Civic Nationalism Isn’t

Civic nationalism is the hope that you can have the beneficial aspects of a nation without real nationalism — that you can replace natus, the connection to the land and its people through birth, with patriotism and civics.

America gave it a pretty good shot in the 1950s. They had probably the best possible combination of circumstances for it: low immigration, the patriotism that followed winning a war, Hollywood having helped to spread that patriotism and sense of national sacrifice for the common good, a booming economy, and every school child dutifully reciting the Pledge every morning. All the elements were in place, and it lasted what, maybe a decade, before they started tearing it apart?

Nationalism comes naturally, by birth. Civic nationalism, as an attempt to create nationalism artificially, doesn’t.  It’s not really nationalism, and before long, it’s not very civic.


21 thoughts on “Civic Nationalism Isn’t

  1. You’d be right…except that in your specific example (U.S) the experiment was blown up in the sixties through the rise o the great society Scheme and the 1965 immigration reform. Civc nationalism if it’s to work needs genrations, low immigration, no welfare and an unabashed dominant culture, otherwise is doomed to failure….

  2. I’d argue that the repetition of civil wars throughout history puts the idea that a nation is based of geographic locality only, in some doubt.

    Nation is closely related to the term “ethos”, from which we derive “ethnicity”. A nation was not, historically, a defined geographical area, but a group of people sharing common values, culture and interests.
    Carrying on from that, we have the observed division of the US into cultural groups under the banners of multiculturalism, racial politics and self-interest. It was not so much that a culture of common interest failed to produce a nation, but that the nation failed to continue to value common interest, history and culture.

  3. The question is, why did what appeared to be a healthy society blow itself up in the 1960s? Would a nation have done so, or done so so easily? Those wounds were self-inflicted.

    The bottom line is that we have no evidence that civic nationalism can work. Most Americans just assume it works, because it’s a big part of the “melting pot” myth that we were raised on. When we start to realize that it hasn’t worked, our first assumption is that something went wrong, someone broke it, or we just needed to do it differently: slower immigration, less welfare, English-only, whatever. But all those things were true of the generation that blew it up, so there’s no reason to think bringing those circumstances back would make it work next time, if we’re still trying to make it work in a multicultural empire.

  4. Cail….

    You will be familiar with the oft-repeated dynamic of inherited wealth. One generation makes it, and another squanders it… because those who are too far removed from the “making” process do not understand the work and discipline required.

    The same applies to Nation-states. The generations that created them usually did so in conditions of great turbulence, often outright existential threat. The generations that squandered this “civic wealth” did so through losing focus on what held it together – a common idea, goals and values – because they had never had to build them and had never seen the chaos and violence that occurs when they were lacking.

    There are always seeds of both, no matter how far the pendulum swings, but your nation and mine both went through periods of rapid development, gold rushes (which meant massive immigration) and multiple wars. Yet prior to the 1960s and the Baby Boomer generation, the majority ethos was that being American or Australian was more important than where your parents or grandparents came from.

    Perhaps we lost it – which is very different from your claim that we never had it – because a generation that achieved very little in comparison to their predecessors, tried to compensate by denigrating what their ancestors had built. I can’t speak for your own education system, but ours views our history as mostly violent, exploitative and oppressive. The only culture not worth admiring is that of Anglo-Australia. Compare that with the scripture “for lack of vision, a people(nation) perish. Few citizens of Australia or America have a firm, well-articulated idea of what it means to be Australians or Americans.
    I can contrast this with popular culture in Australia in the 19th century. The vast majority were immigrants, children of immigrants and grandchildren of immigrants, yet there was an enormous amount of popular pride in being distinctly Australian… something deemed to be tougher, smarter and far more egalitarian than the popular view of the English. Try arguing that there is something to be proud of in being Australian, and you will promptly be called a racist. Try arguing that we owe most of our Rights, freedoms, prosperity and beneficial institutions to the Judeo-Christian tradition and you will be called a religious bigot equally promptly.

