Friday, April 12, 2019

The virtue of Nationalism, A book review.

The Virtue of Nationalism.
( The following is a text of a paper I presented to the Cedar Valley Unitarian Universalists on April 7, 2019.)
            Much of this sermon will be based on the book, TheVirtue of Nationalism, by Yoram Hozony.    Mr. Hozony is an Israeli philosopher whose previous writings include The Philosophy of Hebrew Scriptureand The Jewish State:The Struggle for Israel’s Soul.      
Over a year ago I began to notice a coordinated assault from media opinion makers against Nationalism, and the institution of the Independent nation itself.   Every attempt is being made to convince you that Nationalism is the same as Fascism, or Militarism, or Racism, or perhaps other “isms” that we have not yet categorized.   I decided that someone needed to say something in the defense of the national state; that is, the right of every people to self-determination, to live within the secure boundaries of their own country, making their own decisions, and when possible, living peacefully within a community of other nation states claiming the same rights.   So I began looking for articles defending the virtue of Nationalism, and eventually found an article by Mr. Hozony.
Let’s take a look at what Nationalism is and what its alternatives are.  According to Hozony, there are three possible ways that political life can be organized:  by anarchy, by independent nations, or by empires.   That’s it.   Anarchy does not mean chaos; it simply means the lack of any permanent standing government.    An alternative to anarchy can happen when various tribes who share a common language, religion, or history band together to form an independent nation.   In about 1,150 AD, the Iroquois tribes banded together to form the Confederacy of Six Nations.   In the 20thCentury, many independent nations were carved out of the remains of collapsed empires.  In addition to anarchy and independent nations, we have a third possibility: the empire.  Often, usually by conquest, nations are fused into empires, with the constituent nations having nothing in common at all, except being forced under the heel of a single emperor, or other command structure.  So that is our choice:  We can be Anarchists, Nationalists, or Imperialists. 
Most people do not want to be Anarchists, Nationalists, or Imperialists.  So we invent different names for these options. We say, “I’m not a Nationalist; I’m a Patriot,” or “I’m not an Imperialist; I’m an Internationalist---or a World Federalist”—or whatever. But no matter what names we invent, it’s still the same three options.  Things can be organized at the sub-national level, the national level, or the supra-national level.  Those are the choices.  
            It is only fairly recently that anyone tried to distance himself from the label “Nationalist” or from the idea for which it stood.  George Washington was a Nationalist, as were all the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  They dared to suggest that a small group of farmers had the right to break away from a powerful empire and have their own nation.  By choosing nation over empire, they immediately became a beacon of hope for oppressed peoples everywhere and inspired other Nationalist revolutionaries—from Simon Bolivar, to El Kader, to Gandhi and Ho Chi Minh.   The African leaders in the 1960s who led their people to independence from Britain and France all called themselves African Nationalists.  And the whole world cheered them on, because “Nationalist” was not a dirty word then. When, in 1947, two thirds of the UN countries voted for the establishment of Israel, they did so out of Nationalism.  They felt they were defending the right of the Jewish People, and of all people, to have their own nation.  And for over two hundred years, all those who claimed the right to their own country felt they were claiming the moral high ground, and no one disagreed.   When Woodrow Wilson defended the right of Poles and Czechs and Slavs to rule themselves, he was hailed as a champion of human rights.
