The Clare Spark Blog

March 30, 2014

What makes America strong?

self-reliance2Fox News Channel has been playing a documentary all weekend (March 28-30, 2014) on the subject of America’s surrender to permanent [leading from behind]. It ended, however, in a strongly optimistic note from neocon Charles Krauthammer, who predicted that getting our act together would reverse what appears to be decline and even doom.

This blog reviews the sources of “American” strength, and makes the case that it is our intellectual and cultural diversity that constitutes “American exceptionalism.” In other words, the protections afforded by the First Amendment to the Constitution were not only unique in world history, but continue to protect us against authoritarian forces of every type—but only if we make the effort.

It is possibly the case that our species tends toward the tribal and the local over the utopian notion of international unification, as expressed in the rhetoric of “international community” that demonstrably does not exist, and probably will never exist. The Left wants us to believe that the WASP elite that emerged after the Civil War, forcibly “Americanized” immigrants to a form of buccaneering capitalism that deracinated them, throwing over all ancestral cultural ties in order to conform to a murderous and immoral “system” run by extreme white supremacists. Why is this argument repeated over and over in interdisciplinary studies in the humanities and in school textbooks? The red specter still lives in fervid imaginations.

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Oddly, multiculturalism or “ethnopluralism” was advanced by progressives as an antidote to claims of proletarian internationalism asserted by leftists from the late 19th century onward, and even before the Soviet coup of 1917. That story has been repeated over and over on this website. I view it as a greater threat to national unity than any other single factor.

Liberal nationalism versus conservative nationalism. In past blogs, I have contrasted the German Idealist notion of national character with classical liberal notions of the relatively autonomous individual. The Germans followed Herder’s notion of the rooted cosmopolitan, a notion that led to Wilsonian internationalism and more recently, the United Nations.

Conservative nationalism entails control over specific territories, staking its claims with arguments of blood and soil. Geopolitics emphasizes fights over borders and possession of the land since time out of mind. Blood and soil nationalism is collectivist in its vocabulary, even though the territory claimed contains wildly different populations with respect to world-views and ideologies. Thus “post-colonialist” scholars and pundits use the vocabulary of Pan-Africanism, Pan-Arabism, etc. and deem “the West” as scheming totalitarians and exploiters of lands and resources that were conquered through militarism, and its handmaidens of science and technology.

Liberal nationalism is a child of the Enlightenment, and was not invented by the Progressive movement that emerged in America during the early 20th century. It was best articulated by the modernizing Senator Charles Sumner who saw the State as limited in scope. The American government was above all a collection of individuals seeking safety from foreign invaders, and possessed of equal rights under the law. The human rights of individuals come out of this Enlightenment tradition. The “human rights” of groups come out of Herder, the mis-named German Enlightenment, and lead into organic conservative and reactionary directions. Social democrats do not fret over this distinction, but promiscuously resort to collectivist statements such as “the people” whom they pretend to defend with their lives and reputations (see https://clarespark.com/2012/11/09/race-and-the-problem-of-inclusion/). Similarly, they have co-opted the language of classical liberalism, deeming their opponents to be termites eating at the foundation of the “republic.”

I view social democrats (today’s “liberals”) as reactionaries, and the source of American division and decline. “America” taken as a collective entity, should always be viewed as a collection of diverse individuals, whether these be conformists, rootless cosmopolitans, or alienated artists.

It is the notion of the unique, irreplaceable, seeking individual, educated to self-reliance and free to choose among competing beliefs, that is the true and only source of American strength and viability in the future decades. To deny this, and to give in to fantasies of decline and apocalypse, is to abandon our children and our ancestors too.

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December 15, 2011

Gingrich and the socially-constructed “nation state”

Ferdinand Toennies, German sociologist

A discussion has opened up on a Humanities-Net discussion group, “ The History of Antisemitism, “ regarding Newt Gingrich’s remark on a cable channel (“the Jewish Channel”) that “the Palestinians are an invented people.”  Liberals and leftists in the group associate such a remark with the far right. This blog seeks to historicize the notion of the nation state, arguing that each has a distinct history and that nation-states cannot be lumped together as all being “socially constructed”  as one list member has argued.

“The nation-state” has long been a target of both revolutionary socialists and social democrats, who both prefer some form of internationalism (either proletarian or Wilsonian); think of Marxist Benedict Anderson’s “imagined communities” or, in the liberal camp, the advocates for the League of Nations, then the United Nations. But the British Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote famously about the distinction between conservative nationalism and liberal nationalism. The latter, he wrote, allowed for the progressive ascension of movements against arbitrary privilege, while conservative nationalism was solely about the control of territory and resources. Ferdinand Toennies, writing in the late 19th century, made a similar distinction when he contrasted Gemeinschaft with Gesellschaft.*

Sadly, it has been the fashion of the post-1960s academy to support Gemeinschaft (an irrationalist racialist discourse denying individuality) against the more rational Gesellschaft (a rational state based upon equality before the law, and susceptible to adjustment and revision; viewing societies as collections of individuals, not races). Hence, the reign of identity politics since the New Left takeover of the humanities, with its “multicultural” emphasis on the constructed category of “race” as against objective class and gender interests. (See my blog https://clarespark.com/2009/12/18/assimilation-and-citizenship-in-a-democratic-republic/.)

As for Israel, its origin is grounded in a mixture of factors that is very confusing to the uninformed. To say that it was simply like other recent nation-states, i.e., socially constructed, is inaccurate and reductive. Many persons on both Left and Right would argue for historicizing each nation state, without subsuming them under one overarching epistemology. Gingrich was accurate about the invention of the Palestinians as a distinct people, but it was tactless of him to make that claim, as most Palestinians are likely, in this time, to be convinced of their peoplehood, and that is the diplomatic situation facing us.  Other conservatives, Charles Krauthammer for one, have made this precise point and are distressed that Gingrich said what he did; but recall that Gingrich was speaking on the Jewish cable channel, and obviously hoping to get “Jewish” votes (https://clarespark.com/2011/06/17/the-famed-jewish-vote/), positioning himself against the current administration that has been openly hostile to Israel’s current government, and apparently ignorant of the history of the region.

* See Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Civil Society, ed. Jose Harris, transl. Jose Harris and Margaret Hollis (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. Originally published in 1887, Tönnies’s book is considered to be a classic work of sociology, but not until after the first world war (xxviii-xxviii) was it canonized. At first seen as a “communist tract,” it was taken up by German “ultra-nationalists,” and in America during the 1930s was read as “an essay in consensual structural functionalism.” The editor of this edition seems favorably disposed to this elusive and mysterious work. Tönnies was the son of a merchant banker, and given his hostility to modernity, one wonders how much of his disgust with the modern world was intertwined with his feelings about his father. In 1892 he “helped found Society for Ethical Culture, the vehicle for his life-long involvement in various co-operative, social reform, and self-improvement movements.” (xxxi-xxxii)

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