Last time, I posed the question: Is nationalism good? It generated quite the lively debate in the comments section, and I am grateful for the many thoughtful criticisms of the ideas I expressed in the article.
On reflection, I have come to believe that I have perhaps made a rather significant error.
My error was ultimately that I approached the topic of nationalism as something requiring an affirmative defense, without first placing the burden of proof on the multicultural criticisms of nationalism.
In this post and its projected sequels, I would like to turn the tables and ask Can multiculturalism work? I will take pains to clarify my definitions and my reasoning for this question below. Let me say at the outset that my essential position is that a country requires a hegemonic, or dominant, culture to serve as the primary basis for national identity.
We might summarize this thesis as There must be hegemony. This position is broader than nationalism, for reasons I will again explain below. We might call it hegemonism, in order to contrast it with multiculturalism.
Now for a couple of important definitions, starting with nationalism:
I like these definitions, and I am going to run with them for the purposes of this article as I did with the last one. I am concerned both with “patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts,” and, where applicable, “advocacy of political independence for a particular country.” To be sure, nationalist feelings, like anything else, can become extreme, and neither this article nor its predecessor are endorsing “a feeling of superiority over other countries.”
By way of clarification, and to respond to some critics of the last article, being a nationalist does not mean being anti-capitalist. To be sure, one can be a nationalist and an anti-capitalist—a socialist or communist, even a national socialist—but these are not necessary properties of being a nationalist. They are also anathema to National Liberty, which is pro-market and pro-free enterprise. It is entirely possible to be both a nationalist, and someone who is in favor of the capitalist system of free markets and enterprise.
For that matter, one can be a nationalist and an a-unicornist, a disbeliever in unicorns; one can also be a nationalist and a unicornist, a believer in unicorns. One can also be something other than a nationalist—an anarcho-syndicalist, perhaps, or an anarcho-capitalist—and either a unicornist or an a-unicornist (although if you ask me, both the anarcho-syndicalist and the anarcho-capitalist are unicornists).
Nationalism, summarized, is a position of advocacy for a nation. One can pair this position with any of a range of other positions about how the nation should be governed: as a constitutional monarchy, a liberal democracy, a communist one-party state, a right-wing military government, etc.
In other words, nationalism is concerned with the identity, formation, independence, and interests of nations. It is not, in and of itself, concerned with the specific form that the government of nations should take.
In my previous article, I called for a liberty-oriented, Western Revivalist brand of nationalism, National Liberty. This was in no sense a call for an “ethno-state,” but rather an affirmation of national identity coupled with a pragmatic recognition of voting patterns in different demographics, and of course an advocacy for a pro-liberty position:
- Liberty Nationalism, or (better) National Liberty: This type of nationalism blends Western identitarianism and nationalism with a pro-liberty ethos. It emphasizes the Western identity of the nation and a reactionary, neo-traditional ethos as a prerequisite for individual liberty. For the national liberty adherent, the ‘nation’ is the coalition of the productive and the pro-Western.
I’m not going to excerpt the entire article, but feel free to check it out and let me know what you think.
Now, defining multiculturalism is a bit trickier. For the sake of transparency, here is the Googled dictionary definition, which does not capture what I am attempting to question in this article (more on this below):
I don’t have a problem with having distinct cultural groups in a country. Again, my position here is one of skepticism, not about having different cultural groups, but rather about not having a dominant culture associated with a particular demographic.
To be as clear and as fair as I can, therefore, my problem is not even with all multiculturalism, but rather with the multiculturalist ideology I see afoot on the Left. Not only does this ideology challenge the idea of a dominant or hegemonic culture, one which must necessarily have a historical and cultural association with a particular demographic, in many cases it is also hostile to it.
Again, in this article my main thesis is hegemonism. I am skeptical that any polity, any country that does away with some conception of a hegemonic culture, will be workable in the intermediate- to longer-term.