            But all that changed.  It had to be changed so that the European Common Market could become the European Union.   To convince a dozen countries to give up their national sovereignty to some imperial bureaucrats would be a tough sell.  People would have to be taught to question the legitimacy of Nationalism, and perhaps the legitimacy of the Nation State itself.  This undermining of the legitimacy of the Nation State would begin by arguing that simply having independent nations was, in itself, the cause of Europe’s many wars.  An empire, preferably labeled with a more polite euphemism, would put an end to all that. But Hozony says this requires a gross misreading of history.   He argues that it was the European empires, not the independent nations, which caused wars. The Napoleonic wars were caused by Napoleon’s attempt to place all of Europe under a single Emperor.    The Thirty Years War was fought against the Hapsburg empires of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire.  Charlemagne’s Empire fought over 100 wars in Charlemagne’s own lifetime.   But what about WWII?  Wasn’t WWII  about German Nationalism?  Hozony says, “No; it was about German Imperialism.”  This should be obvious from the name, “Third Reich.”    After all, the “First Reich” was the Holy Roman Empire.  In Hitler’s early years, when he was just trying to put Germany back together, nobody much cared.  Even Britain supported the right of Germans to have their own nation back, and even to have an army.   But when Hitler sent that army east and it became clear the he was trying to resurrect the German Empire, Britain joined battle against him.  Hozony makes a pretty good case that Europe’s wars have been mostly caused by its empires.  But historically, all empires have tried to sell imperial domination as the road to peace.  So we have terms like “Pax Romana” and Pax Britainica.”   But how does this peace come about?  It usually comes about through a series of genocidal wars in which anyone who could fight back has been slaughtered.  This is called “pacification.”  I believe it was Tacitus who quoted a defeated Gallic general as saying to the Romans, “You make a desolation—and then you call it peace.”
            The modern nation state is an invention of the Protestant Revolution. Prior to that time, the Western Church had continued the Roman dream of extending their empire to the entire known world.  And like all empires before them, they assumed that placing all of humanity under a single authority (their own, of course) would be a boon to all mankind.  But the Thirty Years War and the defeat of the Spanish Armada ended that dream of Christian unity. Most people assume that the Thirty Years War was about religion.  But the allies who joined against
 the Holy Roman Empire included not only Calvinist Holland, but Lutheran Sweden, and Anglican England, and also Catholic France.   What was at stake was not just the right of each people to have their own religion, but also their own country.  And the pattern of independent countries that came out of this war, what Hozony calls the “Protestant Construction,” was about what we have today---a world order where each nation claims the freedom to choose how to run its own affairs, in exchange for the implied promise to extend that same courtesy to its neighbors.   
            So why did all these Protestants choose small independent nations when they could have banded together to form their own empire? It was because of what Hozony cites as a “historical accident.”   In the early days of Christianity, a decision was made to include the Hebrew Bible, that is, the Old Testament, into the Bible.   After the Reformation and the invention of the printing press, The Biblebecame the core of Protestantism, and Protestants read it entirely, Old Testamentand all.  Yet much of the Hebrew Bibleis just a long historical narrative of how various evil empires oppressed the people of God.  The message is clear:  The people of God must have their own independent nation if they are to worship freely.  So these Protestant groups all founded their own, fiercely independent nations.  
Hozony says that all the civil rights and human rights we now enjoy evolved within these independent nations; not a single one ever came from an empire.  There have been empires that recognized such rights, but in every case, those rights were pre-existing before the country became an empire.  And even those civil rights and democratic institutions which have been firmly established by a nation come under pressure when that nation becomes an empire, if these institutions conflict with the needs of empire.   Rome started out as a republic, but as soon as it became an empire, it was ruled by a single, god-like emperor.  Rome still had a Senate, but it was just a formality. So just as truth is the first casualty of war, democracy and civil rights are the first casualties of empire. Consider the people who were being tortured for information at Abu Ghraib.   Were they enemy combatants, or were they civilian criminals?   If they were enemy combatants, then, under the Geneva Convention, they should be required to divulge only their name, rank, and serial number.  And if they were suspected criminals, then, as Americans, are we not obliged to respect their right to remain silent? So how can any Americans be asked to torture someone for information?   They can’t, but it happened anyway because the needs of empire required it.  We boast about how American hegemony is unchallenged, and how it’s the end of history.   But we pay a price for that power.
So if the very nature of an empire places it at odds with democratic institutions and civil rights, why does everybody want one?   What is the big attraction?  Why is the EU trying to transform itself from a loose trade association into a super-state, effectively an empire?  One attraction is raw political power.  But another is the supposed economic benefit.  And that leaves us with two questions:   Are the economic benefits as great as we might suppose---and who collects these benefits?   By the mid-nineteenth century, the British Empire was at its peak. It was then that Marx and Engels wrote their famous critique of the conditions of the working class in England.   And they described a mass of hopeless, overworked, starving wretches.   Whatever the benefits of empire, they did not extend to workers.    Yet Britain became a world power at the same time.  At the beginning of the 20thcentury, the US began to be feared as a world power, not just for its military power, but for its economic might.  Yet that was also the era of the Triangle Fire, of ten-year-olds mining coal, and the horrible meat packing houses described by Upton Sinclair in The Jungle.  And the two go together.   The way a country becomes a feared economic power is by gaining the ability to undersell all others.   So a well-paid work force can’t really be part of the plan. 
