Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Dearth of Nations

For what is a nation?
Is it not a people of a common ancestry, culture, and language who worship the same God, revere the same heroes, cherish the same history, celebrate the same holidays, share the same music, poetry, art, literature, held together, in Lincoln’s words, by “bonds of affection ... mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth-stone”?
If that is what a nation is, can we truly say America is still a nation? The European and Christian core of our country is shrinking. The birth rate of our native born has been below replacement level for decades. By 2020, deaths among white Americans will exceed births, while mass immigration is altering forever the face of America.
Pat Buchanan
Maybe I'm just dim, but it seems by this standard that America never WAS a nation. The extermination of the native population was incomplete, non-Christian/non-white people were forcibly brought in to combat a shortage of labor for manpower-intensive cash crops, and immigration has consistently come from pretty much every nation on Earth, to the point where it is said there are municipalities in the United States that have larger ethnic populations than any other city on Earth, including those in the nations of origin. But even if the entire population could trace direct descent to the crews of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria (and there had been women aboard these ships) the United States would fail the common ancestry and culture tests, and quite possibly the religion test as well.

Therefore, it seems unlikely that Buchanan is actually looking to any actual period of American history with this lament (especially not the mid-to-late 1880s) but to yet another of the fictional halcyon days that many people long for. Their very fictitiousness is an advantage - never having actually existed, they are not freighted with the flaws and imperfections that all actual historical timeframes are saddled with. They are wonderfully blank slates, upon which one is able to write whatever fantasies come to mind. And this is what makes them so compelling. They can be the very picture of just the perfection one wants, utterly devoid of any of the complications, messiness and compromises that reality imposes upon the world as it actually exists.

Such fictitious pasts also serve another purpose, in that they become proofs that blows to national pride, economic hardship and social dissonance are all the result of the Other - those who ancestry, culture, language and religion are foreign. All Bad Things were imported from without. And in this, imagined histories become havens from the slings and arrows of outrageous reality by virtue of allowing for a retreat into victimhood. As the many people who prevent one's perfect nation from being created are surely not going anywhere, their stubborn refusal to be deported (or in extreme cases, exterminated) provides a neverending supply of scapegoats, upon whom can blamed whatever new ills tomorrow (or dinnertime) might bring; and their presence can be construed as a deliberate affront - the temerity of people who would rather despoil Paradise than remain in their own justly benighted lands. Even those whose bodies littered the battlefields and lie in patriot graves are unredeemed by their bravery if their descendants are not properly invisible.

By the same token, the fact that the Other prevents the imagined past from ever becoming real means that a similarly imagined future may be dreamed of, but never need be tested. One need never learn how bonds of affection or mystic chords of memory will fare against the temptation to assault, rape, steal from and murder one's countrymen, as no nation is pure enough that some unwarranted mixing cannot be blamed. And thus the very people whom it is imagined create the need for a sanctuary are the ones conscripted to holding open its doors.

It's convenient to wonder where such ideas come from, but it doesn't take much pondering to see how a simple world would seem better than the one we have, which can seem complex to the point of being willfully and maliciously chaotic. Do what you will, but the world is always the greater force, and at times we seem ill-equipped to deal with it. The idea, that were it not for dangerous ethnic groups and sinister elites, that many of today's problems would never have come to pass is often an attractive one. But it undermines, rather than enhances, one's ability to meet the world on its terms. Which is a shame, because the world rarely deigns to play the rules that we wish it to. Couching our complaints about that fact in bigotry simply adds insult (although to whom is sometimes an open question) to futility.

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