Our friend and colleague Mona Charen has written a column on the nationalism/patriotism debate. First, I appreciate her kind words about me and Ramesh, and the regard is very mutual. But I obviously don’t agree with her critique. Ramesh and I wrote a piece arguing that there are good and bad forms of nationalism. So it’s not enough to point out the nationalists who have done terrible things. We don’t like Nasser, Putin or Mussolini, either. To rebut our argument, it’s necessary to show that nationalism is inherently problematic in pretty much all its expressions.
To wit: It was unfortunate that the Chosen People of the Old Testament provided an example for all sorts of people to imagine their country was the new chosen people (this is not just a characteristic of America). It was regrettable that Polish nationalists schemed and dreamed of how to recover their country from dismemberment by Hohenzollern, Habsburg and Romanov dynasties in 1795. It was disturbing how the British deployed nationalism to bolster their resistance to Napoleon and his dream of building a multi-national empire. It was too bad that Rembrandt played into a national myth by painting Civilis, the leader of the Batavian uprising. It was great tragedy that a nationalist movement, i.e., Zionism, restored the Jewish people to their homeland in a nation-state that has defied the “international community” for decades. And so on.
Indeed, it is quite notable that our anti-nationalist critics never express the least chagrin over the creation of the community of nations that is nationalism’s epochal achievement. They don’t rue the passing of (most) multi-national empires. They don’t have a kind word for the E.U., for the U.N., for the International Criminal Court, for any of the trans-national efforts to harness nation-states that are presumed to be inherently aggressive and dangerous by their cosmopolitan critics.
This debate has only confirmed me in my conviction that all conservatives are nationalists to some extent or other, even if some are uncomfortable with the word when they shouldn’t be.