In a rally, President Trump declared himself a nationalist — and out came the sciolists to traffic in the bugaboos of “Hitler” and his “Nazis.”
But why is nationalism so despised? The answer is two-fold: Ignorance of history and promotion of Leftist ideology. Whatever Hitlerism was, it was not nationalism.
When facts were still wedded to truth, nationalism meant the American, French, Serbian Revolutions, the Krakow Uprising, the Chartist Movement, the Spring of Nations of 1848 (from which the tragic “Arab Spring” derived its name) and the Praieira Revolt (to name just a few).
Nationalism explained the sacrifice of men like Mazzini, Fickler, Stephan Born, Mierosławski, Monrad, Krieger, Kossuth, Garibaldi, José Hilario López and Herbert Macaulay (again, to name just a few). The recent “Gilet Jaune” protests in Belgium and France are the latest manifestation of this historical nationalism.
Such is the context that President Trump evokes (wittingly or unwittingly). Whether he can properly harness the potency of this ideal is another matter. Nationalism, therefore, is the people’s demand and hard struggle for freedom against the forces of hegemony.
It is a spontaneous revolution (hence the associated term, “populism,” or the will of the people). How such revolutionary striving can now be mocked as traitorous reveals our sad slavery to ignorance; so much so that falsehoods are permitted to construct the world we must inhabit.
The Hungarian populist poet, Sándor Petőfi, gave the best definition of nationalism, in one of his verses: “Liberty and love, these I must have. For my love, I will sacrifice my life. For liberty, I will sacrifice my love.”
Nationalism was the consequence of 19th-century romanticism, proclaiming a unity of spirit among those living in a nation – and a nation, as Ernest Renan noted, is about the soul. In other words, nationalism was, and is, about the progress of the human spirit toward liberty.
Those that now say nationalism is akin to racism parrot a heresy contrived by academics, who, as “experts,” sought to explain the Holocaust — for how could a prosperous nation like Germany unleash such barbarity? Nationalism was manipulated to mean Hitlerism (pride in being German was the root cause).
This Leftist view (in which disaster happens whenever societies lose sight of economics) became “settled” history, which is a tautology – nationalism will lead to Hitlerism because nationalism is Hitlerism.
But such weak-mindedness befits our age, where materialism determines all aspects of life (including what remains of the religious), and evil is nothing more than some economic foible (the search for “root causes”).
Thus, the sophisticated homo economicus can mock “nationalists” as the great unwashed who cannot manage the complexity of the modern world (per Edward Mansfield, Jack Snyder and Stephen Van Evera).
American history further contextualizes President Trump’s self-identification in the New Nationalism of Teddy Roosevelt, which continued revolutionary populism by advocating universal human rights, women’s suffrage, and the end to the control of politics by corporate interest groups (an unachieved ideal still).
In 1912, Roosevelt described the New Nationalism in this way:
We must have — I believe we have already – a genuine and permanent moral awakening, without which no wisdom of legislation or administration really means anything; and, on the other hand, we must try to secure the social and economic legislation without which any improvement due to purely moral agitation is necessarily evanescent.
Nationalism is the piety of a nation striving for truth – for it explains why a nation should continue to exist.
Thus, the mockers are Philistines, who know how to destroy but can never build, for they are blind to human destiny, which is grounded in history and liberty. Yeats describes present-day sciolists perfectly in his poem, “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”:
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole…
Talked of honor and of truth,
Shriek with pleasure if we show
The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth…
Traffic in mockery.
Since the human thirst for liberty is never slaked, it is plain to see to whom belongs the future. Were that we all strove to embody the piety of true nationalists who built a world that many now want to unravel.
Nirmal Dass is an author and former university professor specializing in the Early and High Middle Ages. His areas of research are philosophy, history and ancient languages.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.