The Burkean – Seán Joseph –
Nationalism has made somewhat of a resurgence in the past decade, which was arguably caused by the internet opening up the floodgates to unorthodox opinions—although some may argue it was just a natural backlash against multiculturalism. With a growing number of people thinking that the political spectrum is now globalism vs nationalism, it’s important the different strands of nationalism are distinguished from each other, unless we want to remain an easy target for slander.
Many view nationalism as a singular political doctrine, but to the true scholar there exists four distinct groups: Christian Nationalism, Liberal Nationalism, Fascism, and Pragmatic Nationalism. The ‘civic vs ethnic nationalism’ debate is also referenced below in an appendix as it’s related to this topic, but it’s only important enough to be discussed separately.
This form of nationalism is based on the Christian virtue of patriotism. Patriotism is rightly designated as one of the most pronounced virtues when it comes to politics as it’s merely an extension of the great commandment to love thy neighbour. Christian teaching on nationalism, in contrast, is non-existent. That’s not to say that nationalism is bad, it is just to say that nationalism isn’t required for your salvation, and therefore doesn’t need to be commented on.
Christian teaching values patriotism as it’s advantageous to the common good. Without this love for your fellow countrymen the bonds of society deteriorate: employers try to pay their workers the lowest rate possible in order to increase profits, the general population are indifferent to the rise of unmarried mothers, helping strangers in distress becomes less common.
Although patriotism and nationalism are used as synonyms by many, there are fundamental differences between these two words. To be patriotic is to love your fellow countrymen; to be a nationalist is to believe that your ethnic group is distinct enough from your neighbours that your ethnic group wielding political power is advantageous for society. In other words, patriotism is a feeling, nationalism is a political opinion. So if a Christian believes promoting nationalism is beneficial for society, they will become nationalists. It’s all centered around what benefits the common good; if they deem nationalism to be harmful to the common good, of course then nationalism shouldn’t be pursued.
When it comes to politics, Church teaching has always promoted its members to submit and adhere to the power that maintains law and order. Under no circumstance is insurrection permitted, no matter how tyrannical the state is. The government has a right to govern and the citizen has an obligation to respect this right.
Democratic government isn’t even a requirement for people to be obedient towards those in authority, the only requirement for a legitimate government is that they keep law and order in the country (although governments are obliged to create a Christian state as stated by divine law). The state’s authority is ordained by God, not by the people, “therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God” (Romans 13:2).
The only time when disobedience to the state is required—to the extent that obedience is immoral—is when the government attempts to force its citizens to commit an unchristian act. This can be summed up in Jesus’ instruction to “render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”.
The two modern excesses of those who call themselves nationalists is in their dislike of foreigners, and in their willingness to exploit vulnerable foreign nations. Although it shouldn’t be concluded that opposition to mass immigration is rooted in the person’s dislike of foreigners, there is still a section of this group that can’t distinguish between opposing demographic-changing immigration and opposing immigrants.
With regard to exploiting foreign nations, the same charity we give to our fellow countrymen should be given to foreign countries. The opinion that every international action that benefits your nation is by default good is erroneous and unchristian. We shouldn’t see the world as a map of competing nations, but as a map of nations cooperating harmoniously with each other for “there is neither Jew nor Greek […] for we are all one in Christ”.
Nationalists have to be bound by these limitations in order to be also called Christian. Thus, Christian nationalism is always a movement of peace and never a revolutionary movement willing to stage an insurrection. Daniel O’Connell is a good example of this, the Fenians are an example of what it isn’t.
Summarising the Christian stance on the theme of nationalism, you can see where liberal nationalism comes into conflict. This form of nationalism exploded onto the world with the onset of the French Revolution. They declared that the right to govern didn’t come from God, but from the people. Therefore, democratic government is the only legitimate form of government. From this reasoning they concluded that the unelected monarchy had no right to rule, and so King Louis XVI was guillotined.
This new political theory made all forms of insurrectionist separatism permissible, as long as the certain group of insurrectionists claimed to be exerting the will of the people. A vote of whether insurrection is approved by the people is never undertaken, the mere claim is sufficient. Every insurrectionist group: the IRA, Hamas, etc., follows this mode of logic.
