Patriotism is a love of 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.
—Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity (2005)
These are unusual sentiments for a public figure to express in much of the West today. Perhaps only a Polish patriot, and one who was born just two years after the re-emergence of the Polish nation in 1918 from the long unwelcome grip of its near neighbours, could understand why nationhood still matters. The terrors and brutality twentieth-century Europe unleashed upon itself—and unavoidably upon others—have, as a direct result, given rise to a European psychosis, particularly evidenced in the European Union where the “death of nationalism” has become bound into its liturgy. A fear of war has contaminated the European view of itself, its place in a new world order and what it must seek to become. Though seeming to cling to its often difficult history, it is reconstructing itself, though, in the words of Melanie Phillips, “the EU is [an] artificial construct, the imagined community that falsely claims for itself the … appurtenances of a nation … which concentrates power in Brussels while reducing nations to the status of provinces”. It has distanced itself from the values which identify a politically active, democratic, liberal, corruption-free and secular polity. The EU leadership has other imperatives.
Seeking scapegoats for Europe’s war-ravaged past, the EU has seized upon nationalism. Such a view is entirely at odds with those modern states which still find strength and energy in the values of nationhood; the USA, Japan and India for example. Nationalism and militarism have sometimes been chained together, though it can quickly be seen that nationalism can operate well without being a vessel for militarism, just as militarism can work without the full benefits of nationalism; but that with an uncertain stability.
The purging of the nationalist spirit is an EU work-in-progress and is shown by an intentional demeaning of the idea of nationhood. The EU’s policy of the free movement of EU citizens has the effect of removing from the individual all national sentiment. Internationalism, the EU has determined, will replace any other political formation and the ubiquitous notion of “community” will replace the long-used but nearly forgotten descriptor “the people”. This, of course, is merely the beginning of the politically correct program steering the sanitisation of words and meaning to better identify what is acceptable and unacceptable thought and, therefore, action. This is a corruption hastening an end to a non-ideological language, or its re-incarnation as a twisted liturgy.
One more point in this preamble: the immigration of people from countries outside the EU is poorly controlled by the EU. Immigration offsets future labour shortage estimates and thus helps to meet, via the taxation system, part of the funds required to meet rising welfare costs—a welfare program necessarily providing for the arrival and settlement costs of the increasing number of refugees and immigrants who, as an aside, are more likely to cast their votes in favour of the parties most sympathetic to their needs. Accordingly, since all governments have, as their most fundamental political obligation, to ensure the security and safety of their citizens, allowing mass immigration without serious regulation or control, abuses that obligation.
A country that does not understand its own history is unlikely to respect that of others.
—Antony Beevor, military historian
What is meant by “patriot”? The Oxford English Reference Dictionary says that it derives from the Latin patrios (of one’s father) and patris (fatherland). Patriotism, therefore, is of one’s blood heritage, of one’s land. Military heroes are treated, and rewarded, as patriots.
Nationalism has its roots in the Latin word nation from which the concepts of native, tribe, birth, race and a confederation of like people emerge. The English word innate shares the same beginnings. Nationalism, therefore, salutes the association of those of like being and, in a more modern sense, the political struggle of associated people for national independence.
George Orwell wrote that “nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism”. For Orwell “patriotism is, of its nature, defensive, both military and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire [for] power”. These sentiments were uttered immediately after the Second World War and reflected the distress of those times. Whether one can become “confused” between these two distinctions is open for discussion but to treat “patriotism” as attaching to personal valour, and “nationalism” or “nationhood” as referring to the unity of a people with a common language, shared ceremonies, history and landscape, is the chosen distinction for this essay.
Though nationalism is frequently seen as a modern phenomenon—the French Revolution is commonly considered its beginnings—the roots of nationhood are ancient. The course of the life of Homo sapiens perhaps began some 80,000 to 120,000 years ago with migrations from the north-west of Africa into Asia and Europe. Over time Homo sapiens established its colonies in all regions of the world as a hunter-gatherer, and survived as the dominant hominid species; no matter the dangers, the uncertainties, the vast, empty landscapes and the violent clashes with others of their kind.