The idea of ‘workable’ admits more than a little subjectivity, so allow me to attempt to nail it down: I do not think that a ‘non-hegemonist,’ truly post-national country will be anything but a balkanized and fractious society. I suspect that its politics would either be a dysfunctional stew of ethnic- and/or -sectarian quarreling, or else an absolutist tyranny.
And, to be perfectly honest, I do not think any country will be capable in practice of entirely disregarding some conception of a dominant culture. To be sure, cultures can change, and cultural dominance is not necessarily the same thing as political/military dominance—consider the Hellenized Macedonians, or the Sinicized Manchu Qing Dynasty.
Statue of Alexander the Great, Thessaloniki, Greece
It is this stance that informs my skepticism of non-hegemonist (in practice, most likely anti-hegemonist) multiculturalism.
In my previous exploration of nationalism, I erred by not addressing the main contemporary challenger to nationalism, the creed of anti-hegemonist multiculturalism. There are valid critiques of nationalism, but the multiculturalist ideology has a much greater burden of proof: after all, even the largest and most cosmopolitan empires had a hegemonic culture, and most historical polities were far smaller and much more bounded by particular ethnic and cultural development.
The debate between nationalism and multiculturalism points to something deeper and more fundamental. Indeed, I am writing this article in part as a response to the lively, and very gratifying, debate sparked by its predecessor, but also in order to grapple with a problem which I perceive to be at the very heart of the Left-Right political divide.
Here’s the problem: why do leftists:
- believe themselves to be the party of “compassion” and “empathy,” notably as expressed through the welfare state, and 2) favor multiculturalism, internationalism, and mass migration from the Third World into the West? (Admittedly, this may be at least two problems).
Take a moment to think about that: why does the stereotypical “bleeding-heart liberal” favor welfarism, international aid organizations, mass migration, and multiculturalism, and why do they get away with defending this disposition as “compassionate” and “empathy?” What’s so ‘compassionate’ about multiculturalism?
Here I’ll note in passing that I had a rather amusing exchange with a leftist on an article of mine that criticized the recent caravan of illegal aliens from Central America. Apparently, wanting to keep illegal alien invaders out of one’s country means one is simply a White racist. Who knew? It’s not that this is the first time that a leftist has called me names; if anything, it’s a bit of a wonder it doesn’t happen more often. (It’s also extremely funny when it does happen).
But think about it: why isn’t the Right the party that is stereotyped as having a tendency to excessive compassion? After all, many of us love our countries and our people so much that we do not want them to be mobbed by criminals and freeloaders. No wonder we get attacked by heartless, hateful leftists when we try to express that very sentiment!
This leftist author, however, thinks leftists unfriend conservatives because conservatives are soulless monsters whose core policies include “hate for the poor,” “hate for immigrants,” “hate for blacks,” “hate for the LGBT community,” and “hate for women.” Is he correct? Are conservatives hateful, and liberals the Party of Compassion?
Of course, we all know why the Left is the Party of Compassion: leftists say they are the party of compassion, and they say so at length and with great conviction and consistency as they advocate for more of other people’s money to be spent on the objects of their compassion. This is our old friend the Empathy Worm , left-wing compassion trying to take even more of a bite out of right-wing pocketbooks.
Leftists say they are compassionate. Are they? In my own entirely anecdotal experience, many individual leftists do seem to be perfectly capable of compassion. On the other hand, anyone who is a veteran of the Culture War at this point most likely remembers various cases of doxing, de-platforming speakers, and punching Richard Spencer.
We are concerned here with the burden of proof, so I will contend that it is leftists who must bear the burden of proving, to my satisfaction, that their ‘compassionate multiculturalism’ is good and desirable.
And to be clear, I am combining liberal “compassion” with liberal multiculturalism and mass migration because leftists themselves combine the two. They consistently advocate multiculturalism and welfarism at home and internationalism and foreign aid abroad. The connection is rather an obvious one.