    I think that it was one of your own founders who articulated the idea that the nation would only endure until the people discovered that they could vote themselves largess from the public purse. IE, that self-interest was more important than the national interest.

  5. Perhaps the short version is that the civic health of a nation has to be upheld by every generation, and passed on to the next.

    It is not a matter of immigration rates, prosperity or peace…. it is about the national attitude.

  6. National attitude doesn’t just happen; it is sustained or changed by things like immigration rates, prosperity, and peace. A big part of that attitude is social cohesion and trust, which is directly affected by the bond people feel to those who share a close heritage. If that bond doesn’t exist, you can try to replace it with agreement over propositions — civic nationalism — but we have no evidence that that’s sustainable.

    Yes, some form of voluntary segregation is probably necessary if a multi-cultural empire is to survive. Maybe it doesn’t have to be encoded into law, but people at least have to be allowed their constitutional freedom of association again. Part of the pressure that’s building now is a result of the federal government and converged charities seeding suburbs and small towns with enclaves of incompatible outsiders, and the Americans who fled to those suburbs and small towns realizing they won’t be allowed to simply opt out of diversity anymore.

  7. ^ Agreed. What further exacerbates it is the loss of prosperity and the internet showing all the corruption in the infrastructures that people used to instinctually trust: the media, the government, the churches.

    Hey Cail, how can I reach you about discussing Alt-Right Catholic stuff? That post linked by VD was not the only one to roll out online by the converged Catholic media outfits. I’ve been interested in actually working on a blog, maybe write for Men of the West, but there definitely is a missing gap in the Catholic discourse. I’ve only seen John Zmirak and Michael Voris touch on subjects found in the 16 points, and I’m not sure either one is really reaching the next generation, whose main source of info is Life Teen and FOCUS.

  8. For me it was the decline in Christianity. Of course massive immigration has deleterious effects, especially if it happens in such a short time that assimilation is not possible and the nation itself inadvertently changes, but take for example UK, NZ, AU or CA, all of those countries are even more leftist than the U.S., in the case of NZ and AU only natural barriers have protected them from invasion since political correctness reigns supreme their. Take England for example where even the freedom and right to bear arms was taken away, whose fault is that? The Poles who just got there in the last 10 years? Jamaicans who are a tiny minority? Swedish immigrants? Take into account that all those societies that I have mentioned were founded by the same Brittish stock and all those are far less free than the U.S., even though if Vox’s theory holds that they should be freer than the U.S. on account of their Britishness…

  9. Cail….. I won’t disagree with your last, except to say that the National attitude determines the results of immigration, prosperity, threat etc, more than the other way around.

    To use immigration as an example, if we invite immigrants here on the condition that they integrate,adopting our core values and be patriotic, contributing citizens, the result will be far different from the result if we admit them with no strings attached to form discrete cultural enclaves – we could almost call them “colonies” of their own.

    We have a classic example here in Australia,a significant immigrant Lebanese population. Early Lebanese migrants were mostly Christian, with some level of understanding of Western values and some degree of education. This demographic has integrated quite well. Later immigrants tended to be poor, Muslim “refugees”, and they have not integrated anywhere near as well. They are far more likely to be on welfare, to socialise only within their own cultural group and to blame their lack of success and property on the very Australians who let them in. They now run some of the most violent organised-crime gangs in the country.

    This is the result of the politically correct paranoia about “racism” and the leftist delusion that all cultures are equal, except ours, which is deficient.

  10. Tossing in another idea…..

    Roy Baumeister , in his book “Is There Anything Good About Men” , argues that women focus on a small, tight network of close relationships, while men tend to operate in a wider network of looser social relationships .
    It is this attribute in men that is arguably responsible for civilisation, trade and the establishment of the nation-state rather than the family and tribe as the primary identity group.

    One of the things that tears apart the fabric of nations is the reversion to tribalism – identification with colour, culture, religion or sex being more important than identification with nation. Do you agree with me that the decline of civic nationalism correlates with the rise of women in public life and policy-making?

