Friday, December 23, 2005

Is ethnicity a prison?

I was saddened during the week to read that Britain is extending work and residency rights to 73 million East Europeans joining the European Union on May 1st.

This is a further dilution of immigration controls which ought to function to uphold the traditional ethnic identity of the existing British population.

The question some Britons might now be asking is why the European elites are so ready to deconstruct the existing national identities of their own countries.

The answer, I believe, is simple: the political and intellectual elites of Europe have accepted liberalism as their guiding philosophy. Liberals want individuals to be self-created by their own reason and will.

Traditional nationalism is not something that we get to choose by our own reason and will. It is something we are born into: a longstanding tradition based on a shared ancestry, language, history, religion, culture and so on.

For liberals, therefore, traditional nationalism, based as it is on ethnicity, is looked on negatively, as something that restricts, or confines, or contains, the sphere of individual choice.

That's why liberals tend either to reject nationalism altogether in favour of internationalism, or redefine nationalism to make it more fluid and interchangeable.

Right liberals

This negative attitude to traditional nationalism is not just found on the left. It is held just as firmly by right liberals.

One case in point is the right liberal Australian journalist, Andrew Bolt. He wrote a column recently on the local arts industry, in which he criticised the National Gallery of Victoria for hanging works by Aboriginal artists which crudely attacked the white mainstream (The art of politics 11/2/04).

For Andrew Bolt the problem is not just the crude politics of the artwork, but that the National Gallery even recognises ethnic categories like "Aboriginal". For Bolt, the best thing about art is that it helps us to "transcend differences of race and country"; therefore, it was wrong for the National Gallery to "drive us back into our racial prisons".

This is reminiscent of the views of the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, who once in a Future Directions document, chose to attack multicultural programmes on the basis that they "simply ensnare individuals in ethnic communities."

The language here is liberal speak. Race or ethnicity is rejected on the grounds that it imprisons or ensnares the individual. This kind of talk assumes that: what we seek is unimpeded individual choice, we don't get to choose our race or ethnicity, therefore race and ethnicity are "fetters" on our individual will from which we need to be liberated or emancipated.

Liberal nationalism

The philosophy of right liberals means that the right liberal parties are unlikely to support the further existence of traditional nationalism in Britain or elsewhere.

If British voters think that supporting the right liberal Conservative Party is going to restore the situation they are likely to be disappointed. They only have to look at what other right liberal parties are doing overseas: George Bush of the American Republicans wants to give residency rights to millions of illegal immigrants and John Howard of the Australian Liberal Party has chosen to increase the level of immigration into Australia.

That's not to say that the right liberal parties won't uphold some form of nationalism. However, it will be a liberal form of nationalism rather than a traditional one. It will be a form of nationalism based on ideas or values or cultural attributes to which anyone can choose to give their individual assent.

It's not realistic to expect people with a liberal philosophy to uphold an ideal of traditional nationalism. Yet it is traditional nationalism which gives us an important part of our individual identity. Traditional nationalism still needs to be defended, but to do so we need to reject the central place of liberalism in our political culture.

Our prison is not our ethnicity; it is the influence over us of a liberal orthodoxy so dominant that few are able to think outside its first principles. Western societies will be freer when a genuine alternative is more widely considered.

(First published at Conservative Central 29/02/2004)

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