Like I know how to run a nation. As usual, more or less thinking out loud, given the insanity that is current politics. Seem there are a few obvious points:
- To have a nation in the first place, the people in it must recognize some overarching interests they hold in common with everyone else in the nation.
Overarching in the sense that this common interest can be used to settle the inevitable disputes. Or, put the other way around, when there is no recognized interest that can be appealed to that everyone agrees is more important than the dispute to be settled, you don’t have a nation, or soon won’t. The obvious case would be the Civil War: the appeal to national unity itself was not enough, and this appeal was only made when appeals to God and His Justice had failed. Much of the South was willing to risk the judgement of God on slavery, and saw national unity as something already defeated as an overarching interest in the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.
Not for one moment am I denying how messy and full of passion, intrigue and deceit the run up to the Civil War was, but, even given all that, division became inevitable once the appeal to unity, which is an appeal to shared interests, lost its power.
I am here following my understanding of Orestes Brownson. That shared interest, or set of interests, is what is meant by a commonwealth or republic. In a nation that long survives, the Pilgrim’s feet, patriot dreams and alabaster cities count much more than the amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties – the shared history, goals and dreams much more than the shared physical place.
You can run an empire in which group A has nothing in common with group B, and so on, but an empire isn’t a nation. To run an empire, you must first realize that that’s what you’ve got: a collection of peoples, perhaps of nations, who would not be united except by the empire imposed on them. Empires have often, all things considered, been pretty acceptable arrangements for the people in them. But an empire is not a nation, and must be imposed. A nation must be formed by the people in it.
- Some assumptions and ideas support a nation, while others destroy it. No nation can long exist unless the first dominate or eliminate the second.
Loyalty, patriotism, and a sense that everyone has a duty to obey the law are some ideas that can support a nation. Their opposites – treason, the idea one is a citizen of the world before a citizen of his nation or that citizenship is to be despised, and the rejection of the idea breaking the law is a serious matter with serious consequences – these work for a nation’s destruction.
The Protestant Christianity that was assumed by the American founders and patriots is empirically able to support a nation, at least for a while. The nation itself, at least according to Brownson’s argument, came into being once the colonists recognized that they shared both overarching interests in freedom and self-determination, as well as a contiguous territory, language, and history. They shared a vision of a future as a nation, and a willingness to fight and die for that the nation might continue.
Of course, as many have pointed out, the seeds of destruction were there as well: radical individualism, tissue-thin Enlightenment assumptions about human nature, and slavery. Blank slates call for someone to write on them – the line of volunteers has gotten long. And how can it be said an individual who is nothing but a void to be filled has inalienable rights? Squaring slavery with Protestantism was difficult, to say the least, and should have been far more difficult. These threads, and the battles fought over them, are playing out today.
- Nations, if the term means anything, have the right and duty to reinforce those ideas and assumptions that are needed for its survival.
A nation shoots its traitors, deports those who express hatred for it, and brings the force of the law down hard on scofflaws. Of course, a nation should not pass laws that are unlikely to be obeyed or it is unwilling or unable to enforce. Machiavelli observed that a wise prince never gives an order unless he knows it will be obeyed, lest he come to be held in contempt by the people. Similarly, when a nation passes Prohibition or refuses to enforce its immigration laws, not just drink and illegal aliens are at issue, bit the very duty to obey *any* law.
- If taken seriously, Marxist internationalism is an idea a nation has a right and duty to suppress.
No nation can tolerate a movement whose goal is the destruction of the nation. Most attention, it seems to me, is focused on the real-world outcomes of Marxism – totalitarianism, economic collapse, mass murder – but, even apart from the historical record, a nation must criminalize efforts to destroy it. That is the very definition of treason.
Yet this is all but the official position, and is taught in virtually all classrooms, in virtually all universities in America today.
- There is no formal nation without borders.
It is not just a question of physical borders, although they are indispensable. It is also a question of citizens’ duty to protect the commonwealth. Reject the commonwealth, reject the nation. People can be physically in the nation without supporting the commonwealth of shared history, goals and dreams and the assumptions that underlie and support them. If you look at traditional steps naturalized citizens go through, you see the care given to inculcating these immaterial things as a condition for citizenship. Physical presence was not enough.
Back in the latter half of the 19th and first part of the 20th century, a significant number of bomb-throwing anarchists, mostly Germans, it seems, made it to America. Whether or not they committed any other crimes, the mere fact that they rejected the idea of our nation, or nations in general, made them invaders, not immigrants.
I didn’t watch the debates, as they have never been more than political theater, just a bunch politicians jockeying to unload their soundbites, for my entire adult life. But having read a little about what’s going down, it seems we’re in for a bumpy ride.