State, and Kerrey
tempest over Senator Bob Kerrey’s exact role in one of the liberals’
many wars has raised some interesting questions. Others have dealt
with those, and I only wish to make a few observations on patriotism
and nationalism, starting from the fact that many writers have sought
to distinguish between the concepts.
P. Lawton, for example, suggests that patriotism "fits best
an area small enough and homogeneous enough for its natives to acquire
love for it by the wholly ‘natural’ means of personal familiarity
and acceptance, as with Rousseau and Geneva. To me the key word
here is ‘natural.’ For I do not see how one can respect and trust
any nationalist feeling that is induced by indoctrination in schools
or other forms of propaganda.... And nationalism, in my meaning,
is artificial and more apt to do harm than good." He goes on
to question "why the people of an artificially contrived nation
have a moral obligation to be patriotic." He referred Belgium
as an example; but as a Southerner, writing in 1963, he had in mind
the artificial US nationalism whose bloody triumph came in 1865.
Nisbet comments that "Nationalism, in the form that has become
triumphant in the last century and a half, is no mere development,
as is so often argued, of folk ties of tribe, locality, or region.
Doubtless the emotional elements which earlier populations found
in kinship and region, in local community and church, have been
transferred, so to speak, to the nation. But the logical continuity
of symbolic transference should not be made the basis of assuming
any continuity of social development in this instance. Modern nationalism,
as a state of mind and cultural reality, cannot be understood except
in terms of the weakening and destruction of earlier bonds, and
of the attachment to the political State of new emotional loyalties
Connor’s many books and essays seek to distinguish between national
feeling based on naturally existing ties of kinship, history, and
geography and modern nationalism as the official ideology of state-building
elites. In despair, he has taken to using the term "ethno-nationalism"
for the former thing and concedes the term "nationalism"
to the nation-states. The interesting point is that states use,
invent, and reinvent "national" ideology in pursuit of
state purposes. Where nationalism is a naturally occurring
phenomenon unconnected with state-controlled education, it is usually
in the hands of separatist or anti-colonialist political movements
opposing the official nationalism of some state in which the movements
feel trapped. In other words, it is more or less the same as patriotism,
as defined above.
US history we have seen situational appeals to the "nation"
(=central state) by our state-building liberals (or social democrats).
Early in the 20th century, US official nationalism was
a handy cudgel to wield against localists, regionalists, and defenders
of states rights and in favor of Progressive state-building centering
on Washington as the hub of a projected US world empire. But the
central state endures, and adjusts its ideological justifications
as it goes.
the current formula, other states’ or peoples’ nationalism
is bad, a wicked wellspring of potential international evil; it
is the sort of thing that causes wars in which the US must intervene
out of duty. By contrast, US nationalism is good, if by this we
mean instant, hang-dog, submission to the central state. On the
other hand, US nationalism of a more traditional sort is almost
as bad as the foreign nationalisms. The older US nationalism which
had some real drawbacks, to be sure is linked to conservative,
even "right-wing" impulses, and to an unprogressive attachment
to what these united states were like before the reigns of JFK and
LBJ, or before the arrival of FDR.
through the fifties and sixties, liberals wielded the killing epithet
"super-patriot" to refer to backward types trapped in
the older, World War I-style nationalism. Since Woodrow Wilson,
a paladin of the early 20th-century nationalism, was
a "liberal" of some kind, that nationalism and its faults
ought, in justice, to tell against the liberals’ account. It has
long seemed to me that the hyper-nationalism and anti-foreign (especially
anti-German) hysteria whipped up by the high-minded US employees
from 1917-1919 explains, as much as anything does, the "Red
Scare" and the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan (with no institutional
connection to its namesake). This is as good place as any to remind
our Northern friends that the state with the highest per capita
membership in this Klan was Indiana, and that the neo-Klan
did quite well in places like New Jersey, Oregon, and the lower
the hyperthyroid "patriots" Wilson called into being needed
another outlet for their emotions after the war. Liberals, with
their wider perspective founded on pragmatism and instrumentalism,
believed that popular mass hysteria could be turned off and on,
like water from a tap. I guess they were disappointed when the frenzied
elements joined the Klan. Wilson deserves much of the credit for
this peculiar outcome.
alas, the world is not a just place, and far from taking any blame,
liberals have since moved on to new definitions of acceptable and
unacceptable US nationalism. The key is whatever benefits the central
state at any given time. The pragmatic liberal, the fascist, and
the Bolshevik are as one on such matters. It goes without saying
that local patriotism is even worse, from this standpoint, than
the retrograde nationalism of right-wing Republicans in the 1960s.
Hence the general unhappiness when the terrible Mississippians failed
to eradicate their past in recent weeks. They wilfully cling
to their past, when they should embrace change; re-education
is doubtless in order.
brings us, finally, to Senator Kerrey’s war. The war in Indo-China
was the creation of the pragmatic, gung-ho, can-do liberal imperialists,
who came to power under John F. Kennedy. However much New Right
warmongers and the still lingering China Lobby supported the war,
it was the liberals’ baby until they handed it off to Richard Nixon
to clean up for them.
was a war in no way defensive, in no way calculated to appeal to
the natural patriotism of ordinary Americans. No one was invading
or even slandering my home county. I doubt the Viet-Cong were spotted
in anyone else’s county either.
justify conscripting young Americans into an aggressive war of overseas
imperialism, resort was had to the ideology of Cold War anti-communism
and to official US nationalism, both now equated with "patriotism."
I leave the moral and philosophical outcomes to that eloquent fellow,
Carl Oglesby, president of SDS, 1965-1966. Writing in 1967, Oglesby
pictured a brave young American cadet, full of patriotic good intentions:
"There is no Mein Kampf hidden in his footlocker."
Faced with the reality of the war in Vietnam, he must believe
all the more in the official nationalism which justified it: "You
need not inform this Wyoming lad that his hands are bloody. He is
the expert about that. But the blood will wash away, will it not?
... The cleansing water is victory. The sacrifice is redeemed by
the rebirth for which it prepares the conquered land. But if the
water is not brought, that deferred innocence in whose name the
present guilt is borne vanishes from the future. And what becomes
of this strange savage blood? It fuses permanently with the skin
of the hands that shed it. We ought to be able to understand a very
simple thing: From now on in America, it shall be with such hands
that children are soothed, office memoranda signed, cocktails stirred,
friends greeted, poems written, love made, the Host laid on the
tongue and wreaths on graves, the nose pinched in meditations. In
the forthcoming gestures of these hands this is really very simple we shall behold an aspect of Vietnam’s revenge."
it seems to me, is the moral of the Kerrey story. I can only repeat
my recommendation that true patriots defend what is real, concrete,
and local; and leave killing and dying for high abstractions which
mask the interests of central states to the staffs of various centrist
and center-right publications in the northeastern US. With that
small bit of manpower, could they even conquer Monaco?
Joseph R. Stromberg [send him
mail] is the JoAnn B. Rothbard Historian in Residence at the
Ludwig von Mises Institute and
a columnist for Antiwar.com.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com