Sunday, March 19, 2017

Nationalists vs. Internationalists

Somehow or other we have been lulled into thinking that we must all become idealists and that our idealism should trump our patriotism.

We have been told, by thinkers on the left and right, that America is an idea and that belief in this idea is essential to becoming a citizen. I have variously offered my view that a nation is not an idea. A nation has borders and it has citizens. Some people belong. Others do not. Belonging has to mean something more than sharing a state of mind or believing in a bunch of dogmas. You cannot belong a nation while identifying yourself as a citizen of the world.

In two columns George Friedman—the only Friedman worth reading these days—has used slightly different terms. By his lights liberal democracy cannot exist outside of a defined nation. But, he does not see liberal democracy as an ideal. He sees it correctly as a set of practices. Historically, liberal democracies replaced monarchies. They could not have done so, Friedman argues, without a strong sense of nationalism, that is a sense of belonging to a nation.

Be that as it may, he argues that group cohesion must be established before the group can govern itself:

A nation is a group of people who share history, culture, language and other attributes. It is the existence of a common identity, a coherent sense of self and nationhood that make self-government possible, because it is that sense of self that permits self-government. A random collection of people without a core set of shared values cannot form a coherent regime, because nothing would hold the regime together or prevent internal chaos. The principle of the right to national self-determination can be universalized, but the practice of national self-determination must be rooted in the nation. Without this commonality, a nation could tear itself apart. We saw this happen in Yugoslavia and when Czechs and Slovaks gracefully divorced. We saw the chaos of the former European empires as nations once divided from each other by imperial borders and forced to live together with strangers were enveloped in constant turmoil. Without people who have self-identity, the right to self-determination cannot exist. Without the democracy that flows from it, liberal democracy cannot exist.

Friedman defines liberal democracy in his own way:

Liberal democracy makes two core assertions. First, there is a right to national self-determination. Second, this self-determination must manifest in a type of popular rule, and the people, in ruling themselves, have the right to select and approve the form and substance of government. The important point is that democracy is comprehensible only through the prism of the nation.

In a liberal democracy people practice political freedom. They choose their leaders and the policies that will define their nation. Citizens should manifest loyalty to their nation and should feel pride in their nation, especially in its achievements.

In a true democracy, people should be loyal to their nation even when their candidate loses an election. When a significant number of people insist that the only legitimate leader is the one they voted for they are undermining national cohesion and national pride. And they are abrogating a moral obligation to act as loyal members of the body politic. Dissent is not the same as resistance. And disloyalty is not dissent.

In another essay Friedman addressed these points. He took on the liberal elites who dismiss patriotism as a reactionary vestige:

Liberals in Europe and America did not deny that, but they simply could not grasp that the nation cannot exist unless the people feel a common bond that makes them distinct. The claim was that it was legitimate to have a nation, but not legitimate to love it inordinately, to love it more than other nations, to value the things that made it different, and above all, to insist that the differences be preserved, not diluted.

I have some reservations about the notion that nationalism has something to do with the “deep structure of the human soul,” but clearly Friedman is saying that being an American is essential, not incidental to who you are.

I add that being a proud American requires participation in certain rituals and practices. When a Colin Kaepernick refused to respect the American flag he was not merely dissenting. He was being disloyal and unpatriotic. As of now, he is out of a job and, if the latest reports are to be believed, he is not likely to find one on a professional football team.

In Friedman’s words:

Nationalism is not based on minor idiosyncrasies of food and holidays. It is the deep structure of the human soul, something acquired from mothers, families, priests and teachers. It is the thing that you are before you even understand that there are others. It tells you about the nature of the world, the meaning of justice, the deities we bow to and the obligations we have to each other. It is not all we are, but it is the root of what we are.

Being a citizen of a nation means that having moral obligations to that nation. Friedman dismisses the notion of citizen of the world because it does not confer a moral obligation… except perhaps the duty to hold certain dogmatic beliefs. Worse yet is the notion that we should identify as members of the human species. Such an identity does not require you to perform any actions. Good, bad or indifferent, you are always a human being:

I owe obligations to America and Americans that I do not owe to others, and others owe the same to their nations. It is easy to declare yourself a citizen of the world. It is much harder to be one. Citizenship requires a land, a community and the distinctions that are so precious in human life.

