Anglosphere: Patriots and nationalists

By JAMES C. BENNETT  |  Oct. 30, 2002 at 12:03 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- For Americans, Britons, or indeed most other Anglosphereans, the contemporary European attitude toward nationalism has always been difficult to understand. Even the love of country displayed when Americans put the Stars and Stripes out on national holidays, or when the British indulge in old patriotic tunes at the Last Night of the Proms, seems to bring out cries of "triumphalism" or worse from Continentals and their emulators in the Anglosphere's academia and media.A typical example was an article in The Washington Post by Harry C. Blaney III, an American analyst retired from the State Department. Published just before Britain's national elections last year, it undertook a survey of the rise of various nationalist parties on the European continent, some of which are validly described as fascist, some having fascist antecedents or associations, and some characterizeable as primarily anti-immigrant or xenophobic. This would be unexceptional in itself. However, he then goes on to describe the rise of a strongly Euroskeptic current in the British Conservative party as part and parcel of the same phenomenon. He concludes by lumping both Continental nationalists and British patriots as having a "head-in-the-sand approach to Europe's and the world's ills."Blaney and analysts like him are either profoundly confused or are deliberately misrepresenting what is going on here. For a start, it is rather obvious that two different groups can dislike something for quite different reasons. In this case, both the Continental hard right and the British Tories have come to dislike Brussels, but for different and in many ways opposite reasons. The Continental right are still nationalists in the Continental sense, valuing social solidarity above free trade, and disliking immigration for diluting the homogeneity of the nation. They dislike the European Union in part because they fear it will open up their nations more than they would like. The British right, in contrast, has grown more and more skeptical of the European Union because they see it raising walls between Britain and the outside world, particularly with its historic ties to the Commonwealth and America. Their critique of immigration is not against immigrants per se but against multiculturalist anti-assimilation programs that guarantee that immigrant communities remain ghettoized. In these concerns, significantly, they are joined by a non-trivial number of Laborites.Before Sept. 11, these critics of multiculturalism expressed concern that the growing number of immigrants' children educated in segregated schools that taught contempt for Britain and its values were raising a time-bomb generation. It is no wonder that Britain and Australia, which followed similar multiculturalist policies, generated its Tartan Talibans and Vegemite Islamites who flocked to Afghanistan to join the jihad.Looking at the concerns of the British right compared to those of the Continental right, it is often the case that the British dislike the European Union because they wish to be more open and connected to the world, in their own way, than Brussels will allow, while the Continentals would prefer to be less open. Why is this so? To understand this requires making a distinction between the Continental organic concept of national sovereignty, and the Anglosphere concept, which is either explicitly or implicitly a social-contract theory. The Anglosphere concept fundamentally vests sovereignty in the individual, but recognizes that individuals may lend their sovereignties to a nation-state for the purpose of better protecting their rights, and conditional on it protecting their rights. Thus Anglosphereans have always felt free to combine or separate their various political states as circumstances seemed to dictate for the best protection of their interests, whether combining Scotland and England to form the United Kingdom, separating the American colonies from the Crown, or reuniting those colonies into the United States. The traditional Continental theory of the organic state assumes the opposite. A blood-and-soil theory of the state gives little room for individual choice; one is born into a nation and one belongs to it -- belonging in both the sense of membership and also of being owned. Adam Zamoyski's recent study of Continental European romantic nationalism, Holy Madness, gives one a good idea of just how different Continental nationalism is from the Anglosphere's conceptualization of it. Most of Mussolini is right there in Mazzini. We tend to look back and sympathize with the romantic nationalist radicals of the early Nineteenth Century. They were struggling against fairly nasty and often alien autocratic states, in many instances. They professed profound longing for liberty and democracy. But the liberty for which they strove was at heart the "liberty" of the nation to do what it wanted free of constraint, including the constraint of individual rights. It was only after some of these movements brought into being national states that the romantic nationalists grew frustrated with the constraints of constitutional democracy. Faced with the abandonment of either individual freedom or their romantic conception of the organic state, many chose the latter. This was the real origin of fascism in Europe. Understanding this, it is easier to have some sympathy for those Continental Europeanists who tend to equate nationalism with fascism. For Continentals, there is really some truth to that. Of course, they fail to see that it is not true for the Anglosphere, which is why their reactions to Anglosphere patriotism is so over-the-top.That is also why the Anglosphere right and Euroskeptic forces shouldn't get too many expectations about Continental rightists like Italy's Berlusconi. They may be useful occasional tactical allies. At heart, they either serve a different vision, or are still struggling to define a vision that is at once national, liberal, and constitutional.

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