The Empire of Nothing vs. the Historic American NationRobert Hampton
Is America a nation or an empire?
That was the question posed last month by The Week’s conservative writer, Matthew Walther. Walther argues that America fails to satisfy the basic criteria for a nation:
The United States is not what the New Oxford American Dictionary defines as “a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory.” We have no language of our own, though it is mostly thanks to our power and influence that English has become a lingua franca. We have no national literature that compares to that of France or England but rather a succession of regional literatures that have all been displaced first by Hollywood, then by the internet. We have invented various art forms – popular music, the cinema – that have transcended our borders. We have no national cuisine, no folk art, no customs that transcend racial and regional divisions that in some date beyond 1776. Practically the only worthwhile things that were and have remained more or less uniquely and indubitably American are jazz and college football.
The Catholic conservative sees his country as an empire rather than a nation. He chides conservative nationalists for “clinging to myths about an American nation instead of admitting the reality of American empire.”
With an imperial idea in mind, Walther proposes some spectacular ventures for America. He believes the proper response to the immigration crisis is to take the Monroe Doctrine to the extreme and “liberate” the Americas. He also argues that there’s no point in assimilation “because Americans are, by definition, cosmopolitans, citizens of the world like Alexander the Great.”
The column may have been merely an exercise in contrarianism, but it did inspire thoughts in New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat. “America is presently too diverse and polarized and deracinated to enjoy the virtues of nationhood, and yet also too homogenized and centralized to live happily as a pluralistic empire,” Douthat tweeted.
He argues that Donald Trump’s nationalist vision of America is “sixty years out of date” and a new view is needed. But Douthat is unsure whether this new vision would call for a new national identity or simply manage a deracinated, multicultural continent. He believes managing a pluralistic society may be foolhardy and hopes a Charles de Gaulle will rise and unite the divided nation.
In a May column, Douthat praised de Gaulle for advancing a “more inclusive nationalism – one that would lionize the military heroes of the ancien régime and the generals of the revolutionary period equally, let Joan of Arc live beside Marianne, and enable Paris’s jostling, rivalrous monuments, Catholic and Bourbon and Republican and Bonapartist, to share the city rather than dividing it.”
The Times columnist believes an American statesman could advance a similar vision. This nationalism would incorporate the heroes and symbols of all the nation’s tribes and somehow unify them as one people.
This is a bad take.
De Gaulle united Frenchmen of different political persuasions, but they were still French. De Gaulle himself opposed his nation turning into a multiracial state. The French President said in 1959:
It is very good that there are yellow French, black French, brown French. They show that France is open to all races and has a universal vocation. But [it is good] on condition that they remain a small minority. Otherwise, France would no longer be France. We are still primarily a European people of the white race, Greek and Latin culture, and the Christian religion,” the French president said in 1959. . . . Those who advocate integration have the brain of a hummingbird. Try to mix oil and vinegar. Shake the bottle. After a second, they will separate again.
That’s not the inclusive nationalism Douthat envisions. Douthat also fails to understand what divides Americans. We’re not divided by different interpretations of the Revolution; we’re primarily divided by race. Unlike mid-century France, America is multicultural and multiracial.
What can unite these groups?
Douthat doesn’t have any real suggestions. Most minority groups can unite against the historic American nation, but that doesn’t sound like Douthat’s Gaullism. If the country stays on course, it will resemble an empire more than a nation. But it won’t be very pluralistic or have a grand vision. Jack Donovan captured this entity’s essence with the term “Empire of Nothing.” In Becoming a Barbarian, he wrote:
Despite the heavy-handed subterfuges of “multiculturalism” and “diversity is our strength,” the underlying reality is that within a few generations, any living culture will dissolve into an innocuous and half-remembered “cultural heritage” and the descendants of separate and even intransigent groups will become interchangeable consumers, voters, and employees. If they don’t, they’ll end up prisoners, and that also suits the empire of nothing.
Some like to think that if America is an empire, we could be something cool, like the Habsburgs were. A grand dynasty could rule over the lands and we could strive for monumental achievements. We would all be united by our regime, with its proud heritage and magisterial style. Douthat himself is guilty of this fantasy. He wishes a “multiracial, multicultural” Catholic aristocracy would rule from Quebec to Chile.
We are definitely not getting the Catholic part, but the elite will indeed be multiracial.
The Empire of Nothing is incapable of the grand continental liberation that Walther suggests. Too many lives and profits would be lost. The Empire’s only unifying traits are consumerism and the desire to “be yourself.” Nothing else matters.
Rather than a proud aristocracy, we have a neurotic managerial class with horrible aesthetics, suffering from Last Man syndrome. The Habsburg Empire could rely on the Church as a unifying institution. The only unifying values the late American elite promote are pleasure and “anti-bigotry.”
The Empire of Nothing is not quite pluralistic, either. Douthat is right to doubt that managed pluralism can work based on current trends. The elite insists that Americans of all backgrounds embrace a progressive monoculture: gay pride parades are good, transgender kids are good, racial activism is good, equality is good, Islam is good, and so on. You are required to respect these things. Dissenting values are not tolerated. A pluralistic empire would not demand that Christian bakers serve gay weddings.
There are different identities tolerated, but they must go against the historic American nation. Reactionary identities and values are denounced and set for termination. Instead of pluralism, we get a monoculture that celebrates everything that is not white, patriarichal, or heteronormative.
Where does that leave white Americans, the ones who built this country and keep it alive? Whites are overrepresented among taxpayers and combat soldiers. Without us, America would crumble into a Third World hellhole. So how can the Empire of Nothing retain our loyalty?
Most whites see America as a nation with a shared history and value system. They honor the flag, the national anthem, and the troops. America is not a bloodless empire, but a real nation worth dying for. They see themselves as Americans first, and whites a distant second.
Whites are the only racial group who think like this. Only fifteen percent of white Americans think their racial identity is important. Forty-seven percent of whites say it isn’t important at all. Meanwhile, seventy-five percent of blacks, fifty-nine percent of Hispanics, and fifty-six percent of Asians say their racial identity is very or extremely important to who they are.
Leftists claim whites don’t have a racial identity because they live in a society dominated by whiteness. Whites are the majority. Their language, culture, and skin color are the apparent norms. That was once true, but no more. Rather, whites remain loyal soldiers to a country that is no longer theirs.
That is not cause to start burning Old Glory, however. The historic America whites cling to is fertile ground for identitarians. The nice, white country we used to be is a great contrast to the multicultural abomination. One used to offer whites community, a shared heritage, and a nice life. The other only offers whites fleeting pleasures and demands that we serve as the scapegoat for all of the undertow’s ills. We’re only needed to fight in foreign lands and subsidize everybody else’s rent.
The only way America can remain a nation is if it’s majority white and sees itself as a white nation. This arrangement gives Americans a common heritage, history, language, and values to proudly claim as American. A nation without those traits either dies or turns into a soulless empire.
It is our duty to disabuse whites of their colorblind fantasies. The Empire of Nothing will crumble when most whites see America as a nation created by us, for us.
Introduction to The Populist Moment
The Fall of the Neoliberal Order
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What is the New World Order? Part 3
What is the New World Order? Part 2
What Is the Ideology of Sameness? Part 4 The Renaissance of Identities
What is the New World Order? Part 1
What Is the Ideology of Sameness? Part 2