Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Civic Nationalism 1

This is another instalment of my e-booklet.

It was once common for national identity to be based on ethnicity. Members of a nation were thought to share some combination of a common ancestry, culture, language, race, religion, customs and history.

John Jay, a founding father of the United States, held to this traditional understanding of national identity. He thought it providential that the US was “one connected, fertile, widespreading country.” He added:

With equal pleasure I have often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people - a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs...This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous and alien sovereignties.

Over time, though, Jay’s traditional nationalism came to be thought illegitimate. Liberals began to take a negative view of ethnicity as something that ought not to matter; therefore, there had to be some other basis for national identity.

And so Western societies shifted gradually toward a policy of civic nationalism. Membership of the nation was to be defined by citizenship, and unity was to be based on a shared commitment to liberal political values and institutions.

One prominent defender of the civic nationalist ideal is Michael Ignatieff. He is a Canadian academic and a former leader of the Liberal Party in that country. He distinguishes a civic from an ethnic nationalism this way:

Ethnic nationalism claims...that an individual's deepest attachments are inherited, not chosen...

According to the civic nationalist creed, what holds a society together is not common roots but law. By subscribing to a set of democratic procedures and values, individuals can reconcile their right to shape their own lives with their need to belong to a community.

This is the liberal logic at work. Ethnic nationalism is predetermined (“inherited, not chosen”) and is therefore rejected in favour of a civic nationalism which is thought to be self-determined (“right to shape their own lives”).

But is civic nationalism really a viable replacement for traditional nationalism? There are reasons to think not. Civic nationalism suffers from being indistinct, inconsistent, unstable and shallow.

Indistinct & unstable

People generally like to feel that there is something unique about their national identity. But if identity is based on liberal values and institutions then it won't differ much from country to country. The civic national identity will be much the same in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other Western societies.

That not only makes national identity less special, it also means that it makes less sense to keep to existing national boundaries. If two nations have the same civic national identity, then why not merge together if there are economic or political advantages in doing so? And why should citizenship stop at national boundaries? If I support liberal political values, and being, say, American is defined by such values, then why shouldn’t I consider myself American even if I live elsewhere?

There are liberals who have already drawn these conclusions. Thomas Barnett is a “distinguished scholar” at the University of Tennessee. This is what he had to say about the war on terror:

We stand for a world connected through trust, transparency and trade, while the jihadists want to hijack Islam and disconnect it from all the corruption they imagine is being foisted upon it by globalization...

In that war of ideas, I’d still like to see Lady Liberty standing outside the wire instead of hiding behind it, and here’s why: I don’t have a homeland. My people left that place a long time ago.

I don’t have a homeland because I don’t live in a place - I live an ideal. I live in the only country in the world that’s not named for a location or a tribe but a concept. Officially, we’re known as the United States.

And where are those united states? Wherever there are states united. You join and you’re in, and theoretically everyone’s got an open invitation.

This country began as a collection of 13 misfit colonies, united only by their desire not to be ruled by a distant king.

We’re now 50 members and counting, with our most recent additions (Alaska, Hawaii) not even co-located with the rest, instead constituting our most far-flung nodes in a network that‘s destined to grow dramatically again.

Impossible, you say? Try this one on for size: By 2050, one out of every three American voters is slated to be Hispanic. Trust me, with that electorate, it won’t just be Puerto Rico and post-Castro Cuba joining the club. We’ll need either a bigger flag or smaller stars.

Thomas Barnett believes that America is defined by a liberal ideal. Therefore, being American is not about living in a particular place amongst a particular people. Any other country that wants to sign on to the ideal and become a “united state” can do so, no matter where that country is located.

Barnett has parted company with the vision of America held by the founding father John Jay. Jay, if you remember, stressed how providential it was that America was one connected country:

Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people - a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs...

Barnett is not alone in drawing out the logic of civic nationalism. Paul Ryan, a Republican congressman, believes that America is exceptional in being universal:

America's "exceptionalism" is just this - while most nations at most times have claimed their own history or culture to be exclusive, America's foundations are not our own - they belong equally to every person everywhere.

That’s not a helpful way of defining your own nation as distinct. First, it’s not true that America is exceptional in holding to a civic nationalism – that is common amongst Western nations. Second, if the foundations of your nation aren’t your own but belong equally to every person everywhere, then why shouldn’t people choose to cross your borders to seek what belongs equally to them?

