This week Emmanuel Macron the President of France gave a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg warning about the perils of nationalism. Predictably this aspect of his speech was reported by the elite media as though this was some obvious fact, that nationalism is the great scourge of Europe. I disagree with this profoundly but before setting out my argument I thought it might be helpful to define the term nationalism.
The Oxford English dictionary defines nationalism as;
1 Identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.
2 Advocacy of or support for the political independence of a particular nation or people.
This second definition – the one I believe in, does not seem to carry the negative tone that the President of France or the elite media would prefer you to accept.
Europe has for centuries been plagued by war but two of the worst at least in terms of atrocities and human rights abuses were the Thirty Years War and the Second World War. There was probably no single cause for the Thirty Years War but few would argue that the main factor in the atrocities both sides inflicted on the luckless civilian population was religion, in this case the sectarian hatred between Catholics and Protestants. The Second World War also had a religious dimension, the genocide of Jews and Jehovah Witnesses being a grim feature of the war the driver in this case being the ideology of the fascist left in the form of the National Socialist Party (the left just love their identity politics). Life under the Communists was also harsh but fairer inasmuch the Communists killed everyone equally. Religious minorities only enjoyed freedom to worship God in their own way following the victory of the democratic nation states of the West (with a lot of help from colonial soldiers).
It would be misleading for me to suggest that nationalism has never been a feature in wars in Europe, the 19th Century saw a number of wars waged for reasons of nationalism. The legacy of the Napoleonic wars saw nationalism become a feature in the unification of Germany and Italy, nationalism certainly played a part in the Greek struggle for independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s, a struggle that gained much support across the whole of Christian Europe, a struggle that eventually succeeded with the help of the nation states of Britain, France and Russia. Many people died in these conflicts so it would be wrong to gloss over human suffering and I am very mindful of the quote from George Orwell that ‘The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.’ I would not deny atrocities took place, they do in all wars but these wars seemed free from the hatred of religion and ideology, the wars were fought with the clear aim of securing independence or the borders of a nation state not to exterminate another people.
In more modern times Europe has had to contend with low level conflicts in Ireland and in Spain – both arguably wars of nationalism. Irish Republicans fought for independence but at a certain level the IRA and the British Army fought each other for the same reason – where the borders of their respective nation states should lie, the war was bitter but both sides avoided demonising the general population. Politicians on both sides deserve much credit for their restraint in that respect, a restraint I personally experienced, I spent a lot of time living and working in Northern Ireland toward the end of the troubles, I remember having a beer in a nationalist pub in Belfast and engaging (socially) with a senior member of the IRA. I made the point that the British soldiers being killed were working class boys like myself, ‘ Ah Tom’ he replied ‘Its not the soldier we hate, it’s the uniform’.
The Basques in Spain shared a similar aspiration to Irish Republicans seeking independence for the Basque region following the fall of what many saw as the tyranny of the fascist left regime of General Franco. This surge of nationalism in response to years of tyranny could be seen in the former Yugoslavia, following the death of Josip Broz Tito and the collapse of the Communist regime, the sectarian aspect of this war is well documented and the atrocities will haunt Europe for decades to come.
Yet here is the thing, Yugoslavia is often used as the poster boy for the European Union to show what can happen with nationalism. I would argue this is looking through the telescope from the wrong end; Yugoslavia is what you get when you artificially create an entity, an entity governed centrally with an iron fist by people with no accountability to the population at large. Yugoslavia is what you get when you trample over people’s culture and identity forcing them to adhere to an artificial framework that stifles the human spirit, humiliates them by extolling the unnatural and punishes them for daring to speak the truth. Yugoslavia is what you get when you force people to live alongside others who detest their way of life, their very existence. Nationalism is a predictable outcome for when the artificial structure collapses – as they all do when their internal contradictions can no longer withstand the consequences of reality.
It is worth bearing in mind that whilst the likes of President Macron issue dire warnings of nationalism an increasingly violent low level conflict is taking place across much of Europe, a conflict waged against us by an ancient enemy we are forbidden to name. I defy anyone to tell me this conflict will somehow get better because it will not, it will get worse and worse unless new people take control both here and across the West.
Quite clearly I believe in the nation state and I am not a fan of globalism but I find it laughable how this is somehow construed that I am the embodiment of Adolph Hitler. My form of nationalism is one where we work peacefully with other nation states, one where we don’t drop bombs on them because a malign and secretive world order decides killing people in other countries is somehow the progressive thing to do. I warm to patriots across the world, whatever country they are from, I know what motivates them and they know what motivates me. I want to live in a world where the people who live in France are French a world where Arab nationalism and its secular handmaiden is not strangled at birth by Liberalists acting on behalf of Gulf State despots. I want to live in a world where democratic, independent nation states are governed by people who care about their people and live peacefully and quietly with other nation states. If that is xenophobia then I guess I have misunderstood the term for many years now.
No war is good and peace is seldom bad but I reject this ‘fact’ that nationalism is the source of all conflict. Far from it, I would argue nationalism is almost always a response to the imposition by a powerful elite of a form of governance that is alien and unnatural to a people. Religion, ideology and imperialism are far greater threats to mankind and have provided the excuse for so many more atrocities than nationalism.
Glenda Sluga, Professor of International History notes that ‘The twentieth century, a time of profound disillusionment with nationalism, was also the great age of globalism’ I would argue that the twenty first century is a time of profound disillusionment with globalism, and may well prove to be the golden age of nationalism.