How Important Is the Nation-State?

 

Today I’ve been reading over the first issue of American Affairs, a new intellectual journal that appears to have grown out of the (largely Claremont-based) American Greatness movement. American Affairs seems to understand itself as a possible seed-ground for exploring an intellectual foundation to Trumpism.

I should admit forthrightly that I look on this project as a skeptic, and as one who considers that the founders of this project have taken a large (not to say foolhardy) burden on themselves. I’m not, in general, the sort of person who seeks to shut down ambitious intellectual projects. But to my mind, the trouble with American Greatness was always the extent to which it understood itself in rejectionist terms. The spirit of the thing seemed not to be, “The right could use some fresh ideas around now, so let’s explore,” so much as, “The whole conservative movement is intellectually and (probably) morally bankrupt, so we’re starting over. Sign onto our program or be rendered irrelevant.”

That kind of “convert or die” attitude makes it hard to climb aboard, especially if you think (as I do) that there’s quite a lot of good to be found in the conservative movement from Buckley through the dawn of Trump. I’m in favor of exploring new ideas and making needed adjustments, but I’m also quite opposed to chucking free-market economics and neoconservative geopolitics as though they were groceries past their expiration date. Reading the American Greatness blog, I regularly have the same thought: This is all fine, but apart from the overt belligerence, these arguments could easily have been advanced in the conservative movement of yesteryear. What has your blanket excommunication accomplished, except to insulate yourselves from critique that would likely be quite helpful?

Having said all this, I pulled up the first issue of the new journal resolved to give it a fair shot. I could only read three articles without subscribing, so I haven’t gone through the whole thing. Here’s my reaction thus far: This reads to me like choir-preaching. It’s hard to see how these arguments would be compelling to anyone who wasn’t already deeply sympathetic to the perspective being advanced. Perhaps that’s the idea; after all, if the rest of us anachronisms have already been excommunicated, maybe we’re not worth the trouble. Or we could just say (to put the point less snarkily) that it can be acceptable to have a journal. It still seems a little unfortunate, because after all, Buckleyite conservatism has been developed across many years, and even its origins involved some large and very theoretical brains. If the Great Americans are looking to toss out whole realms of conservative theory (or perhaps I have misunderstood?), they should really be revved to start laying some serious, theoretical foundations. I would have expected that to be the point of starting a journal.

Of course, it’s only the first issue. Maybe they’ll get there. But here’s a concrete example of where the argument seems so thin that I can only suppose that the author is presuming a sympathetic readership. In his opening article, Joshua Mitchell argues that Trumpism is not populist, because it in fact represents a struggle against a real enemy (globalists) on behalf of a real good (national sovereignty). Once we understand the evils of globalism, we will appreciate that Trumpism, as a part of the global war against globalism, is substantive and entirely coherent, and not (as detractors like me suspect) an emotion-driven uprising whose goals mostly boil down to a resentment-and-nostalgia-tinged wish-list. The globalists are deeply wrong, Mitchell argues, because they do not appreciate that national sovereignty is, “the final word on how to order collective life.”

At this point in the 9.000-word article, I was intrigued, presuming that Mitchell would now undertake to argue for the extraordinarily strong privileging of the nation-state that, in his view, is the motivating and justifying principle behind Trumpism. Although I have encountered a great many people who assert the primacy of the nation-state, I have yet to hear a really thorough defense. Here’s what Mitchell gives us to justify his principle:

The Peace of Westphalia, which formally inaugurated the modern European system of nation-states, came into effect in 1648. Shortly thereafter, in 1651, Hobbes wrote one of the great works in the history of political philosophy, Leviathan. In a now-common reading of that work, and correct so far as it goes, Hobbes’s Leviathan provides us with the individuated self, oriented by self-interest and the fear of death. These ideas are in Leviathan, but they only scratch the surface of that great work. Hobbes’s deeper concern in Leviathan was the English Civil War, which in no small part was a religious war involving the claims of Roman Catholics and Presbyterians. The doctrinal difference between the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians need not concern us; what matters is where each of these Christian sects located sovereignty. Hobbes thought that Roman Catholics were guilty of what we might call “false universalism,” because they vested sovereignty at the supra-state level, in Rome. Hobbes thought that the Presbyterians were guilty of what we might call “radical particularism,” because they vested sovereignty at the sub-state level, in private conscience. The English Civil War occurred, on Hobbes’s reading, because of these religious wagers that peace and justice were possible without national sovereignty. In his estimation, these supra- and sub-state alternatives are perennial temptations of the human heart. Their defenders may promise much, but neither “commodious living” nor justice are possible through them. Only by vesting sovereignty in the state can there be improvement for citizens and workable understandings of justice.