Rudolph Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City, once explained his civic understanding of American identity as follows:

Abraham Lincoln used to say that the test of one’s Americanism was not one’s family tree; the test of one’s Americanism was how much one believed in America. Because we’re like a religion really. A secular religion. We believe in ideas and ideals. We’re not one race, we’re many; we’re not one ethnic group, we’re everyone; we’re not one language, we’re all of these people. So what ties us together? We’re tied together by our belief in political democracy, in religious freedom, in capitalism, a free economy where people make their own choices about the spending of their money. We’re tied together because we respect human life, and because we respect the rule of law.

Those are the ideas that make us Americans.

Americans are “everyone” according to Giuliani, or at least everyone who believes in a set of secular ideals. The American political commentator Lawrence Auster wrote in reply to Giuliani:

...having told us the things that don’t make us Americans, he tells us the things that do make us Americans: belief in democracy, freedom, capitalism, and rule of law. But other countries believe in those things too. So how is America different from those other countries? If a person in, say, India believes in democracy, freedom, capitalism, and rule of law, how is he any less an American than you or I or George Washington? And how are we any more American than that Indian? Giuliani has removed everything particular and concrete about America and defined America as a universal belief system, not a country.

Giuliani did not shy away from accepting the logic of his own position. He made this declaration to the United Nations:

Each of your nations - I am certain - has contributed citizens to the United States and to New York. I believe I can take every one of you someplace in New York City, where you can find someone from your country, someone from your village or town, that speaks your language and practices your religion. In each of your lands there are many who are Americans in spirit, by virtue of their commitment to our shared principles.

So how exactly is it distinct to be American? According to Giuliani there are many who are “Americans in spirit” in every country of the world. America is no longer defined as a particular people and place, as a country, in the traditional sense. In Giuliani’s hands American identity becomes a globalist secular religion.

The logic of civic nationalism has been drawn out clearly enough by Professor Peter Spiro. He too recognises that defining American identity in terms of political ideals or values leaves few limits as to who can be considered American:

But here's something that really is new: the underinclusion of members-in-fact outside the territory of the United States.

One of the commenters on my first post pressed the proposition that America is an idea. That's completely consistent with strong civic notions of American citizenship and identity.

At one time, that idea was distinct. No longer. The American idea of constitutional democracy has gone global. That's America's triumph, but it may also be its downfall.

As I ask in the book, if that person in Bangalore wants to take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, on what grounds can we deny him membership?...And what of the child born in Juarez, whose interests and identity will be connected to El Paso, Austin and Washington...but who has the bad luck to have been born a mile on the wrong side of the line?...

So: whatever it means to be American, it's everywhere. But that makes it all the harder to draw the membership line in a meaningful way.

If you define a national identity by an idea, then anyone anywhere can potentially belong to that nation. It starts to be thought arbitrary to limit membership of a nation to people who happen to live within a line drawn on a map. You get complaints, like that of Professor Spiro, about the “underinclusion of members-in-fact” living outside the territory of that country. The nexus between land and people is broken.

And that leads to an unstable form of national existence. If anyone who is willing to commit to a political idea is "in spirit" a member of my nation, then why won't it be thought right for them to migrate, in whatever numbers, to take up citizenship? How, in principle, is a transforming mass immigration to be argued against?

And if national identity is the same across nations, then why not merge nations into larger regional entities? Why not create superstates which give you more political and economic clout on the world stage?


  1. You're merging civic nationalism with civic internationalism. I don't pretend to say precisely what civic nationalism is but it doesn't have to be this watered down nothing that you're presenting.

    You mentioned Rudy Gulliani and he was Mayor of New York, one of the most international cities of America, so of course he's going to spout the international credo, he couldn't have gotten elected otherwise. However, people weren't brought into New York because of flowery rhetoric or ideals, they were brought in to meet a perceived economic need. The political or ideological justifications for this inclusion then came afterwards and played catch up. Matters of economics speak loudly in these areas.

  2. people weren't brought into New York because of flowery rhetoric or ideals, they were brought in to meet a perceived economic need.

    But what was there to stand in the way of this? If identity is based on a commitment to a political value or institution, then anyone can become an American. So if some bigwig wants to bring in cheap labour from Guatemala, then why not? The Guatemelans can pledge allegiance to a political value or institution just as well as any native born American. In fact, it's not uncommon to hear liberals say that they're better than the native born because they are actively choosing to pledge that allegiance by shifting countries.

