Posted by Curt on 21 January, 2017 at 6:11 pm. 8 comments already!


Rachel Brown:

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the professional Left* loves thinking in terms of binaries: black and white, male and female, rich and poor, Left and Right.

For the media, it means easy headlines: find the Black Hats, and you’ve got your story. Likewise for Hollywood: drama depends on conflict, and what better conflict is there than that between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil? Academics tend to take a little more prodding before they will admit to thinking in such reductive terms, but get them talking about power and oppression and the categories will become clear.

“We” (the speakers) are necessarily the Good Guys. “They” (those who think wrongly about sex, race, and gender) are the Bad Guys. All the Good Guys are on the side of the Oppressed (blacks, women, the poor); all the Bad Guys are on the side of the Powerful (whites, males, rich).

It does not matter that the categories make no historical sense, whether because they are recent inventions (“race” as something determined by evolution rather than culture or language), or because they are a fact of being mammals who reproduce sexually, or because there has never been a human society in which there were not some who commanded more resources than others. To refuse to think in the terms of these binaries is of itself to declare yourself a Black Hat.**

From the perspective of the professional Left (trust me on this, Jane Fonda said it just the other day), there are no viable categories of human community that exist outside these binaries. Every other category–nation, church, commerce, friendship, family–must be collapsed into them. Conversely, because the Left themselves think always in these binaries, they assume that everyone else does, too.

Have you ever wondered why “the Right” seems to have such a hard time defining itself? This is why. There is no such thing as “the Right” except as a projection of the Left. The Left needs a “Right” to oppose itself to, which is why the Left talks all the time about “fascism” as the enemy when both Leftists and fascists are, in fact, totalitarian. Actual conservatism cannot exist as far as the Left is concerned.

Which is how we get “white nationalism.”

Defining nationalism

Nationalism, properly speaking, has nothing to do with race as biologically defined, never mind with something so literally superficial as skin color. As Roger Scruton has limpidly argued, it is a way of answering the questions “to what do we belong, and what defines our loyalties and commitments” without adverting to “a shared religious obedience, still less in bonds of tribe and kinship.”

Nationalism defines “us” through “the things that we share with our fellow citizens, and in particular in those things that serve to sustain the rule of law and the consensual forms of politics.”

What are these things that “we” share? To start with, Scruton says: territory. “We believe ourselves to inhabit a shared territory, defined by law, and we believe that territory to be ours, the place where we are, and where our children will be in turn. Even if we came here from somewhere else, that does not alter the fact that we are committed to this territory, and define our identity–at least in part–in terms of it.”

From this perspective, it is as nonsensical to talk about “global citizenship” as it is to claim that democracy can or should exist without national borders. In Scruton’s words: “Democracy needs boundaries, and boundaries need the nation state. All the ways in which people come to define their identity in terms of the place where they belong have a part to play in cementing the sense of nationhood.”

Second, albeit closely tied to territory, are the history and customs according to which a particular territory has been settled. These customs may include, but do not need to include, religious ceremonies; secular rituals observed in common are equally potent, as are stories about how the territory was settled.

These stories, as Scruton notes, tend to be of three kinds: tales of glory, tales of sacrifice, and tales of emancipation. But they change according to who thinks of themselves as we: we English, we Scots, we Americans, we Mexicans, we Chinese, we Russians, we French. For the English and those nations derived from England (like America), one of the most important of their national myths is that of the common law. Again, in Scruton’s words: “We who have been brought up in the English-speaking world have internalized the idea that law exists to do justice between individual parties, rather than impose a uniform regime of command.”

(In contrast: “To someone raised on the doctrine that legitimate law comes from God, and that obedience is owed to Him above all others, the claims of the secular jurisdiction are regarded as at best an irrelevance, at worse a usurpation”–for example, among those raised in dar al-Islam. This, as Scruton points out, is one of the most important reasons for many Islamists’ resentment of the West and its representative, the United Nations: the imposition of the idea of the nation with its ideals of secular law and citizenship on Muslim communities founded rather on “divine law, brotherhood, and submission to a universal faith.” Perhaps paradoxically for many modern secularists, the secular nation is a peculiarly Christian construct, grounded in the idea of the separation of Church and State.)

Showing once again his English roots, Scruton insists: “The essential thing about nations is that they grow from below, through habits of free association among neighbours, and result in loyalties that are attached to a place and its history, rather than to a religion, a dynasty, or, as in Europe, to a self-perpetuating political class.”

From this perspective, America would seem to embody the ideal nation.

Defining America as a nation

Still in Scruton’s words:

Under the American settlement, people were to treat each other, first and foremost, as neighbors: not as fellow members of a race, a class, an ethnic group or religion, but as fellow settlers in the land that they shared. Their loyalty to the political order grew from the obligations of neighbourliness; and disputes between them were to be settled by the law of the land. The law was to operate within territorial boundaries defined by the prior attachments of the people, and not by some trans-national bureaucracy open to capture by people for whom those boundaries meant nothing.

My colleagues in the History department gathered again yesterday to talk about the implications for America of a Trump presidency. While they seemed to believe that it was important that America continue to exist–the one American historian talked explicitly about whether the Republic was in danger–it was difficult for me to understand why they thought it should. Except for the one Americanist, all the others work on other parts of the world: China, Eastern Europe, medieval Germany, Mexico, Marxist theory in the original German. As a group, those who work on the modern world seemed willing to champion the idea that other nations should exist in their own territories with their own histories and customs, but whether America has a place in that constellation seemed somewhat unclear.

Our Mexican historian spoke forcefully (and correctly) about the degree to which America is already and always has been Mexico. I get this intuitively, having grown up in New Mexico and spent my childhood wondering why all American history seemed to begin on the East Coast. (I’m old; I know this is not the version of our national history kids these days are learning.) “But what,” I asked him in the Q&A, “do Mexicans think about us? Do they agree with you when you say that Mexico is already and has always been America?” “Oh, no, they think I am crazy for siding with the gringos.”

Likewise, our Chinese historian spoke eloquently about the way in which China looks at the rest of the world through the lens of its own national history, particularly the imperial system of competitive examination. The current ruling elite in China, he told us, value expertise above all. To them it is nonsensical that we as America seem so willing to undermine ourselves competitively, while at the same time they are unsurprised. China, after all, is the Middle Kingdom, the place where heaven and earth meet. (I paraphrase somewhat, adding my own understanding of imperial China from my undergraduate days–I got to play Empress in our recreation of Qing politics.)

But what President Trump said yesterday in his inaugural address? Dangerous.

Unless, of course, you have been reading Scruton.

We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.” That is, we are neighbors who live and work together, fellow settlers in the land we share, obliged to each other through neighborliness.

Together we will determine the course of America and the world… We will face challenges. We will confront hardships. But we will get the job done.” Here Trump invokes all three tales of the nation at once: glory, sacrifice, and emancipation.

This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is your country. What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.” The nation is defined, again, as a shared territory, the we of those of us who live here as citizens under the same law.

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.”  Note the explicit emphasis on neighborliness and the implicit appeal to the understanding that the nation grew up from the free associations between neighbors.

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