Nationalism: Primitive Tribalism or an Expression of Identity?

Let us state a mantra, which is also an affirmed Left-Liberal goal. True Believers are guided by it to thread along a moonbeam on a trail to nowhere.

An article of faith attributes the derailments of the past, the present’s vicissitudes, and the future’s perils, to an idea. Those who expected a reference to Socialism had picked the wrong answer. The correct reply for the evil is “nationalism”. “Socialism” is not only wrong but also gives demerits. Let us examine what left-liberal redeemers advise us to overcome.

An examination of nationalism gives a nuanced picture, which is ill suited for table pounding. Yes, in its extreme manifestation nationalism has deteriorated into extremism. Chauvinism, nationalism’s cancer, has ignited conflicts. By “legalizing” violence against “outsiders”, it became guilty of systemic crimes. At the same time, nationalism, in its patriotic form, has another record. As with all ideologies, we find inducement to actions that are commendable and to deeds that are evil. Let it be added that some worldviews’ messages have a greater inclination to induce fanatical actions than do others. An analogy is a knife; surgeons apply it and killers use it.

Since nationalism is cast to be an immoral threat to the human race, it is prudent to devote space to the term. In itself, nationalism is neither good nor bad, as it is merely a sense of community and of belonging. Some of us cheer a team; others join a fraternity, a party, or a church. The commitment behind the pledge can vary in intensity. Identifying with a nation expresses a felt community based on language, religion, shared real or pretended history, or institutions. Such factors tend to appear in combination, while occasionally a building block might be lacking. This means that, while the perception of community might be strong, the reasons for feeling it will differ. Therefore, the perceived “membership” is based on a subjective attachment. For that reason, a person, such as the writer, can identify with different communities.

Humans that sense a bond can feel as a nation and attempt to form a state. The analogy is a newly married couple that wishes to set up its own “household”. National entities raise a claim to land and set up rules to regulate cohabitation. Communities that lack land of their own –the Jews before “Israel”, present-day Kurds- will wish to express themselves by claiming land or a degree of home rule.

Admittedly, nationalism can cause conflicts as not only good and bad claims to land and sovereignty, but also equally valid ambitions can clash. Adding spice, this flows into the negative view of those circles that detect in nationalism our time’s chief evil. Revealingly, these detractors tend to live in the “safe” West and reflect their locale’s values. The skeptics’ state is secure with a history of independence, and has no recent experience with foreign domination and attacks on the identity of its inhabitants. Additionally, their borders correlate with ethnic boundaries partly because the lucky West’s ethnic map is simpler than that of other regions.

The lacking exposure to foreign rule and to ethnic annihilation create a matching awareness. Due to this context, liberal doctrine is shaped without reference to the reality of other contemporaries. Liberal elites assume that no threat could arise to their country and its way of life. After all, “we are so nice and tolerant that we can overcome hostility that misunderstands of our love for mankind”. This ideology suggests that “membership” demands a relaxed commitment to “identity”. That makes it difficult for a liberal to comprehend why a deplorable Pole, Hungarian or Romanian would reject multicultural bliss, while insisting to preserve his Judeo-Christian national culture. The resulting exchange between these camps reminds one of trying to convince a tiger to like spinach.

In the foregoing, nationalism’s leftist perspective has been discussed, which depicts it as the yeast that makes the bigoted nativists rise. The left-liberal vanguard castigates nationalism as being the racist tribalism of “populists” that opposes mankind’s unity through a merger of peoples. Countering that, the uses of national awareness should be stated. That unpopular task is not difficult.

The closer others are to an individual, the more he can see these as an extension of his own self. The commitment to piers rises with the closeness of these; the further away persons are from us, the easier it becomes to disregard their interests. Commitment rises with proximity and loyalties firm in proportion to it. Thus, the binding force within a community begins with the family and radiates from there, through village, region, class, to quantitatively larger units that amount to the national and social structure within which our species lives.

Man is, as the adage claims, a “social animal”. The features of the society he is able to form will largely determine his life’s quality. Security, prosperity, rights can only be enjoyed and guaranteed in terms defined by the order according to which society is set up. The “good society” is one within which formal laws can play a limited role. That happens when voluntary cooperation, facilitated by the moral force of customs can regulate the community. In this context, the good law is a command that formally decrees the freely evolved moral consensus of its subjects.

When the laws state principles that correspond to the conviction of society’s members, the law ceases to be an oppressive force that needs to be enforced by state power.  Accordingly, “democracy” applies to a system that institutionalizes the high correlation between the personal concept of justice and decreed law. Good laws are ordinances that society would enforce even without a police. If this is the case, then a “government under the law” is –unlike what anarchists assume- not antithetical to liberty; it does not reduce freedom but guarantees its secure enjoyment.

Truly, in its unachievable ideal form, a government by the moral consent of those that feel a kinship would be crime-free. If we tabulate criminality, we discover that groups that reject that unifying moral consent are most likely to commit crimes at the expense of those that they classify as “outsiders”.

Here we reconnect to the role of nationalism. Unless abused, nationalism expresses the similarities of the values and the goals of a group that endeavors to form a community that we call a state. Acting upon this perceived identity, and cultivating traits that reinforce the sense of belonging, is what the proper nationalism of a community amounts to. Such an awareness need not to be directed against outsiders said to be inferior outcasts.

An individual can thrive best within an association that conforms collectively to his personal values. The aggregate of such groups forms a nation; it expresses the collective personality of those that supportively accept its ways.

Now the motive to denounce the national state comes to mind. The possible repetition of the “migration of peoples” of the Dark Ages demands the discussion of migration that is said to be an elementary right of the migrant and its unlimited acceptance as the host’s moral obligation. The provoked resistance challenges the universalism advocated by “one worlders”. The mass immigration of culturally alien elements that not only do not share their host’s values but actually reject these as symptoms of the unbelievers’ having lost their way, has negative consequences. One is that the creation of aggressive parallel societies leads to what the host views as crimes even though the perpetrator might see his action as “normal”. The illustrative case is furnished by a murderer that told the police “but it was only a woman”.

Nationalism’s function is to allow a population to form a smoothly working organism. Its participants must feel connected through the pursuit of common goals and be in basic agreement regarding the means to be used to achieve that end. This condition provides for a stable system that is able to function democratically for it enjoys the consent of its inhabitants. Any theory-derived insistence to inject into such a community an element that cannot be integrated because it rejects the group’s operating consensus, amounts to the injection a tumorous growth into a functioning mechanism. The probable result is a clash which is likely to destroy the hosting organism or ends in the removal of the growth.


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