  3. Interesting article. I've been an American my whole life and I still can't understand them. I have never known a country, and in particular people here who call themselves conservatives, who enjoy destroying old buildings as much as Americans. They did everything they could in the 50s and 60s to wipe out their past and build tract homes in the suburbs. They moved out there by the millions and quite literally abandoned their cities. To this day conservatives still hate their cities. Which is odd since "conserve" is part of their identity while "liberals" are the ones who are most keen on preserving the traditional architecture and historic monuments.

  4. There's a fellow writing from SoCal called Whiskey who attempts to answer your question here.

  5. Mark,

    Or indeed why not bring them in from Ireland or Italy? Those groups were brought in with expectations of civic nationalism placed before them as well a strong national identity and culture in place in the country.

  6. Or indeed why not bring them in from Ireland or Italy?

    In practice because Australia's economic future has been identified as belonging with Asia. So the Australian political class is looking toward regional ties with Asia. They see it as more beneficial, therefore, to bring in an Asian population to assist this larger aim of bringing Australia into the Asian fold.

    And if you have a civic identity, then why not? Why would you go for Italians/Irish in preference to Chinese/Indians? Particularly if you see an advantage in bringing in the Chinese/Indians?

    If your answer is: the Italians/Irish are more ethnicially similar you are missing the point. An ethnic identity has been rejected in favour of a civic one. So that means it doesn't matter if the Italians/Irish are more ethnically similar.

    All that matters to a civic identity is that people will pay taxes, pledge allegiance to the constitution, uphold democratic values etc.

  7. Propercharlie,

    Thanks for the link to the post by Whiskey. Not being American it's difficult for me to comment on the Puritan vs Hillbilly thesis. But it's an interesting idea. And credit to Whiskey for insisting in the comments that "America belongs to the historic American nation".

  8. Great article, this is the method currently used to turn the existing ethnic majorities of our countries into a minority, with a globalisation of cultures. This will destroy the old culture, amalgamate it with another to make a new one. The hope of the no borders, in the Anglo-multicultural-sphere is the current idiocy of Liberal baby boomers.

    Order out of Chaos, in a nut shell is the theory. What the Liberals don't see is the fact the Chaos leads to our communities dissolution and the Liberals decline of political power in our countries. Fool and curse on them.

    Notice our countries are now passing "hate Laws", more "Terrorism Laws", aimed at our own citizens, who may decent in the coming recession or depression. This is capitalism being forged with Communism, who would of thought? The desperation and worry of the political and corporate elite is written on the Laws being passed and over seas land buy outs...

    Being oil is now too expensive to make a profit the only way forward for the capitalist corporations is to depress wages, that is where 3rd world immigration, the Asia Pacific of Australia and the USA comes into play.

    Take a good look at Europe and the UK, that is our future. I have hope when looking towards Europe, the growth in Ethnic Nationalism has grown exponentially, even with the suppression of the state and media apparatus.

    The future is ours and the Liberal oligarchy is in the first stage of denial, as it's a dying ideology, stuck is stasis of the defensive. About time to.

    Now it's time for a western revival to grow and seed the ideology of tomorrow. We need an ideology, a myth to look up to, in order to guide us out of the decline.

  9. Does anyone think i'm getting warmer If I say the plan to merge Australia with an Asia union. Would mean that Australia would be merged with Russia evetnually. As Russia also plans to merge with an Asian union.
    I think its curious because Gillard is on record as being a soviet Russia fan.

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  11. I think you missed my point Mark. Many western people in our countries today would never have been allowed to come in unless those in the past allowed for a certain degree of "civic nationalism", and held other attitudes to be relevant to citizenship apart from homogenous ethnicity and religion. Indeed John Jay, whom you quoted, would have happily excluded Catholics from his state given his druthers, as would have many Protestants of that era.


    So where do you draw the line on migration? These lines have never been fixed historically absolutely, and different communities have entered into our countries at different times and at differing rates. Is someone with an Italian name, such as Tancredo, a non American because of his original Italian background? Can he not ever "Americanise" himself over time by showing his loyalty and commitment? Can generations of Tancredo's ever consider themselves to be acceptable citizens?

    Our history is rife with contradictions on this matter. If we judge an immigrant based on his cultural similarity with the host country, then if assessed severely, potentially nobody comes in, and also very many people living here should leave. If on the other hand we judge them by their willingness to adapt to the host culture, then migration can occur in controlled numbers and with clear expectations placed on the migrants to conform or adapt. Perhaps though not currently for some time at it will take a while for our existing populations to be absorbed. Such attitudes though of course would require a degree of "civic nationalism".

