In a now-forgotten but prophetic essay, Peter Hitchens raised a question that has haunted me ever since I read it as a late teen. How easily were Anglo-American conservatives, who are characteristically prudential and realist, swayed in the internationalist endeavor of shaping the world after 2001 led by former Marxists turned neocon internationalists?
The wars against Islamism were not just punitive campaigns, but decades-long attempted reshaping of feudal societies. Peter’s assessment sounded conspiratorial then, but with the benefit of hindsight, looks formidable. The realignment and hijacking of conservatism by internationalists of all stripes started in Kosovo in 1999 under two transnational institutionalists, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.
“Kosovo was a war against something that proper socialists loathe — the idea of national sovereignty,” Hitchens wrote. “It was made acceptable by the sly transformation of Slobodan Milosevic from communist apparatchik (not very nice, but preferable in leftish eyes to Ronald Reagan) into ‘nationalist rightwinger’ (wholly bad). Those who had not fully come to terms with the meaning of Stalin’s or Mao’s millions of victims now proclaimed righteous outrage over Milosevic’s thousands.”
You see, the old dichotomy of left and right has been obsolete for quite some time. While the old left had nationalist factions as well as transnational utopian ones, conservatives, even when they preferred markets and individual rights, did not prefer them at the cost of national unity and social cohesion. The dichotomy is now between two groups: one, nationalists, whether right-wing or left (from Trump to Tulsi, for example) who believe in national borders and nation-states; the other is internationalists, who could be of any color—libertarians, neoconservatives, Trotskyists, liberals, or Islamists.
On that note, Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, ventured to answer some troublesome questions in his new book, “The Case for Nationalism.” Lowry makes an assertion that wouldn’t have been considered “problematic” up until 1993. The central argument is that nationalism shouldn’t be a dirty word, and while there are instances of nationalism turning ethnocentric, most of the crimes usually associated with nationalism are not due to nationalism at all, but to imperial transnationalism.
Nazism and Marxism were both transnational, imperial ideologies, and it was nationalists in Europe who wanted to be free of both (and want to be free of European Union). Otto von Bismarck was a nationalist who united modern Germany. Adolf Hitler was an imperial lunatic who wanted to cleanse Europe for Lebensraum. Giuseppe Mazzini, not Mussolini, according to Lowry, should therefore be held as the embodiment of nationalism.
The severe reaction to Lowry’s argument was probably expected, and severe it was. New York University’s student paper pulled an advertisement because the word “nationalism” might have “marginalized people of color.” Leftist blue-checks after blue-checks hinted and outright said Lowry is a racist, without any evidence whatsoever.
Media Matters, the activist blog infamous for cherrypicking, well, cherrypicked an interview and turned a complicated long argument into a quotable soundbyte to be tweeted and propagandized all over the internet for people who are too dumb or lazy to read the book themselves or think, understand, and argue. Foreign Affairs, the venerable journal that once published George Kennan’s seminal threat about the Soviet Union and the policy of containment, compared Lowry to a 1920s demagogue. One shudders to think what the current assessment of Kennan—a gloomy social-conservative skeptical of public opinion, mass democracy, and mass migration—would be among the liberal chatterati.
My point isn’t here to defend Lowry’s book; he is capable of doing so himself. In a way, he is fortunate: there’s still a nationalist-conservatism present and ascendant in the United States, and his book could be published. Here in the United Kingdom, the situation is bleaker.
Waving a Union flag, or worse, a St. George’s Cross banner, is considered an affliction of bigoted, xenophobic rubes; patriotism a working-class pastime or nostalgia. The enlightened elites prefer the Euro-Stars of international liberalism, or the red banner of international Marxism, or the rainbow flag (which is everywhere), even during the BBC proms, which is arguably a celebration of British history. At least America hasn’t suffered that fate—yet.
Lowry cites Teddy Roosevelt on assimilation in one of the strongest sections of the book. “We welcome the German or the Irishman who becomes an American,” he averred. “We have no use for the German or Irishman who remains such.”
He continued, “We believe that English, and no other language, is that in which all the school exercises should be conducted… He must revere,” he said of the immigrant, “only our flag; not only must it come first, but no other flag should even come second. He must learn to celebrate Washington’s birthday rather than that of the Queen or Kaiser, and the Fourth of July instead of St. Patrick’s Day,” a sentiment that goes back all the way to Alexander Hamilton.
As Hamilton said, “The safety of a republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment; on a uniformity of principles and habits…that love of country which will almost invariably be found to be closely connected with birth, education, and family.”
Left unsaid, and of a greater import, is what Lowry understood and hinted but did not elaborate. This reaction to his book, especially about his chapters on assimilation and social cohesion, was fully expected, and is a testament of the rot among the elites, and half his own side has given a pass on that.
Lowry mentions that historians have turned their backs on promoting a true and unifying history of the United States. The truth is, it is far worse than that, and it is not just historians, and not just the United States. The right has been losing the propaganda war, mostly due to their own faults.
Did it surprise Lowry that the elite journals, news media, and majority of academia are a self-referential circle that call racist and xenophobic anyone who supports nation-states and borders and social cohesion? No. He is aware of the threats, as he writes of historians, “The discipline became obsessed with microtopics dictated by identity politics, dismissive of the lay reader, and, of course, hostile to the nation as such.”
The idea that the West, especially the Anglosphere, is uniquely evil due to colonialism, racism, and imperialism is pure, unsubstantiated propaganda, propaganda created in the halls of elite academia and media, against which conservatives have been kneecapped by some from their own sides. Instead, one sees the revisionist 1619 Project as an effort to propagandize the entire American history.
Openly communist professors have tenured positions at U.S. universities. Critical neo-Marxist disciplines churn out foot-soldiers who then head to institutions and shape (infect, in their own words!) public opinion, and divide, atomize, and tribalism society even further. How to tackle this onslaught? The irony of history is that the arch-Republican Abraham Lincoln had to turn almost into a frothing reactionary to save the Union. Sometimes not just conservation, but a reaction is necessary.
The reality is that a benevolent, unifying nationalism, one that is not based on race, sex, class, or creed, or anything else but nationality, is the only unifying force and way forward for conservatives, in both the U.K. and United States. The resistance to nationalism comes from not just the far-left and neo-Marxists in media and academia, who are hostile to the very idea of the Western civilization, but even from libertarians and neo-liberals who much prefer the dogma of borderless movement of labor and capital, and continuation of trade with hostile rival great powers, even at the cost of the existence of borders, society, or nation.
For example, “some” libertarians and conservatives would instinctively oppose eliminating funding for activist departments at universities, even though most of the de-platforming campaigns are started by censorious activist professors, who control all the funding and scholarship programs. Yet shaping public opinion is crucial to the continuance of a common national story, and without a common national story, there can be no society or nation, as Lowry himself said in a speech.
As the editor of National Review, Lowry is one of the gatekeepers of the intellectual right not just in the United States, but across the Anglosphere. The vitriolic reaction to his book should be eye-opening for him, and everyone else, as to what the conservatives are up against.
Identifying the cancer is good, but actively tackling the cancer through effective policy is even more important. Unless conservatives can reclaim a positive nationalism, and chart a common national story, there won’t be any nation in the future. Lowry’s book is just a start.