Toward A New Era of Nation-States, Part III: Challenging the Values of Universal DoctrinesAlgis Avižienis
Why we need a nationalist ideology
Populist leaders like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen are right in zeroing in on the economic damage that the globalists have inflicted on the working and middle classes. The two charismatic leaders understand that economic issues are what matter the most to broad masses of potential voters. The populists have thus successfully drawn millions of discontented people into the ranks of their supporters.
But the focus on economic issues, though important, cannot monopolize nationalist thinking. More than anything, we need an articulated worldview with which we can engage internationalists on a much broader front. The reason so many well-meaning people fall for internationalist utopias is that the universalists have taken the trouble to elaborate plausible (though deeply flawed) concepts regarding the really broad questions of human existence, such as the purpose of life, what is good or evil, and what constitutes progress or decline in human history.
Armed with comprehensive explanations for all of the complexities and problems of life, secure in their belief that they have the right solutions, and convinced of the moral superiority of their cause, the internationalists are primed to follow orders and do battle with their misguided or iniquitous foes.
The whole point in developing a vast literature of Marxist ideology and encouraging endless discussions of Communist ideas is to create the impression that this ideology covers all the bases. The unfounded certainty that Marxist ideologues instill in their followers easily merges into righteousness. Airtight convictions bolster the will to fight.
By contrast, European nationalists of the 19th and early 20th centuries generally assumed that patriotism and national solidarity were natural phenomena that did not require great intellectual exertions to codify into self-sufficient state doctrines. The patriots of that time did not try hard enough to demonstrate that nationalist ideas would ultimately benefit the individual more than class struggle or laissez-faire economic principles, which opened the door to oligarchic rule.
Patriots evidently believed that it was only proper that the individual should subordinate himself to the patria. By neglecting the sphere of individual self-interest, however, patriots provided liberals with important advantages. The advocates of individual freedom had a better comprehension of the growing significance of individualism that accompanied the industrialization of European societies. The same applied to the Marxists, Socialists, and Social Democrats who could exploit the urbanized workers’ personal dissatisfaction with the gulf separating their living standards from the luxurious lifestyles of the economic elites.
Nationalism as an ideology has not developed well enough to withstand the polemical attacks which are directed against it today. If it could be called an ideology, nationalism is still a rather loosely defined doctrine. There have been many attempts to synthesize nationalism with liberal democracy, Christianity, authoritarianism, imperialism, socialism, and capitalism. The fact that nationalist concepts could be paired with so many diverse political ideas suggests that nationalism is inherently less developed theoretically than other doctrines, such as Communism, Social Democracy, Christian Democracy, or even liberalism.
Moreover, when nationalist ideas are linked to other political tenets, the former often end up as auxiliaries to the tenets of other doctrines. Even Communist China exploits patriotic sentiments, although it is clear that Marxist ideas still have an official status in the ruling councils of the state. Two important exceptions were the ideologies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, whose ideas and disastrous historical experience we will discuss separately.
The reason for the relative weakness of nationalism as an ideology is not difficult to grasp. A national community is a natural, self-reinforcing association. Group consciousness arises from the simple fact of geographic proximity and its consequence — long-term interaction among the members of a national community. Extended past interaction creates an accumulated force in the consciousness of the individual members of the community, which generally impels them to continue acting in concert. This is what accounts for the cohesive force of national sentiment.
Shared attributes, like the preference of Italians for spaghetti and wine, are not decisive factors in uniting people in nations. More properly, the perceived similarities act as a constant reminder that a distinct nation is an association that has been working together for common goals for a long time. A lengthy period of interaction in roughly the same compact territory does give rise to easily recognizable common traits, including language, historical memories, nostalgic attachment to a region, shared views on life, racial types, and others. How could mutually comprehensible dialects and languages have developed if not through lengthy association within a circumscribed territory? A given mass of such perceived similarities reinforces the feeling of belonging together.
This virtuous circle of geographic proximity and a momentum born of shared experiences fosters common purpose, and in the past, this did not require extraordinary efforts to stimulate. The homogeneous composition of an association facilitates predictable forward movement. One could imagine that a Russian troika, a team of three horses pulling a sled, would advance without great difficulty. But if, as in Krylov’s fable, a carriage were hitched to a swan, a pike, and a crab, it probably would go nowhere, as each of the animals would pull in a different direction.
