Embracing both, and rejecting the United States of Now.
Allen Tate, in 1952, argued that the first duty of the man of letters in the postwar world was to purify the language from the corruptions introduced by ideology and the destruction, more than physical, wrought by the recent world war. He was not the only writer to believe that military victory over one part of the West by another part had not “saved” Western civilization. Richard Weaver began his seminal Ideas Have Consequences (1948) by explaining that it was “another book about the dissolution of the West.” George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, published a year later, was about what Tate saw as “the staggering abuses of language . . . that vitiate the cultures of western nations,” and “the usurpations of democracy that are perpetrated in the name of democracy.” For democracy substitute the ancient and venerable word fatherland, a word common in its variant forms to the Greeks, the Romans, and the Germans, and you have the subject of this essay. For did you realize that, in the last year or so (no earlier), the left—the universalistic, globalist, cosmopolitan, progressive, transgendered, multicultural left—is claiming to be patriotic? So shall the nations be sacrificed—on the altar of the fatherland.
Whoever believes that God is not the author of a justice that is more than poetic should meditate upon the recent sight of French police firing tear-gas canisters into crowds of French citizens protesting the austerity policies of their president. Emmanuel Macron, whose approval rating had sunk to 30 percent before the protests began, is no longer the leader (if he ever was) but a mere caretaker, a functionary. Yet only weeks before, in the same city of Paris now filling with smoke from fires and gas, Macron, to the applause of the global media, boasted of his French “patriotism” while deriding the evil “nationalism” of the American President. The occasion was a gathering of the heads of the nations that fought in the Great War of 1914-18. They were there to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the November 11 armistice that ended it. “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” declared Macron; “nationalism is the betrayal of patriotism. By saying we put ourselves first and the others don’t matter, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great, and what is essential: its moral values.”
This is a peculiar notion of patriotism, one that says that we must put “others,” meaning foreigners, especially non-European foreigners, ahead of our own fellow citizens, our own people. But that was what he meant, and what’s more, that’s what the left-wing media understood him to be saying and how they interpreted the meaning of the previous year’s presidential election. According to a recent AP story, Macron and his “start-up” political party Forward! were for “the EU, free trade, and open borders,” while his nationalist opponent Marine Le Pen stood for “closed borders, tougher security, less immigration and [a] return to the French franc.” For Macron, French “values” require his countrymen to adhere to the neoliberal economic policies of the European Union and keep their borders wide open to endless streams of migrating Africans and Arabs. That, for him, is patriotism, which he conflates with a sacrificial and altruistic moralism. It is an example of “the tyranny of values,” a form of depoliticization designed to keep the citizens of the Western countries from believing they have the political and moral right to change the policies that have been set for them by their oligarchic rulers. Diana Johnstone has written that “Macron was the rabbit magically pulled out of a top hat, sponsored by what must be called the French oligarchy.” His mission was twofold: defeat the National Front and make sure the French state remained wedded to the European project. The collapse of his popularity, the rising of the French people, proves that he was, in an equally apposite metaphor, “an artificial product sold to the electorate by an extraordinary media campaign.”
Macron’s invocation of patriotism is intended to mask the universalistic nature of the European project. The European Union is not, nor is it intended to be, a confederation of kindred nations; it is an open-ended empire without external borders or internal cohesion, in which the historic nations of Europe have no place and no sovereignty. The governments of Europe are supposed to be responsible to their respective peoples; that is, after all, the meaning of democracy. Instead, they are slaves to “the European idea,” which imagines Europe, in Pierre Manent’s words, as “the avant-garde of Humanity in the process of its definite unification.” That means it is open for settlement to anyone from anywhere in the world, which is why the Schengen Agreement (erasing borders within Europe) was not accompanied, as it should have been, by any provision to strengthen the external borders of the continent. The French “values” that Macron invoked as the essence of patriotism are nothing more than the politically correct canons of tolerance and diversity interpreted only one way, binding Europeans while privileging everyone else. So what does it mean, then, to be a European, or to be French in a world where difference is denied or suppressed, where one’s history is traduced or defamed, and the only acceptable national or civilizational aspiration is to disappear? It means, of course, to be nothing at all. As Manent points out, the Europe of Macron, Merkel, and May “has only an ideological and bureaucratic existence.” The problem is that the migrants massing on Europe’s borders are not merely discrete individuals looking for a better life. They are themselves nations, harboring collective grievances and, in the case of Muslims, collective goals and a religiously based sense of entitlement. They aim to colonize; they aim to dominate; they aim to rule—which is why “the European claim to be pure absence in the midst of surrounding presences” (Manent) is nothing more than a suicide pact.
