Have We Really Remembered Them, Or How Nationalism Didn't Cause WWI
lndeed some of us remember them. More than annually. Whenever we see a memorial. Or think of our liberties. Or hear stories from parents or grandparents. And yes the number of people visiting the battlefields has grown. But what are we learning? What are we teaching? If we are shedding tears for the wrong things... what is even the point?

Many castigated President Trump for cancelling an appearance yesterday. But the French President Emmanuel Macron has been busy preparing to make the 100 year anniversary of the Armistice political and partisan.

Today, in an attempt to embarrass President Trump as the torchbearer of modern nationalism, the pipsqueak president of France declared: 

"Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism... By pursuing our own interests first, with no regard to others', we erase the very thing that a nation holds most precious, that which gives it life and makes it great: its moral values."

Firstly, this is the most heinously bunk philosophical leap I've heard on the matter.

Nationalism and patriotism are indeed distinct. But they are not opposites.

Nationalism is a philosophy of governance, or how human beings organise their affairs. Patriotism isn't a governing philosophy. Sometimes viewed as subsidiary to the philosophy of nationalism, patriotism is more like devotion. 

Mr. Macron may as well have asserted that chicken is the opposite of mayonnaise, so vacuous was his statement.

Secondly, while his comments were asinine and insulting to the memories of those we honour today, it jogs in my mind the question: "Have we really remembered them?"

Of course we recall. We think. We know. Or at least we think we know. But have we appropriately contextualised the two great wars of the 20th century? Not just for ourselves, but for future generations, too?

Sure they may still learn about the adoption of the tank, or flight, or the bloodiness of the battles. They know who the major players were (I hope) and they can probably rattle off something about Hitler, or Roosevelt, or Churchill. 

But it seems to me in conversations or overheard, few people of any generation barring the ones that sacrificed it all know what the stakes were in the first and second world wars. And they cannot tell you that the stakes have been the same in almost every war since.

Imperialism run amok, rooted in nihilism, putting the totality of the state at its heart. That's what happened to Europe. That's what is happening to the United States, too.

If you take nothing else away from this article, take that.

The idea that nationalism is to blame for world wars one and two is both childish and partisan. 

One might argue an appeal to extreme patriotism (or chauvinism) had a part to play in corralling the people of said countries behind their respective war efforts. But this was not the motivating factor, nor the philosophy behind the aggressors of the 20th century.

In fact it was quite the opposite. An opposite Mr. Macron would rather you not know of. 

It was globalism. Or, more accurately, since we didn't have globalism back then, its period equivalent: imperialism. 

  • Imperialism is what drives nations to project outward their will, usually with force. 
  • Imperialism is what therefore causes armies to cross borders in the hope of subjugating other human beings or the invaded nation's natural resources.
  • Imperialism is a construct that defines a world, or region, or continent by its use of central authority and foreign capital control.

"But Raheem, you have a map of the British Empire in your home. You surely cannot consider all imperialism to be evil?"

I don't. This is the point. The zero-sum approach to such discourse is precisely what I am challenging. 

Imperialism served its purposes, especially when grounded in something larger than man; whether that be natural law, God, or otherwise. 

But imperialism predicated upon nihilism - per Nazi Germany especially - heralded what should have been the end for that doctrine.

Instead, it transfigured... into globalism.

Instead of armies of soldiers, the world's imperialists would seek to dominate using armies of economists and bureaucrats.

Instead of forced payments to a foreign capital, the globalists figured out how to create economic global reliance: first on sterling, then on the dollar, now for many (read Italy) on the Euro. This will soon be leapfrogged by China's designs. Mark my words. 

But such things are scarcely long lived. 

Because while benevolent imperialism can create better conditions over a period of time, humanity's instincts will always lean towards freedom and self governance. 

Nor self governance for the "democratic" sake of it, either.

But because, as the founding fathers noted in the U.S. Declaration of Independence: "all men are created equal". And by God, don't we know it?

It is this fundamental distinction between the U.S. founding and that of the modern Republic of France that defines the two nations.

France, with its totality of state and a fetishisation of "demos" and "democracy". The people of France are granted their freedoms by the government, and the government creates the conditions and dictates the terms upon which those freedoms are exercised.

As Charles Kesler wrote for the Claremont Review of Books in May: 

As a result, there are fewer and fewer levers by which the governed can make its consent count, by which an indignant people can exert control over its own government. In the administrative state there is little room for populism because there is no room for an independent people. The “people” has been broken down into claimant groups, and every group has been organized, the better to mesh with the gears of the state. 

France is the archetypal administrative state.

In the United States, the origins of the same freedoms were made clear by the nation's founders: by natural law. Though this has been increasingly abandoned as a prospect in a more atheistic and disparate America.

Finally, what of England? What of Great Britain? 

Well we are not a republic. Thank God.

And with our imperialistic days behind us, both in a historical sense and in a "we've just voted to leave the imperialistic European Union" sense, one might argue we have the propensity for great, glory days ahead.

Nationalism - nationism if you will - has been one of the greatest philosophical feats of mankind, alongside capitalism in how much it has returned to the species in victory.

Certainly nationalism's could-be bastard child of chauvinism can itself give root to imperialistic tendencies. But if the nation can and indeed does look after its own, and says to the world around it, "these are our affairs, you may learn from them, you may seek advice, we may even assist if you so desperately need it and our affairs are in order," then nationalism can be a great gift to the 21st century and beyond.

For the time being, however, I fear we have not accurately remembered them and their sacrifices along these lines. 

Put it this way:

  • No one died for the European Union;
  • No one died for the League of Nations or UN;
  • No one died thinking, 'oh I wish those other people didn't love their countries so much!'

To suggest any of the above such things would be a disgusting perversion of the sacrifices of those who lay torn up on the battlefields of the world in defence of our rights. 

They did not wish that we should give them up as easily as we currently are. The first step to winning those freedoms back is to remember history correctly. For them and for ourselves.

Raheem

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