 But someone must gain from empires, or taxpayers would not pay the heavy price of maintaining them.  Well, someone does gain.   In Britain, the bankers gained, the ship owners gained, and the factory owners gained. Having the option of either re-investing in your own factory in England or in a factory in India gives you a great deal of leverage in dealing with your workforce.  After the enactment of NAFTA, that same kind of leverage was used against workers here in Iowa. 
  Since the end of WWII, the Western World has been drifting away from the nation state and more toward empires. To see how this is coming about, we have to take another look at the Protestant Construction.  The Protestant construction was based on two ideas, both from the Old Testament:  1.  To be a legitimate ruler, a king must meet certain moral minimum requirements:  He must devote his life to the protection of his own people, and protect their life, their family, their property, their access to justice, and their right to publicly worship their God.   2. Nations have the right to self-determination, and to run their own affairs without foreign interference.
But during the Enlightenment, at least two ideas arose that challenged this construction, and one was John Locke’s Liberalism.  (I should pause to explain that the word “Liberal” to a European means almost the opposite as it has always meant in the US.  I was raised to think I was a “Liberal” because my family voted for New Deal Democrats, and we were all Democratic Socialists, more or less.  But In Europe, Liberal has more to do with “liberating” corporations and wealthy individuals to use their power without restriction. By European standards, it is the Republican Party that defends what Europeans call “Liberalism.” When I first started getting into online arguments with Europeans, it took me a while to wrap my head around this.)  Locke claimed that there was no requirement for moral legitimacy except consent. Locke himself was a product of the Protestant Construction, and never intended to undermine it.  But in fashioning his theory, Locke oversimplified or entirely omitted certain aspects of human nature, without which no political philosophy makes any sense. 
From high school civics class, to the PhD level, students are still taught the Lockean story of how states are born.  We are told that, “While living in a state of perfect freedom and equality, each individual consents, together with countless other individuals, to form a government and submit to its dictates.”   No university instructor or civics teacher believes this is true, but we still teach it.   Perhaps we are seduced by its elegant simplicity. 
According to Hozony, the actual process of state formation is a lot more complicated and a lot less beautiful.   It has to do with loyalties. We feel loyal to family members and feel obligated to them. Yet we did not consent to being related to any of them. In some societies, we might have loyalties to clans and tribes, or our community, or church, or our colleagues at work, or to our nation.  We spend our whole lives in a web of interlocking loyalties that place obligations on us, and for the most part, we never consented to any of it.  Clans exist because individuals are related to each other by blood, yet individuals feel loyalty because they transfer to the clan the loyalty they owe to their families. And when clans join to form tribes,  members feel loyal to the tribe because they transfer the loyalty they owed to their clan. And when tribes join together to form a nation, tribal loyalty is redirected to the nation.   And when empires are formed, the empire attempts to harvest the national loyalties of its constituent nations. So we see that when nations are formed, it is not just a random collection of people who have consented to something. Rather, nations are an aggregation of people who already have something in common—a shared language, a religion, shared historical experience, but most of all, shared loyalties. Our loyalties are arranged in concentric rings. But every time we expand outward to an additional ring, the bonds of loyalty become weaker and more tenuous.  This became obvious in WWII, when Stalin asked Russians to fight to save the USSR. But the USSR was just an abstraction that few people were willing to die for.  So then, he asked them to fight for “Mother Russia.” Twenty million were willing to die for Mother Russia.  And it was American, British, and Russian Nationalismthat defeated Hitler’s empire.