The post-1989 experiment with globalism and identity politics demonstrates that Hobbes was correct, so long ago, that supra- and sub-state sovereignty are perennial temptations of the human heart. The post-1989 version of that temptation saw global elites use the apparatus of the state to bolster so-called free trade, international law, global norms, and international accords about “climate change,” the advances towards which purported to demonstrate the impotence of the state itself. In such a world managed from above, the only task left for the Little People was to feel good—or feel permanent shame—about their identities, and perhaps to get involved in a little “political activism” now and again, to show their commitment (on Facebook, of course) to “social justice.” The Little People in such a world were not citizens, they were idle “folks,” incapable of working together, because what really mattered was not rational deliberation with their neighbors, but what they owed, or were owed, by virtue of their identities. Determining the calculus of their debt, in turn, were Very White Progressives in the Democratic Party who cared not a jot about the real outstanding debt of $19 trillion owed by the U.S. treasury. These Very White Progressives sought to adjudicate justice from above, by legal carve-outs or, if necessary, by executive actions pertaining, for example, to transsexual bathrooms, so that all “identities” could have their due. Fortunately, 2016 was year the American electorate decided this ghastly fate was not to be theirs.

That’s it. In two paragraphs, Mitchell dispenses with the absolute prioritizing of national sovereignty, and moves right along to lambasting universities, discussing different possible strains of nationalism, and complaining about the undue influence of European thinkers on Buckleyite conservatives. This is an absolutely crucial piece of his argument (and indeed, in his view, a dividing line so critical that people who fail to side with him should not even be regarded as Americans but rather as “proxies for globalism”). Nevertheless, he evidently regards those two paragraphs as sufficient to establish the point.

This seems to me like a pretty blatant example of what I call “the Fallacy of Confusing Complexity.” Political and moral reasoning are really so much easier and less complicated if we presume that we don’t have significant moral obligations to non-Americans. Once people start thinking they might have obligations that go “above” (cosmopolitanism) or “below” (individual conscience) national boundaries, who knows where we’ll end up?! Probably fighting among ourselves, like the English did! The only solution is to insist that national sovereignty is absolutely primary, and that no other sources of obligation can really count.

As a pragmatic claim it might be true. But of course, life often seems simpler when we dismiss as too messy or complicated obligations that may in fact still exist. I think patriotism and shared nationality mean something, but I don’t they don’t mean everything. I believe that I can have obligations to non-Americans for all sorts of reasons: Because they are my blood relatives or personal friends, or because they are my co-religionists, or because our nations are allies and have assumed obligations towards one another, or possibly just because they are human beings in great need. Any of those might, in some respect, affect my compatriots as well as myself, thus going outside (either above or below) national sovereignty.

In other words, I don’t see how national sovereignty can be the absolute “final word” on collective life. Moral obligation is indeed quite complicated at times! But we aren’t entitled to dismiss moral truths just because they’re complicated and confusing.

What do others think? Is there more to this argument than I have appreciated, or is it really as thin as it seems to me?

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  1. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins
    @MichaelCollins

    Rachel Lu (View Comment):
    Speaking of that, if we’re so bothered about foreign influences, why is it okay to draw so much on Tocqueville? Burke and Aristotle and Smith and Hayek are bad, but we’re going to trust a Frenchy to tell us who we really are?

    This reminds me of a cartoon I once saw in Mad Magazine.   An older man was declaiming to a group that anyone who disagreed with his politics was “either a Communist or a damn foreigner”.   A younger man said, “I disagree, and I am neither a Communist nor a damn foreigner.  As Aristotle said…..”   The older man interrupts, “There you see?  Aristotle was a damn foreigner”.