Macron is no French patriot. He is rather a nihilist, as are all globalists. But why does he not admit it? When he shouts that “nationalism is the betrayal of patriotism,” is he not using the wrong subject noun? Isn’t it globalism that is the betrayal of patriotism? How can it be patriotic to surrender one’s national independence and submit to the extinction of one’s nation? Macron may well believe he is a patriotic Frenchman. Nietzsche wrote more than a century ago in his Human, All Too Human (1878) that the success of all great deceivers is owing to their “belief in themselves,” their mental ability, in other words, to believe their own lies, which speak “so miraculously and convincingly to the onlookers.” There is also what Allen Tate and T.S. Eliot called the “dissociation of sensibility,” a severing of the imagination and the feelings from their natural, age-old objects of affection (e.g., the family, the church, the nation) and their redirection to objects that are unnatural and often diabolic. The result is a transvaluation of values in which treason can lay claim to patriotism, and imperialism can be celebrated as the highest form of cosmopolitanism.
You may have read that George Orwell is the author of the distinction between nationalism and patriotism; and that, therefore, it is a real and legitimate distinction. Those who make the claim have not read him, or read much of anything else for that matter. Yes, he made the distinction; but no, his argument does not buttress the left’s ceaseless fretting about the dangers of resurgent nationalisms. What Orwell did was to expand the meaning of nationalism to cover any collective feeling that was competitive, aggressive, vengeful, or domineering in relation to other groups. National feeling need not be attached to an actual nation, he argued. It could be directed to a state, an empire, a class, a religion, or, in the case of Macron, to the European Union. Orwell called these “transferred nationalisms.” Here is Orwell from his 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism”:
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriot ism. . . . By “patriotism” I mean a devotion to a particular place and particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to impose on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
For the nationalist, everything that happens in the world is regarded from this point of view. What’s more, the nationalist regards his own group as “beyond good and evil,” that is, as innately good and always virtuous, while opposing groups are regarded as prone to every kind of crime or vice.
Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage—torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians—which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by “our” side.
Nationalists not only do not disapprove of such actions when their own side commits them, but have a “remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” Orwell believed these transferred forms of nationalism were much more widespread among the English intelligentsia than among the English people: “Among the intelligentsia, it hardly needs saying that the dominant form of nationalism is Communism.” Communists look upon the Soviet Union as their fatherland, while the nationalism of socialists takes the form of “class hatred.” By 1945, even positive “colour feeling,” which previous to the First World War had been attached to the white race, had now shifted, at least among intellectuals and churchmen, to the nonwhite races. It’s the beginning of political correctness.
It should be immediately apparent that by Orwell’s definition it is the left, both in Europe and America, that is nationalistic and not the patriotic right. Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and the Le Pens in France are advocating or pursuing defensive policies designed to protect their respective nations from foreign threats such as mass migration, Islamism, and predatory capital. Likewise, the French National Rally (formerly the National Front), the Alternative for Germany, and the U.K. Independence Party are actually patriotic political movements, not nationalistic ones. It is Macron, Merkel, and May who are the nationalists. But their nationalism is not French, German, or English: It is Eurozonic. It is they who favor military confrontation with Russia, the eastward expansion of NATO, more power and prestige for the imperial, despotic regime in Brussels. The same is true in the United States, where the supporters of the nationalistic Republican president, Donald Trump, favor normalizing relations with Russia and disengaging or withdrawing from Afghanistan, Syria, and Korea, while his Democratic and media opponents favor restarting the Cold War, bombing and invading Syria, and staying in Afghanistan forever. It is America’s self-proclaimed progressives, not American conservatives, who champion and defend the institutions and security organs of the American Empire. It is the left that favors the global projection of American power. The double standards, partisan bias, and sententious moralism of the left-wing American media are a perfect expression of the Manichaean mentality that Orwell describes. And what else unites the diverse coalition of ethnic groups that make up the Democratic Party other than antipathy toward the shrinking white majority and joyful expectation of that glorious day when it passes into the minority?
