But they did not feel it in their gut. Because a nation is hard work. To assert a national will, national objectives, a national interest, in a polyethnic, multilingual, transcontinental country, means upholding a national idea, a transcendent nationalism of ideals, against the more earthly delights of ethnic and cultural tribalism. It suggests that we are tied by something more than blood, something higher than ethnicity. And in turn it demands that we live up to that vision, that we hold a greater ambition for ourselves than mere existence. ~Andrew Coyne

Via Reihan

It is worth noting (again) that Pithlord, an actual Canadian, is no more excited about Mr. Coyne’s “transcendent nationalism of ideals” than I am.  Mr. Coyne sounds like a proposition-nation man on meth.

It reminds me of a question one of my history professors in college posed to us in our Civil War class.  He gave us an assignment to write a short essay articulating which side had the stronger motivation and the more meaningful cause, as I recall, and almost to a man all of us (most were Southerners except for the odd Westerner such as myself) gave what seemed like the blindingly obvious answer: of course, the Confederacy had the more meaningful cause in defending their country against invasion.  There were those on the Unionist side who were earnestly devoted in good faith to the Union and Constitution.  They thought they were defending, not destroying, both of these.  There were perhaps a few wild-eyed dreamers who espoused a “transcendent nationalism of ideals,” but their motivation was even more airy and removed from real life.  In the end, once you got past these political and constitutional commitments, the motivations for the Union men never struck me as being nearly as powerful as the loyalty to your home, your kin and your country.  Perhaps if more of the War had been fought in the North, it would have been more of a draw or one would have to judge by different standards, but as it was it seemed obvious what the answer was.  Our professor, whose classes I enjoyed tremendously, disagreed and thought they the Unionists had the superior motivation because they were fighting, at least officially, for certain high ideals. 

This seems to be an often unbridgeable chasm between people who usually see rhetoric about “high ideals” as a lot of abstract rationalisation to serve a particular policy goal and those who fervently believe in those ideals and intend to use whatever means they have at their disposal to carry them out.  To the former, nothing could be less compelling, more vague and more insubstantial than a “transcendent nationalism of ideals” and very few things more powerful than the claims of ethnicity and culture; to the latter, these things are “earthly delights,” to be shunned by those who see farther and have greater vision and ambition than the rest. 

People who talk about being tied by “something more than blood” and “something higher than ethnicity” are frankly rather odd chaps.  It is as if you mixed Hegel, Lincoln and Valentinus together in a bowl.  Free us from our hylic contingency, they cry!  Let us embody the Geist to which our nation is dedicated!

The resentment against a politics of “mere existence” gives off a whiff of teleocracy to me.  Nations can’t simply exist, they have to be for something, the teleocrat insists.  What Oakeshott called nomocracy was the alternative to this, where the settled customs and habits of a people shaped and governed that people rather than some purpose, some great end, that the state would be trying to achieve.  Related to that, it was Kant, I believe, who said that any government with a specific end was a despotism.  Certainly, if it does not begin as one, it will become one.