    • #31
  2. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    It occurs to me to add (since my last comment put a kind of voluntarist spin on Hobbes that might seem to fall into the same fallacy I decried above): As I understand it, Hobbes sought to construct a reliable social contract that was grounded in a thin, atomistic, basically materialistic view of human nature. And as far as I’m concerned, the major take-away is that the project was simply a fool’s errand from the start. The terms of the Hobbesean social contract are repugnant (basically, the Sovereign can demand absolute obedience in every particular so long as he protects your life, with no respect for conscience or integrity or any of the individual liberties Americans cherish), and yet he still doesn’t achieve his end. There are potential threats to the social contract that he isn’t well-equipped to address (most notably the free rider problem and the “zealot problem”, arising out of the empirically observable reality that sometimes people do value things more than their own life). Stability is supposed to be an all-important good for which we potentially sacrifice nearly everything, and yet he can’t actually guarantee it with any confidence.

    Leviathan is indeed an important book, but I think more as a negative example. The real moral is that a realistic and humane account of patriotism and national loyalty needs to be built on a thicker account of human nature.

    • #32
  3. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Rachel Lu (View Comment):
    It occurs to me to add (since my last comment put a kind of voluntarist spin on Hobbes that might seem to fall into the same fallacy I decried above): As I understand it, Hobbes sought to construct a reliable social contract that was grounded in a thin, atomistic, basically materialistic view of human nature. And as far as I’m concerned, the major take-away is that the project was simply a fool’s errand from the start. The terms of the Hobbesean social contract are repugnant (basically, the Sovereign can demand absolute obedience in every particular so long as he protects your life, with no respect for conscience or integrity or any of the individual liberties Americans cherish), and yet he still doesn’t achieve his end. There are potential threats to the social contract that he isn’t well-equipped to address (most notably the free rider problem and the “zealot problem”, arising out of the empirically observable reality that sometimes people do value things more than their own life). Stability is supposed to be an all-important good for which we potentially sacrifice nearly everything, and yet he can’t actually guarantee it with any confidence.

    Leviathan is indeed an important book, but I think more as a negative example. The real moral is that a realistic and humane account of patriotism and national loyalty needs to be built on a thicker account of human nature.

    Have you read Leviathan? I believe that you are being exceptionally unfair to Hobbes. Leviathan is filled with theology and contains considerable nuance in its theories of social relations and of the rule of law. You don’t have to like the man or to be blind to the book’s many flaws to believe that the founder of modern political science was not entirely worthless.

    • #33
  4. James Of England Moderator
    James Of England
    @JamesOfEngland

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
    Start with the Golden Rule -which points to a universal standard of justice. As you say we have obligations to our fellow human beings, even in different nations, “possibly just because they are human beings in great need”. This has to be counterbalanced by the recognition that we have special responsibilities to those people who are closest to us, starting with members of our families and working outwards. Human beings have obligations (usually abstract) toward all children, but special obligations toward their own children. You couldn’t nurture everybody’s children as effectively as you can nurture your own, because 1) it goes against your natural instincts, and 2) you don’t know those other children very well anyway. By analogy I owe something to my fellow citizens that I don’t owe to citizens of other nations, because I am more likely to understand their needs -and also because of a common national obligation. Each nation has a culture unique to itself. France, Germany, and America have much in common, but there are differences. Their different national cultures nurture the development of the human personality in different ways. All nations would lose if they were melted down into some common global culture, just as all children would lose if they were raised in impersonal communes by interchangeable parents…….

    I’ve never been particularly fond of this as a claim. Vermonters really of one culture with Alabamans and Californians and yet of a different culture to Ontarians? If American examples are uncomfortable, compare the culture of Dublin and London as opposed to London and Belfast; I suspect you will find few people who see the former as more disparate than the latter.

    It’s possible to describe nations as cultural groupings, at which point this stuff all works, but you can’t do that and describe America as a nation. There are social bonds, and patriotism is important, but the threat to parochial culture from excessive globalization is overwhelmingly a threat to smaller groups than “America”; the global culture is driven by America anyway; everyone else takes part in it through translation.

    Learning about foreigners is rendered easier by learning about them in terms of political alliegance, but it is also inhibited. Zimbabwe wouldn’t be in the top ten Chinese cities, but a schoolchild will appear inattentive to Geography if they don’t know of its existence, whereas most adults couldn’t tell you where the larger city of Jinan is or the much larger province of Anhui. I don’t deny that there are differences between the Czechs and the Slovaks, but there’s arguably bigger differences between Ohio’s Franklin County and Ohio’s Athens County.