Like everything he wrote Orwell’s essay is brimming with psychological insight and world experience, but he can be faulted for inventing a personal definition for the word nationalism which has only confused subsequent readers. Simone Weil, in her 1949 book The Need for Roots, identified the same phenomenon Orwell described but called it simply idolatry. “To posit one’s country as an absolute value that cannot be defiled by evil” is idolatry. It is also “manifestly absurd.” So is the idea that one’s nation has a special destiny that sets it apart and invests it with special privileges or rights over others: “The Romans [who] regarded themselves as specially chosen . . . for world dominion” were guilty of this sin; but so was her own country during the Revolution, and later Germany.
Weil does not say so, but I will: There is no country that is as idolatrous and pharisaical as the United States of America. But are the people truly guilty of this, or are their meritocratic masters? Weil also observed that what passes for patriotism is often simply statolatry—that is, adoration of the state and its apparatus of power. Genuine patriotism, she explained, is the pure love of one’s country akin to the love that one feels for one’s aged parents, one’s children, or one’s wife. It is the love for something “beautiful, precious, fragile and perishable.” One can love France “for the glory,” or “one can love her as something which, being earthly, can be destroyed, and is all the more precious on that account.” Echoing Weil, George Santayana, in his underrated masterpiece Dominations and Powers (1951), perceived that “patriotism attached to a great power is something artificial; it unites two naturally different passions, the love of home and the pride of empire.” The two cannot long coexist. One thinks of Rome.
The American punditocracy, drawing on its deep well of historical knowledge and philological and philosophical training, has been making the same invidious distinction as Macron, all to make the same point: The Democrats are the Patriot Party, the Republicans the unpatriotic party. Here is Paul Krugman in July 2016, asking “Who loves America?” His answer: the pro-Obama, pro-Hillary left, that’s who. And who hates America? His answer: the pro-Trump right. What’s more, the left has always loved America, while the right has always hated it. Here is his closing sentence: “The people who now seem to love America always did; the people who suddenly no longer sound like American patriots never were.” The people who no longer sound like patriots are those advocating policies (on trade and immigration and war) that put the interests and wishes of Americans before those of foreigners. To Krugman that’s not patriotic. Six months later, just days before Christmas, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr., repeated the question: “Which political party loves America? Not the United States that once existed, but the flesh-and-blood nation that we all live in now.” Given the premise, there can be only one answer. It is the Democrats! It is they who “embrace the United States of Now in all its raucous diversity.” It is the sourpuss, racist Republicans “who don’t like our country right now. They yearn for the United States of Then.” Dionne returned to his patriotic theme four months later on the eve of Patriot Day (April 19), the state holiday in Massachusetts commemorating the battles of Lexington and Concord, which inaugurated the American Revolution. My own local paper titled his column, “Why it’s ‘Patriots’ Day,’ not ‘Nationalists’ Day,’” as if those who started the holiday were making the distinction. They were not.
Leftist intellectuals constantly contradict and refute themselves, without even knowing it. In his Patriot Day column, Dionne writes, “Ours is not loyalty to blood or soil. It is an embrace of a series of powerful propositions.” Actually, patriotism is loyalty to the soil. That’s what the word means. A patriot is one who loves and is devoted to his father’s land. Dionne also seems to have forgotten that in July he asserted that Democrats love “the flesh-and-blood nation that we all live in now.” But isn’t one who loves his nation a nationalist? And if Democrats love their “blood nation,” are they not mistaken about what it means to be an American, which is devotion to “a series of propositions”? Dionne approvingly quotes neocon Mona Charen asserting that “Patriotism is enough—it needs no improving or expanding.” Dionne says that she “had it exactly right.” He is oblivious to the fact that if Charen is right, he is wrong, and vice versa. Dionne favors continuing to change the country by welcoming endless streams of immigrants, which he obviously thinks improves the country and certainly expands its population. And if patriotism is enough, and a country needs no improving or expanding, why were the immigration laws changed in 1965? Why were they never subsequently altered except to allow in ever more immigrants, while it was deemed unacceptable by our media guardians (men like Krugman and Dionne) to call for an end, or even a reduction, to all the improving and expanding? And if Republicans are to be condemned as unpatriotic for disliking “the flesh-and-blood” country that now exists, the United States of Now, were not those liberal progressives (like Teddy Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) who changed the immigration laws in 1965 unpatriotic men who hated the flesh-and-blood nation that then existed, the United States of Now (circa 1965)? Dionne is condemned by his own pen. He has also belied Krugman’s assertions about liberal-left progressives by inadvertently revealing the truth that they have not always loved America, but once-upon-a-time hated it for being too Christian, too conservative, and too white. A country that could re-elect Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan by electoral landslides (49 states both times) was not a country that the left ever loved.
