With the Independence Day weekend coming up, my mind again turns to the role that patriotism and nationalism play in our politics.
My latest thoughts on this debate were sparked by a recent Federalist Radio Hour, in which Ben Domenech interviewed Douglas Murray, the author of The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. Much of the hour — as you might expect — involves Europe’s migration policies, multiculturalism, etc., and is worth a listen in its entirety.
The passage that leapt out at me, however, involved what Murray –a Brit — had to say in comparing America and European democracies. (This passage starts at roughly the 18-minute mark.)
In discussing multiculturalism, Murray describes it as government policy that treats a nation like a hotel into which people are free to move, but management is essentially uninterested in its tenants and makes few if any demands upon them. It is only now, in the post 9/11 world, that European politicians like Angela Merkel have worked up to the idea that, for example, immigrants to Germany ought to learn to speak German.
Murray then noted that while America has a version of this problem, we are likely to deal with it better than Europe because our Founders came up with “very clear and… wonderful” ideas of what it is to be an American and that to which a nation should aspire.
In comparison, a monarchy like the UK lacks a cohesive statement of principles like our written Constitution. As a result, according to Murray, the UK is more fragile in the sense that it lacks a clear basis for its response to the issues raised by immigration.
Extending Murray’s metaphor a bit, it seems to me he is suggesting that the hotels of the Old World are not built on the firmest of foundations. Their hotels are built on nationalisms rooted in history and culture, complex and unwieldy.
OTOH, America’s nationalism is bounded by its patriotism. The Founders believed our culture should conform to certain universal principles of political justice. It is that belief, found in the Declaration of Independence and implemented (however imperfectly) in our Constitution, that may account for America’s historical ability to assimilate immigrants.
America is ultimately a nation built on principles and we expect that immigrants wishing to become citizens understand them. This is often more than can be said for native-born children, if the condition of our educational system is any indicator.
America’s multiculturalists (in the sense Murray defines the term) have been blasting away at this foundation for decades (arguably a century). They have successfully created fissures which are now increasingly filled by Old World, blood-and-soil nationalism.
This dynamic may wind up being a much larger issue than the economic ones that Peter Beinart thinks should give the Left pause on its immigration dogma. And it’s an aspect of the issue that won’t be solved by Beinart’s preferred solution of increased income redistribution. Quite the opposite, which will make it difficult, perhaps impossible, for the the identity politicians — Left or Right — to address.
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