“Let us not speak badly of nationalism.
Without the virulence of nationalism, Europe and the world would already be ruled by a technical, rational, uniform empire. Let us give credit to nationalism for two centuries, at least, of spiritual spontaneity, of free expression of the national soul, of rich historical diversity. Nationalism was the last spasm of the individual before the gray death awaiting it.”
– Nicolás Gómez Dávila
“The people … do not know what they want. To know what one wants is the fruit of profound insight and this is the very thing that the people lack.”
For the Christian traditionalist, nationalism is an ambivalent subject. It may be a seen as a two-sided blade, if we look at Romantic nationalism – Sentiment and national pride can be used just as much to convince by reason the populace to revolt as much as to counter-revolt, since Sentiment isn’t rational nor suprarational.
Nationalism as the ideology of our foes
National pride and identity have been used by the revolutionary ideologues to overthrow rules, seen as oppressive. This has resulted in a temporary mob-rule, quickly replaced by a reign of terror. If every nation has the right to self-determination, what happens if the will of the nation conflicts with God’s commandments? Would a Christian really say that, if a nation in the world does something abominable, the rest of the nations should leave these injustices alone?
Hegel was right to say that the State was never supposed to represent the will of the people in the first place, because the people doesn’t know that it wants. And yet Rousseau’s idea of the General will fooled many people into believing that they can express themselves in a revolution – as if their opinion cannot be represented in not revolting, but living their lives.
Sentiment was used as a guide for the people to revolt (like Rousseau) or to fight for king and soil (like Chateaubriand). While the debate about whether or not the Royalists or the Republicans are right isn’t going to be settled by Sentiment (unless one believes that might makes right), it plays an important role to convince a man to fight. There are things in this world for which it is worth dying for, and these things are loved and revered by man. Love of one’s family, friends, and even one’s people, is natural, and man will express it, for he is not a machine. The Conservative has seen that man is often a deeply irrational animal, and the Christian knows that the irrational passions make the sinner suffer. And these non-rational (either irrational or suprarational) things are to be expressed. The Romantics deeply believed that, and this one thing they guessed well.
Nationalism as an instinct against the antinatural
The above quote from Nicolás Gómez Dávila shows precisely the good side of nationalism – its rejection of what is inorganic to it. Nationalism can be seen as the defense mechanism of the national organism against the experiments of the Enlightenment, of Communism and of contemporary Liberalism. This is why the centralization of the French State happened right after the French revolution, why there was a Reign of Terror – and for the same reason – why there is social engineering today. Man’s nature doesn’t conform to what the revolutionaries want (or even think) it to be – and this is why the politicians of today belong to a political class who doesn’t care for what the people thinks as long as it keeps its democratic legitimacy. This is why the people, and some of the nationalists with it, despise the political class who they see as snobbish, hypocritical and ineffective.
Imagine society as a body. Excessive nationalism can correspond to self-worship, to the Satanic “better a ruler in hell than a slave in heaven”, manifesting one’s capacity of free will for the very act’s sake. But healthy nationalism is good – it is a protection of different members of the body against the machines that technocracy tries to impose on it. For example, machines that will cut the nerves (natural relations) that connect the brain (the State) with the rest of the body (the people) to replace it with other artificial connections (the social contract). If man was a blank slate, then he would have easily been perfected into the ideals of Leftists – but just as our bodies reject some additions, so does human society reject Marxism and Liberalism. Man isn’t only rational, and we have to deal with that.
As the Modernist Nietzsche wrote in Human, all too Human:
“Among the things that can drive a thinker to despair is the knowledge that the illogical is necessary for man and that much good comes from it. It is so firmly lodged in the passions, in speech, in art, in religion, and generally in everything which endows life with value, that one cannot extricate it without doing irreparable harm to these beautiful things.”
In order for man to surpass that which is human so that he can become a Saint, he should first become fully human. Today’s Rationalism and Physicalism push us to be like machines – and satisfying our desires only if they don’t conflict with what’s socially acceptable. These desires are desacralized, dehumanized, and man starts seeing them simply as tools. Incapable of living that way, we can sink below what’s rational, or surpass what’s rational by learning to know God. And the traditional State is precisely supposed to respect what’s human and what’s superhuman – and thus impose norms and discriminate between right use of what’s humane and perverse use of it.
Empires, Nation-States, local government
France became an even more centralized State after the Revolution, which imposed itself on local communities so that there is no dissent. Where there was (like in Vendée), it was crushed.
It is important, I will say as a final remark, that we don’t become excessively nationalistic. Multinational States, like the UK or Russia, exist and are examples that nationalism there only leads to unnecessary violence, separatism and “emancipation” rhetoric. Of course, sometimes it is necessary that these things happen, when two ethnic or religious groups don’t get along in one society.
The localist solution is of course more peaceful, since the State there is decentralized and more peoples can express themselves. But a Nation-State, on the other hand, is necessary for the military unity of a country, for example. So a good level of local government must balance the Nation-State or the Empire.
The nation is something to which one cannot feel as close as the family or the local community. So, politically, just as spiritually, it has its proper place.