Not surprisingly, that was the word (meaning “thank you”) that I heard about five thousand times during my trip to Taiwan. It was quite a trip. The customs official remarked, “That’s a long way to go for a weekend.” No kidding.
Xiexie to the commenters who made suggestions about sites to see. I’m afraid that time limits constrained what I was able to do, so I ended up going to the rather conventional tourist spots that were all fairly close to the hotel, and by the end of the first day I was so tired that there was no question of venturing out to the night market. I’ll have more to say about the weekend once I’ve had a chance to settle in, and I should have some pictures of my brief tour around Taipei available before too long. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Presbyterian wedding conducted in Chinese. Well, all right, maybe you have lived, but you have missed out on an experience.
Also, my copy of Maurizio Viroli’s For Love of Country arrived while I was gone, so I hope to draw on that more in the future as I wade back into the patriotism/nationalism question now that Dan has made a very extensive argument against the kind of anti-nationalism claims that I have been making. It’s a very good article, and it’s probably the best response in defense of nationalism that I have seen in recent years. My initial response is that I remain unconvinced that there are many virtues in modern, mass nationalism of the kind we have typically seen since 1789, and I am not at all convinced that these outweigh the dangers inherent in it. The categories “benign nationalism” and “hubristic patriotism” also seem to present certain difficulties, not least of which is that Baltic nationalisms do not appear to the Russian minorities in the Baltic states to be all that benign. A thoroughly “benign” nationalism would not be targeting the Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Tallinn that many Estonians wish to have removed from its current location, nor would it strike at the monument to the tomb of the unknown soldier from WWII, which provoked the recent cyber-war. One can understand Estonian problems with monuments that represent the old Soviet era, and one can even understand why a predominantly non-Orthodox people might not be interested in having their capital’s skyline include a Russian Orthodox cathedral that reminds them of Russian domination, but the thing about nationalism is that what begins as an understandable effort to reclaim space for one’s own people quickly turns into an effort to deny that space to another people that already possesses it. In the ranks of nationalisms, Estonian nationalism surely stands as one of the most harmless of all time, but there is something inherent in the idea of nationalism that makes it into an explosive element in multiethnic states that makes it anything but benign. The passions it can and has stirred in a place with a nationalism as “benign” as the Estonians’ are evidence of how potent and dangerous it can be to the very system of state sovereignty. Nationalism not only causes the initial majoritarian move to exclude or marginalise a minority community in some symbolic or practical way, but it also sparks the reaction and solidarity from fellow nationals; this threatens the integrity of existing nation-states and threatens small nation-states most of all in those cases where they have minorities with patrons in a neighbouring state. Meanwhile, for every “benign” Estonian nationalism, you have many rather different nationalisms, be it Tamil, Albanian, Turkish, Aymara that express themselves in violent or repressive ways.
Because of the madness of self-determination, the state system is one predominantly made up of nation-states (i.e., states whose boundaries and identity are tied closely to the predominant ethnic group or nationality that resides therein), and ironically it is the anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist experience of many nationalist movements that has given nationalism credit that it does not deserve. For a latter-day romantic treatment of the brave nationalist evading evil imperial agents, The Horseman on the Roof will serve. The world where nationalists are the heroes and Metternich and his agents are the villains is not a world that I want to live in. Nationalists may have gotten out of hand in the 20th century, so the story goes, but the liberal nationalists were a necessary and good step towards progress and away from the bad, old empires, even though the bad, old empires were less bloody and less vindictive than their nationalist successors. This is not a brief for multinational empires. Indeed, I would argue that nationalism is even worse for republics than for empires, since nationalism contributes to the expansionist impulses and hegemonist dreams that gradually destroy republican institutions or cause a republic to swell to such a size that it ceases to function as it should. One of the chief charges against nationalism, namely that it is a force for centralisation and consolidation), and therefore a threat to republicanism and liberty, seems to me to be difficult to refute.
Fundamentally, Dan is really making a pro-sovereignty argument, and to the extent that he is simply saying that citizens here and in Europe should have stronger attachment to and concern about national sovereignty when it comes to policy I don’t think we have any disagreements. Dan writes:
The United States should act more like a nation among nations: jealous of her own sovereignty and national borders, respectful of those of other countries.
Yes, exactly. In other words, we need more patriotism and less nationalism. This is not simply an exercise in terminological gamesmanship, where I just happen to prefer calling X “patriotism” because it doesn’t carry the same baggage as “nationalism.” If I thought that this was what nationalism entailed, I would agree with Dan that “nationalism is what we need now,” but I don’t. What Dan refers to here is exactly what nationalism does not advance; what Dan wants nationalism will not provide. Nationalism does not encourage people to be “respectful” of the sovereignty and national borders of other countries. In most cases, nationalism disregards sovereignty and national borders of other countries while making maximal claims for one’s own, whether out of an expansionist urge or an irredentist vendetta or an assumption of regional hegemony and inherent supremacy. This is not Dan’s purpose in defending nationalism; he advocates a defensive nationalism, a nationalism that minds its own business. That would be very good, except that nationalism doesn’t work in either of those ways.
Dan finds it strange that anyone could identify Mr. Bush, his advisors or the neoconservatives as nationalists, yet this is precisely what they are in their own way. The nation they idealise and worship in and through the nation-state may be a fantasy–the “nation of immigrants,” the “proposition nation,” Kristol’s “ideological nation”–but they are nationalists who value the nation as an embodiment of abstract principles as they understand them, and they are as surely nationalist in this as Jacobins and later French liberals were when they set out to bring the Revolution to other lands. True enough, they are not nationalists of a “blood and soil” kind, and make a point of rejecting this nationalism. While I appreciate that the kinds of immigration, trade and foreign policy views that Dan and I share are frequently identified as nationalist, and he is correct that some members of the anti-imperialist and anti-interventionist traditions in America have framed their arguments in terms of national and (sometimes) racial supremacy and exceptionalism, I think that we find those elements of these traditions to be the least compelling and the least persuasive of the arguments advanced by the Anti-Imperialists and America Firsters. One of the reasons why I think we find these to be the least compelling parts of the argument is that they are premised on nationalist myths of one kind or another, whether it is the idea of exceptionalism or an alleged freedom from the taint of Old World vices and European colonial impulses.
I didn’t mean to write so much in my first post after returning, but there it is.
P.S. I would also like to add that what should matter is not so much whether Orwell’s original essay holds up in its entirety, but whether Lukacs‘ use of the distinction makes sense. On the problems with nationalism, I am also taking cues from Kuehnelt-Leddihn, the decree of the Council of Constantinople of 1878 against phyletism and, to a lesser degree, Aurel Kolnai.