italian fascist Giulio Evola openly voiced his contempt for the Mediterranean character of Italians who were happy to abandon the virility of fascism and return to their mandolins and “O Sole Mio.” Evola thought he wanted to restore the virtues of ancient Rome, little realizing that Romans in the age of Cicero were far closer to the Italians than to the severe characters portrayed by Livy.
From this perspective, Sam Francis and Pat Buchanan are not really nationalists at all: They are patriots, a word that misuse in the mouths of politicians and propagandists has rendered unpalatable and, perhaps, obsolete. In general usage, patriotism signifies a person’s willingness to take risks and make sacrifices for the sake of his country and his fellow citizens. Although his devotion may spring from an instinctive “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life,” the patriot is not merely loyal to a spot of ground; he is willing to defend it with his life. Patriotism, although it begins in instinct, can also, as Lord Acton advocated, transcend the blood-and-soil passions of primitive man and become an ethical force based on respect for law and the Constitution.
In arguing for a purely ethical patriotism, Lord Acton failed to understand that the stages of human social development can never be transcended; they can only be incorporated into more complex communities. The family was not eliminated by being incorporated into a tribe, and a tribal or provincial identity can only be destroyed at grave peril to the moral health of the people.
Jacobin nationalists established the model. In attempting to build an abstract and artificially unified French nation, they made war on all other, deeper loyalties: They attacked the Church; waged a war of genocide against Catholics in the Vendée; and did their best to obliterate the distinctive ways of life (e.g., in Provence and Brittany) that were responsible for the vitality of French culture. The predictable result in France, Britain, and the United States (to name only three examples) is a mass culture in which the only “national identity” is found in commercial entertainment and state propaganda.
The instinctive loyalty to family and tribe has no name in English or in most European languages. Edmund Burke, however, intuited the concept when he referred to the “little platoons” that command our loyalties. Serbian does have such a word: rodoljublje, love of kith and kin, love of the stock (rod). The love of kith and kin is based not on race but on language, culture, and tradition; and, while the process of loyalty begins with the family, it culminates in the commonwealth, which fulfills (without superseding) lesser loyalties. Rodoljublje does not even require a nation-state. It is possible to be loyal to your own people even when separated—as Serbians, Montenegrins, and the Serbs of Bosnia and Krajina were in the 19th century (or as Greeks were until the Roman conquest). Separate ethnic groups may also be unified in a crown, as the Scots and English were under James VI and I and as the various peoples were under the Holy Roman Empire.
The difficulty comes when a multiethnic monarchy or empire begins to force assimilation, as happened in the waning years of Austria-Hungary, which had degenerated from the more inclusive ideal of the Holy Roman Empire into a dual monarchy. Austria-Hungary’s dual nationalism made it difficult, if not impossible, for Slovaks, Croats, and Serbs to preserve their identities. Hungarian nationalists such as Lajos Kossuth portrayed themselves as enlightened patriots interested in the good of humanity, but Kossuth and his allies worked tirelessly to suppress the Slovaks and the Croats who wanted to defend their own identities. This is precisely the effect that all the misguided proposals for a national language or a national cultural would have. Such well-intentioned people as Ron Unz (the scourge of bilingual education in California) think they can douse the multinational fire that is burning up our schools and cultures by pouring on nationalist gasoline. There is no contradiction, as Alain de Benoist explains elsewhere in this issue, in an individualist libertarian advocating nationalist measures: The two go hand in hand.
Faced with the erosion of our national sovereignty through unlimited immigration, economic globalism, and political internationalism, some conservatives have taken their stand on the nation-state not only as a last redoubt to be defended (which it is) but as a supernatural entity tied together by “the mystic chords of memory” and presided over by “the better angels of our nature.” This sort of nationalism, whether proclaimed by Mazzini or Lincoln, is as blasphemous as the prayer of the Unitarian socialist that American children are forced to recite in school. To pledge allegiance to a flag is idolatry; to proclaim the Union indivisible not only insults the men who founded this federal republic but justifies the continued centralization of power that is the bane of all modern states.
Real Americans are bound by traditions and habits that connect us both to the great struggles in our national history and to the local places where our kin are buried and our children are christened. If we are not Georgians or Kansans, we cannot be Americans except by the polite fiction that allows us to pretend (as we ought to pretend) that naturalized immigrants are as American as native sons. This generic U.S. identity is as bloodless and bogus as the New Soviet Man. Armed with this fictional identity, nationalists would have to form a party, take over the government, reconstruct the nation by imposing a propaganda curriculum on the schools and by destroying the last few tatters of provincial diversity—and it would be morning again in America, again.
Even if such a nationalist scenario were a paradise and not a nightmare, it is absurd to pretend that it might ever be played out. To the extent that we Americans still possess an authentic identity, we are finding it in our churches, in our families, and, occasionally, in our ethnic traditions. I am dismayed by the prospect of large parts of the United States turning Mexican, but I am terrified by the reality that we are creating: a nationalist-socialist state that will eliminate both the Mexican and the Anglo-American identities.