The seminal development of Homo sapiens, in similar events that occurred in different locations and at different times, was the change from living in relatively small groups of simple but effective hunter-gatherers, to agriculturalists; to discovering how to grow, tend, harvest and consume plants as food, drugs and medicines and, in parallel, to tame certain animals for work, food, hunting and companionship. That these changes occurred close to the end of the last ice-age (approximately 10,000 years ago when the ice was in retreat in the northern hemisphere) may indicate a connection. Over the next 5000 years or so the establishment of fixed human settlements continued which, as farming developed and local economies grew, led to the coming of the city and the beginnings of civilisation. (Kenneth Clark, in his memorable documentary Civilisation, marks the beginning of this stage of human development with man’s ability to imagine a future.) It is no coincidence that the major human civilisations have needed water nearby: the Nile of Egypt, the Ganges of India, the Tigris and Euphrates of western Asia and the Yellow River of China. Only human groups who had settled in isolated environments (such as large empty land masses, densely and extensively wooded forests, or remote island clusters) remained in relative stasis.
The city-state saw the emergence of regal and priestly power systems intended to awe the general population, the building of complex permanent buildings, substantial public works for security, irrigation systems, the development of diverse human skills for the manufacture of general civic needs and, critically, warfare. But human culture flourished: ceremonial rituals, writing, theatre, philosophy, games, education for the elite and the training of craftsmen, medicine, civic hygiene and animal breeding were typical in these early, busy and significant settlements. The needs of the city shaped the organisation of the population. In addition, the city gave a place, an identity, to the people, who developed loyalties and obligations. The landscape in which the city originated shaped it and often protected it. A proto-nationhood was evolving.
For much of the time since early civilisation the family has been the basic building block of human society. The Latin familia (one’s household) well describes this fundamental human attachment. The English word familiar comes from the same root. One’s earliest memories are of childhood family interactions and experiences. The bonds developed then are among the strongest an individual will feel. Offspring will ensure the continuation of the family and its loyalty imperatives. Family alliances will be undertaken and both the greater family and the territory it occupies will be defended as the needs demand. As kinship and tribal alliances grow and strengthen, as language becomes a social identifier, as liturgy attracts a congregation and the bounded landscape becomes familiar and commonly shared, so does the sense of a common weal, a condition of shared benefit.
Nationalism, being a process, evolves and develops. Cities have grown to become substantial centres of population, industry and culture, attracting mixed and varied peoples that socialise to remember the past, applaud or bemoan the present and imagine ways into the future. The future is “full of intensity” that pushes many to the sunny uplands of optimism; but there the view remains unclear to most; for who can foretell tomorrow? Culture needs a language, and the forming of a lingua franca from the mix of city tongues takes easy root. Social alliances of all sorts form and fragment but still add to the city dynamics. And politics is there to hold this entanglement of interests and desires together. The city is a microcosm of a nation; it develops a sense of belonging for its residents in a permanent and recognisable setting, and provides the stage for all to play on. Nations will grow as the political landscape allows these ways and institutions to grow.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green and pleasant land.
Nations take many forms, while sharing ways to express their nationhood. As Dr Johnson so pithily observed, “a family is a little kingdom torn with factions and exposed to revolutions”, with its habits and rituals as differently developed as those of nations.
Ireland remains split by a Protestant plantation in a Celtic culture which yet shows little sign of healing; Switzerland has no common language; neither has Belgium, which is the melding of two peoples to become a politically created nation, though fissured by religion; Indonesia, a new nation with an old but fluid culture, ties together the inhabitants of more than 17,000 islands; the Jews, for long a scattered people with only a memory of their historic landscape, have now established Eretz Israel on ancient land now occupied by others; Iran has become an isolated political theocracy, though it was for long a gateway between east and west, known as Persia and a formidable enemy of the ancient Greeks. Nations rise and fall as histories unfold around them.
Indonesia, perhaps in religious company with Malaysia (geography binds them closely together), and Iran, being Muslim, have enough of the trappings of nationhood to be identified here. But Arab countries tightly entwine politics with their religious devotions, which weakens their claim to be seen as strong, stable nations; witness the cruel sectarian violence which has defiled the Middle East region for far too long.
But events occur which can change the course of a nation’s journey. And what affects one nation may affect those nearby or, more often, those causing the change. Flora Thompson’s deeply sympathetic story of a nineteenth-century England that had been “warmly bedded by the soil” and belonged to a “self-sufficient England of peasants and craftsmen … whose native land belonged to its own people” told of a time when the rhythms of the seasons and the changing colours of the landscape were no longer in harmony with the ways of the people. The effects of the enclosures of common land were still being felt and industrialisation was developing apace. In parallel, a harsher form of belonging was developing as people moved into the new towns being built to house the workers demanded by the ever-growing factory culture, many of them the “peasants and craftsmen” from the countryside. In these new surroundings assorted socialisation programs grew: organised sport, working men’s clubs, mechanics’ institutes, labour unions and political movements. This fundamental change to the shape of human society became a worldwide phenomenon; the industrialisation of life brought about the industrialisation of war, and hardened the need for nationhood.