 The defect of Locke’s theory is that by imagining a world of totally unconnected consenting individuals, he ignores the bonds of loyalty which connect us all to each other, and these bonds are the glue which holds a society together.  A nation cannot exist unless someone is loyal to it.  And the loyalty a state enjoys is a distillation of the collective loyalty that all of its members feel for all of the collectives to which they belong, starting with their own families.   But Locke’s theory does not admit that any of these collectives exist.  For two hundred years, this theoretical defect did not affect the Protestant nations, because the bonds of loyalty to family and community were so strong that people took them for granted.  But now, with urbanization, we are all becoming less connected. With the demise of communities, loyalty to the nation may be the last loyalty, other than family, that many people still feel.  But when the last nations are gobbled up by empires, that too will be gone, and it will be every man for himself.  This scenario will work very well for empires---but not for people.  In opposition to this scenario is plain old Yankee Nationalism, and the biblical concept that nations owe something to their people, and people owe something to their nations.  Yet this idea is now losing favor.    As recently as the 1960s, Kennedy asked the nation to, “Ask not what your country can do for you---ask what you can do for your country,” and his words inspired a whole generation.   Today, if some factory owner closes a factory and moves to a low-wage country, destroying the lives of the workers whose sweat and loyalty built that factory, no one even calls him out on it.  And if someone dares to ask the man, “Where is your loyalty to your country,” he says,   “Oh, I don’t think about country.  I’m a citizen of the world.”    
How very convenient it is to be a citizen of the world.   When you are a citizen of a nation, that citizenship comes with certain costs and obligations.  But what is the price of “world citizenship?”   Can the world tax you, or sent you a draft notice?  Any corporation that has no loyalty to a nation probably has no loyalty to anything.  They move assets from one country to another, screw the workers on both sides of the border, and then stash the profits in some tax haven in the Caribbean.  Oh!   And then they congratulate themselves on being “Citizens of the World.”  And if the decline of nationhood does this for factory owners, what do you think it does for banks?  As they say, “Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank---Give him a bank and he can rob the world.”   
A fault line now exists across the entire Western World, and it is not going away.  It is the division between those who wish to retain our nationalist foundations, and others, mostly educated elites, who have to one degree or another become committed to a future under an imperial order of some kind, even if they don’t think of it in those terms. For centuries, the West has struggled between two opposite visions of world order:  Independent nations, or a single regime enforced on all humanity.    Hozony says, “The U.S., committed from its founding to the ideal of an independent nation state, was for the most part able to maintain this character till the Second World War. But in competition with the Soviet Union, especially after end of the Cold War, it has deviated from this model of national independence and has increasingly sought the establishment of a worldwide regime of law that would be enforced upon all nations by means of American power.”      
If we are moving from nationhood to empire, how far down that road have we come, where are we now, and is there still time to turn back if we wish to?
The change to empire does happen instantaneously.  In the 50s and 60s, we were the most powerful country on earth, but we did not think we had an empire, or that we wanted one.  We believed that the Soviets had an empire----an evil one.  But we saw ourselves as just doing what we had to do to counter that empire.   But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, did we just say the Cold War was over and scale back our overseas involvement-- and go home and mind our own business? No; instead of scaling back our overseas involvement, we doubled down on it.  Somehow, over the many years of fighting the imperialists, we had become the imperialists.   Perhaps we had been the policeman of the world so long that we couldn’t imagine a world without one. 
Of course, we do not just project American power militarily; we also do it economically. After a century of sending the Marines into every little country that dares to defy us, we now have a nastier option----we send in the bankers.  For years we have been undermining the economy of any country that refuses to take orders.  After a few years this crashes the economy, people go hungry, and there is a revolution. Then we recognize whoever seems to be in charge as “the new government” and we buy them off.   Something like this is going on right now in Venezuela.  If you would like to read an insider’s account of how this works, read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, by John Perkins. The techniques that Perkins describes are not new.  They were developed by the British in the late 19thcentury after the Boer War.   The British won that war, but it was so costly that they felt they needed a cheaper strategy than military action.  If you would like a detailed look at this strategy, you might wish to read A Century of Warby Wm. Engdahl.
American imperialism has changed the world in many ways over the last half century, but the most frightening change of all is the way we have changed ourselves.   There is a book by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, entitled American Amnesiawhich tracks the changes in American society over this period, especially changes in attitudes of American business leadership between the post-war years, and the globalized society we have today.  
