Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Conservatism and Nationalism

At present, the American conservative movement is characterized by a deep and passionate attachment to nationalism. America first, patriotism, glorification of the military.. call it what you wish. Here's the funny thing: not that long ago, conservatism stood firmly against nationalism and all it stood for. Nationalism used to be synonymous with liberalism. The Church also recognized the dangers in unleashing an ideology that placed allegiance to some group-- nation, race, class-- above our common humanity. It foresaw quite clearly the downside of the pseudo-religions that rose up after the Enlightenment to take the place of a Church that had been discarded. Practically all the great evils in the world since the French Revolution can be said to derive from post-Enlightenment nationalistic ideologies. It is important to note that nationalism, no matter how embedded in consciousness today, is a relatively recent phenomenon. In earlier times, the ruler was regarded as having a divine mandate to rule, but this was contingent upon the ruler supporting the common good.

Today, we see the rotten fruits of nationalism still falling from the same tree, despite the death of communism and the most pernicious of the race-based ideologies. Just recently, Iran arrested some British military personnel and generated an anti-British nationalistic outcry, whipping up patriotism to bolster the power of the ruling despots. This is a technique that the Chinese have perfected. Robert Mugabe and the Sudanese demonize the outsiders to justify their murderous policies. Race-based nationalism is alive and well in subtle forms, even in countries like Japan. Even in the United States, nationalism is invoked to quash criticism of the war strategy, or the military in general, and to avoid any question of morality.

Nationalism is rapidly becoming a tired, jaded, bankrupt ideology. As Francis Fukayama noted:
"The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military."
Of course, Fukayama mentions God, nationalism, and militarism in a single breath as if they sprang from the same root. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the fact that many American conservatives meld them together is perhaps their greatest error. But Fukayama's vision is a good one. In his view, the future will downplay nationalism, and be based more on transnational authorities. Kind of like the Holy Roman Empire...

3 comments:

Antonio Manetti said...

The Church also recognized the dangers in unleashing an ideology that placed allegiance to some group-- nation, race, class-- above our common humanity.

Characterizing the Church's position as the wise parent chastising her errant children ignores past history and recent events.

Considering the Crusades, the Papal wars, the wars of the Reformation, and the ongoing sectarian wars, the Church specifically and religion in general cannot be excluded from the list of culpable institutions and ideologies.

In my opinion, nationalism simply became one more pretext for war.

Anonymous said...

Mornings Minion, Love your blog! Especially the 'Catholic League Watch' where you have Donohue pegged so perfectly. Watching him spluttering away on MSNBC is like having Carroll O'Connor come back to life doing infomercials for the RNC. I keep waiting for Edith or Meathead to walk onto the set.

Lorenzo said...

Nationalism and patriotism are not the same thing.

Nationalism is a form of identity politics--that a particular ethnic group should have its own state.

Patriotism is commitment to the political community one is part of. It presumes nothing about the ethnicity of members.

(Hence the difference between Scottish and Welsh nationalists and British patriots.)

American nationalists are fringe nuts because they operate under the delusion that the US is an ethnic creation. Highly patriotic Americans who, for example, admire Condi Rice get that it is not.

The Anglosphere practises patriotism, because they have always been culturally diverse countries. Europe suffers from nationalism.