    As with support for sporting teams or any number of other identities, there’s a natural human tendency to ascribe uniformity to groups in a labeled demographic and rejecting the extent to which this is engaged in does not mean denying the importance of the bonding elements of those demographics.

    • #34
  5. Mike LaRoche Inactive
    Mike LaRoche
    @MikeLaRoche

    Leviathan was also a pretty rad flick starring Peter Weller.

    • #35
  6. Ontheleftcoast Inactive
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
    Start with the Golden Rule -which points to a universal standard of justice.

    Perhaps not. First, the Golden Rule is an injunction directed to individuals, perhaps in some cases to a nation, but can it apply to a state except tactically?

    Second, it may be an aspiration for many; it may be a standard shared by much of mankind, but it is not universal.

    It is at least historically, if not categorically, not true for Christian states – states with a Christian state religion – nor is it true for states in which Islam is the state religion. Where there is legally a state religion, either the state religion* – which generally does not give the same rights before the law to those who profess the state religion and those who do not – or the Golden Rule must yield.

    _______________

    * Roman state religion attempted to do so, but it required that all subject to Roman law conduct themselves at least publicly with worshipful deference to the god-emperor. First Jews and then Christians found themselves unable to comply.

    • #36
  7. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    The Nation State – doesn’t really fit reality, though borders can encourage commonality within them.  Why limit things?

    O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other).

    • #37
  8. Spiral Reagan
    Spiral
    @HeavyWater

    Representative democracy seems impossible without the nation state.  In a representative democracy there must be a means of determining who is eligible to vote, how elections are to be conducted and how the outcomes of those elections will be determined.

    The problem with Trumpism, as I see it, is a failure to consider the value of having trade and security relationships with some of the 96 percent of the human population that does not reside in the United States.  Trumpism is in many ways a rejection of reality.

    This is why Trump is always contradicting himself.  One day he says NATO is obsolete.  The next day he is reassuring the European nations that the United States is totally committed to NATO.  One day Trump is busy removing Obama’s regulations.  The next day he is asking Congress to enact paid family leave legislation, which would represent a large new regulation of most American businesses.

    Any academic who attempts to explore the intellectual foundations of Trumpism is going to explore something that does not exist.

    • #38
  9. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Tom Meyer, Ed. (View Comment):

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):

    To the extent that I care about any such obligations (whether real or imagined), it depends upon the country’s cultural similarity to the United States (the Anglosphere), or its usefulness to us as an ally (Japan).
    To a very large extent, I agree. At the risk of quoting myself:

    [T]he government of the United States exists for the benefit of its citizens, not those of other countries. While foreigners have the same inherent, inalienable rights as Americans, their protection is simply outside of the responsibility of the United States government.

    In other words — and to paraphrase Derb — genuine altruism and charity are nice on an individual level, but they’re wholly inappropriate to a nation-state. That said…

    That rules out nearly the entire Third World.

    Totally disagree there. First, a lot of the third world is finally entering modernity. That poses a lot of potential as well as a lot of danger, and I’m not just talking about India and China (though, obviously, them too). From a wholly selfish perspective, I think it’s both in our interest to cultivate friendship with decent people around the world while giving our enemies every reason to fear us.

    More simply, I’d like the same blackhawk to inspire hope and relief for good people in need of help just as it brings fear and panic to those in need of killing.

    I don’t think that’s what Mike’s saying.  We can take on responsibilities to the people of other countries, but it’s not an obligation.

    • #39
  10. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
    Come to think of it war in general is a major force leading to the creation of nations.

    Violence never solved anything.

    • #40
  11. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    I don’t know what Globalist means.  The excerpt gave me a brief glimpse  of  what some of this stuff means to some.  The progressives they call globalists and multiculturalists are just versions of centralization and control, multiculturalism, open borders, gender confusions, race hucksterism are just vacuous tactics to divide and conquer.   If the globalist notions to be rejected are the UN or nation building and most foreign AID program, or open borders and the absence of the rule of law then yea I’m anti globalist as well.  But protecting and helping shape and protect the nation state system, defense alliances, the global trade and finance system is vital to protecting our own nation state, property rights and prosperity.    How  nations are governed matters and celebrating the national government over State and local government is deeply confused.  Modern American progressives seek  fragmentation and entropy to help consolidate their national power.  They aren’t globalists they want power here now and lots of it.  Conservatives in contrast seek to protect Burkes platoons from destructive and unaccountable central power.  To reject accumulated wisdom, traditions, views, faiths, institutions as in some way globalist can’t be what some are getting at, that would be worse than beginning the scientific revolution from zero with each generation.

