Friday, 28 February 2014

The Moral Maze: what are the moral underpinnings of nationalism?

The Morality of Nationalism
Duration: 43 minutes
First broadcast: Wednesday 26 February 2014
This week the Moral Maze looks at the morality of nationalism. In Ukraine and the UK people are fighting and in the former case dying over the idea and the ideals of nationhood. Those are just the biggest headlines today; without pausing to think too hard you might add Syria, the Basque and Catalan regions of Spain and Tibet to the list and that's just from the news in the last seven days - let alone going further back in history to the breakup of Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Chechnya and Ireland. Nationalism and the struggle for national identity is a complex moral puzzle. What makes nationalism such a powerful and morally problematic force in our lives is the interplay of old feelings of communal loyalty and relatively new beliefs about popular sovereignty. On the one hand it undoubtedly expresses something deep in human nature - a yearning for self-determination and justice. But it can also come with darker tribal undertones of "us" and "them" and has been seen all too often through ethnic cleansing and genocide. To what extent should people be permitted to act on the basis of loyalty to those to whom they are specially related by culture, race or language? Are there benign forms of nationalism? Should enlightened people repudiate nationalism? What value should we attach to cultural diversity? Given the current examples of how nationalism can sometimes seem to be a force for good, and sometimes a force for very great evil what are the moral underpinnings of nationalism?

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Anne McElvoy, Matthew Taylor and Giles Fraser.

The best thing that was said was when one of the guests said nations are "ethically neutral".

They are a necessary evil in other words.

Human beings have to gather themselves into groups, and the nation state is one of these units they can gather themselves into.

Asking anyone if they like the idea of a nation state is like asking them if they like people, or houses, or even if they like themselves.

Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. Houses can be nice or they can be nasty, depending on how they are run and whether they are habitable.

The nation is the biggest human grouping that is big enough to matter, but small enough to care.

The nation is also a reaction to amoral tribalism and the word ummah means nation in Arabic. Since this word has particular application to Islam, it can be translated loosely as a community of people who share the same moral outlook and recognise the same laws.

Islam is therefore in concept and application civic nationalist while Judaism is ethno-nationalist. Jews are not supposed to practise usury on each other, but are allowed to do so on other tribes.  Muslims are absolutely forbidden to practise it at all.  This does tend to show which religion is more "us and them", does it not, and which more racially exclusive.

The entry threshold for becoming a Muslim is rather lower than that of becoming a Jew, and this no one can deny.  To declare as the Shahada requires a convert to affirm that "There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God." This is rather easier to do than to become a Jew which requires that one's mother to be a Jewess or a long and thorough process of conversion.

It would be true to say that Islam is like a political party while Judaism is more analogous to an exclusive private club.

Is nationalism a good thing, the programme asks? Is it moral?

If it is necessary then it must be good. A country necessarily has physical borders and people living in it who have different ideas of doing things and the conflicting interests of different groups: between old and young, male and female, rich and poor, the aspirational and the established.

A nation is like a human being in many ways. It has a physical self, a mental self-image and an image of it held by others. Every now and then it has a haircut, buys new clothes, downsizes or expands. Sometimes it is nice and other times nasty.

Perhaps we should think of the nation as a collection of cells and organs, rather like our own bodies. Whether we are good, healthy, clever, happy, sane and strong depends on the ideas we embrace and practise, and the food we eat.

Just as bodies have healthy cells it can also have cancerous cells. Just like a country it has internal and external enemies. The enemy within is the struggle we have with our ourselves to avoid error, and the enemy without is other people who wish us harm or who may lead us into error.

The group most analagous to cancer cells are of course SSMs.

The reason the Abrahamic faiths all forbid extramarital sex is to avoid the evil of widespread illegitimacy which leads inexorably to national degeneracy.  This theory would adequately explain why all advanced civilisations are patriarchies and practise marriage.  Feminism demonstrably undermines marriage, but liberals are loath to criticise it because it is through feminism that liberals acquire sexual liberation, which is their real sacred cow.
I will now answer the questions raised by the programme.

Q1.  To what extent should people be permitted to act on the basis of loyalty to those to whom they are specially related by culture, race or language?

A1.  The principles of liberty should permit people to act on the basis of loyalty to those who are specially related by culture, race or language.

What are the principles of liberty?

  1. freedom of expression
  2. freedom of contract
  3. freedom of association
  4. the right to property

On these grounds the decision of the Supreme Court to deny the Christian couple who ran a bed and breakfast the right to refuse to do business with a homosexual couple is clearly contrary to the principles of liberty.  

If bed and breakfast owners do not wish to do business with any of the protected groups listed in the Equality Act 2010, then that right should be respected by good liberals everywhere, I would have thought.  Perhaps there are no good liberals anywhere any more. 

Q2.  Are there benign forms of nationalism? 

A2.  Just as there are benign dictatorships, there are benign forms of nationalism.  A good king is but a benign dictator, if you think about it.  

Q3.  Should enlightened people repudiate nationalism? 

A3.  If you agree that nationalism is the ideology of promoting the national interest, then the question to ask people who regard themselves as enlightened is to ask them how promoting the long term national interest could be described as being in any way against their principles.

Q4.  What value should we attach to cultural diversity? 

A4.  We should accept the cultural diversity we have now but not allow any more.  (Cultural diversity is a weasel word for immigration used by liberals, of course.  They like it because it is even more abstract than immigration, which everyone knows means "immigrants".)  

Q5.  Given the current examples of how nationalism can sometimes seem to be a force for good, and sometimes a force for very great evil what are the moral underpinnings of nationalism?

A5.  The moral underpinning of nationalism is good government, for it is only good government that will prevent social fragmentation, crime and disorder, war and revolution.  

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