Political entities aiming to incorporate disparate peoples in one state therefore need elaborate ideological underpinnings to animate a common spirit. The defunct Soviet Union left few opportunities unexploited to spread the teachings of Marxism-Leninism among its citizens for decades. But when the homeland of the international proletariat was attacked by Nazi Germany in 1941, Soviet leaders quickly realized that their only chance of survival lay in ditching Communist slogans in favor of nationalist appeals to the Russian people.
The Roman Catholic Church, which aspires to a spiritual unity of all possible peoples, spares no efforts to subject children of the faithful to years of education in its doctrines. By contrast, shared national affinities and memories of common endeavors naturally give rise to a disposition for unity even among the less reflective common people. Prior to the turbocharged phase of globalization, the ordinary citizens of European nation-states sensed that they shared a common past that impelled them into the future; they felt a commonality. They did not need to expend great mental effort to understand the basis for national unity.
But if patriotic Europeans wish to oppose the assimilation of their nations in the 21st century, they must identify those ideas which animate their most determined opponents and challenge these concepts on an ideological level. The process of the international division of labor, which global financial interests are driving forward with all their considerable might, is pushing many formerly self-contained communities into heavy dependence on foreign markets and suppliers.
The pervasive feeling of interdependence is undermining the confidence of national communities to influence enormously significant economic processes, such as unrestricted international trade or the transfer of productive enterprises abroad. The sense that major economic decisions are totally beyond the control of national governments weakens national cohesiveness because the citizens sense that their governments are not defending their vital, material interests. Some Europeans are losing faith in the idea of nation-states. Significant elements of European business and academic elites have a financial stake in cooperating with or joining multinational corporations or international bodies such as the EU.
For these reasons, European nationalists no longer can rely on automatic solidarity based on the momentum of past interactions. The citizens of the Old Continent are better educated, more self-conscious of their rights, and more individualistic than their parents and grandparents. Appeals to patriotic sentiments are often disregarded as irrelevant. The self-conscious individual requires a rational elucidation of the merits of national solidarity. The relevance of a strong national community to individual welfare must be demonstrated. Consequently, there is a need for an ideological foundation of nationalism.
Re-evaluating given values
Globalization rests on values that the elites sanctify and broad masses of people accept. If we want a better life for ourselves, we need to thoroughly understand the defective ideas which underpin the present world order — their origin, development, and ultimate failure. We need to replace them with a more rational understanding of man as an individual and as a social being. Invoking the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, we should re-evaluate core values.
If we neglect the philosophical issues that preoccupy thoughtful people, we will be uncertain as to our long-range goals; and this uncertainty will percolate down to the broader membership. If we fail to develop well-grounded nationalist principles, the globalist elites will almost certainly exploit our ideological distraction and lead our supporters astray.
By way of illustration, it should now be clear that anti-globalist nationalists share some common ground with traditional Leftists, who claim to oppose gross inequality of wealth and the concentrated power of big business — which we know drive globalization. Hence, sincere European patriots, demoralized by the globalists’ depredations on their countries, might be tempted to side with Left-leaning parties allegedly combating inequality. But, traditional Leftist parties, like the German Social Democrats or even the German Greens who started out as radical Leftists are, in fact, dyed-in-the-wool internationalists. Their ultimate aims are global, like those of the financial oligarchs pushing globalization. These self-appointed fighters against injustice will relegate to the backseat the national and regional concerns of Europeans and pursue global unification über alles.
Our internationalist opponents will never support the harsh necessity of controlling mass immigration, which inevitably will make millions of impoverished people profoundly unhappy. Committed as they are to international solidarity, the adherents of universal doctrines would certainly oppose putting an end to outsourcing of industry to poor countries. They will do nothing to lessen our dependence on imports of consumer goods from developing nations.
We must competently understand how the intellectual edifice of liberal democracy and capitalism was conceived, how it evolved, and how it has come to its present crisis. Liberal democracy is still thought of as the dominant political ideology in the world — particularly after the dramatic collapse of Soviet Communism thirty years ago.
Yet, Marxist ideology has not been banished from the world scene. Marxist notions still influence Western political parties, intellectuals, and culture. And let us not forget that Communism still enjoys an official status as the guiding doctrine of China, the second most powerful state in the world. Communism is a universal doctrine, like the ideas that sanctify globalization. This means that its exponents will be only too happy to take over the empire-building project of Western globalists should they stumble and fall. Thus, we must also critically review the fundamental principles of Marxism.
We will examine three profoundly influential universal doctrines and explain how they have deflected our attention away from what is close at hand, manageable and truly relevant, to what is distant, metaphysical, obscure — and ultimately unattainable.
