"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, January 1, 2022

In Praise Of Nationalism–How America Has Lost Its Moral Center

The war in Vietnam was not lost because of poor military strategy, lack of arms and personnel, or the overwhelming firepower of the enemy.  It was lost because the US faced an implacable, morally committed, unified, patriotic, and nationalistic enemy.  Ho Chi Minh, Giap, and the North Vietnamese people, having fought for a thousand years to preserve their sovereignty, who resisted Chinese hegemony, and who won a long war against French colonial occupation and who freed the country from Western rule, would never ever let their country be taken over by Americans.

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The war begun by Kennedy and pursued to its fateful end by Johnson and Nixon was a misadventure of historic proportions.  Not only did America’s leaders underestimate the nationalism, patriotic pride, and determination of the North Vietnamese and their uncanny ability to mount an ingenious military and guerilla response; but they entered the conflict without real purpose.  

There was nothing in America to compare with the sense of ethos, will, and historical determinism of the North Vietnamese, and its reasons for going to war were speculative, fanciful ideas about ‘the domino theory’ – a suspicious and discredited theory of Communist multi-national hegemony – and a belief in American exceptionalism.  The expansion of democracy by any means necessary is an unquestionable duty, said exceptionalists.  Borne of the Cold War, nurtured by McCarthyism, and strengthened by American’s geographic isolation and historical myopia, exceptionalism became the de facto geopolitical policy of Washington.

There was nothing behind the words.  There was nothing but the deceitful manipulation of the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin; the repeated, unfounded fear that Communism, unless stopped in Hanoi would soon come to America’s shores; and the bloated arrogance of Cabinet members, Langley, and Pentagon advisers who ignored, deliberately misread, or dismissed intelligence which would have easily blunted the rush to war.

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The French have always considered themselves la fille ainée de l’Eglise – the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church – because of the conversion to Christianity of Clovis I ( 466-511/513 CE), king of the Franks and considered the founding father of the Merovingian Dynasty.  

After a religious epiphany, a recognition of the intervention of God in the saving of his infant son, Clovis became a religious crusader as well as a military genius.  He was victorious against the Alemani in 496 and 506 CE and attributed his victories to God. Clovis was inspired by his newly found religious zeal to wage war against the Arian Visigoths which would be some of his most successful military campaigns. This crusade would ultimately push the Visigoths back into Spain and provide greater security for the realm of the Franks.

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At the beginning of the 8th century the Saracens invaded France and occupied the country for a century; but Charles Martel defeated them at Poitiers in 732, after which they moved to Provence in southeastern France. From their fortress, the Saracens raided the surrounding Provence for another two hundred years, until 973 when Count William, the Liberator, prince of Avignon, defeated and expelled them.

When the Turkic Seljuks, Muslim occupiers of Jerusalem began their threats and attacks against Christian communities there, Pope Urban II supported Byzantine requests for assistance and mounted the First Crusade. This call was met with an enthusiastic popular response across all social classes in western Europe. Mobs of predominantly poor Christians numbering in the thousands, led by Peter the Hermit, a French priest, were the first to respond.

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This sense of Christian nationalism was at the heart of the French political ethos for centuries; and France considered itself the center of Western civilization, a leader in art, literature, philosophy, and political policy.  This sense of cultural nationalism and historical right persisted until the progressive immigration from its former colonies, particularly those of Muslim North Africa challenged it.  

Despite attempts to enforce rules of political secularism and universal cultural identity – a Christian, moral core – the changing demography of France challenged this once central ethos.  In its ‘multiculturalism’ France has become more like America – culturally adrift.  There is no longer La France, the France of Clovis, Charlemagne, Charles Martel, and Louis XIV; but a France with no real cultural identity, national purpose, or will.  Added to the cultural muddle is its inclusion in the European Union, an economic and political entity with idealistic goals, but determined to neuter nationalism.

Russia under Vladimir Putin and China under Xi Jinping have both been criticized by the United States for their desire for cultural hegemony and the restoration of their storied imperial past.  Both countries have resisted ‘multiculturalism’ and have insisted that all minorities must subscribe to the principles, philosophy, and ethos of the nation. Russia has been implacable in its resistance to separatist movements in the Caucasus and has defeated them with force.  Chechens can still identify and honor their own ethnic culture, but it should never supersede allegiance to Russia. 

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China has been similarly unequivocal about its position with the Uighurs. They may continue to observe the cultural traditions of their past and retain a certain ethnic identity, but it must never supersede allegiance and fidelity to the political state.

Both countries understand and respect the core principle which made them unique, powerful, and dominant.  Imperial Russia was not simply a country among others, but a Christian, Slavic empire with cultural integrity and historical purpose.  China was not simply a country under successive secular governments but an uninterrupted series of Confucian imperial dynasties.  While neither Putin nor Xi intend to recreate or reestablish empire per se, they have insisted on imperial principle – political, social, and economic unity.

Israel is perhaps the best example of cultural nationalism, the existence of a central, unchallenged moral core, and a historical destiny.  The survival of the Jewish state is unequivocal and absolute.  It is based on religious and regional history, the Holocaust, and the long history of discrimination against the Jews.  Israel will never give in, never capitulate, never negotiate its existence.  It is a proud, Jewish nation state and will forever remain so.

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The United States with no millennia of cultural history behind it, had a very distinct ethical, moral beginning.  It was Christian to the core, profoundly religious, and intellectually grounded.  Its independence was certainly a matter of social justice and opposition to tyrannical rule; but its Constitution clearly set forth the principles on which the new republic would be based.  There would be no imperial design, no sense of historical destiny, and no expansionist desires.  The country had defeated the English King’s armies, had rid itself of a colonial ruler, and were ready only to embark on a course which was free from religious and political oppression.

As Dostoevsky knew and wrote in the words of Ivan Karamazov, there can be no morality without God, and that Christian faith was at the very heart of Russian culture; and so it was in the view of Jefferson and the Founding Fathers.  Christianity and ‘God-given’ rights would have be central to the new republic; otherwise the country would never be one, but many, divided, and antagonistic parts.

Jefferson of course was right; but Hamilton had more foresight.  He knew that lofty principles alone, especially when part of a larger context of individualism, would not be enough to unify the nation.  He proposed a bi-cameral government in which the Senate would act to curb the unschooled and anti-republican instincts of the masses. 

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Now, of course, we know that even Hamilton’s wisdom did not prevail. The Senate is as politically-driven, arrogant, and self-centered as the House.

At this point in American history (2022) the country has loosed itself from the foundational values of Jefferson and his colleagues.  The country is no longer Christian.  Although Christians are still in the majority, progressive attacks on its supposedly retrograde, racist, homophobic, and misogynist culture have eroded allegiance. Secularism has replaced religion as the source of morality; and given its popular nature, it is no surprise that Christian moral principles are distorted by the many socio-political movements competing for pre-eminence.

The country now has no national purpose other than an exceptionalist one – Americans are the only true democratic evangelists – and the more the country dissolves into divisiveness and political rancor and subdivides democratic principles into hundreds of identity-focused parts, the less its evangelical sermons are listened to.  The Russians, Chinese, and Iranians laugh and laugh loudly.

Multiculturalism, diversity, inclusivity alone mean nothing unless they are part of something larger, something broader, something linked to national purpose.  History has shown that a country cannot remain strong without such a central, undivided, universally subscribed-to core.  The American Era is over, it would seem and again history points to causes.  We are in a politically Rococo period, one in which all central, foundational principles or cultural beliefs have been transmuted into swirls, colors, and impossibly romantic images.

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It is hard to see how we will emerge from it and regain both national integrity and international stature.

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