Our country is not a sum of communities, it is an identity.
—Francois Fillon, Prime Minister of France from 2007 to 2012
Ulrich Beck, when Professor of Sociology at Munich’s Ludwig-Maximilians University, asserted that “faith in the nation state” is a “nostalgic self-delusion”. This is an extremist view typical of its time and place and still commonly supported in a post-Brexit present. Beck then believed that the EU was “a paradise of prosperity and security”. In the present circumstances, one can admire his unbounded faith but certainly not his foresight. The search for security, given the scale of refugees fleeing to the West from perennially unsettled Muslim countries, is imposing significant social upheaval upon those dealing with, or affected by, this issue. “Paradise” is far from these realities.
Nationalism’s detractors are loud in their belief that nationalism, though it may have had an earlier purpose, fits poorly into our new, globalised world. This view is shared by those individuals who live most of their lives in an international environment and thus contribute little or nothing to their native culture. They have, in a sense, become “de-cultured”; or, to coin a term, de-nationed.
This is not to suggest that nations do not fit into a globalised world, since it is trade agreements between nations, or groups of nations, that lubricate international economic activity. Indeed, so successful is this process that its future advancement remains unclear. The future of the globalised economic system—what it might yet become—has attracted little research because the variables are numerous and the mix of human and natural interventions are manifold. There was a time when, in different cultural settings, human progress was as much concerned with man’s spiritual being as the meeting of man’s temporal needs. Now, increasingly, the one is sacrificed at the altar of the other. The human future is now technologically driven and our imaginings are all at the interfaces of emerging technology and the remnant desires of a more predictable past. We do not know what we might become, or how and when it will happen.
As globalisation continues and its functionaries expand to guide its political imperatives, the demand for economic growth becomes obligatory and the political and social life of society becomes disturbed. Globalisation harms democracy if political control is too remote. Democracy withers if decision-making is indifferent to the people; the attraction of power brings its many sins. Friedrich Hayek characterised the powerful as “dedicated to their own absurdly hermetic rules—experts in process, blind to culture”, and noted: “Increasingly, it [is] the state of the world as a whole that [engages] their moral passion, not their conduct.” The liberties and solidarity of a mature nationhood require an active involvement by the people to ensure its survival.
A great deal of hyperbole—with no small amount of untruth—has been written and spoken about the nature and the dynamics of nationalism. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s paper on nationalism is an example. Here we may learn of the “repulsion in the face of crimes perpetuated in the name of nationalism”, and to ask questions such as: How much [should] one care about one’s nation? What is it to belong to a nation? What is the nature of pro-nationalist attitudes? To follow Stanford further, “The nation is typically seen as essentially a non-voluntary community one belongs to by birth and early nurture” (the “non-voluntary” qualifier is the give-away here, as though one’s beginnings may be readily discarded; one doesn’t “volunteer” to belong to one’s family, but one’s belonging to that family is a natural, and ongoing, human connection); “the ultimate moral issue is … is any form of nationalism morally permissible or justified and, if not, how bad are particular forms of it?” (for nationalism to be described as being or becoming an “ultimate moral issue” stretches credulity beyond its limits. Moral purpose resides in the individual and will infuse the nation when a purpose develops sufficient civic mass to provoke a moral response. If warfare is such a response then military means may commit immoral acts to bring the war conditions to an end. It is often difficult to neatly separate a moral purpose from an immoral purpose—as distinct from acts). As Herbert Spencer stated as a young man, “No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy.” Our imperfect world must continue to settle for what is possible.
The Stanford Encyclopedia goes on to say, “the project of building classical nation states [may be] moderated and replaced by a more sensitive form of national identity which can thrive in a multicultural society”. The idea that a “more sensitive form” of nationalism can be found hides behind an extremist feminist view that “white males” are responsible for all social evils past, present and, no doubt, those yet to be uncovered and defeated. But, in whatever form, a nation cannot be simply “built” or, as this view desires, recalibrated; the de-colonised boundaries of Africa’s diverse nations demonstrate the instability of that project, and the EU is sure evidence of the errors accompanying the mere ideology attaching to the stitching together of several ancient peoples—many of them ancient nations—in the hope that they will become an integrated state, in some form in some uncertain future.