Christianity as the point of departure of Western political thought
Christianity dominated Western intellectual life for well over one thousand years after the birth of Christ. Although in our time this religion generally refrains from direct intervention in politics, nevertheless, Christian morality retains its influence in many indirect, yet significant ways.
For example, Christian solicitude for the poor provides a good measure of the moral underpinning for policies that redistribute resources to the Third World. Christian spiritual leaders, like the present Pope, have played an active role in legitimizing mass immigration from the Third World. Pope Francis raised eyebrows when he publicly washed and kissed the feet of 12 migrants during Holy Thursday celebrations in 2016, in the middle of the “refugee crisis” unleashed by German Chancellor Merkel.
In her youth, Merkel was deeply influenced by her father, a Protestant pastor, also known for his Marxist sympathies. US President Biden, who has declared his commitment to hyper-liberal immigration policies, is by his own characterization a devout Catholic.
We will begin our critical examination by delving into the Christian ideas that profoundly shaped modern political thought. The narrative will then review how Christianity, Marxism, and liberal democracy interacted in a historical framework. The advance and regression of liberal democratic ideas will be examined as they evolved over several centuries. Finally, we will outline an alternative worldview that could serve as the basis for a more rational and natural relationship between the individual and his country or people.
The Christian faith is not in accord with human nature
Throughout its long history, Christianity has labored mightily to reshape the essentially egoistic nature of the individual human being. Admittedly, the desire to check self-aggrandizement as such is noble, since untrammeled egoism would frustrate any common enterprise. But the rationale for socially responsible behavior that the Roman Catholic Church devised was defective and ultimately harmed the subsequent development of Western political ideas.
Faced with the realization that the reformation of human nature was exceedingly difficult, the authors of Christianity decided to sidestep reality by inventing an unending afterlife that would eclipse the importance of earthly existence to man. This was useful in that a contrived existence could be skillfully manipulated by the authors, while cold reality stubbornly resisted clerical influence.
Christianity proclaimed the following: (a) the body is not as valuable as the soul; (b) the rewards and punishments of physical existence are insignificant in comparison to the delightful (or frightful) conditions that await man in the everlasting life of heaven or hell, and (c) it is not worth struggling too earnestly for worldly goals or prestige. A passive or fatalistic attitude would be preferable.
The practical result of the Church’s doctrine on eternal life was the blunting of the self-assertion drive of the naive, thus slowing their progress in this world. At the same time, the cynics could exploit their trusting neighbors’ passivity and thereby more readily seize power in the here and now.
This supernatural expedient served the Church well during the centuries when most Europeans were peasants and had minimal educational opportunities. Nevertheless, it pandered to the lower instincts of man — the tendency toward sloth, passivity, sensual enjoyment, envy of what is superior, and timidity in the face of aggression.
The relentless dissemination of the heavenly ideal encouraged the longing for a utopian existence, a cessation of human labor and strife, a state of permanent, universal love. The promise of paradise naturally appealed to millions who were confronted with the harsh challenges of life in the Middle Ages. It is one thing to daydream about heavenly bliss as an escapist diversion, but it is another matter when an authoritative institution like the Catholic Church cultivated baseless longings for a utopia.
Over time and with the spread of mass literacy, however, Christian theologians began to soft-pedal the supernatural aspects of their faith and doubled down on the essential principles contained in Christ’s preaching — love for all mankind and universal peace. As secularization advanced, educated people gradually turned away from the magical elements of Christianity. But the basic principles of the Catholic Church took root in Western minds.
The idea that man should strive for an end to struggle, for a historical terminus of peace and plenty, became embedded in the consciousness of Europeans. People worn down by daily exertions, discord, and misfortunes understandably would like to believe that the end result of all of their exertions could be a relaxed state of peace, satiety, and freedom.
Drawing on Christian theology, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the early 19th-century German philosopher, posited his concept of human history as a process inevitably tending toward a final outcome in which mankind will realize the ideal of freedom. Hegel had a strong influence over Marx, who in turn theorized about the “inevitable” development of history leading to a utopian conclusion. Marx seized on the general longing for an end to struggle and crafted a program ideally suited for the millions who felt oppressed, dissatisfied, or simply longed for an easier life.
The German philosopher Oswald Spengler called Christian theology the grandmother of Bolshevism, because he perceived that universal Christian ideals formed a significant part of the ideological baggage of Marxism. The Marxists borrowed from the Christians their concept of heavenly paradise, transforming it into the terminus of the class struggle, namely the stateless Communist society of material welfare, peace, equality, and sharing.