Nor did the pre-Trump left ever claim to be patriotic, a sentiment it regarded as patriarchal and vaguely right-wing. I can remember liberal teachers and leftist professors chuckling whenever the adjective un-American was applied to someone on their side. Sometimes they expressed indignation. In a 1991 essay published in The Nation (that organ of left-wing nationalism), titled “Patriotism,” Gore Vidal observed that “the word was politically incorrect, of course. Patria—pater—father.” Indeed it was. The growth of militias in the early 1990’s was considered a manifestation of the Patriot Movement, which the media regarded with fear and loathing as something right-wing, and revolutionary. How times have changed. But, as Vidal never failed to remind us, we live in the United States of Amnesia, which is the real meaning of the United States of Now.
And since we live in such a country, who better to explain the meaning of patriotism than Nick Schuster, a graduate student in philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis? And what better day to print his call to arms than the Fourth of July? Such was the editorial decision of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, an incorrigibly partisan and far-left paper whose idea of a conservative columnist is Jonah Goldberg. It’s a paper that runs every column by the anti-Trump “Republican” Michael Gerson and considers that to be evidence of its editorial diversity. The editorial was titled, “Patriotism vs. Jingoism: The Age of Trump challenges what it means to love our country.” The subtitle could have read “Bring on the culture war!” Schuster believes that while the question of whether President Trump is an effect or a cause can be debated, it really doesn’t matter. “What’s all too clear is that the war is on, and staying out of it is not an option.” No neutrality! You are either with us, or against America. “This is a fight over our national identity.” On one side stand the “true patriots,” on the other the “nationalistic jingoists.” “Winning this important battle in the culture war,” he continues, “will require patriots to stand up for all those whom the jingoists wish to leave behind. It will require making clear that loving America amounts to no more and no less than loving our fellow Americans, our national family.” Loving “our national family” sounds rather nationalistic and exclusionary, but Schuster has a rather expansive understanding of family. For those whom the jingoists wish “to leave behind” are actually foreigners who have not yet entered the country! “We love our country because it is ours,” he asserts. Now, if he has studied logic as part of his graduate training program, he would know that if our country belongs to us, it does not belong to others, and we may exclude whomever we want from coming in. But that is not what he believes at all. In fact, he excoriates as the essence of Trumpian nationalistic jingoism the President’s Muslim travel ban and proposed border wall: “Loving America amounts to no more and no less than loving our fellow Americans.” Yet he apparently loves Mexicans, Central Americans, and Middle Easterners so much that he favors their free and unlimited entry into our country over the opposition of a majority of actual Americans who do not want them here. These Americans, who had the contumacy to vote for Trump, he does not love at all. “Of course, not everyone who lives here, no matter how long or for how many generations, deserves the esteemed title of ‘American patriot.’” This would-be philosopher, of course, believes himself morally entitled to decide which Americans deserve, or do not deserve, to be called patriotic. He closes: “Trumpist disrespect and disregard for anyone who falls outside the narrow Trumpian mold is not the mark of patriotism. Rather, it is quintessentially anti-American.”
