is a widely accepted reading of recent history which puts the blame
for such disasters as World Wars I and II squarely on the shoulders
of nationalism. This might be true and it might not. It is convenient
for some because it removes blame from a certain murderous internationalist
ideology, which famously ran aground some ten years ago. More importantly,
it removes blame from the institution which made possible
or indeed demanded world wars, mass murder of marked class
or ethnic enemies, and so-called "totalitarianism." That institution,
as Martin van Creveld teaches us, is the modern, abstract, bureaucratic
state. The modern state is implicated in many bloody social "experiments"
of the 20th century, and not just world wars, which is
one reason I allude to our late friends the Soviets.
Soviets did most of their killing in times of international
peace, as did the regime of Chairman Mao. Hence focussing
on crimes of nationalism, or even fascism, leaves
out fully half the important cases, as A. James Gregor
said a couple of years ago. Nationalists have tried
to use states, but states likewise used nationalists
and their "ism," and it seems likely that states got
more out of the deal. Blaming nationalism for the
20th century seems a rather incomplete
we come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him, or
rather to understand nationalism, not necessarily
to make a case for it. Some writers have sought to
distinguish nationalism from patriotism. Asked by
newly arrived Union soldiers why he was fighting them,
a North Carolinian reportedly uttered those famous
words, "Because you all are down here." Cased closed.
Stay out of that guy's county and he won't fight you.
writers define patriotism as precisely a commitment
to defending what is local, known, and shared. Patriotism,
so defined, bears a close resemblance to particularism,
and seems much more appealing and defensible than
nationalism, at least as we now conceive it. John
Lukacs and Edward P. Lawton, among others, have favored
making such a distinction.
I am not setting up a standard libertarian complaint
about nationalism, nor do I claim that nationalism
must always consort with protectionism, irredentism,
imperialism, and war. The actual historical record
is a bit more complex. Rudolf Rocker's Nationalism
and Culture (1937) tried to show that the
large territorial state or empire is always the enemy
of cultural freedom and achievement. Rocker's argument
was an anarchosyndicalist restatement of Friedrich
Nietzsche's radical Hellenism, which saw ancient Greek
political divisiveness as the seedbed of Greek cultural
accomplishments. It seems to me that Nietzsche's 20th-century
admirers fascist and postmodernist alike
underplay his aversion to the German Empire, its centralization,
etc., and his fear that political centralization would
spell the end of German cultural creativity
as perhaps it did, and is still doing, albeit
under different management.
NATIONALISM IS IT, ANYWAY?
we have not agreed on a definition of nationalism.
Is the trunk, the tail, or the legs the best handle
on this conceptual elephant? The late Murray
Rothbard was always known for championing national
resistance movements, when and where he believed they
aimed at preserving or reclaiming historically genuine
political and territorial rights. He made a distinction,
in effect, between aggressive and defensive nationalisms.
problems attendant on too closely identifying "nations"
with particular states arose first, in modern terms,
during the French Revolution. Certainly in the radical
phase of that revolution there was a fusion of the
notions of the French people, a territory, republicanism,
a language, and culture. Busy suppressing a counterrevolution
of Catholic peasants which they had provoked, revolutionary
leaders spoke of eradicating unFrench elements such
as Celtic-speaking Bretons and German-speaking Alsatians.
Whether this would be done by forced assimilation,
expulsion, or mass murder remained somewhat open.
The war against the Vendéans certainly suggested
what this "nationalist" regime was capable of.
raises some obvious questions: if we think of a "nation"
as made up of people who are, or believe themselves,
related by blood, language, religion, culture, and
other things, were not the Bretons their own nation?
In which case, who asked Paris to make Frenchmen of
them? By what right?