It is not too big a stretch to hear echoes of heavenly paradise when the globalists talk about ascending from the dismal swamp of feuding nationalisms to the shining peaks of the New World Order. And in 1992, Francis Fukuyama, in his renowned End of History and the Last Man, could not resist the siren song of Hegel and the Catholic Church. Fukuyama solemnly announced that humanity had finally reached a blessed denouement in its historical development with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the consequent triumph of liberal democracy.
Permanent peace is a utopian idea
There is no religious dogma, political order, or ideology capable of removing the factors of power, intervention, and opposition from human relations. The difficulty here is not so much related to the methods employed, for nothing worthwhile can be achieved without intervening. One often hears that Christianity and Communism are in principle good ideas, which regrettably are forever being compromised by clumsy implementation.
The root cause of the misfortunes brought upon people by the Church when it was ascendant and the more recent Communist regimes lies in the doctrines themselves. The goals are defective constructions. It is a mistake to aim at a permanent state of affairs; an end, as it were. There can be no end, for everything is in process of becoming and will continue to change. Human beings are extremely dynamic creatures that will never stay put.
A political ideology or religious creed that promises paradise, or an end to strife, is inherently dishonest and therefore must endlessly lie to its followers. Hence the big lie that underlies a religion or a political movement inevitably drives a wedge between the rulers and their followers. Sooner or later the leaders will acquire a condescending attitude towards their gullible subjects, while the latter must eventually awake to the gap between gleaming ideals and sordid, daily practice.
Universal ideals serving imperial ambitions
Another dubious aspect of Church doctrine was the encouragement it provided to the striving for hegemony. If we perceive hegemony as a state in which competing powers have been subdued for the benefit of the hegemonic force or idea, then we will see the connection between the ideal of permanent peace and the necessity of world domination — the universal implies the supremacy of the one over the many. Those who doubt the wisdom of striving for world peace must therefore be kindly asked to leave the church premises so that the celebration of the universal mass might proceed without interruption.
Despite centuries of religious indoctrination, we see in our time that the pathologies of greed, exploitation, and corruption are getting worse and not better. It is obvious that people will continue sinning against their fellows, despite the unceasing educational efforts of Christians through their media outlets, political parties, schools, youth organizations, and the hundreds of thousands of clergymen preaching from their pulpits.
The sad fact is that those who achieve positions of influence are among the worst offenders against Christian morality. Once they have seized a measure of control, Christian and non-Christian elites alike tend to crave and amass even more power, often to the point of exploiting vulnerable individuals.
If Christianity accomplished anything in its long history, it demonstrated the tenuous boundary between proclaimed ends and the means employed for their realization. For declared goals, no matter how benevolent and compassionate they may appear, cannot be achieved without resorting to power, which at the bottom is the capacity to overcome resistance. Even a movement striving for global peace and love will find itself in conflict with the established norms and routines of communities outside its sphere of influence.
Conversion, whether by the pulpit or the Crusaders’ sword, was and remains a highly invasive procedure involving the breaking down of traditional bonds of obligation and loyalty. The experience of the Church shows that ends and means merge into each other, for both incorporate the fundamental drive for power. The advance towards a goal, even a noble one, requires the use of power against a status quo. Once the goal, which inevitably involves the accretion of influence over people, is achieved, success will draw the power holder into an ever-wider sphere of human interaction, bringing with it more intervention and provoking resistance in turn. In short, the means define the ends.
History shows that the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church started violating their most treasured values once they had established some measure of authority. In the medieval period and beyond, the Christian Church used the secular power it possessed to trample on the destinies of millions. Guided by a lofty moral compass, it sanctioned highly destructive religious wars, gross internal abuses of power by favored rulers, a murderous Inquisition, and heavy-handed domination of learning and culture, which translated into centuries of intellectual underdevelopment.
The cynical Bolshevik leader Trotsky observed that one cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs. But it is clear that an omelette can keep hunger at bay for only a short time. Following Trotsky’s logic, a leader, or a movement, would be forced to break eggs constantly in order to stay well-fed or on top of the heap.
A short history of Catholicism as a universal doctrine
Catholicism eventually prospered under the protection of the Pax Romana and later became the official religion of the empire. It is therefore not surprising that ecclesiastical leaders reoriented their thinking away from the Church’s earlier support for small and autonomous communities of believers to more ambitious notions of world dominance.