    • #41
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    I don’t think that’s what Mike’s saying. We can take on responsibilities to the people of other countries, but it’s not an obligation.

    How are responsibilities not obligations, and vice versa?

     

    • #42
  13. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    The problem with the absoluteness of National Sovereignty is that it is unAmerican. The very construction of our political system asserts that sovereignty emanates from the individual, and that we dispense with parts of our innate sovereignty for the creation of governmental institutions in order to secure for ourselves the freedom to exercise our rights without fear of oppression. How much we give and to whom is up to the individual, and is in essence contractual in nature. Our founders made it among themselves, we sign up with every new generation…

    Even if we set individual sovereignty aside, our nation isn’t one state, but several, each endowed with its own police power, which is delegated to municipalities, and held in union by a federal government whose powers are supposed to be enumerated. We’re not really one nation, one state, or at least that wasn’t the original idea; but one nation, several nested levels of government, in a union of several states. The stronger our federal government becomes, the closer we approximate a nation-state, I guess, but it doesn’t seem a natural fit to who we are.

    Agreed. We have these various governing bodies because sovereignty belongs to the people and we divide it up as we choose.

    • #43
  14. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    James, are you a fan of Hobbesean theology? How interesting! In general academic philosophers will tell you that no one reads the later sections of Leviathan. I have read those sections, but not for a long time. I read it cover to cover as an undergraduate and again in the Peace Corps. I have a sort of “fondness” of Leviathan because when I was applying for graduate school, I looked through my files and decided that none of us undergraduate papers were quite suitable to use as a writing sample. Since Leviathan was one of few philosophical works I had in its entirety in my apartment in Uzbekistan, and since I had always thought it provokingly wrong, I set to and wrote up something (likely similar to the above argument) and sent it out with my applications. Academic friends later laughed at me for being such a rube, just writing up an argument straight from my brain, not using any secondary literature or even consulting anyone. But I guess the result wasn’t too bad, since I did get in.

    At this point my memory of the late sections is faint, but I know the early quite well because they were part of the general ethics course that I taught for several years. I do recall that religion, like everything else, was subject to the Sovereign’s decision (can’t have pluralism or you might get civil unrest) but Hobbes does have rather detailed views on what correct theology should be. Some of your Straussean types argue that the whole theological segment was basically a cover to deflect heat and give Hobbes plausible deniability against the charge that he was an atheist. I don’t know if that’s right; I vaguely recall MacIntryre being quite skeptical of that view… but I don’t remember his reasons.

    The thing is, the early sections just lay out such very strong claims. The brutally atomistic view of human nature, leveling Aristotle and the Scholastics with a bare insistence that human beings might potentially want anything, and considered pre-politically, we have no grounds on which to say that they are wrong either to desire or to act in whatever way suits them. I mean he’s pretty much gutting teleological ethics right there. And then of course all the absolute submission stuff. Do you think the later stuff softens that? Walks it back in any way?

    • #44
  15. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Michael Collins (View Comment):

    What I had in mind is the idea of a nation as a people sharing a common language, culture, and history. It is the people who preserve and change their own culture, primarily by living it. One role of government, its primary role in fact, is to defend the nation. The very term “nation-state” implies that their is a distinction between “nation” and “state”.

    You list three aspects of Nation: language, culture, and history. But, I will contend that none of these things is necessary or sufficient to form a nation. We have numerous bi or multi lingual Nations. Or is Canada not a Nation? We have multicultural Nations do we not? Was the Soviet Union not a Nation? What about China? Even the US has multiple cultures with in it, so how are we a Nation? But, I will get back to this point in a bit, because I think this is the real crux of the matter. The last point is a common History. The problem here is that all history is common, one can not have a common language or culture without a common history. Heck you could have none of these in common and still have a common History. Romania and Turkey have a common history. Perhaps you mean a common historical perspective, but isn’t that just a function of culture? In fact even language can be thought of as an offshoot of culture.

    So let us explore culture…

    • #45
  16. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    It occurs to me to add too: I read and taught Leviathan as a moral philosopher, not a political scientist. That would affect the points of emphasis.