  11. @PeterW – No, because nation is a people, a tribe. France is France because of the French people, not because of a State that has set boundaries. Identity is what leads to the development of a culture, and the culture in tern creates politics.

    The West is dying because it has lost its identity and culture. In losing those, it has lost its love of the tribe, the nation. It is not tribalism that destroys a nation, it is the loss of tribalism that kills it.

  12. Durandel….
    If you read my posts with a little more care, I think that you will find that you are agreeing with my position.

    The tribe IS the important thing – and territory is a result of the tribe, not vice-versa.

    …… and tribe is a “civic” attribute, not a geographical one, although that has influence.

    The phenomena that Cail refers to in the OP is not a failure of geography, but a splintering of a population into smaller tribes, even tho they remain intermingled, geographically.

  13. @ PeterW, you wrote this:

    “One of the things that tears apart the fabric of nations is the reversion to tribalism – identification with colour, culture, religion or sex being more important than identification with nation.”

    What I clarified is that nation = tribe, that’s what nation means. Too many think nation = state, due to the rise of the nation states and subsequent propaganda that followed. So to restate your statement it would go:

    “One of the things that tears apart the fabric of tribes is the reversion to tribalism.”

    Have a little more care in constructing your statements.

  14. If your only reason to immigrate to another nation is to maximize the amount of financial resources you can send back home to your nation of birth, you will never-EVER “melt-in” to the new nation state where you have immigrated. It isn’t possible. Your allegiance will always be for where “home” is, and it isn’t where you are gathering resources. You are only there to gather, not to join.

  15. Nation does not equal one’s tribe. The Founding Fathers made it abundantly clear as they preserved rights “for one’s posterity”, which essentially repudiated feudalistic notions. Similar wording exists in the Declaration, the Federalist Papers, and American law rooted in British traditions. To leap to the conclusion that the posterity referred to the creation of an “ethnostate” exclusive to the British ignores the construction anyone at the juncture reading the Constitution would have put on the words.

    Even accepting “Our posterity,” means the descendants of those citizens only at the time of ratification, given the healthy dose of non-British in the United States who were among the ratifiers, the concept simply cannot be granted to the British exclusively. Moreover, the events leading up to the war, the war itself, and the failure of the Articles of Confederation constitute our early legislative history. In none of the seven uses of the word, therein, is posterity used in any obviously restrictive fashion during this time frame. And, of course there is the naturalization clause, which assuredly had no ethnocentric provision. One could argue the slave trade clause had such had such an ethnocentric position, but it is clear it was not aimed at non-British or non-whites. And then there is the naturalization clause, which certainly had no ethnocentric provision to it. About the only such provision you can find is the slave trade clause, and that was fairly obviously not aimed at Swedes.

    Now, assuming the Founding Fathers intended the Constitution to be a limitation on the power of government, as to themselves and their posterity, defined as descendants in their own personal blood-lines, by intentionally excluding those other people from the protections of the Constitution, and by failing to make a different provision for their protection from government, the Founding Fathers left them completely unprotected from government, granting the Founding Fathers even broader authority enjoyed by the British monarchy, which was restricted by the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. In effect, the Founders and their blood-lines set themselves up as “nobility”, with unfettered rights, with all others designated as “peasants”, having no rights. Really???

    Posterity does NOT refer only to one’s own children, but as with the synonymous “legacy” also has the broader meaning of what we leave behind. The Founding Fathers were self-consciously leaving behind other than a genetic legacy. The motto “Novus Ordo Seclorum” reflects their legacy, setting up the mechanisms of government they invented to secure liberty against tyranny. Recall Article I, Section 8, Clause 4: “The Congress shall have Power To…establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization….” By definition, naturalization extends citizenship, and all the rights and duties related to it, to an outsider, that is, someone not the posterity of a signer of the document. The Founding Fathers clearly desired “to invite foreigners of merit and republican principles among us.” Indeed, the intention was whites and Europeans, but who imagined at that time non-whites and women would be able to embrace these principles? But there is no racial or gender criteria to adhering to republican ideals in the Constitution. Of course, that does not mean foreigners have the right to enter our shores, as Congress sets the standards for immigration. But the proposition remains that there are hoops for newcomers to jump through.

