Nationalism has been a dirty word for too long
Melanie Phillips (below) uses "nationalism" to mean pride in national identity and characteristics. In that sense, nationalism is not a problem. Many people, however, including myself, use "nationalism" in Orwell's sense, to mean a desire for one's own nation to conquer other nations. Hitler, Stalin and Americans in the "Progressive" era were nationalists in Orwell's sense while Scottish nationalists are nationalists in Melanie's sense. It is important to be aware of the distinction.
In Melanie's sense, nationalism is just an assertive form of patriotism, which is a normal human feeling. Humans do tend to identify with groups to which they belong. Note how football fans talk about "our" team and how "we" won or lost. If you dislike that you are at odds with most of the human race
And the common Leftist claim embodied in the term "ethnocentrism" is simply false. Being in favour of your own group does NOT commit you to being against outsiders. Many times in my research career, I asked people their opinion about various outsider groups -- blacks, Jews etc. -- and also asked them about their feelings about their own country: patriotism. The two types of attitude were always uncorrelated (See e.g. here and here). Knowing how patriotic you were enabled NO prediction of your liking or disliking any given outsider group. Given that lack of correlation, patriotism does not CAUSE racial antagonism. Nor does nationalism in Melanie's sense
Nationalism in Orwell's sense seems mainly to be caused by the Leftist will to power. Democrat presidents got reluctant Americans into both world wars and Vietnam. George Bush invaded Iraq only in response to an attack on America. Germany and Vietnam did NOT attack America before America went to war with them. There is no particular need to explain a response to attack but invading another country does require explanation. The great invasion of C20 was undoubtedly Hitler's invasion of Russia. And Hitler too was a socialist with a very distinct will to power
The concept of the nation state is vilified but it is essential for personal freedom and democracy
Nationalism needs to sack its PR agency. As a political creed, it is widely deemed to be synonymous with fascism, Nazism, bigotry, war and the Holocaust. The Brexit vote, the rise of nationalist parties across Europe and the election of Donald Trump are said to exemplify "nativism" — which paints nationalism as a form of xenophobic racism — and to augur the arrival in the West of a new dark age of repression.
Now, a thinker has stuck his head into the very jaws of the lion by arguing that, on the contrary, nationalism is the bulwark of liberty and democracy. Yoram Hazony, an Israeli philosopher, is the founder and former head of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. This liberal arts college set out to challenge the failure of Israeli universities to teach the core texts underpinning Jewish identity and western civilisation.
Such failure is rooted in the default belief among progressive intellectuals in Britain, America and the rest of the West that their culture is innately racist and exploitative and that the nation state is responsible for all the ills of the world. This belief emerged in response to Nazism in Germany. That was ascribed to nationalism, said in turn to be a near-inevitable outgrowth of the western nation state. Undermine or circumscribe the nation state and you would abolish bigotry, hatred and war.
There are many different definitions of nationalism. In his new book, The Virtue of Nationalism, Hazony defines it as "a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions, and pursuing their own interests without interference". The alternative, he says, is imperialism, which is inherently tyrannical through seeking to unite mankind under a single political regime.
Under the imperialist heading, Hazony includes liberalism, the EU and the postwar American "world order", which sought to impose western legal norms through the global exercise of US military might.
By contrast, the mutual loyalties at the heart of the nation state, based on shared traditions of language, religion, law, culture and other characteristics, provide "the only known foundation" for tolerance and diversity, free institutions and individual liberties.
So, what about Nazi Germany? Hazony argues that Germany was not so much a nation state as a classic imperial power because it wanted to conquer all of Europe. A true nation state, he suggests, inherently requires limited borders because it is based upon the particularities of cultural identity. It’s demonstrably the case that bigotry or intolerance are not confined to the nationalist right. Universalist ideologies such as liberalism, Marxism and Islam have been shown to inflame vicious hatred against those who oppose them.
Some European nationalists do have troubling associations with Nazi or racist ideologies. Others are simply fighting to defend their national identity and culture against erosion by the combination of liberal "imperialists" and mass immigration. Yet all are demonised equally. This has resulted in a lethal confusion. People are entitled to want to live in societies that identify with a common heritage and goals. Yet this is now treated as racist, "nativist" and illegitimate by virtually the entire political mainstream.
In Britain and America, the Brexit and Trump phenomena constitute a mass revolt against this vilification of national identity. In Europe, millions of similarly disenfranchised decent citizens are voting for new parties offering them an end to mass immigration, along with a pledge to resist Islamisation and to defend their national identity.
Some of these parties do give cause for legitimate concern on account of some of their historical connections. Some supporters may be motivated by racism or anti-Muslim prejudice. In other words, racists, fascists and bigots may be piggy-backing on the frustration of those with a legitimate desire to preserve western culture. Their motivation, however, is not the same. Millions want to defend western national identity based on tolerance, liberty and one law for all. These values are threatened by mass immigration and multiculturalism.
Fascists or white supremacists don’t want to stop immigration in order to preserve western decencies. They are motivated instead by hatred of others, lust for power and denial of the core principles of civilised society. The disturbing thing, though, is that because all nationalism is equally damned as unconscionable, increasing numbers feel they have no alternative but to vote for such parties, however noxious they may be.
If the nation state fails to survive, western society will revert to premodern tribalism: group fighting group for power and supremacy and deploying coercive measures to stifle opposition.
We can already see this happening. The onslaught by liberal universalists on the nation state has produced totalitarian identity politics, victim culture and brazen antisemitism once again stalking the corridors of Britain and Europe. Far from preventing bigotry and intolerance, the delegitimisation of the nation state and the corresponding demoralisation of western culture has in fact fomented them.
The desire of the vast majority to uphold their historic culture and identity, with democratically elected legislatures passing laws reflecting that shared national project, is not a route to the destruction of liberty, tolerance and decency. It is, in fact, the only way to defend them.
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