Did you hear? Yesterday in Texas President Trump proclaimed himself a “nationalist” as follows:
“A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can’t have that. You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing — use that word. Use that word.”
This kind of reaction has all becomes rather tiresome, but then Trump has that effect on people who purport to be adults.
You can read Yoram Hazony’s terrific new book, The Virtue of Nationalism, as an antidote, but just as good and taking less time is to look up Sir Roger Scruton’s excellent chapter “The Truth in Nationalism” in his wonderful short self-help book, How To Be a Conservative. Scruton reminds us that the idea of nationalism was actually first articulated by the French revolutionaries (especially Abbe Sieyes), which was in turn responsible for tearing Europe apart. But that shouldn’t be the end of the story:
According to this [post-World War II] consensus, Europe had been torn apart by nationalism, and the future of the continent could be guaranteed only if the national loyalties that had caused so much belligerence were quietly and discreetly replaced by something else. Just what that something else was to be is another question, and the question was buried so deeply in the process of European integration that it is no longer possible to answer it.
But was the reaction against nationalism right? To put my answer in a nutshell: nationalism, as an ideology, is dangerous in just the way that ideologies are dangerous. It occupies the space vacated by religion, and in doing so excites the true believer both to worship the national idea and to seek in it for what it cannot provide—the ultimate purpose of life, the way to redemption and the consolation of all our woes. That is the idea as Sieyes invokes it, and as it appears in the literature of Nazi Germany. But it is not the idea of the nation as this features in the ordinary day-t0-day life of the European people. For ordinary people, living in free association with their neighbors, the ‘nation’ means simply the historical identity and continuing allegiance that unites them in the body politic. It is the first person plural of settlement. Sentiments of national identity may be inflamed by war, civil agitation and ideology, and this inflammation admits of many degrees. But in their normal form these sentiments are not just peaceful in themselves, but a form of peace between neighbors.
Yes, it seems the only kind of “identity” the left opposes these days is any expression of a common “we” as Americans.