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Nationalism

by on November 29, 2018

Nationalism

by Marco M. Pardi

Nationalism appeals to our tribal instincts, to passion and to prejudice, and to our nostalgic desire to be relieved from the strains of individual responsibility which it attempts to replace by a collective or group responsibility.” Karl R. Popper (1902-1994) The Open Society and its Enemies. 1945

All comments are sincerely welcome and will receive a reply.

Having learned American as a second language and having seriously studied several other languages I’m perhaps unusually attuned to the way people speak. That can be problematic when hearing common usage. I do hear terms used interchangeably that should not be so used. A common example is Nation and State. For clarity, some choose Country in lieu of State but the meaning is unchanged.

Having no geographic boundaries, a nation is a collection of people defined by a self-perceived solidarity. Here in the United States we have excellent examples in “the Cherokee Nation” and other such applications. The concept has been borrowed informally by sports fans as the Bulldog Nation (University of Georgia) and the Gator Nation (University of Florida). Interestingly, fans of the New Orleans Saints football team proudly refer to themselves as the “Who Dat Nation”. In another context, this would be a slur against an ethnic group.

This felt solidarity applies no matter where the member happens to live. And, presumably students at those universities who have no interest in sports still attend school in good standing but do not necessarily subscribe to membership in such “Nations”.

The U.S. birthed another excellent example in the Nation of Islam, insightfully applying the Muslim concept of the Umma, or worldwide body of Islam to the Black converts in the U.S. Nation, then, is bounded by feeling or, in some cases – Native Americans – biology. But in contrast, State (more commonly called Country) is geographically bounded. The surprising catch here is that a country may be totally empty of people but it remains a country; it does not disappear from the map until other countries move in and lay claim.

So, it must be clear that when a person claims to be a “Nationalist” he is referring to group of people bonded by an agreed ethic. Supporting factors, such as biology may be invoked to claim or prove membership but the claim to nationalism clearly does not reference a bounded patch of land, empty or full.

The questions must arise: What groups of people? What are the ethics which bond them? How did these ethics originate, and how long have they been there? This raises a current issue: Many writers have claimed the Trump regime has fractured the people of the United States into ever hardening opposing groups. However, it can as easily be said the regime, through its constant voicing of hateful messaging, has only facilitated the exposure of a long fractured population. People who have long concealed their true sentiments now feel free, with official sanction, to voice and to act out those sentiments.

An interesting entry point into analysis is the phenomenon of gangs. True gangs are organized similarly to governments. “Nations” are similar to States; “Sets” are similar to large cities; and, “sub-sets” are similar to counties. However, in Georgia alone there are over 700 groups considered to be gangs. From a criminology perspective one must look more closely within this large number to determine which and how many are simply “robbing crews”, held together by task oriented organic function versus some shared felt ethic. Furthermore, one must question the authenticity and the degree of claimed ethic based cohesion within any such group designated as a gang. A more subtle confounder is the strong position that a gang is often a surrogate family. So which ethic takes precedence, the felt need for a family or the felt need to identify as being in solidarity with the stated aims of the gang. Is the primary personal ethic driven by what a gang is, or by what a gang does? And so, are political parties and special interest groups primarily extended families, or are they solely expressions of principle? I have written previously of a several month on-site study I did with “Black Militant” gangs and will not reprise that episode here. The purpose of my study was to test the validity of Qualitative Methods, not to develop an ethnography on gangs.

Nonetheless, that study supported my growing conviction that Culture is an approximation. We share ideas, values, and traditions only on superficial levels. The common ethic is not so much Our Ethic as much as it is The Ethic to which we pay lip service in ways currently approved. That is, until we discover ourselves in an overarching social milieu which seems to allow us to voice and to act upon our deepest personal feelings. For many hitherto silent and “agreeable” people that milieu is now here. They will soon find that the definition of Freedom of Speech has drifted almost completely into the hands of the current regime. The regime’s focus is not on developing more freedom through which to express one’s self but rather on implanting those “deepest personal feelings” mentioned above. A substantial portion of the population has already proven the regime needs only the most simple minded messaging in order to succeed.

So, are we really fracturing, or are we simply dropping the pretense? Were we ever a Nation, or were we just getting along?

Much current rhetoric stresses the need for the “nation to heal”. But that simple phrase embodies two presumptions: We are a nation; and, we are now fractured where once we were whole. I strongly dispute both. We are not, and have never been a nation. We are not fractured, we are exposed for what we are. Attempts to paper over this reality will worsen the issue, not resolve it.

There are several persistent myths about the origins of the United States. One is that the original northern European colonists were uniformly of a certain body of ethics, a nascent nation. In fact, there were long periods during which being Catholic in some colonies was a hanging offense. Being Baptist was in others. A large number of colonists rejected the secession from England; they did not all leave after the secession was successful.