  16. GCM…

    You appear to be saying that “posterity” is both limited to direct descendants, and that it includes all inheritors and is therefore not so limited.

    Care to clarify?

  17. Durandel….

    The confusion is inherent in your own opening statement that the French Nation = The French People.

    Yet the French have a long and ongoing history of subdividing into groups distinguished by ethnicity, religion and politics. Norman, Frankish, Breton and Basque. Catholic, Hugenot, Jewish, Agnostic and Muslim. Parisian or Provincial.

    So yes, “Nation” is rooted in “ethnos” or people-groups, rather than geographic boundaries….. but no, every tribes, sub-tribe and clan does not equal a nation in and of itself.

  18. Sorry for the late reply PeterW.

    So yes, “Nation” is rooted in “ethnos” or people-groups, rather than geographic boundaries….. but no, every tribes, sub-tribe and clan does not equal a nation in and of itself.

    I agree with that statement. But that is not what you said originally.

    Roy Baumeister , in his book “Is There Anything Good About Men” , argues that women focus on a small, tight network of close relationships, while men tend to operate in a wider network of looser social relationships. It is this attribute in men that is arguably responsible for civilisation, trade and the establishment of the nation-state rather than the family and tribe as the primary identity group.

    One of the things that tears apart the fabric of nations is the reversion to tribalism – identification with colour, culture, religion or sex being more important than identification with nation. Do you agree with me that the decline of civic nationalism correlates with the rise of women in public life and policy-making?

    This is what I objected too. You argue that what tears apart a nation is reversion to tribalism. I made the mistake in saying you were conflating nation with state. What I should have said was how is tribalism tearing apart Japan? South Korea? Denmark? Finland? Demonstrate that tribalism destroys a nation and I’ll maybe get what you are saying. And don’t use the Civil War, that was as much a war between different peoples as it was about different cultures clashing and questions on morals.

    Another thing, men aren’t tribal? Then please explain sports fandoms. I don’t think Baumeister’s noting that men could form wider networks means men are less attached to teams, tribes, morals, values, and are less patriotic than women, nor is what he said of women mean that they are the opposite. He’s merely talking about how they approach network/relationship building.

    Civic nationalism is as Cail described it, a nice idea but built on smoke. I may feel a bond for those who share my faith, or who share my politics, but I’ll still do more and give more to family and kith over anyone else, especially those very distant from my people. And this is not a random phenomenon, St. Augustine and St. Aquinas both noticed this issue and made mention about banning kin marriage in order to allow charity to spread.

    And when it comes to wars, ethnicity tends to trump religion in deciding the battle lines most of the times. It doesn’t mean religion isn’t important as an identity to rally behind, it is, and it can be used as such, just as nation can trump ethnic, but to say that ideas will just make all these divisions disappear is naïve. Religion becomes the rallying identity when religion is what divides a people. If Prots and Catholics are at each others throat, who cares if that Catholic over there is French, the next is Bolivian, and the other is Croatian? No time for such things, there are Prots to deal with. If religion is shared, then the rallying identities can be ethnicities. If ethnicity is shared, the rallying identities can be political parties, or movements (feminism), and so forth.

    America, when it was mostly British descended, could afford to rally around political ideology. Then they let Southern Euros and Irish in, and those folks didn’t arrive as blank tablets ready to have the culture and thinking of the British stamped into them, they brought their ideas too, and their culture, and their crime. But thankfully they were similar enough in race and religion that without reinforcement from the homeland, they were able to get along well enough with the natives and at the least be loyal to them in a war. And that allowed another brief time to rally around political ideologies as a new agreed upon central culture and values took hold.

