Friday, April 4, 2014

#95 / Let's Hear It For Nationalism

John O'Sullivan has come out in favor of nationalism. O'Sullivan is a conservative political commentator and journalist, hailing from Great Britain. Writing in a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal, O'Sullivan makes "The Case for Nationalism," in an article clearly stimulated by recent events in the Ukraine. O'Sullivan seems to contrast "nationalism" with "global governance," which he identifies as the other alternative. 

As between the two, I can see why "nationalism" looks good, since "global governance," as we see it practiced today, is pretty much the same thing as corporate totalitarianism in a global environment. Choosing "nationalism" over "global governance" is particularly appealing when one listens to how O'Sullivan describes "nationalism," quoting George Orwell's fond description of England and its "tender patriotism." 

Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wildflowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen—all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England.

Love and fond remembrance of the place that one lived in one's childhood is not what most people would call "nationalism." Nostalgia, maybe. I could go for nostalgia. "Nationalism" is something else.

O'Sullivan quotes Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, with respect to a main complaint against nationalism: "The biggest enemy of Europe today is fear; fear leads to egoism, egoism leads to nationalism, and nationalism leads to war." O'Sullivan doesn't credit this argument. I don't think I credit it much, either. To my way of thinking, "fear" is not a generative reality that leads to "nationalism." "Fear" is a tool used by national governments (and others) to motivate certain kinds of public behavior and acquiescence. 

That kind of manipulated appeal to fear is much more what "nationalism" means to me than a fond remembrance in the style of Orwell's depiction of an idyllic English countryside, but let's be clear. Does "fear" lead to "nationalism," or does "nationalism" conjure up "fear" as its most effective tool? 

I think it is the latter.

Should I be "afraid" of what has just happened in the Ukraine? Any angst about events there is definitely coming from without, not from within. I am definitely having a hard time agreeing that what we need is another war. Would that be a war to keep the Ukraine safe for democracy?

I am no friend of "global governance," but I don't buy the O'Sullivan appeal to "nationalism," either. I particularly object to his statement that "nation-states are an almost necessary basis for democracy." 

Here's what O'Sullivan says defines a nation-state:

A common language and culture, a common allegiance to national institutions, a common sense of destiny, all within a defined territory, with equal rights for all citizens

That's not my view of what democracy requires. Specifically, the democratic principles enshrined in the United States Constitution do not speak about a "common ... culture." If a "common culture" is a prerequisite for democracy, then we are destined for endless sectarian fights to establish culture-based, religion-based, language-based, and history-based "states," as in Eastern Europe. 

Democracy is based on the truth that a "common culture" is NOT needed for effective self-government, and the political history of the United States is the best example of that. 

Our "nation of immigrants" doesn't prosper because of a "common culture," but because or a common commitment to political freedom, best read about in The Bill of Rights

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