The authors begin by comparing the views of GOP presidential candidate George Romney with those of his son, candidate Mitt Romney.  George Romney had made his career in the auto industry and was president of American Motors.  He believed that prosperity grew out of the cooperation and compromise between all stake-holders.  He saw business, labor, and government as a 3-way partnership.  As Governor of Michigan in 1962, he worked across party lines to raise the minimum wage, enact an income tax, increase educational spending, give collective bargaining rights to teachers, and raise welfare benefits for the poor and unemployed.  And in 1968, he was a serious Republican contender for the presidency.  And he was a mainstream Republican.  What Romney did in Michigan was no different than the things Republican Governor Robert Ray was then doing in Iowa.   As both a business leader and a Republican Party leader, George was absolutely mainstream.  Now fast forward one generation, and we have his son, Mitt Romney, denouncing 47% of the American population as “moochers.”   Mitt was also a business leader, but he managed a hedge-fund---not a factory.  Instead of seeing a corporation as rooted in a community that depended on it, he saw it as an asset, to be bought, sold, or dismembered at will.   So what happened?  George and Mitt were father and son, and they were both business leaders, both Republicans, and both had been Governors of their own state.   How could they be so different? 
What happened is that even during George Romney’s prime, some business leaders had begun a vicious campaign against government.  And the major media outlets provided a platform for these views because, (you guessed it) they were owned by those same anti-government businessmen.  And now, after a steady, 50 year drum beat of anti-government venom, nearly all business leaders and a large segment of the population believe this stuff.  If some idiot says that we should shrink the government down to a size that will fit in a bath tub and then drown it, people actually cheer.   The authors of American Amnesiaclaim that our business leaders and our people have simply forgotten that it was a partnership between government and business that built American prosperity in the first place.   We did not become the richest country in the world by having a smaller or less active government.  We did it with a larger and more active government.  And that prosperity was very widely shared. 
There are, of course, some measurable ways in which the country is better now than 50 years ago, but for workers in general, opportunities were much greater a generation ago than they are today. The day I got out of high school in 1957, any high school graduate in Waterloo could be hired at either Rath’s or Deere’s and join the middle class immediately.  As soon as you were old enough to sign a legal contract, you could buy a new tract house and a new car and marry your high school sweetheart. And your wife, if she wanted to, could stay home and have babies while you paid for the whole thing with one income. Today, you couldn’t do that even with a PhD.   And these weren’t just clubs for white boys. Two of the highest paid departments at Deere’s were black majority departments.  And the sliced bacon department where my aunt worked at Rath’s was a female majority department, and paid the second highest wages in the plant.  Opportunities have declined. One would think that self-interest alone would persuade the elites to stop doing this to us.  What good would it do to own every corporation in the country if there is no longer a middle class to buy the products of those corporations?  But this is a classic case of the tragedy of the commons.  While it is obvious that as a group, the elites are poisoning their own future by continuing to loot the corporate assets of the country, on any given day, any one corporation can make one more profit by looting one more asset.  But why didn’t it work that way a generation ago? What was different then is the leaders themselves had a different attitude. George Romney once dismissed “rugged individualism” as just an excuse for personal greed. 
 The authors of American Amnesianever give a satisfactory answer for the change in attitude.   But the obvious explanation is that back then we were Nationalists.   Oh, we didn’t use that label, but that’s what we were. Most of the leadership in both business and government were veterans of WWII.   They saw themselves as citizens of this nation, and they understood that this comes with certain obligations.  They had put their lives on the line every day for four years fighting for the survival of this nation, and they didn’t do it so that a handful of millionaires could become billionaires. American victory had only been possible because every American had joined in the effort, so they saw all Americans as team-mates. But the next generation lost this sense of Nationalism, because they had been seduced by the lure of empire.
What  corporate moguls find so annoying about national boundaries is that each separate country comes with its own government, its own legislature, its own courts, and its own chief executive, all sworn to serve the interests of a particular population--and subject to be removed from office by that same population. 

Let’s imagine a heated discussion between two corporate moguls: 
1stMogul: “I just got back from Elbonia, and do you know what those clowns are doing to me?  They are shutting down the new plant I just spent 200 million bucks on. Something about some chemical in their drinking water. Who do these jokers think they are?  Do they have any idea who they’re dealing with?”
