Daily Archives: April 7, 2011

Nations and Empires

Robert Henderson

The longest lived empires in history, the Roman and the Ottoman, lasted approximately six hundred years; the Jews, a people long without a land and scattered to the four winds, are un-obliterated after two millennia of  persecution. Moral: empires  fall, but nations survive – perhaps the single most important lesson of history.

Nations  survive defeat,  enslavement and centuries  of oppressions. Empires may mutate as the Russian did from Tsarist to Soviet, but they cannot withstand successful conquest. Then they always die and stay dead.

Why are nations so stubbornly durable in contrast with empires?  The answer is simple: an empire is a political construct, but a nation is an expression of Man’s nature.  Where empires are held together by force or conscious self-interest, nations just exist, organic constructs which evolve  out of Man’s innate tendency to associate in discrete, clearly bounded groups.

The enlargement of human groups

Taking the evidence of history as a whole, it is reasonable to conclude that there is an inherent tendency within human society to attempt to create ever larger units of political authority. It is probably no more than the general tendency of organisms to maximise their position in Nature  by colonising as much territory as possible and then sustaining   the maximum population the territory will bear.

The fact that Man is a social animal with a high degree of self-awareness and intelligence makes human beings  unique as an organism.  These qualities allow Man to extend the group in ways which no other social animal can because the self-awareness  and intelligence permits a psychological enlargement as well as a material one – the advent of farming was of course necessary to allow the human population to expand and form  groups larger than the band or tribe. Nonetheless the process of group expansion is complex and fraught.

In a tribe of 500 it is easy to see how a sense of belonging and identity exists, because everyone will have a personal relationship of some sort with everyone else. In a group of 10,000 that is not possible in any meaningful sense. Nonetheless, in a group of 10,000 the individual can still be practically aware of the group, for example through public meetings. With a group of a million the relationship between the group members becomes intellectual rather than personal or practical. Man can create such an intellectual sense of belonging because he is self-conscious.

To create very large agglomerations of people who see themselves as part of a whole requires a core of values which are accepted by generality of the population. These values may be religious, as in the case of the mediaeval church or Islam. Then the sense of belonging is supranational, indeed supracultural. But such feelings have always bowed before the   demands of family, tribe, feudal lordship and nation. Hence the failure of the mediaeval church’s claim to supremacy; hence the mutual antipathy of many Muslim peoples throughout history.  National identity does not consist of clone like similitude, but it does require a sense of belonging, an instinctive recognition of those included  within  the   parameters of a national group.

The components of national identity

National identity is most commonly presented in terms of such banalities as “national dress” (often a mark of past servitude), food and crafts or in the more demanding but still narrow world of High Art.  Both are inadequate explanations because they touch only a small portion of human  existence.  To find the answer to a people’s national identity one must look to  their general culture which includes at its most sophisticated, science, technology,  politics,  education,  sport, history,  morals,  humour, language.

From the general culture comes what might be called the secondary human personality, which is developed by and is continually  developing the components of  culture.  By secondary personality I mean a nurtured  overlay on the innate personality. The range of basic human traits  –   aggressiveness,  placidity, timidity, extraversion and so forth – are universal.  But those qualities are the mere skeletons of minds. Above them stand the modifications of experience.  From  experience  develops  the  secondary personality. The social context of that experience and the   reflection  of  that experience through  the  secondary personality creates culture, is culture.

The importance of territory

The United Kingdom (UK) is a state really without parallel in the world. It has been a remarkably successful  political entity despite containing four distinct native peoples, the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish.

The UK has worked for Scotland, Wales and England for one simple reason, each people had a territory which they dominated. Scotland might be subject to an English dominated Parliament but a Scot could still live in a land where all about him were his fellow countrymen and women and the   administration  of  the practical government  which  he encountered was in the hands of Scots.

The one place where the UK did not work and does not work is Ireland,  the one part of the UK where there is a division between the native population and the product of large scale settlement from the British mainland.

There is a lesson from the UK experience.  Territory is what people care about most.

The advantages of homogeneity

To live in a homogenous society is a luxury for it removes the great cause of human friction, the clash of cultures.  

