Modern Nationalism, the Masses & the Democracy of the Dead

(from "Revolt Against The Modern World")





From what has been said previously it is possible to see that in modem society the opposite direction is prevailing, that is, the direction of regress toward the collective rather than progress toward the universal, with the single individual becoming increasingly unable to have a meaning other than as a function of something in which he ceases to have a personality. This becomes increasingly evident as the world of the Fourth Estate approaches. Thus, modern nationalism may be regarded as at best a transition phase.


It is necessary to distinguish between nationality and nationalism. The Middle Ages knew nationalities but not nationalisms. Nationality is a natural factor that encompasses a certain group of common elementary characteristics that are retained both in the hierarchical differentiation and in the hierarchical participation, which they do not oppose. Therefore, during the Middle Ages, castes, social bodies, and orders were articulated within various nationalities, and while the types of the warrior, noble, merchant, and artisan conformed to the characteristics of this or of that nation, these articulations represented at the same time wider, international units. Hence, the possibility for the members of the same caste who came from different nations to understand each other better than the members of different castes within the same nation.


Modem nationalism represents, with regard to this, a movement in the opposite direction. Modem nationalism is not based on a natural unity, but on an artificial and centralizing one. The need for this type of unity was increasingly felt at the same time as the natural and healthy sense of nationality was lost and as individuals approached the state of pure quantity, of being merely the masses, after every authentic tradition and qualitative articulation was destroyed. Nationalism acts upon these masses through myths and suggestions that are likely to galvanize them, awaken elementary instincts in them, flatter them with the perspectives and fancies of supremacy, exclusivism, and power. Regardless of its myths, the substance of modem nationalism is not an ethnos but a demos, and its prototype always remains the plebeian one produced by the French Revolution.


This is why nationalism has a double face. It accentuates and elevates to the state of absolute value a particularistic principle; therefore, the possibilities of mutual understanding and cooperation between nations are reduced to a bare minimum, without even considering the forms of leveling guaranteed by modem civilization. What seems to continue here is the same tendency through which the arising of national states corresponded to the disintegration of the European ecumene. It is well known that in Europe during the nineteenth century, nationalism was synonymous with revolution and acted in the precise sense of a dissolution of the surviving supernational organisms and a weakening of the political principle of "legitimate" sovereignty in the traditional sense of the word. Yet, when considering the relationships between the whole and the single individual as personality, what emerges in nationalism is an opposite aspect, namely, the cumulative and collectivizing element. In the context of modem nationalism what emerges is the previously mentioned inversion; the nation, the homeland, becomes the primary element in terms of being a self-subsisting entity that requires from the individual belonging to it an unconditional dedication, as if it were a moral and not merely a natural and "political" entity. Even culture stops being the support for the formation and elevation of the person and becomes essentially relevant only by virtue of its national character. Thus in the most radical forms of nationalism, the liberal ideal and the ideal of "neutral culture" undergo a crisis and are regarded with suspicion, though from the opposite perspective to the one in which liberalism and the neutral, secular, and apolitical culture appeared as a degeneration or as a crumbling in comparison to previous organic civilizations.


Even when nationalism speaks of "tradition," it has nothing to do with what used to go by that name in ancient civilizations; it is rather a myth or fictitious continuity based on a minimum common denominator that consists in the mere belonging to a given group. Through the concept of "tradition," nationalism aims at consolidating a collective dimension by placing behind the individual the mythical, deified, and collectivized unity of all those who preceded him. In this sense, Chesterton was right to call this type of tradition "the democracy of the dead." Here the dimension of transcendence, or of what is superior to history, is totally lacking.


According to these aspects, it can be said that modem nationalism on the one hand confirms the renunciation of the pursuit of the upwards-oriented direction and the unification through what is supernatural and potentially universal, while on the other hand it distinguishes itself only by virtue of a mere difference of degree from the anonymity proper to the ideal of the Fourth Estate with its "Internationals," bent, as a matter of principle, on perverting every notion of homeland and of the national state. In reality, wherever the people have become sovereign and the king or the leader is no longer considered as being "from above," or to be ruling "by God's grace," but instead "by the will of the nation" (even where the expression "to rule by God's grace" has been preserved, it amounts to an empty formula) - it is precisely at this point that the abyss that separates a political organism of a traditional type from communism is virtually overcome - the fracture has occurred, all the values have shifted and been turned upside down; at this point one can only wait for the final stage to be ushered in. Thus, it is more than for mere tactical purposes that the leaders of world subversion in the last form, as it has been embodied in Soviet communism, have as their main goal the excitement, nourishing, and supporting of nationalism even where nationalism, by virtue of being anticommunist, should at least in principle turn against them. They see far away, just like those who employed nationalism for their own purposes during the early revolution (i.e., liberalism) when they said "nation" but really meant "antitradition" or the denial of the principle of true sovereignty. They recognize the collective potential of nationalism, which beyond contingent antitheses will finally dispose of the organisms that it controls.


Hence, the difference in degree between nationalism and the tendencies of a democratic and communitarian character that oppose the forces of particularism and spirit of division inherent in nationalism. In these tendencies the regressive phenomenon that is at the foundation of modem nationalism is also visible; at work in it is the impulse toward a wider agglomerate, leveled on a global scale. As Julian Benda said, the last perspective is that humanity, and not just a fraction of it, will take itself as the object of its cult. There is today a trend toward universal brotherhood; this brotherhood, far from abolishing the nationalist spirit and its particularisms and pride, will eventually become its supreme form, as the nation will be called Man and God will be regarded either as an enemy (1) or as an "inoperative fiction." When mankind becomes unified in an immense enterprise and accustomed to organized production, technology, division of labor, and "prosperity," despising any free activity oriented to transcendence, it will achieve what in similar currents is conceived as the ultimate goal of the true civilizing effort.


(1) Proudhon had already declared that the true remedy does not consist in identifying mankind with God, but in proving that God, if he exists, is mankind’s sworn enemy.


One final consideration concerning modem nationalism: while on the one hand it corresponds to a construction and an artificial entity, on the other hand, through the power of the myths and the confusing ideas that are evoked in order to hold together and galvanize a given human group, this entity remains open to influences that make it act according to the general plan of subversion. Modem nationalisms, with their intransigence, blind egoism and crude will to power, their antagonisms, social unrest and the wars they have generated have truly been the instruments for the completion of a destructive process: the shift from the age of the Third Estate to that of the Fourth Estate; in so doing they have dug their own graves.





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