    Whatever we come up with in terms of historical identity cannot be based purely on race. Is a Frenchman of the British race? What about a Croat? Which means we're going to have to look further afield for our sense of identity or else never accept immigrants. If on the other hand we base our identity on culture then this is something that people can adapt to.

    "Civic Nationalism" can mean nothing, merely singing the national anthems at sporting events, or an amorphous feel good catch all that's altered at will by leftists. Alternatively it can be a real concept, giving people a real identity, and a real opportunity to contribute to the good of the country and adapt to a larger entity and culture. Where you draw the line will not be absolute and will require a degree of common sense as well as historical perspective.

  12. If on the other hand we judge them by their willingness to adapt to the host culture, then migration can occur in controlled numbers and with clear expectations placed on the migrants to conform or adapt.

    a) A people is not just a culture. There are Americans who think that all that matters is if the Anglo or Euro culture survives - it doesn't matter if actual Anglos/Euros disappear from view.

    This assumes, first, that you can have a culture minus the people who created it.

    Second, it assumes that the thing of value is not the people itself as an ongoing entity, but the cultural artefact of that people.

    b) Your suggested approach hasn't worked in any Western country. One reason is that once you accept the idea of civic nationalism (say, that the criterion of entry is loyalty and allegiance), then there's no reason why you can't have diverse, mass immigration.

    But once you have diverse, mass immigration you then have large numbers of people who don't easily fit into the mainstream culture.

    Even if the parents who made the decision to migrate are sincere about loyalty to the mainstream, what's to say that the children will be?

    And if the children see themselves as outsiders what are you going to do? Are you going to deport many tens of thousands of citizens who were born in your country and who have broken no laws?

    What happens in practice is that those who follow the assimilation idea are no longer in a position to demand that the migrant children assimilate to the mainstream. Instead, it becomes more practical to blame the problem on the "exclusivity" of the mainstream. It's thought that if only the mainstream were no longer so dominant that the outsiders would be able to identify with the society.

    Jesse, look at someone like Andrew Bolt - a right-wing Australian of Dutch descent. The Dutch are the ones who generally find it easiest to assimilate to the Australian mainstream. But even in Bolt's case, he felt like an outsider and wasn't able to identify with the mainstream. His solution is to get rid of communal identity altogether.

    So what do we do with Bolt? Do we try to deport him, even though he wasn't the one who decided to migrate here?

  13. But Mark this is the issue, what do we do? How can you deny legitimate citizenship to families who have been here for generations? Andrew Bolt is allowed to run wild because he conflates libertarianism with conservatism, however, we still have all these people from different, other than mainstream Anglo saxon backgrounds, in our countries. People like Bolt should be grateful to be here, and encouraging an attitude of gratitude to the home culture, rather than naive attitudes of perfection and victimhood, must be a way to go about things.

  14. How can you deny legitimate citizenship to families who have been here for generations?

    Why would I deny citizenship to people already legally here?

    Australia is a big country. What I would like to see is the Anglo tradition surviving in some part of it.

    But that won't happen if middle-class Anglos continue to identify with liberalism.

    So I argue against liberalism and in favour of a different world view, one which is not so hostile to communal tradition.

    And then it becomes a matter of how many talented people I and other traditionalists can persuade.

    Over the past ten years there has been a slow shift in the right direction. The non-liberal part of politics is attracting intelligent people.

    We'll just have to see what it leads to before we know what's possible to achieve on the ground.

  15. Not citizenship, just legitimate citizenship, are you not saying that there's pretty much nothing you can do to become a good Aussie if you're from a different background? Of course we all like to live with our own kind, but it sounds like we're surrendering all of mainstream culture to live as a subgroup. I'm also not sure how much of the political culture we can change that way? Surely we can live with our own and influence the entirety.

  16. Surely we can live with our own and influence the entirety.

    Absolutely we can.

  17. Mark,

    Here's a couple of websites you might like, some great intellectuals and insights. You might get a look in... ;-)



    IMO what's missing now is a political Hegemony, but that is building in Europe with the political Ethnic nationalism there. Great thing is majority of the activists and voters are under 30 years. I estimate 100000 to 200000 people in Europe and 500000 in the USA world wide, I'd say close to a million who are active on the Pro-European/White internet scene.

    So now is the time to sow the seeds of words, ideology and slogans. It's building and if a major event happens in Europe it could build faster then we expect.

