Libertarians are supposed to obediently avoid certain concepts. Good little pack animals do not mention the nation or nationhood, as I did in “We are the World,” for which I was predictably—and derisively—dubbed a “flaming nationalist.”
The root of this simplistic and vulgar individualism, as Murray Rothbard called the aversion, is an inability to distinguish the nation from the State. The former encompasses “the land, the culture, the terrain, the people”; the latter “the coercive apparatus of bureaucrats and politicians.”
Mistaking metaphorical language for language that denotes something concrete is another error libertarians commit—because the nation is not a tangible entity like the individual, its existence is denied.
However, by the nation we don’t mean a material thing. Rather, “the nation properly refers … to the entire web of culture, values, traditions, religion, and language in which the individuals of a society are raised,” as Rothbard so splendidly put it. In America, this amalgam had created—and was once conducive to—liberty in this land.
To consider nationhood a collectivist concept is to confuse authentic individualism with a caricature thereof. The real individualist knows that man is a social being by nature. He knows that to belong to a variety of social systems is not necessarily to be bound by—or subjugated to—them. Mostly, the real individualist knows who he is and whence he came.
And it is precisely this sense that the “powerful political coalitions” dominating the immigration debate work indefatigably to obliterate.
They want an ahistoric and deracinated America, all the better to manipulate. As the classical liberal philosopher David Conway has observed, they are
determined to undermine and ultimately destroy the citizens’ sense of common nationality,” and “replace it with a heightened sense of their particularity and diversity vis-à-vis each other, and which, unless checked will lead to the disintegration of [the nation] into a mass of contending minorities.
These coalitions, which include a president who insists on equating feuding and feral Iraq with early America’s constitutional cramps, deny that there is such a thing as an American nation, as their ritualistic mantra, “nation of immigrants,” suggests.
“To say that America is a ‘nation of immigrants,’” writes commentator Lawrence Auster, “is to imply that there has never been an actual American people apart from immigration.”
It is to put America out of existence as a historically existing nation that immigrants and their children joined by coming here, a country with its own right to exist and to determine its own sovereign destiny—a right that includes the right to permit immigration or not. No patriot, no decent person who loves this country, as distinct from loving some whacked-out, anti-national, leftist idea of this country, would call it a ‘nation of immigrants.’
The people who established the American political order, described by Thomas Jefferson as “a composition of the freest principles of the English constitution … derived from natural right and natural reason,” were overwhelmingly British Christians. America’s Anglo-Saxon historical majority descends not from immigrants, but from English and Scots-Irish colonists. Over to Auster:
The immigrants of the late 19th and 20th centuries came to an American nation that had already been formed by those colonists and their descendants. Therefore to call America ‘a nation of immigrants’ is to suggest that America, prior to the late 19th-century wave of European immigration, was not America.”
The value of truth notwithstanding, why does America’s authentic historical identity matter so?
In the seminal In Defence of the Realm: The Place of Nations in Classical Liberalism, Conway notes that no less a classical liberal thinker than Ludwig von Mises believed liberty (or relative liberty) in the U.S. could not—and would not—survive unless the founding nation retained its historic national identity and cultural hegemony. Mises wrote this in Liberalism in the Classical Tradition:
In the absence of any migration barriers whatsoever, vast hordes of immigrants … would … inundate … America. They would come in such great numbers that it would no longer be possible to count on their assimilation. If in the past immigrants to America soon adopted the English language and American ways and customs, this was in part due to the fact that they did not come over all at once in such great numbers. The small groups of immigrants who distributed themselves over a wide land quickly integrated themselves into the great body of the American people…This would now change, and there is real danger that the ascendancy—or more correctly, the exclusive dominion—of the Anglo-Saxons in the United States would be destroyed.
The prescient Mises believed America’s liberal institutions would not survive this usurpation and that it would be a catastrophe for civilization.
As for my “flaming nationalism”; it’s really quite a modest thing. Ordinary Americans outside the halls of power will appreciate the “fellow-feelings” my miraculously preserved, distinctly American neighborhood induces in me. It’s a place where people still greet each other in English and engage in idiosyncratic English chit-chat (“lovely day, isn’t it?”); where certain conventions of civility and decorum are observed; and yes, where the same decorations go up every December.
© 2006 By Ilana Mercer