    Nevertheless, it does seem to me that Mitchell is trying to draw some serious moral claims out of Hobbes: basically, that neither individual conscience nor “supra-national” bonds can be permitted because of their tendency to cause unrest. Maybe those claims about Hobbes should be nuanced (would love to hear an explanation how) but they sound broadly Hobbesean to me. That’s not, umm, a good thing though.

    • #46
  17. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Continued from #45.

    The problem with common culture is that it is a moving target. Take America for instance. How do African Americans fit into America as  Nation construct? Did the African slaves have a common culture with the White English settlers? Certainly not at first, but even following the American independence after having had some 100+ years of common history did they really share a common culture? The attitude of the slave owners certainly was that they did not. Following emancipation likewise they were viewed as a distinct culture. In fact the very basis of the exclusion of African Americans from American society at large was a view of the American Nation as a White Nation, thus putting African Americans in the spot of foreigners (involuntary immigrants). We see throughout the history of America this cultural definition of America as the basis of discrimination. America is a Protestant Nation, so no Catholics allowed.

    What overcomes these cultural definitions of America is first and foremost that the American Constitutional system specifically does not recognize or place value on Nationhood. It is a document of laws for the establishment of a State that will allow individuals to preserve their own lives and culture. Because it provides this stability it gives disparate cultures Italians, Germans, Jews, Africans, Englishmen, Irishmen, etc. The time to create a common culture, and allow for new people to join in.

    We are a State not a Nation, and thank God for it.

    • #47
  18. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    I haven’t fully digested Rachel’s points to have a thought on it but this quote from Mitchell’s article caught my attention:

    The Peace of Westphalia, which formally inaugurated the modern European system of nation-states, came into effect in 1648.

    Is that really true?  Or if it is true that the modern nation-state was formed in 1648, is it meaningful?  There have always been states, perhaps somewhat more amorphous but states nonetheless.  The ancient Romans fought against defined states; the ancient Greeks had highly formed individual city states; the middle ages had states with kings; the Italian Renaissance had formed states with princes and individual identities.  Just read Dante and you’ll get a sense of his love of Florence. Peoples throughout western civilization have always held on to patriotic identities to their “countries,” even if their countries were smaller.  I don’t know how that effects the argument above, but I don’t think there is something different going on in the modern world than was already there in the past.

    • #48
  19. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Here is the last thing that I find troubling about the view of America as a Nation. If one views a Nation as an amalgamation of people with a common language, culture, and history, the kind of government this Nation has is irrelevant to its Nationhood. France as a Nation has had systems of government ranging from Absolute Monarchs to Revolutionary Republics. At no point did these changes make a difference to France the Nation to the French People. The State of France has change many times, but never the Nation we might argue. If one wants to preserve the Nation of France at times one might think that the State must be changed because it is failing at it job of preserving the Nation. So why do the French need a Republic that will fail the Nation? Better to have a Dictatorship that will preserve it.

    Does the American Nation then require the preservation of our republican constitution and order of government? If we wish to preserve the the American State it does, but I do not thing it is required for the preservation of the American Nation.

    One last question. About the preservation of the American Nation. Did past governments fail at preserving the American Nation as initially founded by allowing massive immigration from Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe? Did they also fail when they emancipated the slaves, and gave them citizenship? Did not all these things fundamentally transform the character of the Nation?

    • #49
  20. Michael Collins Member
    Michael Collins
    @MichaelCollins

    Ontheleftcoast (View Comment):

    Start with the Golden Rule -which points to a universal standard of justice.

    Perhaps not. First, the Golden Rule is an injunction directed to individuals, perhaps in some cases to a nation, but can it apply to a state except tactically?

    It is directed toward individuals, but a state or a nation is made up of those same individuals.   When I vote I conscientiously aim to promote the general welfare, -which is the welfare of others.  If the Golden Rule is directed toward us as individuals it applies to our votes just as much as any other aspect of our lives.

    Second, it may be an aspiration for many; it may be a standard shared by much of mankind, but it is not universal.

    Well that is a complicated question.  Herewith an article about the variety of human cultures that have enshrined the Golden Rule as a standard for action, as well as criticisms of the Golden Rule.   St. Paul refers to a “law that is written on human hearts” even among people who have no knowledge of the law itself.

    It is at least historically, if not categorically, not true for Christian states.