CONNOR, NATIONALIST RANGER
good guide to such matters is Walker Connor, who may
be the most perceptive scholar currently writing about
nationalism.1 He despairs of taking
back the word "nationalism" as defined above, and
therefore uses "ethnonationalism" in his work. I won't
say that he has solved all our problems, but the destructive
side of his work is impressive indeed.
attempts a full-scale critique of the inconsistencies
and conceptual sloppiness to be found in most standard
writings on his subject. They abound. All through
the 1960s we suffered through political science tomes
about "nation building," which some of my contemporaries
derided as "Pye in the Sky." These books rested on
the imperial confrontation between the American and
Soviet empires allegedly the main reason for being
alive in those years and drew up programs to build
nations out of recently independent third-world collections
of peoples within boundaries imposed by British, Belgian,
and French imperialism.
collections were referred to, variously, as nations,
nation-states, countries, whatever, and it was imperative
for them to be unified, politically stable, parliamentary,
and all the rest, before they fell into tribal anarchy
or chose the wrong side in the Cold War sweepstakes.
Connor makes the excellent point that since these
states were not "nations" in any real ethnonationalist
sense, so-called nation-building meant nation-destroying
for those groups who were not clothed in state power.
doesn't stop with the clear-cut cases, however. He
observes that most supposed nation-states contain
unresolved national questions the cases of the Basques,
the Welsh, the Scots, the Germans in the South Tyrol,
and others. On strict ethnonationalist criteria, there
are very few real nation-states. Iceland, Japan, and
a few others seem to qualify. I shall not raise the
question of the Ainu.
out more bolts of lightning, Connor holds that we
cannot usefully judge these matters on the rather
anomalous cases of Switzerland and the United States.
I would add that the Swiss model may prove the opposite
of what certain writers claim for it. Do the four
language groups in Switzerland "just all get along"?
Not exactly, they live far enough apart and with enough
political autonomy to allow for unity on a few common
political matters. As for the American model, it seems
to prove that you can bring in peoples of differing
nationalities in some numbers, provided they agree
to assimilate to the existing rules, language, and
culture (broadly speaking). These days it would be
a hate crime to ask that of them, so I move on.
world-improving US elite is moving on, too, and wish
to impose their recently grasped understanding of
the American experience globally by force if
necessary. Never mind that their "new model" nationhood
hasn't even been shown to work here.
advocates of the so-called New World Order have given
us, at last, a reason to appreciate existing nation-states,
as flawed, un-national, and criminal as they are.
This needs some explaining. I am not among those who
believe that a "transnational elite" exists, fully
formed, which aspires to run the world. At this time,
international institutions with any real power are
still fronts for the US Empire. Nation-states stand
between various peoples and the empire. It makes sense
for the Danes, or the Austrians, or the Brits to demand
to know what they are getting into in the EU.
Americans, the case is different. It is our own "denationalized"
state that has become the empire. Supporting "our"
central state no longer national and certainly not
federal against imaginary UN conspiracies, sinister
foreign NGOs and quangos makes no sense at all. It
is enough to ask us even to tolerate it. I therefore
recommend, as usual, radical devolution of power to
states and localities, where as a libertarian I hope they won't make much use of it.
the matter of scale is important, a point often lost
on the average libertarian. The Left lectures us daily
that the personal is the political. Well, it is now,
and it's becoming a very miserable experience. Even
the alleged beneficiaries may tire of it some day,
but probably not before a lot of genuine societies
and natural orders are lying in ruins. I would only
add that since what the Left believes is a fairly
reliable guide to what is untrue, it follows logically
that a radical depoliticization of everything in sight
is the royal road to recovery. And, as Ludwig
von Mises suggested, it is the path most likely
to defuse and accommodate those real national differences
about which people care deeply.2
approach is more Burkean than utopian and may not
fix everything, but it seems more promising than decades
of aerial sorties by the usual suspects. Meanwhile,
everyone should get ready for the new book by Dr.
Hans-Hermann Hoppe, which will demonstrate the role
of that much overrated set of procedures we call "democracy"
in bringing about our present discontents. It may
turn out that democracy has been a bigger culprit
than nationalism, however defined.
See Walker Connor, Ethnonationalism: The Quest
for Understanding (Princeton University Press,
Ludwig von Mises, Nation,
State, and Economy (New York University Press,