The very word Catholic, which originated in the Greek language, means common to all humanity. In his preaching, Christ declared that God was equally concerned about the fate of all souls. Calling himself the good shepherd, Christ urged all people, without regard to race, gender, or social standing, to enter the kingdom of love and justice that he proclaimed. Citing the parable of the shepherd who made heroic efforts on behalf of a single, lost sheep, Jesus expressed the hope that not a single human being would remain outside the protective embrace of his kingdom.
The very concept of an Almighty God contained within itself universal characteristics. If this God had unimaginably great powers and he loved all souls, surely he would not be satisfied with proselytizing that reached only a few people. The targets of Christian enticements were told that unification under the benign rule of God would free them of the usual earthly concerns about material scarcity and provide the security that is always thought to reside in great numbers. Within the common herd of humanity, there would be safety from predatory attacks and joyous sharing of bountiful wealth.
For a very long time after Christ, this seductive utopia continued to mesmerize impressionable people weary of the unavoidable burdens of real life. It also fed the deeply-rooted psychological need for a father figure, for a powerful political center ruled by a wise, just, and kindly spirit. Needless to say, this attitude did not and cannot foster an independent outlook or confidence in one’s own powers, or the flourishing of initiative.
The Pax Romana aided the progress of Christianity in that the adherents to the new faith found it easier to move about the unified political space of the Empire rather across a multitude of feuding political entities. Roman roads of the time appeared to be wonders of the world, while Roman arms ensured a relative degree of physical security.
It was then that the hierarchs of Christianity perceived the confluence of interests between the spiritual universality of the Church and the imperial standing of Rome. Despite initial persecutions, the Christian faith by the fourth century AD had attained the status of the dominant religion of Rome. In this way, the spiritual hegemonists of the Catholic faith and the secular globalists of the Empire found common ground.
It was no accident that the Popes established themselves in Rome and thereby continued to identify themselves with the prestige of imperial Rome even after the collapse of the Empire. Neither was it a coincidence that the Catholic hierarchs chose the centralized administrative model of the Romans to manage their ecclesiastical and secular affairs. The Roman Catholic Church thereby hoped to draw strength from two sources — the unlimited power of God and the surviving prestige of the once-mighty Roman Empire.
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic faith extended its influence over virtually all of Western and Central Europe. Growing influence in the spiritual realm was accompanied by the spectacular growth of the Church’s temporal power. By the 13th century, Catholic popes, cardinals, bishops, monasteries, and humble parishes owned no less than one-third of Western Europe’s land area. For a brief period, it appeared to contemporaries that the Catholic Church would become the dominant political force on the Continent.
The Popes initiated a series of Crusades against Muslims, pagan tribes, and rulers still beyond the reach of the true faith. In Lithuanian history, the Crusades are remembered for the duplicity, cruelty, and avarice of the “defenders of the faith” and the desperate and heroic resistance of the pagan Balts — the last European pagans to be Christianized.
Nevertheless, the power of the Roman Catholic Church gradually gave way to secular rivals: French, Spanish, and English monarchs, who were turning their gaze to the task of creating their own national states. The English King, Henry VIII, even founded a separate Anglican Church in response to the Catholic popes’ meddling in his country’s affairs.
Despite these setbacks, the vision of a unified Christian kingdom on earth persisted in the form of the Holy Roman Empire, albeit more as a symbol than a real center of power. The Holy Roman Empire lived on for a thousand years until it was finally buried in 1806, when Napoleon came up with the idea of founding his own European empire.
The Christian concepts of individual salvation and the immeasurable value of the individual soul played a role in the evolution of European thought even after the medieval period, the apogee of Roman Catholic influence. The Christian worldview served as the ambiance that nurtured the 17th and 18th-century ideas of a rationally thinking individual. It pointed the way towards liberal democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism, and present-day free-market globalism.
Subsequent secular doctrines of political equality could be traced back to the New Testament’s teachings about Christ’s protective disposition towards his sheep. If every soul is equally precious in God’s eyes, then each person ought to enjoy equal rights throughout this world. For the proponents of a unified world, a global political order would be the ideal means to ensure equality for all.
It is therefore not surprising that the Lithuanian bishops were strongly in favor of Lithuania joining the EU. In the rest of Europe, Church spokesmen defend the rights of both legal and illegal migrants and generally oppose strict measures of national governments to curb uncontrolled immigration into their territories. Universal norms rooted in Christian dogma are so deeply embedded in the Western world that it would require a considerable mental effort to imagine that people could live according to other standards.
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