If the roots of nationalism arose from “the symbolic construction of the authority of kings, chieftains, text and law” why is the concept of nationhood so reviled by the “priestly” caste of the West today? Partly, it is because it challenges their contemporary ideological comforts and uncertainties. Margot Wallstrom, a Swede and once vice-president of the Commission for Institutional Relations and Communications, stated that “Eurosceptics [were] risking a return to the Holocaust by clinging to ‘national pride’”, in response to which her fellow commissioners added, “EU citizens should pay tribute to the dead of WWII by voting YES to the [then] draft constitution for Europe”. Rarely did so much self-interested rhetoric emanate from an appeal to so much tragedy.
In fact, the causes of the appalling events of the twentieth century were not rooted simply in nationalism. For most of the nineteenth century, the nations of Europe were in some turmoil. A newly united Germany and a recently united Italy (the Risorgimento) emerged from this time and, unsurprisingly, both aggressively pursued a belated colonisation program. Their enlarged borders brought the need to protect them, and both countries, Germany in particular, prepared themselves for the coming First World War; perhaps to further extend their colonies. With the beginnings of fragmentation of the old multinational empires—the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian—alliances became fluid and nations enveloped within those empires seized the opportunity for their independence. Within this mix, the well-developed industrialisation of Germany, France and Britain would bring into the coming war the ability to kill or maim the enemy in appalling numbers, utterly destroy glorious landscapes, and cause pain and endless horror to affected non-combatants. Militarism shaped military policy. The war reshaped Europe, but did not cure it.
The Second World War—the war without pity—gave birth to a different Europe. At its beginning a totalitarian shadow was cast over it; the dregs of the settlement of the First World War. War then consumed the body of Europe, and much more besides, until the horror and savage destruction wrought by that awful event were finally, and at terrible cost, brought to an end by an alliance of historic nation-states; Russia, the USA and Great Britain (with support from its colonies). It is true that the Soviet Union, as a multinational ideological construct, bore a huge part of the burden of victory, but without Russia it had no centre—it was Moscow that Hitler saw as the heart to strike. Stalin’s army died in huge numbers to prevent occupation and defeat and, when all looked dire, it was the nation that Stalin urged on his troops to fight and die for. Great Britain was in a financially parlous state by the war’s end, severely damaged physically and on its proverbial knees; but it survived as a nation because its nationhood had deep and well-nourished roots. More than that, it had faith in a better future and elected a radical government immediately after the war ended to steer the country into a new beginning. And its ally, America, the modern nation-state of diverse settlers, immigrants and slaves, whose huge military and political strength, along with an intense patriotism, helped secure a profound victory, now had more stories to cherish and celebrate. That dismal little speech of Margot Wallstrom’s missed the point entirely: militarism, whether fed by European or Japanese totalitarianism, had been broken by countries carrying within them a deep sense of their nationhood.
When the war ended Europe sought repair and another beginning. It is still searching.
He that has lost his patriotic spirit has lost himself and the whole [world] about himself.
—Johann Gottfried Herder
European civilisation has evolved by the strength and energy of its national components: its nation-states, its city-states, and its earlier clans or grand families. A shared religious faith was the most important source of the imaginings which stimulated its early art, literature, architecture and social graces. In later times the humanity so central to the Christian message gave rise to the socially grounded political philosophy that was at the core of the greater Western civilisation. This political atmosphere gave rise to rebellions, revolutions and war, all becoming the black agent of change.
The French Revolution (1789 to 1802) was a civil uprising within an existing nation and was initially thought by many of France’s neighbours to be yet another year of court intrigues and small-scale conflicts; in fact it was to lead to the dethronement of the Old Regime. Though not the first, its consequences were the most far-reaching. It violently overthrew the hated old ways, then struggled with equal deadly passion to find a new mission for France. The revolution was the crucible for modernity and breathed new life into the earlier values of nationalism by encouraging the independence of peoples indentured within the power of another. Its influence was international, giving rise to energetic discussion on political philosophy and causing a major change to the shape of Europe and its political relationships. For France, the remainder of the nineteenth century was full of difficulties.
Beyond Europe, other revolutionary movements were showing signs of activity. In 1868 the Meiji restoration took place to modernise and reinvigorate Japan’s traditional structure and culture. It sought to build a purer, more intense sense of what it was to be Japanese by integrating Shinto beliefs deeply into nationhood, making the emperor divine, and thus creating a special place for the Japanese people. This god-inspired sense of national superiority ultimately brought with it terrible consequences from which, in 1945, a new Japan emerged and found reason to join the world of sovereign nations in helping to keep the idea of peace alive.