    Everyone rationalizes the evil we do against our fellow man.   Christians are no exception, but the Christian religion at least encourages us to become aware of our own shortcomings.  The fact that we are corrupt ourselves does not excuse us from at least trying to follow the Golden Rule, including by our votes.

    • #50
  21. Herbert E. Meyer Contributor
    Herbert E. Meyer
    @HerbertEMeyer

    The most striking phrase in Rachel Lu’s marvelous essay is when she refers to the “overt belligerence” of the American Greatness movement.  Its members seem determined to pick a fight with those of us who not only are their natural allies, but who paved the way for their own current prominence.  This is childish, and in the long run it’s damaging to us all.

    Too often, these American Greatness people turn a semantic issue into a political battle.  For instance, they claim the George W. Bush administration was not merely wrong, but stupid, to pursue a policy of spreading democracy throughout the world.  Well, perhaps “democracy” wasn’t the perfect word.  I’d have chosen “modernity,” in the sense that there are different “modern” operating systems that can be compatible, just as there are different but compatible operating systems for our computers.  But the Bush idea makes sense, however imperfectly his administration may have gone about it.

    And all of us put “American First.”  But surely we’ve learned from history that while we can turn our backs on the world, the world doesn’t turn its back on us.  As we should have learned from Pearl Harbor and, much later, from 9-11, ignoring the world doesn’t always work out well.  I’ve yet to hear the American Greatness people talk about this.

    Finally, I have a question for Steve Bannon: If I’m walking down Pennsylvania Avenue one afternoon and I happen to see you being mugged, should I run to help you out because you’re a fellow human being in trouble?  Or should I think like you, and first calculate what possible benefit would accrue to me for coming to your rescue?

     

    • #51
  22. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Rachel Lu (View Comment):
    It occurs to me to add too: I read and taught Leviathan as a moral philosopher, not a political scientist. That would affect the points of emphasis.

    Nevertheless, it does seem to me that Mitchell is trying to draw some serious moral claims out of Hobbes: basically, that neither individual conscience nor “supra-national” bonds can be permitted because of their tendency to cause unrest. Maybe those claims about Hobbes should be nuanced (would love to hear an explanation how) but they sound broadly Hobbesean to me. That’s not, umm, a good thing though.

    Leviathans moral philosophy is abhorrent. Good and evil boil down to individual desire. Then again I find the political philosophy in the book abhorrent too.

    • #52
  23. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Manny (View Comment):
    I haven’t fully digested Rachel’s points to have a thought on it but this quote from Mitchell’s article caught my attention:

    The Peace of Westphalia, which formally inaugurated the modern European system of nation-states, came into effect in 1648.

    Is that really true? Or if it is true that the modern nation-state was formed in 1648, is it meaningful?

    It does seem to be true, and meaningful. Likewise, Wilsonian promotion of “self-determination” – that empires be broken up into nation-states – is also meaningful.

    As a good Protestant (I am still Protestant for the time being), I can’t say that the days when the sovereigns of Europe were all at least nominally subject to Rome were just peachy. But there were some benefits – Rome really was a check on absolute monarchy, a check on the sovereigns from above, just as Magna Carta in England was a check on the sovereign from below.

    The Early Modern period in European history was a bloody, turbulent time, and not a time when individual citizens were particularly free.

    There have always been states, perhaps somewhat more amorphous but states nonetheless.

    Sure!

    The ancient Romans fought against defined states; the ancient Greeks had highly formed individual city states; the middle ages had states with kings; the Italian Renaissance had formed states with princes and individual identities. Just read Dante and you’ll get a sense of his love of Florence.

    Sure. But city-states, such as the ancient Greeks had, and Florence, are not nation-states. I believe that’s the point of specifying nation-states (as opposed to, say, city-states or empires). Nation-state is supposed to mean something specific, not just any state one might be patriotically attached to (which, as you rightly point out, is nothing new).

    To me, nation-state has its roots in Leviathan, and its fruition in the post-WWI order, in Wilsonian self-determination and so forth. One people, one state; one state, one people. And so forth.