    And then the Immigration floodgates were opened and people of different races, different faiths, different values, different cultures, different histories, different philosophies came in and well, now there is no agreed upon religion or religious tradition to rally around. Nor is there a national identity to rally behind.

    In the US, the fighting is happening on racial lines. So rallying is happening there. Hispanic is a silly idea, as Mexicans are distinct from Cubans and Puerto Ricans. But if that is where the line is, then so be it. White is a silly identity, but when BLM doesn’t care if you are Italian, or French, or British, or Greek, all they see is your uniform, aka you skin, and they polar bear hunt you, then White is where the line will be drawn for the time being. If Muslims blow up various Christian denominations, will Baptists really avoid working with Lutherans and Catholics? Well, sadly, maybe, but likely no assuming Christians find their balls again.

    And this is why civic nationalism cannot work in the long run, even if women don’t have the vote or don’t have a voice in the public square. Societal dynamics move too much. Just as you find unity in one identity, the lines between others show their faces. Civic nationalism doesn’t just need Thought Police to enforce the nation of ideas it proclaims, it would need to stamp out of the human mind any sense of right and wrong, up and down, any language that can describe differences. It is a lovely idea, but one that defies human nature. A sentence more in line with human nature is good fences make good neighbors.

    You ever read Bowling Alone by Putnam? the TLDR of all the research is that societal trust and diversity are orthogonal to one another. If you increase the one, you will decrease the other. That is the answer to your question about the decline of the sense of civic nationalism. Diversity killed it. Women helped bring in that diversity.

  19. “And then the Immigration floodgates were opened and people of different races, different faiths, different values, different cultures, different histories, different philosophies came in and well, now there is no agreed upon religion or religious tradition to rally around. Nor is there a national identity to rally behind.”

    Americans in the past and at present identify with American civilization, with its underpinnings of representative democracy and capitalism. Certainly, political and economic concepts from Western Civilization played a major role in the development of American institutions, but the Founding Fathers granted liberty to its citizens to set the course for its own future. While posterity originally referred to those who founded the nation, the die was NOT set, as evident by the power of the people to set immigration criteria, which has noticeably changed since the inaugural 1790 law.

    Posterity to the founding fathers meant the creation of an independent nation, with a vigorous and adaptable form of government, with a body of liberties that were malleable to the times. Thomas Jefferson bore witness to the new government as a unique combination of the freest elements of English law and political custom. While he was concerned that unrestricted immigration of peoples from lands unacquainted with the principle of representative government MIGHT undo the careful work of our Founding Fathers, he said prophetically, “from such we are to expect the greatest number of immigrants”. Indeed, American economic growth required a massive influx of foreign labor.

    Alexander Hamilton wrote, “Immigrants exhibit a large proportion of ingenious domestic and valuable workmen who by expatriating from Europe improved their condition, and add to the industry and wealth of the United States”.

    In Common Sense, Thomas Paine upheld “this new world” as “the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty”–which in essence refers to any and all groups of people, whether it be European or non-European. Jefferson argued for “a right which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them.”

    James Madison defended immigration on the grounds that it is “always from places where living is more difficult to places where it is less difficult,” so “the happiness of the emigrant is promoted by the change”.

    Hence, the Founding Fathers enabled Congress to set the criteria for immigration, with those newcomers blending in and articulating what is posterity from that new baseline. In other words, future generations of Americans were given the liberty to decide what is and what is not “an American”.

    There is an argument out that there that the United States is not a nation founded on a proposition. Only the founding stock, those from the British Isles, are the “original Americans”. These authors tout that the the non-British were unable to appreciate AND s have shown a knack for perverting, our republican form of government, on the grounds that its foundational underpinnings are specifically peculiar to the British Isles. So, if your ancestors came from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Russia, you are in essence a “fake” American. Best of luck rallying white people being the Alt Right cause of white nationalism.

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