Finally, Friedman addresses the immigration conundrum. He notes astutely that the wealthy and privileged Americans who identify as internationalists tend to support unlimited immigration. But they have little contact with immigrants beyond those who mow their laws and clean up their kitchens. The hyperrich live in impregnable fortresses which shield them from the negative effects of the policy they support. The rest of the nation, especially those who are less fortunate, suffer the consequences of unlimited immigration, especially when the new immigrants, having no interest or intention of assimilating, threaten their identities as citizens of the nation. The problem is not as dire in America as it is in Angela Merkel’s Germany or as it is in Sweden, but it is certainly on the way to becoming so.

As for the situation in Sweden, I recommend this interview on Zero Hedge.

Friedman sees the nation dividing into two classes, the rich internationalists and the poorer nationalists. While the internationalists show no gratitude toward the nation that helped them become who they are, the more nationalistic classes now see their patriotism mocked by stand-up comedians who are not funny and by Hollywood actors who can barely act:

This class struggle is emerging in Euro-American society. It is between the well-to-do, who retain the internationalist principles of 1945 reinforced by a life lived in the wider world, and the poor. For this second group, internationalism has brought economic pain and has made pride in who they are and a desire to remain that way a variety of pathology.

The elite, well-to-do, internationalists, technocrats – call them what you’d like – demonize poorer members of society as ignorant and parochial. The poor see the elite as contemptuous of them and abandoning the principles to which they were born, in favor of wealth and the world that the poor cannot access.

As always, Friedman offers a cogent analysis:

In other words, the nationalism issue has become a football in a growing class struggle between those who praise tolerance but do not face the pain of being tolerant, and those who see tolerance as the abandonment of all they learned as a child.


10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've worried about the growing rift for years. It's not just the rich. Tho v important, numbers are small.

It's acolytes, epigones, and fellow travelers on the Left. Plus minorities. And a plurality of women.

I don't understand why they despise, dismiss, and/or scorn the country they were born and live in. As well as admiring many awful ones overseas.

Mark Twain: The difference between a dog and a man is this. If you take a dog into your care, raise him, and make him prosperous - he won't bite you.

More to say, but I'm bummed out. It would be otiose anyway. - Rich Lara

Anonymous said...

It is fashionable among crowds of sophisticated college grads to hate America. It's a cool, hipster/hippie way to look at the world. All those "human" things others cling to are passé. Patriotism is for the cattle. After all, we're all really the same...

Are we? Really?

All such nonsense is captured in John Lennon's "Imagine" -- the anthem for citizens of the world.

This ethos has a lot more in common with the Hunger Games than Bretton Woods.

I've enjoyed visiting the many countries I've traveled to, and had wonderful experiences, but I've always looked forward to coming home. There's a reason for that. It's called being the citizen of a nation.

Tolerance is not a virtue, it's an escape. Reality, on the other hand, is real... it's tangible.

My liberal friends are so mesmerized by their self-congratulatory Facebook posts and pixie dust smattering of Likes everywhere. It's an orgy of the most tolerant intolerance, and beyond all a sentient being can possibly tolerate. It's what I detest most about social media: the phony chorus.

Sam L. said...

Anonymous said...

It is fashionable among crowds of sophisticated college grads to hate America. It's a cool, hipster/hippie way to look at the world. All those "human" things others cling to are passé. Patriotism is for the cattle. After all, we're all really the same...

I would recommend those folks go to Europe and see how they like it. Perhaps they won't come back.

Prasanth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Walt said...

"Democracy is comprehensible only through the prism of the nation." Which is why Filipinos democratically elect Duterte and Venezualans, Chavas, and when given a chance to vote, the middle east votes for either theocrats or terrorists.

