January 31, 2008
At long last, we arrive at the end of the line, having examined first race and then nationalism. I’d like to thank once again all those who have taken part in these discussions, which have, for the most part, been quite civil, even in the midst of strong disagreements (with a few notable exceptions).
In this final part of my series, I’m again relying heavily on the work of John Lukacs, and I would refer the reader, in particular, to his Outgrowing Democracy: A History of the United States in the 20th Century (lately reissued as A New Republic), The End of the 20th Century (and the End of the Modern Age), and Democracy and Populism.
As I mentioned in the previous part, Pope John Paul II, in his last book, Memory and Identity, defined patriotism as “a love for everything to do with our native land: its history, its traditions, its language, its natural features. It is a love which extends also to the works of our compatriots and the fruits of their genius.” In this, he follows the word back to its Latin root: patria, the native land or, literally, fatherland. But a patria, by itself, has no human meaning, any more than, say, environment does. From a human standpoint, both terms imply some relationship to some group of men.
In the case of patria, that group, as the Holy Father goes on to show, is the nation, which etymologically descends from the Latin natio, meaning, most broadly, a group of people, but more specifically a tribe, a race, a nation—in other words, a people who are connected, both genetically and culturally, in a way that is a natural extension of the family. Indeed, John Paul writes:
“The term ‘nation’ designates a community based in a given territory [i.e., patria] and distinguished by its culture. Catholic social doctrine holds that the family and the nation are both natural societies, not the product of mere convention.”
Historically in English, both patria and natio have come together in patriotism, the love of a particular people in a particular place. Again, this is analogous to the human society of the family, which, throughout history, has not simply been defined genetically or culturally but with reference to the physical location of the family. Our modern, mobile American society throws us off here, because we think nothing of moving from state to state several times in our lives, nor do we particularly find it odd to sell our childhood home after we inherit it (assuming our parents haven’t sold it long ago). Our sense of belonging to a particular place—not only being a part of a particular place, but that place being a part of us—is extremely attenuated.
But the modern American experience is not normative—not only historically, but even today, among European-derived peoples. Europeans in Europe are much more rooted, and that close association with the land of their fathers—the patria terra, to return to the Latin—has a cultural (and, indeed, even a genetic) significance that has largely been lost here in the United States.
It’s no surprise, then, that patriotism, in modern American usage, has diverged from its historical definition and largely come to mean abstract adherence to some set of American “ideals”—for instance, the “proposition nation” or “credal nation” idea of the neocons, or the Jaffa-ite version of the “noble lie” of the Straussians. After all, how can patriotism retain its traditional meaning for people whose connection to the land on which they currently reside is at best momentary and accidental? It makes little sense to develop an attachment to a place (and the people who reside therein) when we’re only “passing through,” looking forward to our next move, “onward and upward,” as we chase the “American dream.”
The result, in the United States, has been the separation of those two terms that should be inextricably linked—natio and patria—and the destruction of patriotism, as traditionally understood. But because natio and patria are linked, when our relationship to the latter is attenuated, the former becomes more abstract—an ideological construct, rather than a lived reality.
The answer is not to throw up our hands and declare ourselves “rootless cosmopolitans,” as some who have actually begun to see the problem have done, nor to think that an abstract nationalism (either the “proposition nation” or some defining away of our differences until “American” means nothing more than “of the white race, residing within the borders of the current United States”) will solve our problem. Instead, we need to return to life as our ancestors lived it, and as most Europeans today still do: in one place, among our people, through many generations.
In other words, the answer to the loss of traditional patriotism is a revival of patriotism. That may seem obvious, but the opposition to this solution runs deep, and not only among those who hate the culture and civilization of European man, but even among many of those who claim to be interested in upholding it. Standing our ground—literally—is quite hard, and when the opportunity to move on presents itself, we’re often only too happy to take it.
It’s not always possible to remain where you were planted (as I, sadly, know), but moving out of necessity is different from moving out of choice, and the proper response to the former is to begin the long and arduous process of putting down new roots. In that way, through long and close association with a particular people in a particular place, we can begin to recover something of the life that our ancestors lived—and to forge, as they did, a civilization worth preserving.
(As my regularly scheduled posting here on Taki’s Top Drawer comes to an end, I’d like to express my deep honor and pleasure at having had the opportunity to be part of this endeavor over the last year. And I’d like to thank those who made this possible: former editor F.J. Sarto and, of course, Taki Theodoracopulos himself. For those of you have despised what I have written, I’m afraid you’re still stuck with me: the new editor, Richard Spencer, has asked me to continue to provide the occasional blog post, as well as more frequent longer pieces. For those of you, on the other hand, who have liked what I’ve written, you can find more at ChroniclesMagazine.org, where I’ll likely be posting more often now, and the Chicago Daily Observer, among other places.)