Nationalism is one of those vague terms that appears when a social order is not anchored in moral certainties. The term can take on many meanings, some good, others bad because when nothing is certain, a climate of anxiety takes hold that distorts the national debate.
This climate is found in today’s exhausted modernity, which is now full of discord and doubt. People are asking how things have reached this point and where they need to go.
A Meeting Place for Individual Wills
This did not happen overnight. Modernity has long eroded the natural institutions that individuals need to develop certainties and control their passions. Its liberal order acclaims the freedom of individuals to be whatever they want to be—or now even what they cannot be. The result is that it reduces anything outside the individual to a means toward an ever-evolving end.
In the words of Alasdair MacIntyre, the social order has become “a meeting place for individual wills, each with its own set of attitudes and preferences and who understand the world solely as an arena for the achievement of their own satisfaction.”
Thus, an individual, for example, might use the family as a conduit for material prosperity and affection. The same person might then enter into divorce when a marriage no longer satisfies and later enter into another union. This same thing happens with other basic communities and institutions when personal gratification is the highest value.
Modernity’s attack on the Christian social order has been a progressive erosion of social institutions starting with the smallest and working upward. It is a kind of reverse subsidiarity where the functions of the smaller institutions, once destroyed, are assumed by the larger. With each successive conquest, the individual senses less immediate restraint, but suffers greater control by the higher institution.
Thus, divorce and the sexual revolution destroyed the family as the only true social standard for society. Local communities and church were left to deal with the tragic consequences of liberal unrestraint that destroys the family. In their turn, local bodies were overturned by the decay of social ties. The State was only too happy to assume the responsibilities of all those affected with a vast leviathan of bureaucratic and socialist regulations.
A parallel process can be observed in the economic consolidation from the local producer into the massive national networks that have assumed control of the national economy.
A Climate of Transition
The next phase in this reverse subsidiarity process is the destruction of the individual’s only remaining social link—the nation-state. The machinery of globalization and integration is already in place to assume the functions of the nation and now seeks to impose a global governance that controls all aspects of life, culture and economy.
Today the nation finds itself in this terrible climate of transition. Individuals are overwhelmed by the enormous distance between themselves and the massive governing systems in place. They accuse the globalist pseudo-elites of having lost touch with the reality of the everyday lives of most citizens. The individual freedom of individuals is straight-jacketed by crippling regulation, high taxation and political correctness that extends beyond national borders.
This situation has caused backlash and reaction. Individuals feel the natural desire to regain control over their lives. This crisis awakens in their hearts a sincere and legitimate love of country, now being attacked. It might even cause people to have recourse to a higher power, God, Who far surpasses any global power.
Returning to the Notion of a Nation
This confused climate of massive global networks arrayed against isolated individuals favors the appearance of vague terms like nationalism and populism. People reason that if global networks and selfish, false elites are destroying the nation, they must naturally step back and restore the nation-state to its rightful place in the hearts and minds of citizens. There is nothing wrong with such sentiments, but they come vague, undefined and incomplete.
The true notion of a nation has long been eroded by a liberal order in which self-interest has long been the dominant standard governing life. Thus, some associate the notion of a nation only with that which advances the country’s self-interest and not the securing of the common good which is the real purpose of national unity. They believe the nation should be run like a business and that the metrics for measuring the restoration of the nation should be centered in material or political greatness, personal benefits and not moral terms.
A Proper Notion of the Nation
What is needed is a proper notion of a nation. A nation is not an economic entity but a moral one. A nation is born when informal groupings of individuals, families, and intermediary associations coalesce into a distinctive whole. A nation forms a cultural, social, economic, and political unity unable to be included into any other one. The goal of this new social unit is not only the furthering of the good of each member but the common good of all. This common good must include moral principles that ensure the peace of the community, allows virtuous co-existence, and favors the material and spiritual good of all in the community.
Thus, any restoration of the nation must include the rebuilding of those groups, families and associations that make up the nation, create culture and foster goodwill and unity. Without these dynamic elements, the notion of nation is reduced to vague sentiments of political and economic grandeur, often detached from reality. It will necessarily be a sterile restoration based on the past since it will exclude the institutions of family, community and faith that naturally create the conditions for the nation to prosper.
In other words, society must once again be anchored in moral certainties. It must be grounded in objective notions of natural law, the family and social order so well defined by the Church and so conducive to social harmony. Nations are not mechanically planned like corporations but arise organically (like families) when their parts are sound and principled.
The first step toward this restoration is to recognize that partial solutions are not enough. Vague terms that can mean everything do nothing to solve problems. A real solution must involve the whole social fabric anchored in moral certainties. It must also involve an appeal to an Almighty God who can do all things.
Indeed, the simple return to the nation-state will not prevent the absorption into the global Moloch. It could even create another Moloch.