And, lest we “fergit”, the United States suffered a massive civil war. Living in the South, I constantly see examples of violent protests against the removal of monuments commemorating the people who fought and killed to preserve human slavery. The Confederate Battle Flag is, in my opinion, tantamount to a gang sign.

Until Viet Nam, the United States glorified its wars. Yet, there were many who refused to support each of the preceding wars, often suffering discrimination in employment as the price of upholding their principles, their ethics.

Looking at just these few examples, (no doubt the reader can add many more) claiming the United States is a Nation is absurd. The United States is a huge reservoir of untapped and often seriously conflicting feelings, beliefs and ideals. Proclaiming one’s self a “Nationalist” demands an answer to the fundamental question: Whose Nation?

I’ve asked several questions in this particular piece. I don’t write because I know everything; I write in hopes of learning from the comments and views of others. Maybe that makes me a member of the Eager to Know Nation. Judging from the numbers and the locations of readers, that Nation has no boundaries.

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8 Comments
  1. Last night I received an email from a reader who put forth two points: In her schooling she had taken the Pledge of Allegiance every day and it included the phrase, …one nation… The other point was that people are much too involved in the political chaos now going on in this country.

    I had a very brief exposure to public secondary schools. During that time I refused to recite the daily pledge of allegiance. I took that pledge in a court room when I gained Naturalization as a citizen of this country. I was not told at the time, nor any time since, it had to be renewed every 24 hours.

    I recently read Trumpocracy, by David Frum – a lifelong conservative Republican and an editor of The Atlantic magazine. In utterly exposing Trump and his supporters for what they are he makes the point: If you are one of the people who simply sit back and say things will take care of themselves, there’s no need to get involved, you are not a citizen. You are a subject. As a survivor of Fascist Italy, I refuse to be anyone’s subject. I will remain involved for myself, my daughter, my grandchildren, and my country.

  2. The current political atmosphere may be conducive to bringing out the worst in our natures, but it did not cause these issues. Like alcohol, which allows, but does not create, bad behaviors by lowering our inhibitions, todays behaviors are made normal by the creation of a venue in which they have been not only allowed, but encouraged. So many of the harmful actions and hateful attitudes which I had so hoped were behind us have once again raised their ugly heads. I am discouraged by the numbers of people who think this is okay; I am not one of them!

    No matter how independent we are or how unique we imagine ourselves to be, I believe it is human nature to want to belong to …something. Most of us (hermits and misanthropes aside) want to believe that there is someone “out there” who thinks as we do. I’ve never fit in very well, no matter the venue; I just don’t get social or political norms. Fortunately, I am not the only one.

    • Thank you, Rose. I fully agree. What concerns me, as I think it should everyone, is that when a self described nation sees itself as the bearers of the true values of the State at large it feels entitled – and obligated – to further and impose its values. It may do so through trickery – the current political party in power – such as gerrymandering, manipulating the ability of presumably opposing populations to vote – such as restricting or closing voting stations in certain districts, or fostering a feeling of hopelessness among opposing voters. Or, especially should their power brokers be impeached, through violence. I suspect the latter is a very real possibility in the United States.

  3. Kathy Odom permalink

    Solidarity, Nation, nations, gangs, Gangs, Fractures, fractures…so much to think about. More later.

  4. jkent33 permalink

    Your post this time covered a subject matter that I have been watching for some period of time. That is the large divisions of people with strong opposing views on a wide range of subject matter. These are people beyond the 3 political parties. They are what I call subsets of those. I don’t see it much in the Democratic party but it is quite pronounced in the GOP. In particular the old guard Republicans and what social media call the Trumpers. But, what captured my attention was what you and I have discussed earlier this year. The radical gun totter militias, hate groups [think white supremacists] and others made up from younger conservative members of the GOP. To me, they are quick to anger often becoming vicious. The one word you mentioned was Nationalist. I heard it when Trump called us Nationalists. Your forever perspicacious view of events breaking down people into the proper classifications always fascinates me. It did provide a term that his followers feel they can use as a title reserved for only them. I could have never dreamed the strong divisions now evidenced in the behavior among people all around us. My hopes are that by years end change will take place pulling us a bit together going into next year…

    • Thank you, Jerry. These outlier groups, often called fringe groups, are dangerous precisely because they do not feel at home in any established, orderly mainstream group. Thus, they feel the “other peoples’ rules” do not apply to them and would only prolong the status quo to which they object. Their ideals and visions therefore develop in a vacuum of their own making. Treating that vacuum as irrelevant, or even puncturing that vacuum, is certain to result in violence. While I empathize with your hopes, I very much doubt we will see any significant progress toward resolution. What will pass for peace will merely be a return to undercurrents awaiting their next opportunities.

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