Michael Brendan Dougherty: “Confiscating the Nation”

Writing in NR (of all places), Michael Brendan Dougherty has a rather bold piece titled “Confiscating the Nation”. The opening salvo:

If post-nationalists succeed in deconstructing national loyalties, they will find that loyalties based on blood or creed come roaring back.

Wow. I wasn’t expecting that in NR.

Responding to the recent, inane, NYT video-journalism (lol) piece about how “National identity is made up”, Dougherty writes:

After a brief introduction, the New York Times narrator comes to his point. “If you think about it, nationality is weird. The idea that you identify with millions of strangers just based on borders. That’s because national identity is made up” (emphasis mine).

He goes on to explain: “National identity is the myth that built the modern world, but it also primes us for dictatorship, racism, genocide.” Those last three words are accompanied by pictures of North Korea, the tiki-torch rally at Charlottesville, and a rally in Nazi Germany. The narrator continues: “Today we’re fighting over whether to keep that kind of national identity. To understand why, you have to know how new this idea is.”…

Our narrator points to France and says that even as late as the French Revolution, nearly half the people in French territory didn’t speak French. You have Breton, and Occitan, and a few others. “Just a patchwork that didn’t line up with borders,” he says, “We know from modern genetics that ethnicity didn’t line up with borders either.” You may have noticed that he’s leaning heavily on borders.

Dougherty defends the concept of ‘nationalism’, albeit a deracinated nationalism. He largely skips over, or minimizes, the critical (perhaps central) role that ethnicity plays in binding the sense of nationalism in a given time and place.

Still, that something like this is appearing in the pages of the preeminent Cuckservative magazine is, I suppose, a good thing:

Nationalism as a political movement was also what made democracy possible; it helped to overthrow ancient monarchies that routinely bequeathed nations with foreign rulers who just happened to inherit the chair. Further, national identity helped to create the social trust necessary to institute massive social-welfare systems. We might also note that while the Nazis made use of national loyalty, so too did the Poles, the French, the British, and the Americans who resisted and defeated the Nazi regime. And they could not have defeated the Nazis without that loyalty…

What the authors of “The Interpreter” have done is discovered that the concept of national identity cannot be reduced down to simple mathematical relationships. Because national identity assumes into itself facts that derive from social interaction and history, the explainer concludes that it is a myth. It isn’t real. It’s just made up. Of course, lots of things that you can study have these properties: languages are “made up” in this way. They change over time. Their uses vary in history and social context. English shows evidence of assimilating Latin, French, and Greek vocabulary over its life. It is conditioned by history. But it would be stupid to say that English is somehow unreal. N’est-ce pas?

The “Interpreter” authors have lots of other tricks. They completely elide the difference between national identity and modern nationalism as a political movement, giving both the late birthdate of the latter. Nationality is an ancient concept, going back to antiquity. It is a major theme throughout the Biblical narrative.

The jargon or the slick graphics have to be deployed, because if you actually reduced their explainer down to the core elements, it would be laughed out of the room. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I know you think England is a real thing. And Englishness, too. But I’m here to inform you that people in Cornwall were speaking Cornish well into the reign of Queen Victoria! Your so-called England is a hoax!”

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