The Clare Spark Blog

July 20, 2014

“National character”: does it exist?

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:33 pm
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nationalcharacterOne of the worst habits of journalists and academics is to refer to countries or regions as if they were one individual, all virtuous or all evil, depending on the author: hence “America” or “Germany” or “the South” as opposed, say, to the real material and ideological divisions in a particular country or region, and to individual differences and variations within those divisions. The same goes for class stereotypes, such as “bourgeois” or “working class.”

The omnipresent “multiculturalists” try to correct this habit of personifying nations, by pointing to the need for “inclusiveness” in societies characterized by “diversity”. But they don’t mean that individuals count for anything, for their discourse is collectivist, whether applied to countries or classes. Thus American blacks, for instance, have group character that is incomprehensible to other groups (especially white people), unless they are “people of color” who know the White Man’s nasty habits. If the [dominant culture] is “good” (i.e., anti-racist) it will practice “toleration” and give a leg up to “people of color” through various state-imposed programs such as affirmative action or immigration reform. Since the multiculturalists control the dominant discourses, their opponents are ipso facto “racists.”

So don’t expect a revival of the [evil] melting pot, as that was a bourgeois, culture-crushing imposition on its victims. No, we will devolve into a society of grouplets, each with its own “group facts.”

This social theory we owe to German Romanticism, that was then revived in the 20th century, particularly by the “ethno-pluralists” of the New Deal in the 1930s and 1940s, trying to explain Nazism. (See https://clarespark.com/2010/07/20/german-romantic-predecessors-to-multiculturalism/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/04/12/multiculturalismethnopluralism-in-the-mid-20th-century/. Hayek was up against this tradition in all his books: see https://clarespark.com/2010/10/09/david-riesman-v-friedrich-hayek/.

Ukrainian souvenirs

Ukrainian souvenirs

Is there anything, then, to this notion of “national character”? It comes down to this: either we have a collectivist discourse or we look at individual differences and deviations from imputed group character. There are numerous scholars who believe that “traditions” create national character. For instance, all native born Brits are stoic, all Frenchmen and other Latins are sensualists, while for many Marxist-Leninists, the working class has its own group character, which is pure and hell bent for revolution under the benign guidance of bureaucratic centralists and dialectical materialism.

In my view, we pursue such easy classification at our peril.

John Bull

John Bull

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