I presume that Schuster learned the law of contradiction as part of his philosophic training. If so, he would know that the verbal phrase “loving America amounts to no more and no less than loving our fellow Americans” is not consistent with calling for all-out civil war against the half of the country that voted for Trump (his “fellow Americans” whom he reviles as “anti-American”). He even regards them as less American than the foreigners who may cross the border tomorrow, probably illegally, magically becoming instant members of our great national family, more American than those Trump-voting Americans whose ancestors fought in the American Revolution and whose Declaration of Independence was the occasion for his self-contradictory diatribe. Let us rewrite his second-to-last sentence, changing only the villain’s name: “Schusterist disrespect and disregard for anyone who falls outside the narrow Schusterian mold is not the mark of patriotism. Rather, it is quintessentially anti-American.”
It is time to return to where we began by observing Allen Tate’s seminal 1952 essay, “The Man of Letters in the Modern World.” Tate said that such a man, whether a poet, critic, or historian, “must discriminate and defend the difference between mass communication, for the control of men, and the knowledge of man which literature offers.” It should be clear that the politicians, pundits, and false philosophers we have been examining here are engaging in communication for the control of men. That, of course, is what the left is all about. The proof of that is that the words they use do not correspond to the things which they are supposed to signify.
Leftists love only themselves, whatever they can control, and whatever they see as an expression of their enlightened and benevolent will. They certainly do not love the language which they serially abuse. Their assertion of a metaphysical and moralistic duality between patriotism and nationalism is typical of their rhetorical tricks. Patriotism is good and of the left; nationalism is bad and of the right. Words are simplified and moralized to serve as weapons in a propaganda war. To be effective, “the terms used must seem to be absolute” (Kenneth Minogue). But language is not like that. Like all words that signify ideas or sentiments, the various forms of patriotic and national have carried sometimes positive, sometimes negative, sometimes ironic connotations, and their meanings have fluctuated considerably. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the word patriot was often used disparagingly (by monarchists like Dryden and Johnson) to refer to political radicals who wished to institute a republic. Yet Bolingbroke, who was a monarchist as well, wrote The Idea of a Patriot King (1738) at the very time when, as the historian Macaulay would later say, “the name of patriot had become a by-word of derision.” Among some perhaps. The socialist George Bernard Shaw saw patriotism as a problem in 1931. Since “every patria has moral pretensions intolerable to and incompatible with the moral pretensions of all other patrias, patriotism has to be dropped before any discussion is possible.” Patriotism is bad and of the right; internationalism is good and of the left.
There is no real difference between a patriot and a nationalist. The patria (Latin) is the land that belongs to one’s fathers, and the nation is one’s father’s people. The Latin word natio meant a people or race, and it was derived from the verb nasci (to be born). Here is the definition of the English equivalent given by the O.E.D. (2nd ed., 1989): “An extensive aggregate of persons, so closely associated together by common descent, language, or history, as to form a distinct race or people, usually organized as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory.” The English equivalent for the Latin patria and the Greek patris is fatherland; the German is Vaterland. So a patriot is one who loves and is devoted to the land of his fathers. But if leftists are patriots, then why did they recoil so viscerally when Trump first proclaimed America First? And why do they want to see the land inundated with foreigners whose fatherland is elsewhere? Perhaps their patriotism is of the kind identified by George Canning in 1798: “A steady patriot of the world alone, / The friend of every country but his own.”
English, German, and French usage confirm that the different forms of the two words have been treated as synonyms for centuries. The O.E.D. finds as early as 1711 the word national to be referring to one who was “patriotic; strongly upholding one’s own nation.” In his Addresses to the German Nation (1807), Johann Gottlieb Fichte spoke of his beloved Germany as “the common fatherland of the German nation as a whole.” Even Orwell could write in his 1941 essay “The Lion and the Unicorn” that
one cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty. . . . Christianity and international Socialism are as weak as straw in comparison with it. Hitler and Mussolini rose to power in their own countries very largely because they could grasp this fact and their opponents could not.
The Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski described the German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-64) as “a German patriot” who “saw the events of his time, including wars, from a national viewpoint rather than a proletarian international one. . . . The philosophical basis of Lassalle’s nationalism” was derived from his study of Fichte.
I know no better way to close than by quoting from Tennyson’s “Maud.” He may have written some nonsense about “a parliament of man,” but he was a great poet, and there is no better evocation of the mind of a true patriot than this: “I have felt with my native land, I am one with my kind, / I embrace the purpose of God, and the doom assign’d.”