Rational national limits
ROBERT HENDERSON considers the case for maintaining nation states
The Significance of Borders – Why Representative Government and the Rule of Law Require Nation States
Thierry Baudet, Brill, 2012
This a frustrating book. Its subject is of the greatest interest – namely, how human beings may best organise themselves to provide security and freedom. It contains a great deal of good sense because the author understands that humans cannot exist amicably unless they have a sense of shared identity and a territory which they control. (Anyone who doubts the importance of having such a territory should reflect on the dismal history of the Jews.)
Baudet describes vividly the undermining of the nation state by the rise of supranational bodies: the loss of democratic control, the impossibility of taking very diverse national entities such as those forming the EU and making them into a coherent single society; the self-created social divisions caused by mass immigration and the rendering of the idea of citizenship based on nationality effectively null by either granting it to virtually anyone regardless of their origins or by denying the need for any concept of nationality in the modern globalised world.
He also deals lucidly with the movement from the mediaeval feudal relationships of fealty to a lord to the nation state; correctly recognises representative government as uniquely European; examines the concept of sovereignty intelligently and is especially good on how supranationalism expands surreptitiously. For example, the International Criminal Court (ICT) is widely thought to only apply to the states which have signed the treaty creating it. Not so. The nationals of countries which have not signed who commit crimes on the territories of states which have signed can be brought for trial before the ICT.
That is all very encouraging for those who believe in the value of the sovereign nation state. The problem is Baudet wants to have his nationalism whilst keeping a substantial slice of the politically correct cake. Here he is laying out his definitional wares:
“I call the open nationalism that I defend multicultural nationalism – as opposed to multiculturalism on the one hand, and an intolerant, closed nationalism on the other. The international cooperation on the basis of accountable nation states that I propose, I call sovereign cosmopolitanism – as opposed to supranationalism on the one hand, and a close, isolated nationalism on the other. Both multicultural nationalism and sovereign cosmopolitianism place the nation state at the heart of political order, while recognizing the demands of the modern, internationalized world. “(p xvi).
Baudet’s “multicultural nationalism” is the idea that culturally different groups (he eschews racial difference as important) can exist within a territory and still constitute a nation which he defines as “a political loyalty stemming from an experienced collective identity…rather than a legal, credal or ethnic nature” (p62). How does Baudet think this can be arrived at? Baudet believes it is possible to produce the “pluralist society, held to together nevertheless by a monocultural core”. (p158). Therein lies the problem with the book: Baudet is trying surreptitiously to square multiculturalism with the nation state.
The concept of a monocultural core is akin to what multiculturalists are trying belatedly to introduce into their politics with their claim that a society in which each ethnic group follows its own ancestral ways can nonetheless be bound together with a shared belief in institutions and concepts such as the rule of law and representative government. This is a non-starter because a sense of group identity is not built on self-consciously created civic values and institutions – witness the dismal failure of post-colonial states in the 20th century – but on shared system of cultural beliefs and behaviours which are imbibed unwittingly through growing up in a society. Because of the multiplicity of ethnic groups from different cultures in modern Western societies, there is no overarching single identity within any of them potent enough to produce Baudet’s unifying “monocultural core”. Moreover, the continued mass immigration to those societies makes the movement from a “monocultural core” ever greater. In practice his “multicultural nationalism” offers exactly the same intractable problems as official multiculturalism.
Baudet’s idea of a “monocultural core” would be an unrealistic proposition if cultural differences were all that had to be accommodated in this “pluralist society”, but he greatly magnifies his conceptual difficulties by refusing to honestly address the question of racial difference. However incendiary the subject is these differences cannot be ignored. If human beings did not think racial difference important there would there be no animosity based purely on physical racial difference, for example, hostility to blacks wherever they come from.
The idea that assimilation can occur if it is actively pursued by governments is disproved by history. France, at the official level, has always insisted upon immigrants becoming fully assimilated: British governments since the late 1970s have embraced multiculturalism as the correct treatment of immigrants. The result has been the same in both countries; immigrant groups which are racially or radically culturally different from the population which they enter do not assimilate. The larger the immigrant group the easier it is for this lack of assimilation to be permanent, both because a large population can colonise areas and provide a means by which its members can live their own separate cultural lives and because a large group presents a government with the potential for serious violent civil unrest if attempts are made to force it to assimilate.
The USA is the best testing ground for Baudet’s idea that there could be a common unifying core of culture within a country of immense cultural diversity. Over the past two centuries it has accepted a vast kaleidoscope of peoples and cultures, but its origins were much more uniform. At independence the country had, as a consequence of the English founding and moulding of the colonies which formed the USA, a dominant language (English), her legal system was based on English common law, her political structures were adapted from the English, the dominant general culture was that of England and the free population of the territory was racially similar. Even those who did not have English ancestry almost invariably prided themselves on being English, for example, John Jay, one of the Founding Fathers, who was of Huguenot and Dutch descent, wrote:
“Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people — a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.” (Federalist No. 2).
There was the presence of a mainly enslaved black population and the native Amerindians, but the newly formed United States at least at the level of the white population had a degree of uniformity which made the idea of a core monoculture plausible.
From the mid-sixties after US immigration law was slackened migrants arrived in ever increasing numbers and with much more racial and ethnic variety. The result has been a Balkanization of American society with a legion of minority groups all shouting for their own advantage with the original “monocultural core” diluted to the point of disappearance.
There are other weaknesses in Baudet’s thinking. He is much too keen to draw clear lines between forms of social and political organisation. For example, he considers the nation state to be an imagined community (a nation being too large for everyone to know everyone else) with a territory it controls as opposed to tribal or universal loyalty (the idea that there is simply mankind not different peoples who share moral values and status). The problem with that, as he admits, are the many tribes which are too large to allow each individual to know each other (footnote 23 p63). He tries to fudge the issue by developing a difference between ethnic loyalty and national loyalty, when of course there is no conflict between the two. Nations can be based on ethnicity.
Another example of conceptual rigidity is Baudet’s distinction between internationalism and supranationalism. He defines the former as the traditional form of international cooperation whereby nation states make agreements between themselves but retain the ultimate right to decide what policy will be implemented (thus preserving their sovereignty) while the latter, for example the EU, is an agreement between states which removes, in many areas of policy, the right of the individual contracting states to choose whether a policy will be accepted or rejected. Although that is a distinction which will appeal to academics, in practice it rarely obtains because treaties made between theoretically sovereign states often results in the weaker ones having no meaningful choice of action.
Despite the conceptual weaknesses, the strengths of the book are considerable if it is used as a primer on the subject of national sovereignty. Read it but remember from where Baudet is coming.
ROBERT HENDERSON blogs at http://livinginamadhouse.wordpress.com/