In the liberal nationalists’ eyes, the legitimate foreign government ceased to have any right to be obeyed, as they weren’t asked if they wanted to be governed by them. Although there is a grey area when this foreign government is still in its infancy as it can be argued that they have usurped the rightful authority of the previous government, and this new government is therefore rendered illegitimate. There is a certain grey area with many points made in this article, but in order to keep this article concise, I will stick to identifying the fundamentals.
The American ‘no taxation without representation’ is a great example of a political statement founded on the doctrines of liberal nationalism. These doctrines have been so engraved in our culture that people nowadays can’t even fathom that some philosophers during that time period disagreed with that declaration.
This form of nationalism is the most heathenous of them all, as it literally has pagan roots. It is also the example brought up to discredit all forms of nationalism so as to more easily promote globalism and multiculturalism. Fascism places its foundation on the belief that humans are merely intelligent animals. This is concluded when one denies that only humans possess a soul and are chosen by God to rule the earth, along with the Darwinistic belief that humans descended from monkeys. It was no coincidence then that the theory of evolution preceded the rise of fascism.
Looking at nature we see that the strong survive, while the weak perish. With social animals like wolves, the strongest lead the pack through sheer power, any exploitation of the weak by the pack leader is seen as just a natural occurrence. When it comes to territory, expansion and conquering of other packs is always advantageous as it benefits your group. As humans are also animals, the same ‘might makes right’ philosophy should be implemented into society as it’s supposedly the natural state of being.
‘Blood and soil’ are the foundations of morality, what benefits either of these is by default good, even if that means exploiting foreigners. In fact, ruling over nations is just in keeping with the laws of nature. The weak ethnicities deserved to be ruled by the strong. There is no right for weak ethnicities to self-govern, only those that are capable of attaining power deserve that right. This sort of reasoning is an essential justification of the powerful to fulfil any appetite that they may possess.
This is what nationalism meant prior to the onset of Christianity, although we can see that throughout history the monarchs of Christian states favoured this philosophy more as it created a justification for invading other countries, the Christian ‘Just War Theory’ was generally ignored. Colonialism can be seen as a continuation of pagan morality and a preliminary version of fascism, they thought the ‘savage races’ should be glad they were ruled by a ‘civilised race’ like themselves. It didn’t occur to these rulers that their systematised slavery was the most uncivilised and barbaric practice known to man up until that point.
The true implementation of this pagan doctrine was finally attempted with the coming of fascism. It began with Mussolini and was finally brought to its final dechristianised pagan form by Hitler. Hitler’s nationalism was similar to the alpha of a wolf pack; he deemed it only natural for his citizens to submit unconditionally to his authority and for foreign tribes to be dominated by him.
This final form of nationalism is the one with the shallowest ideological roots, but is significant enough to make the list. This pragmatic nationalism can be utilised throughout the political spectrum, but it mostly surfaces as what many have labelled ‘left-wing nationalism’. The nationalism of the Soviet Union is the first major example of this pragmatic nationalism. This nationalism was never meant to occur—according to Marx’s theories anyways—as the international revolution should have erased all national distinctions.
This global proletariat revolution never occurred, so nationalism was encouraged by the Soviet government for the pragmatic purpose of stabilising their regime. They understood that promoting nationalism is an easy way for a regime to indirectly encourage loyalty towards the government. Instead of calling a dissident an enemy of the state, he would be classed as an enemy of that ethnic group, thus, creating an illusion that the government always embodies the will of the people.
The nationalism we see in some modern left-wing parties falls under the same pragmatic nationalist category. Parties like Sinn Féin, the Scottish National Party and the Nationalist Party of Catalonia use nationalism as a tool only for their left-wing political ends. They realise that their sub-ethnicity is more loyal to their political ideas than the host country, so a break from the host country would mean political domination by them. It also allows them to hijack the nationalist sentiment in their region for their own political ends, and to hinder undesirable forms of nationalism from growing.
Appendix I: Civic vs Ethnic Nationalism
For those that don’t know, there was an internet debate a few years ago about whether we should pursue civic or ethnic nationalism; this debate could be classed as a microcosm of the alt-lite vs alt-right quarrel. The civic nationalists argued that the nation was merely just a preservation of ideas, as opposed to the ethnic nationalists that thought the nation was defined by ethnicity.