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Do We Need Our Country Anymore?

by Larry P. Arnn, President, Hillsdale College,
from Hillsdale College-Imprimus,
December, 2018:

As we reach the end of this turbulent year, the uproar of the hour is against the nation-state, and not for the first time. “World leaders” are now accustomed to call for the subordination of the nation to the good of the globe. This call is amplified by the media and intellectual elites, who march in lockstep. If the call is right, the peoples of the world will enter a new age of global peace, prosperity, and cooperation. If it is wrong, the free nations of the world will lose the remnants of democratic accountability that have kept them free. The occasion for the latest outburst of transnationalist enthusiasm was a grim anniversary, the 100th Armistice Day, the annual remembrance of November 11, 1918, the end of the First World War.

Modern eyes see these wars as the result of the nation-state and proof that nationalism cannot be sustained.

With world leaders gathered in Paris in what was to be an atmosphere of unity, President Macron of France was the keynote speaker at the Armistice Day ceremony, ... Nationalism, Macron argued, is the cause of war. Nationalism is the reason so many died in the twentieth century. The cure is to rid ourselves of nationalism. ... because patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of it.

Think of the meaning of the words. “Nation” comes from the Latin word natus, which means “birth” or “to be born.” In its root, nation is the place where one is born. Natus is also the root of the word “nature”.

“Patriotism” is also an interesting word. t comes from the Latin root pater. The pater is the father, thus for example “paternity” and “patriarchy.” One’s nation is the land of one’s mother and father.

So for Macron to say that patriotism is the opposite of nationalism is just a bit of silly word-play.

Macron distorts the meaning of nationalism in order to condemn it. He calls it the “egotism of a people who look after only their interests.” Only is a cheat word.

To have a moral duty to look after one’s children is not to have a duty to look after only them: that duty must come first, but it entails others.

The whole truth reveals that nationalism is both stubborn and, rightly conceived, necessary to many things, including the prevention of war. Nationalism is older than the people of France or of any country. It did not only result from the First World War, it also caused that war. But just as much, it caused the defeat of the aggressors. It is in fact the highest expression of human nature in community.

From this history we learn that it is not the nation-state, but the kinds of nation-states that matter. From the birth of political philosophy in ancient Athens, it has been understood in the West that the difference between good and bad regimes, just as between lives lived well and lives lived badly, is all-important. This difference between good and bad regimes was at stake in the First World War as much as in any war in history.

Macron’s account of the two World Wars as a proof against nationalism includes a quote from the greatest Frenchman of his time, George Clemenceau.

It seems then that Clemenceau believed both in the nation-state and in the rights of man. We can find in Winston Churchill, who knew and adored Clemenceau, the clearest explanation of how the nation-state and the rights of man can be reconciled and why they must be reconciled.

“There are few words which are used more loosely than the word ‘Civilization.’ What does it mean? It means a society based upon the opinion of civilians.”

... Civilization, a society based upon “the opinions of civilians,” ... There must be “a people,” and they must have “customs” and a “Constitution.”

It is not practical in any way to believe that a world-state, made up of people who cannot speak to each other, who do not live in the same way or have the same customs, could be anything but a despotism. The city, writes Aristotle, grows from our capacity for reason and speech. And so it must be. In the European Union, to cite an example of a transnational form of government, the peoples of the member states cannot speak to each other, at least not in their familiar language.

On this theme one might read Václav Klaus, the former president of the Czech Republic. He lived some of his life under Nazi domination and most of it under Soviet domination in the Warsaw Pact. He helped lead his country to freedom, and he rejoiced and still rejoices that at last he has a country, in which fellow citizens are able to talk and make decisions together. And he is loath to surrender Czech sovereignty to the EU.

At the same time Churchill believed in the nation as the first element of civilization, he was also one of the inventors of the European Union. He had believed in collective security for decades. ... We ask for a European assembly without executive power.

Churchill spent much of his life trying to avoid the horrors of modern war and trying to erect structures to prevent them. But he did not seek to overturn the laws of nature or the sovereignty of nations. These cannot be rightfully overturned, and only disaster can come from the attempt. Toward the end of his Armistice Day speech, President Macron called upon the political leaders of the world, on behalf of their peoples, to “take the United Nations’ oath to place peace higher than anything.” Higher than freedom? Higher than justice? Higher than the lives of our children? Must we abandon “Give me liberty or give me death”? For the sake of peace, should the French have surrendered in 1914 or 1939? This radical statement of Macron gets near the heart of the movement toward transnationalism. The evils of the world, especially war, require that anything is justified to remove those evils—including

the subordination of the nation-state, the only kind of community that can effectively represent the people. President Trump, much derided everywhere as unfashionable, particularly in Europe, often speaks about the importance of the nation and the duty of government to serve the will and the interest of its citizens. This idea is unacceptable in our supposedly enlightened age. But Trump is often clear that he wishes well to other nations and thinks that respect for nationhood is key to good relations. Speaking at the United Nations in September, he said: We believe that when nations respect the rights of their neighbors, and defend the interests of their people, they can better work together to secure the blessings of safety, prosperity, and peace. On this point Trump and Churchill are agreed, and Macron is wrong. To have consent of the governed, there must be a people to give consent. Indeed, that is the first principle derived from human nature in the Declaration of Independence, and it is essential to distinguishing good government from bad.

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