What I want, then, is for leftists to establish that Omni-Compassionate Welfarist Multiculturalism (if I may be permitted the cheeky formulation) can work, and will work better than some kind of hegemonist formulation.
I am certainly interested in arguments that Omni-Compassionate Welfarist Multiculturalism, or anti-hegemonist multiculturalism (so many neologisms!), is workable and better than my own formulation of National Liberty, which is essentially Integral Nationalism—nationalism with an ethnic, cultural, historical foundation—paired with a strong commitment to Western Revivalism and the liberty tradition.
However, even if you are unconvinced by National Liberty and find it about as appealing as a tire fire, I am still interested in arguments that it is better to disregard any and all sense of national identity. Even if your preferred vision is a social-democratic welfare state (shudder), why would such a state be better if it was post-national and lacked any true dominant culture?
This challenge is also aimed at conservatives who claim to oppose identity politics. If we import the Third World, will we be able to convert them to Lockean traditions of individualism, convince them to give up their cultures and assimilate, and vote Republican? What does the evidence tell you?
Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
To be sure, when I look at history, I find plenty of evidence for the idea that people of various ethnicities and cultures can get along can get along reasonably enough—provided there is a hegemonic culture. Achaemenid Persia, the Roman Empire, the Classical Islamic Caliphate, and the Ottoman Empire were all massively diverse, multi-ethnic empires, and every single one had a hegemonic power structure and dominant culture.
This is a point I want to reiterate here in order to save time and energy for all parties in the comments section. It is not true that diversity + proximity= conflict… if there is hegemony. Say whatever you will about the Ottoman Empire, the House of Osman managed to keep a vast swathe of diverse peoples from the Balkans to Yemen, from Iraq to Egypt to North Africa, firmly under their boot (yes, I fully acknowledge this was a matter of conquest and subjugation—when have empires been otherwise?) while allowing for official recognition of special rights for different religious communities. Of course, the Ottomans were also a formidable military power in their heyday, eminently capable of enforcing hegemony.
The Roman Empire is arguably a far better example, given the importance of Romanization and the extension of the citizenship to more and more subjects of the Empire. Not only did Roman culture and a sense of Roman-ness spread throughout the Empire, so too did a sense of Roman identity. The Antonine Constitution of 212 CE, an edict issued by the Emperor Aurelius Antoninus (Caracalla), “made all free men and women in the empire Roman citizens.”
Trevi Fountain, Rome, Italy
So, hegemonic cultures can dominate subordinate cultures through a variety of military, political, legal, and yes, sociocultural means. This much is hardly controversial.
It is also true that ethnic homogeneity is no panacea, no cure-all to guarantee success. Somalia is 85% Somali, while Haiti is 95% Afro-Haitian, meaning both countries have greater ethnic homogeneity than either the United States or Switzerland.
What I am deeply skeptical of is that one can have a functional, prosperous national society without a particular dominant culture pegged to some dominant group of people. To be perfectly clear, this is not simply a matter of ethnic identity: Lebanon Lebanon is officially 95% Arab, but has a rather sanguineous post-French Mandate history, with a bloody civil war between Christians and Muslims with broader regional ramifications and involvement from other powers.
I don’t find this at all difficult to understand. After all, Lebanon has a long history of being ruled by foreign imperial powers, from the Assyrians to the Ottomans (and briefly the French, of course).
Why should one expect Muslim and Christian communities to share a national identity? If anything, the notion that there should be a Lebanese national identity encompassing fractious Sunni Muslims, Shi’a Muslims, Maronite Catholic Christians, and smaller numbers of Greek Orthodox Christians, Greek Catholic Christians, and Druze seems to be far more questionable, and much more the thing at issue.
Lebanon is scarcely alone. Malaysia Malaysia has a longstanding history of tension between the majority native Malay population, and a substantial Chinese minority population which is generally more well-off. As a result, the Malaysian government has engaged in substantial affirmative action favoring the Malays. This state of affairs is certainly not terrible, but it is easy to see the argument that even with a dominant (Malay) culture, diversity is a source of conflict for Malaysia.