    • #53
  24. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Herbert E. Meyer (View Comment):
    Too often, these American Greatness people turn a semantic issue into a political battle. For instance, they claim the George W. Bush administration was not merely wrong, but stupid, to pursue a policy of spreading democracy throughout the world. Well, perhaps “democracy” wasn’t the perfect word. I’d have chosen “modernity,” in the sense that there are different “modern” operating systems that can be compatible, just as there are different but compatible operating systems for our computers. But the Bush idea makes sense, however imperfectly his administration may have gone about it.

    Not to get into the weeds on what is otherwise an excellent comment: but perhaps they are right that spreading democracy or modernity through force of arms is not the most intelligent strategy.

    • #54
  25. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    Michael Collins (View Comment):
    Come to think of it war in general is a major force leading to the creation of nations.

    Violence never solved anything.

    “Au contraire mon frère”.  I’m not sure if it was Napoleon or Wellington who said that.  ;-)

    • #55
  26. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    I am fascinated by the people who think the essay is marvelous in content, style, and conclusions.

    Let me boil it down.

    I am a Never Trumper.  Some Trumpers have a venue where they explain Trump philosophy.  This philosophy seems to think I don’t matter. I will cherry pick some stuff and put up some straw men to whack down while whispering fascism.  I will list a few philosophers.  I am a Never Trumper and I was never wrong.

    • #56
  27. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    What overcomes these cultural definitions of America is first and foremost that the American Constitutional system specifically does not recognize or place value on Nationhood. It is a document of laws for the establishment of a State that will allow individuals to preserve their own lives and culture. Because it provides this stability it gives disparate cultures Italians, Germans, Jews, Africans, Englishmen, Irishmen, etc. The time to create a common culture, and allow for new people to join in.

    We are a State not a Nation, and thank God for it.

    You discarded quite a bit here but to my thinking you retained the single piece that is significant to this entire discussion, the American Constitutional system. I, personally, include this as the most important element in a civil compact uniting more than 300 million people of diverse backgrounds, including cultural attributes that vary greatly. These I must classify as sub-cultures within our diverse society but any sub-culture intent on undermining our constitutional crown jewel is unwelcome. I think we have this right and the numbers of those who choose to join us confirms that. Much of the rest of the world does not have it right and although we should make an effort to move them in the right direction, care must be taken to defend what we have and insure its survival.

    • #57
  28. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    DocJay (View Comment):
    I am fascinated by the people who think the essay is marvelous in content, style, and conclusions.

    Let me boil it down.

    I am a Never Trumper. Some Trumpers have a venue where they explain Trump philosophy. This philosophy seems to think I don’t matter. I will cherry pick some stuff and put up some straw men to whack down while whispering fascism. I will list a few philosophers. I am a Never Trumper and I was never wrong.

    I don’t think you actually read the piece. Rachel goes on at length to explain what she found wanting in the essay. Having read the essay myself I find it wanting too. There is no value in a journal that seeks to present Trumpism to the public if they don’t actually seek to explain Trumpism.

    • #58
  29. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Once we understand the evils of globalism, we will appreciate that Trumpism, as a part of the global war against globalism, is substantive and entirely coherent, and not (as detractors like me suspect) an emotion-driven uprising …

    “Trumpism”? “Emotionally driven uprising?”  No. It was a thumb in the eye of the complacent powers that be. You’re trying to trivialize people who have a point of view different from your own, as if the only possible explanation for not seeing things the way you do is that they’re the Great Unwashed with the average IQ of a houseplant.

    I have some bad news for you. Not everyone who voted for Trump is, as you imply, an uneducated yahoo whose parents are probably first cousins. Some of us might even be better educated than you. We might even have higher IQs than you do. People voted for Trump for different reasons, chief among them:

    1. He wasn’t Hillary

    2. To send a message to the establishment GOP who wasted the majority we gave them

    3. To send a message to both sides that we want our borders secured, and that we are not apologetic about it.

    The globalist “Family of Man, who needs borders, we’re all brothers” view of the world is naive and childish. Those of us who are actual adults can see this. Trying to insult us into seeing things your way will not work. It says a lot more about you than it does about us.

    • #59
  30. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson
    @BobThompson

    An additional point to my comment #57. A big part of the political division in the United States is the lack of agreement on the significance of the American Constitutional system. My opinion is not enough goes into understanding this piece. The Progressives and the Conservatives contend over many issues. To me it appears that Progressives would just discard much of the Constitution as out-of-date and many conservatives just don’t bother themselves about it as if it needs no defenders. These are both wrong.

    • #60
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