2ndMogul: “So, if there was an environmental risk, why did they give you a permit to build it?”
1stmogul: “Well, I bought off the Review Board---the whole damn board---cost me a fortune.  But now they’ve been removed from office, and there’s a new board.”
2ndMogul: “Removed from office?  By whom?”
1stMogul: “By the people.  They had a damn election.  My God!  I can’t believe people still do that.”
2ndMogul: “So what’s the answer?”
1stMogul: “The answer is we’ve got to get rid of all these so called “independent nations”   Who needs ‘em?    Oh, I’d let ‘em have their national boundaries.   I’d let them pretend to be in charge of something.  But it’s all those damn legislatures!   I can usually buy them off, but there’s always the risk that a few of them might start listening to the people who elected them, instead of to me. I hate that risk.    Look at it this way:   Just fixing things in one country was never easy---but we did it.   We bought off a solid majority of both houses of Congress, which wasn’t cheap.   You can’t believe what it costs to buy a Congressman these days.   And we took over the courts, which took over 40 years, because those guys are appointed for life.  But we did it.   And our stooges on the Supreme Court have found us a constitutional right to buy elections.  And we have our own idiot in the White house.  But that only fixes one country.  I do business in 20 countries.  Do I have to go through this 19 more times?   And what if some stupid little country turns out not to be…well….You know…
2ndMogul: “Not corruptible?”
1stMogul:  “Don’t use that word.  Let’s just say, “Willing to deal””
2ndMogul: “Aren’t people always willing to deal? Do people ever refuse suitcases of $100 Bills?”
1stMogul: “They might under the right circumstances---If there were a surge of some kind of…Patriotism.”
2ndMogul  “ And what could cause that?” 
1stMogul: “Oh, Nationalism could cause it.  It’s a powerful motivator.  People die for it. Nationalism made 20 million Russians die to stop Hitler.”
2ndMogul: “But isn’t Nationalism dead?”
1stMogul:  “No; it’s just sleeping. We need it dead---dead with a stake through its heart.    Nothing is more dangerous to profits than democracy.   Fortunately, we’ve gotten rid of most of that.  But one outbreak of Nationalism and it could all be back.  We can’t allow that.  We don’t just need a war against government---we need to make war against the independent nation states that havegovernments.  Democracy comes from governments, and governments come from nations.  Get rid of nations and you’re rid of governments.  Get rid of governments and you’re rid of democracy. “
2ndMogul: “But will people ever give up their assemblies?”
1stMogul: “Oh, we’d let them keep all that. They can have their little parliaments and their courts, and they can meet every year and pretend to do something. But the important thing is to make sure that all the important decisions have already been made, and locked into some international treaty that supersedes all their laws and all their courts---and even their constitution.  That way you don’t have to worry about all these so called “democratic institutions.” They won’t count anymore. We won’t even bother to buy them off.”

So much for our little dialogue:  So where are today?  Will we ever come to a point where we transfer all our democratic rights to some international corporate syndicate? Where have you been?   We already did that.  That’s what NAFTA was all about. 
Right now, under NAFTA, if we pass any law, any environmental restriction, labor law, anti-trust ruling or patent ruling, or any law whatsoever, if some multi-national corporation thinks it will make less profit as a result of that law or that court ruling, the U.S. must either repeal the law or overturn the ruling, or pay that company all the money it thinks it might have made if the law had not been passed. And if we refuse to pay, they can take us to court, but not any U.S. Court.  According to the “dispute resolution clause” no U.S. court has jurisdiction.   The matter is handled by an international panel of corporate representatives, who meet in secret.   Each country gets to appoint only one member to this panel, and the injured parties have no right to be present.
 Perhaps the best time to have delivered a sermon on Nationalism, (or perhaps the risk of removing it)   would have been 20 years ago.  But none of these source materials I used even existed then. One of the inspirations for this sermon was the current issue of Foreign Affairsmagazine, which has devoted the entire issue to this topic. They have half a dozen articles on Nationalism, all written by the kind of noted scholars and authors who are usually asked to contribute to publications of this sort. But since this issue has only been on the stands for about a month, there is really no way I could have presented this material any sooner.  Sorry.
 But Confucius says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the second best time is now.    Thank you for your attention.

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