China is another, but different, example of a state developing a sense of nationhood before embracing the intensity of nationalism. In spite of China’s long and proud history as a civilised entity, millions of its people have left a life of poverty to live and work in many different countries; and where they have settled peacefully they have created a diaspora as big as any other. And as China has developed and prospered, so has it expected overseas-domiciled Chinese to continue to identify with their ancestral values, or even to return to the motherland to aid its vast development program. The China of modern times became the sovereign state of the People’s Republic of China only in 1949 when the Nanjing government was driven to the island of Taiwan where, over the rest of the twentieth century, the democratic (though not sovereign) state of Taiwan came into being. Mainland China is now a multinational state with a strong sense of its identity rooted in the Han Dynasty, and a belief in its ability to expand and impose its recovered power. This power, however, is maintained by a strong, often unforgiving, central authority which will not be weakened. The entirely predictable fear of the government rests on the belief that a weak centre will lead to the fragmentation of the nation. Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew said, “China is not going to become a liberal democracy; if it did, it would collapse.” The West will be wise to avoid any attempt to ignore this fear.
The Indian subcontinent has for long been a land of mixed peoples and cultures; it has become a pluralistic, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic state which has taken readily to the modern concept of democracy partly because of its history of having to live amicably with a substantial mix of different, and close, neighbours. The Indus Valley civilisation flourished from approximately 2500 to 1900 BC and is considered to be the oldest city-based culture in South Asia. From then diverse peoples, cultures, myths, scriptures, scientific achievements, architecture, and political and administrative systems took India into a readiness for modernity. That began in 1848 with the appointment of the Governor-General of the British East India Company which, following the Indian Rebellion in 1857, was superseded with direct administration by the British government. After the Second World War (in which 150,000 Indians died aiding the British military), a war-weakened Britain, combined with a growing call by Indians for their independence, finally, in 1947, led to an agreed separation. A new nation was born and, in spite of some setbacks, India has survived as a nation, and remains an example of nationhood inspiring democracy.
Russia is a special case. From KievanRus, the East Slavic state centred in Kiev in the ninth century, through the Tartar invasions, the Teutonic Knights, the rise of Moscow and the ruthless Ivan the Terrible, the Russian empire with the exploration and settlement of Siberia and its far eastern regions, the entry and retreat of Napoleon’s army and its consequences, challenging the Ottomans, defeated in war by the Japanese, being part of the politics played out in a Europe sliding into the First World War; all of these led to the 1917 Revolution and the error and ultimate failure of the Soviet Union. Russia was a European outpost with an active presence in a substantial part of Asia. Its history, combined with the sheer size of its growing sovereign territory, restrained its development into present times. It was for too long economically and socially backward. Its transportation system grew too slowly, its railways and long-distance roadways holding back development of an adequate industrial system. In addition, the state bore the burden of a population of which the large majority were illiterate and always on the border of starvation. Though it had a “brilliant elite”, Russia maintained its backwardness under the absolute authority of the Tsar and his bureaucracy into modern times. Only its military was able to develop an identity fitted to deliver and defend the revolution initiated by an elite coterie. Perhaps the error of the communist experiment has brought Russia into a better modernity. A sense of a lasting nationhood may yet show itself.
A portion of mankind may be said to constitute a nationality, if they are united among themselves by common sympathies, which do not exist between them and any others—which make them co-operate with each other more willingly than with other people, [and] desire to be under the same government.
—John Stuart Mill
This is nationalism without sentiment. Mill also says that in times of national stress sentiment may be essential to national survival, and that “at the present time, the existence of nations is a guarantee of liberty, which would be lost if the world had only one law and only one master”. To this may be added that nations with strong local roots will better sustain the liberties that underpin democracy, require fewer laws to obey and less power to impose and control thought, word and behaviour. The more remote is the centre of government from those governed, the more liberty is weakened.
The movements for independence from colonial conditions, such as those which arose in Africa and parts of Asia in modern times, did not necessarily usher in liberty for all. Many of the elites who led the independence struggles brought with them another set of political and social control conditions, often based on international ideological conventions. In Africa in particular the impositions of a local political regime or fiefdom have worsened the conditions of the people. In many cases the tribal structure of the independent state has been in contradiction with the state boundaries, which has led to considerable unsettlement. But even where there is coincidence of the state boundary and the tribal structure, independence has not usually been a peaceful process. Nationhood needs more than this.