I’m no expert, but I’m given to the understanding that very-diverse Nigeria, demographically the largest country in Africa, has had the occasional ethnic and religious conflict or two. I’m pretty sure it is not alone in the African continent as an example of a post-colonial state wracked by ethnic violence. This too actually makes a great deal of sense, once one understands that a great many African states are the result of European colonial projects, with the “countries” that resulted having relatively little or nothing to do with traditional ethnic affiliations and loyalties.
Contemporary Africa is anything but monolithic, and different African states differ in the extent to which they have been able to fashion a successful national identity. Still, the argument has been made that one of the more salient determinants of the success of national identity versus ethnic identity has to do with "membership in a ‘core’ ethnic group, or Staatsvolk, and whether or not that group is in power."
Can you begin to see why someone might be skeptical of the proposition that it is a good thing for the United States, and perhaps other Western nations, to become officially multicultural and “post-national post-national?” It is not necessary to believe that Canada will become a Third World country if Trudeau’s branding of it as a “post-national” state goes unchallenged (and mercifully, this asinine rhetoric appears to be receiving some pushback appears to be receiving some pushback). It is only necessary to observe that successful nations generally seem to have some kind of core ethno-national identity.
Again, diversity is not the problem. Multiculturalism is only the problem when it takes the form of post-national, anti-hegemonist multiculturalism. I feel compelled to reiterate this because I can smell the potential for misunderstanding a mile away, and because it is genuinely worth reiterating.
The Achaemenids, the Romans, and the Ottomans all very obviously made diversity and multiculturalism work, precisely because they were willing to enforce a dominant power structure and identity.
What has changed? Why are some people so eager to believe in anti-hegemonist multiculturalism, seemingly against all available evidence? And what on earth does this have to do with leftist compassion? We’ll take these questions up a little later.
For all my skepticism, perhaps there are arguable examples of anti-hegemonist multicultural nations in which people of different groups live in relative harmony (I look forward to hearing all about them in the comments). Two questions:
- What is the basis for national identity, and
- Is there a demographically, politically, or at least culturally dominant group?
I have had lively and interesting Facebook conversations with liberal friends who have tried to tell me, with a perfectly straight face, that the United States is essentially a proposition nation, founded on ideas and the Constitution instead of ethnicity and culture. For these friends, all very intelligent, well-cultured people, notions of blood and soil are suspect.
How, exactly, can one have a nation that embraces certain ideas—certain propositions—without having a dominant culture that enshrines those ideas? This has been a running theme in many YouTube arguments arguments between Sargon of Akkad and pro-Identity YouTubers.
It’s also precisely why I’m suspicious of conservatives who argue for individualist values against the idea of a dominant culture and the concerns that I and many others have regarding the demographic situationdemographic situation in the West.
There are good sociological reasons for such skepticism. Consider Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory which posits that countries and their cultures can be evaluated on six dimensions, including the degree of collectivism. And yes, different cultures differ in the extent to which they recognize the rights or the primacy of the individual over the collective.
If you’re not convinced or impressed, take a look at 2016 voting patterns , and remember that the U.S. and most other White-majority nations in the West are expected to become non-White-majority (though Whites may retain plurality status) later this century.
I want to close by introducing a point which we will examine at much greater length next time: if there is anything to the Hegemonist Thesis that a polity must have a hegemonic culture to serve as the basis of national identity—in other words, if diversity + proximity requires hegemony to avoid conflict—then what does it say about Omni-Compassionate Welfarist Multiculturalism that it is attempting to deny reality? Can a doctrine that denies essential truths be regarded as in any way praiseworthy?
We’ve covered a fair bit of ground in this article, from defining our terms to discussing the central problem of Omni-Compassionate Welfarist Multiculturalism (also known as anti-hegemonist multiculturalism), which can be summarized as the Left’s claim to be the Party of Compassion—a claim which is somehow bound up with multiculturalism.