Perhaps most importantly, it allows a people to enjoy their own culture both by having ready access to it and by being allowed to celebrate it.

England probably became the prototype of the nation state because it was very homogenous for so long. It is noticeable that even with England’s example very few countries have been able to create anything approaching a true nation state. Those that have come close, such as the French or the Germans, have all shared a high degree of homogeneity.

The multicultural society

A multicultural society is by definition not a nation but an empire.

To live in a multicultural society is to be constantly assailed by considerations which simply do not arise in the homogenous society such as naturally segregated areas and their accompanying tensions.  Elites of course use the opportunity to act in an authoritarian manner but they also act from practical need.  Simply to maintain order, laws and their application must be more restrictive of personal liberty. That is particularly so in the case of free expression.  

Before the post-1945 immigration, Britain did not have any restrictions on free speech beyond those of libel, slander, obscenity and blasphemy (which was very rarely invoked). Now we have a raft of legislation which makes it an offence to incite racial discord, the interpretation of this being ever more narrowly interpreted. These impingements on personal liberty are entirely the result of mass immigration.

Citizens but not part of the nation

Despite the most strenuous propaganda efforts by liberals, everyone knows in their heart-of-hearts that  having the legal right to carry a passport and reside in a country does not make a person part of a nation.

Adult immigrants are plainly not part of the receiving nation because they lack the cultural imprinting which being brought up in a country gives. But being born and raised in a society does not automatically make a person part of the nation in the emotional sense if they belong to a minority group which sets itself apart from the majority.

The difference between legal nationality and belonging to a nation can be seen in the difference between England and Britain.

Britain is a blend of legal entity, geographical proximity, historical interaction  and a degree of fellow feeling deriving from (by now) shared values and experiences. But it  has always been a second order focus of loyalty, more legal construct than emotional reality.

The essentially legal nature of Britishness was shown rapidly after the votes on devolution occurred. Not only did the Scots and  Welsh  become much less likely to refer to themselves as British, the English, who had long used British as a synonym for English,  soon began to refer to themselves as English rather than British. Claiming to be British suddenly seemed anachronistic. Ironically, and pathetically, the only parts of the population who continue to commonly describe themselves as British are the  Northern Irish  Protestants and the various ethnic minorities.

The fact that the ethnic minorities in Britain almost invariably describe themselves as something other  than English, Scots, Welsh or Irish is very telling.  Although they use British frequently it is rarely un-hyphenated. Rather we find black-British, Asian-British or more specific  constructions such as Chinese-British. Alternatively, they may use a description such as British Muslim.  The  native peoples of Britain have never hyphenated their Britishness.

But many of the ethnic minorities in Britain are even more removed from the native population than that.  They commonly describe themselves as black, Asian, Indian, Bangladeshi, Jamaican Afro-Caribbean, Nigerian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh or any other racial, national or cultural distinction you care to name.

Nor  are these terms confined to common usage. The 2001 census form offered choices such as Black British, while groups supposedly representing this or that ethnic group commonly  describe  themselves  as  “black”,  “Asian”, “Bangladeshi” and so on, for example, the Association of  Black Police Officers. These groups are recognised by the  government and  not infrequently funded by them.  The principle of multiculturalism has become institutionalised in Britain.

The future

A true nation is a precious thing as a cultural artefact. A nation which forms itself into a true  state is doubly blessed because it is the most effective means of allowing  men to live in security with a minimum of strife. Only a fool would throw away such a luxury.

Much as liberal internationalists would like to imagine that nationality can be put on and taken off as easily as an overcoat. Rather,  it is an adamantine part of being human for it is the tribe writ very large.  Men need have a sense of belonging. Remove their opportunity to feel part of a “tribe” and they will be disorientated.

With ever increasing frequency,  individuals are granted legal status as a citizen or national of a country without being part of the nation. But the process is not even. Countries of the Third World have little immigration – and indeed generally discourage it – while the West is besieged with incomers both illegal and legal.

The greater racial and cultural difference in a state the more it resembles an empire. The more it resembles an empire the greater the risk of civil war and the dissolution of the state.  That is what we in Britain and the rest of the developed world ultimately face, the dissolution of our states and the loss of control of our respective homelands.

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