Democracy is a system. Some would argue that it has a moral frame, but its nature hardly supports that. At its best it is a vehicle to bring competing political and social interests into the public view and to determine the means by which those interests may be reasonably balanced. The moral component resides in the individuals (former President Khatami of Iran described voting as “a pious act”) who have the agreed responsibility to use sound judgment to achieve a fair outcome. This can arouse strong passions, but democracy’s strengths lie in the indirect (sometimes direct) involvement of the people. Its need for openness, that is to say its visibility to the people, is clear. The conditions which define nationalism are also the conditions that lubricate the democratic system: a shared history, shared values, a shared landscape, a common liturgy and a shared language. Not all nation-states have that degree of integration, but the greater the integration, the stronger is the nation and the democracy. The cost to be paid for modernity by indigenous cultures has been high, albeit with a degree of regret. But the survival of all cultures who have had modernity thrust upon them cannot, with all good intentions, remain as a fossil while the world of which they have long been part drifts into an unimagined future.
There has to be [to sustain a culture] a unifying social ethic … and an overarching higher conscience.
History supports the view that democratic nationalism is best fitted to provide the sentiments expressed by Carroll; but both strands must be rooted in a tangible history, a secure present, and a shared vision of the future. The world is littered with states that were given hand-me-down constitutions by one or another colonial power which, given their different historical experiences and cultural developments, have failed to provide a sound basis for their national future.
The multinational empires which did not survive (the Arab, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian and Soviet empires, for example) all existed in another time with other challenges, and lacked the intrinsic flexibility to cope with the profound changes thrust upon them. The multinational entity now being constructed in Europe, in place of the nations which preceded it, has a plan to replace those nations with identified and named “regions” in a clumsy attempt to rearrange what history has already successfully arranged. The EU’s hope that this reconstructed Europe will achieve a secure amity within has yet to be tested; Brexit may be the first test.
The multicultural ideology so loudly acclaimed by its backers is plainly flawed. The host country has had to frame contentious laws and regulations to limit the speech and behaviour of its citizens, while imposing few enforceable conduct requirements or behavioural obligations upon the newcomers. The result is a weakening of the host’s democratic base, leading to growing tension between the two groups which occasionally results in violence. It is not acceptable to assign blame to one side and urge tolerance on the other. For the root of this difficulty lies partly in, on the one hand, the latent nature of the individuals comprising each side, and, on the other, the failure of the host country to apply a sensible selection process to ensure an amicable settlement phase. Clearly, the selection of refugees is most difficult, and their resettlement results are mixed at best, harmful at worst. This is unsurprising given the often deep trauma that those seeking another home have experienced. The whole process demonstrates how an unsuitable ideology fails the people who are required to accept its inadequacies.
If the future of multinational entities is full of the unknowable or the inadequate—though just as each past was different, so will each future be—how sure can we be of the relative stability of nationhood in a small world subject to continuous and rapid change?
Uncontrolled migration from unstable regions to stable (presently meaning the West) regions of the world will continue to denude the emigrant countries of many of their best people and exacerbate existing troubles, while meeting increasing opposition in the host countries it destabilises. In the long term there will be a gradual melding of human races, which is likely to be a relatively benign process, though not always. The impact of technology both externally (things we can use) and internally (enhancements of the brain and the body) has endless possibilities, including the blurring of human nature long inherited and naturally developed. Changes to our planetary climate will probably pose insoluble difficulties for much of the present century, owing to our inability to agree on the nature and extent of the problem, to develop an adequate response, and to implement an agreed solution. A connected problem is the potential exhaustion of natural resources, notably usable water.
John Carroll imagines a new world of:
[a] social pathology of lonely individualism; of senseless mobility from place to place, job to job, relationship to relationship, commodity to commodity, and idea to idea; in short the pathology of a rootless and restless existence absurd in its busyness.
These sentiments assume a much changed future. Nationalism belongs to the times when humans lived in an associative way and in a familiar and cherished environment. And nationalism has brought mankind to where we are today; good and bad. We can only hope that Carroll’s imagining of a harsh and harmful future will not be too soon arriving. But the future our descendants will have to live in—or survive in—will demand much more from us … and from them.
Graham Culver is a retired chartered professional engineer who lives in Brisbane. He contributed “The Incompatibility of Islam and the West” in March.