    The media in Europe and the West in general has been hiding the illegal aliens in Europe issue. 25000 to 30000 was reported last year...Turns out to be a million or so...Greece has 400000 to 500000 illegal aliens running round...

    Something could happen very soon indeed if North Africa, Middle East and minor Asia light up...

  18. @ Annon the Russia/China issue.

    Russia has let in a large number of 3rd world immigrants who have taken over areas and industries via clan and gangs. Russia suffers different aliments then the old and new West. China also has 200 million citizens sitting on the border of Russia...

    Russia is attempting to placate China, as they know the USA, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Israel have a better chance of a Pacific alliance and Eurasian union. Which leaves Russia out in the cold with non assimilated immigrants.

    China and India for that matter are hungry, China more so and Russia has large gas and mineral deposits. China and India also have a surplus of 20 million odd single males between 15 and 45 years each, who will never find a wife in there respective countries. It's a very toxic brew indeed.

    The Political parties in Europe including the Ethnic Nationalist ones are already signalling an Alliance with Russia.

    China I believe will align with the USA and allies in the end.

  19. I'm sorry Mark but I have to restate the question, what about non anglo saxon people in our countries today? Is there nothing they can do to consider themselves Australian? We have to ask are we White Nationalists or Conservatives? If we're white nationalists then the answer is straight forward, no there's nothing you can do and preferably you'd leave. If we're conservatives we can say historically different groups, who used to be on the outside, have been absorbed into the mainstream, and conservative mainstream at that, over time. I'm not just talking about Italians here, I'm talking about Scots, I'n talking about Welsh. I'm talking about whole groups within the European history, who we used to be at odds with and who used to be very much on the outer, and who we now find common cause with and who are now accepted.

  20. Jesse,

    I don't think it's a question anymore of assimilation. The process of multiculturalism has gone too far for that. Realistically there is going to be a new Asian professional elite in Australia. And many Australians will intermarry and settle into a career and consumption lifestyle in which cultural identity will play very little part.

    Hopefully, there will be enough who hold out and continue to identify with the older Anglo tradition to conglomerate in some way and keep the tradition alive. If that's going to happen, a start will have to be made over the next 20 years or so.

  21. If we're conservatives we can say historically different groups, who used to be on the outside, have been absorbed into the mainstream

    Jesse, I think you're overlapping two different issues here.

    a) It is possible to have people adapt to each other over time and rub along together - in effect, what is mainstream changes.

    b) There are distinct peoples - ethnies - which share a common race, culture, history, religion, customs, manners.

    Your version of conservatism allows for a) but not for b).

    If a) is OK then I don't see the point of a traditionalist movement. The only real task is to have immigration at a rate that doesn't outpace the process of assimilation. And then you just try to keep people happy with a good economy until the inevitable adaptations take place.

    Both the major parties in Australia are committed to something like a). They are both "conservative" in this sense. So if that's all we want, then we're being well served and can leave things to the liberal political class.

    My own commitments are to b).

  22. Except that the left don't want assimilation nor for us to prioritse the host culture. As for the point that its gone to far now for us to seriously assimilate people we must realise that many anglo saxon's don't actively promote their culture and acquiesce to the downplaying of their role. Should this change there would be a much greater cultural strength to promote, and I would suggest this would be the case in spite of the large numbers of immigrants present.

    Its fashionable to call the Young Liberal movement in Australia the bastion of soft left liberalism. And whilst accurate in some respects this isn't entirely the case. One of the members recently promoted the following logo as their facebook photo.


    And this trend has caught on with many YL's adopting this as their personal photo, and also loudly arguing this point. Increasingly the battles within the Liberal Party over the next years will be on the cultural front. Whether you think this is likely to be effective or not to change the situation isn’t totally the point, as there is definite movement and progress occurring.

    Its important that conservatives compete for and win the high ground of institutions within the country, including the political parties, and not look to retreat. To effectively do that such people need realistic hope and encouragement as well as arguments that can carry a wider audience.

  23. Jesse,

    Now perhaps I understand where you're coming from with this.

    I agree with you that if you're working within the Liberal Party then you do need to come up with an approach that can have majority appeal.

    Yes, it's probably better then within the Liberal Party to push for preserving a mainstream culture against those who seek an open-bordered Big Australia on economic grounds.

    And that's an important and significant campaign - it just doesn't happen to be what I'm focused on. I'm focused on the mass of Anglos outside of formal political parties - I want them to understand that it's legitimate to think of themselves positively in ethnic terms. That's why I explain why liberalism has made this identification illegitimate.