As for America, I really don't what out national identity is any more. The values I was brought up with, that I came to believe were American values, no longer prevail and we seem to have less in common with each other than ever before.

Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: In a true democracy, people should be loyal to their nation even when their candidate loses an election. When a significant number of people insist that the only legitimate leader is the one they voted for they are undermining national cohesion and national pride. And they are abrogating a moral obligation to act as loyal members of the body politic. Dissent is not the same as resistance. And disloyalty is not dissent.

Strangely there may be a greater reason to be disloyal to your nation when your candidate wins. Or that is, when your candidate beats a worse candidate, you can celebrate. And then your task is to get rid of yout candidate who won before he reduced your nation into something too small.

Stuart: Being a citizen of a nation means that having moral obligations to that nation. Friedman dismisses the notion of citizen of the world because it does not confer a moral obligation… except perhaps the duty to hold certain dogmatic beliefs.

This is certainly a useful perspective to consider. What sort of "moral obligations" do citizens have? Like paying taxes perhaps?

But if you can get people into power to reduce your taxes, so you always pay the "minimum leagally required", that can be called patriotism while it looks a lot like self-interest not morality.

And certainly big money has an undue influence in this counry, and there are many affluent citizens who would prefer to keep their personal wealth spread as widely across the globe as they can get, and put their money where ever their influences are greatest.

So its easy to see the U.S. lost millions of manufacturing jobs to Asia or elsewhere because greedy wealthy people looked where they could maximize their returns. And perhaps "working class" peoples shouldn't put their loyalty in a government that is controlled by the wealthy to increase their personal wealth, and who don't care what communities are destroyed in the process.

And in this sense, electing a candidate like Trump is in itself an act of deperate DISLOYALTY to nation, risking our collective reputation on a scoundral to take on the other scoundrals in our name.

But the reality is Trump so far has merely give a free pass to the wealthy scoundrals who have no loyalty greater than Trump's in this nation, and who have their own nest eggs out of harms way, and are prepared to abandon this nation once it no longer is useful to them.

So what citizen loyalty looks like in this world I don't know.

Myself, I'm largely out of harm's way, while I'm not really interested in moving elsehwhere, so if Trump's demolition team finishes the job of reducing America into a colony of the global elites, I'm still going to have to fight my own local fights as long as I can, and see what we can do.

Overall the virtue of a Trump Presidency to me is to see "The Federal Government isn't going to save us" rather it is going down, and millions of people are going to pay a price, whether this happens in 2017, 2027, or 2037, so we're better off putting our faith in Democracy that is closer to home.

We're all best off doing our "legally minimum share" at the federal level, and keep as much wealth close to home as we can. And for all I know that's what loyalty looks like.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. Here's Wendell Berry's advice from 1994, on how to save rural America primarily, but you could say this is "loyalty to place" not loyalty to kings, who come and go.

His purpose was to challenge globalism too, but also all centralization of power that makes the needs of the center more important than the needs of any given community.

And of course the reason we don't consider these things is we're seduced by the ideal of progress and modernity that says all responsibility can be contracted out to the lowest bidder, with no loss of wisdom.

--------
How can a sustainable local community (which is to say a sustainable local economy) function? I am going to suggest a set of rules that I think such a community would have to follow. I hasten to say that I do not understand these rules as predictions; I am not interested in foretelling the future. If these rules have any validity, it is because they apply now.

Supposing that the members of a local community wanted their community to cohere, to flourish, and to last, they would:

1. Ask of any proposed change or innovation: What will this do to our community? How will this affect our common wealth?
2. Include local nature -- the land, the water, the air, the native creatures -- within the membership of the community.
3. Ask how local needs might be supplied from local sources, including the mutual help of neighbors.
4. Supply local needs first (and only then think of exporting their products, first to near by cities, and then to others).
5. Understand the ultimate unsoundness of the industrial doctrine of "labor saving" if that implies poor work, unemployment, or any other kind of pollution or contamination.
6. Develop properly scaled value-adding industries for local products in order not to become merely a colony of the national or the global economy.
7. Develop small-scale industries and businesses to support the local farm or forestry economy.
8. Strive to produce as much of their own energy as possible.
9. Strive to increase earnings (in whatever form) within the community, and decrease expenditures outside the community.
10. Circulate money within the local economy for as long as possible before paying it out.
11. Invest in the community to maintain its properties, keep it clean (without dirtying some other place), care for its old people, and teach its children.
12. Arrange for the old and the young to take care of one another, eliminating institutionalized "child care" and "homes for the aged." The young must learn from the old, not necessarily and not always in school; the community knows and remembers itself by the association of old and young.
13. Account for costs that are now conventionally hidden or "externalized." Whenever possible they must be debited against monetary income.
14. Look into the possible uses of local currency, community-funded loan programs, systems of barter, and the like.
15. Be aware of the economic value of neighborliness -- as help, insurance, and so on. They must realize that in our time the costs of living are greatly increased by the loss of neighborhood, leaving people to face their calamities alone.
16. Be acquainted with, and complexly connected with, community-minded people in nearby towns and cities.
17. Cultivate urban consumers loyal to local products to build a sustainable rural economy, which will always be more cooperative than competitive.
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Ares Olympus said...

Stuart: A nation has borders and it has citizens. Some people belong. Others do not. Belonging has to mean something more than sharing a state of mind or believing in a bunch of dogmas. You cannot belong a nation while identifying yourself as a citizen of the world.

The use of the word "nation" is interesting. It almost applies more to "family" than any governmental system, and even legal status of "birth rights" is somewhat figmentary. And we might say the United States is a county, not a nation. The Soviet Union was a country not a nation. And the the European Union is also an entity that is above nation, and its unclear what loyalty people should have to any of these geographical wholes.

What we do know is is that countries exist in part because of centralized power, and redistribution of resources. So those who cooperate with those in centralized power are rewarded, and those who resist may be punished.

And it may be that it is the ELITES themselves who are calling for national unity and loyalty, whether under President Trump or whatever current scoundrel is in power, because they have access, and they'll get what they want regardless.

My state of Minnesota probably a little too arrogant over our cultural superiority, the good character of our citizens, and even the loyalty of our millionaires and billionaires. We all want to stay, and want to leave things at least as well as we had them growing up here.

Jonathan Haidt might say that group competition is good, and it happens at many scales, but this competition is more about "self determination" more than domination, and whatever organization you belong to, whether family, or city, or corporation, you're going to feel loyalty to them out of your own best-interest, even when you're deceiving yourself about what's going on.

And as long as a corrupt leadership can keep attention to scary outsiders, the more power we'll allow them without question.

Anyway, its easy enough to say "loyalty to globalization" and "loyalty to country" may be only marginally different orders in the abdication of responsibility.

I recall stories of some states wanting to save money by discharging people from their mental institutions and transporting them across state lines and dropping them off elsewhere. But even without such "purging of undesirables" to hapless neighbors, we do have freedom of mobility in this country, so crime in one area can spread to other areas and increase law enforcement costs elsewhere.

And all that's not much different that the global refugee crisis. And too much empathy for outsiders does mean any community will be overwhelmed and have to say no at some point. Perhaps future refugees will only be accepted to the degree individuals and communities "adopt" such people for a certain number of years, and vow care for them, and don't expect governmental compensation for it.

But there'll always be "unwanted people" who will have no place to go, and most of us won't care if they just disappear off the face of the earth, and some "nations" like the Nazi's will help that process along when no one is looking. Empathy doesn't go very far from home, and the world is too big when you're afraid for your own future.

Deana said...

Anonymous -

Pixie dust. Love it.

Seriously though, you hit the nail on the head.

n.n said...

Nations are, at minimum, administrative districts established by people with common interests, in order to manage consumption of finitely available and accessible resources. At most, they represent a space encompassing people with principled-alignment (i.e. character).

Everything, without exception, is toxic in quantity and concentration. The rule of thumb is moderation in all things. The goal is a reconciliation of moral, natural, and personal imperatives to realize principles that are internally, externally, and mutually consistent.