It’s generally acknowledged that there were two currents of thought which contributed to the development of Fascism in its early days, nationalism and national syndicalism. Both have existed as isolated threads within societies going back into the beginnings of recorded history. These threads existed and evolved isolated from each other up until Enlightenment ideas began to dictate government and social affairs. The cohesive nature of the enlightenment was able without much difficulty to replace the chaos of anti-democratic thought which had been dominant up until that time. The reaction produced by the latter was as much a part of its inferior position in society as its subconscious need to unify so as to present a challenge to its adversary. This dialectical relationship between Democratic and anti-democratic thought continued until synthesis was achieved on the anti-democratic side with the creation of Fascism. Nationalism being one of the dominant threads in this synthesis defined much of Fascist thought and reflected real concerns and feelings of people, whether Fascist or not. While the articulators of Fascist Nationalism such as Alfredo Rocco, and Enrico Corradini still have an integral part in the doctrine and need to be studied and understood, the doctrine itself needs to reflect the modern context in which we live and articulate accordingly.
Central to Nationalism is the nation, in its concrete material form and its spiritual manifestations. Nationalism is generally credited with being a relatively recent phenomenon as an idea running parallel with the rise of the Nation-State. In the ancient world Nationalism existed in different forms than its modern counterpart. Ancient City States in Greece especially Sparta, but to a lesser extent Athens and its allies were based upon shared ideals and values along with defined geographic boundaries recognized by their inhabitants. It was these shared connections amongst the populaces which served to spur them to sacrifice for an ideal, whether it be Sparta, Athens, etc, and at a later date to sacrifice for the idea of a common Greek cultural ideal against the Persians and Macedonians. Roman history also provides ample evidence of this phenomenon when in the 7th century the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconquered Rome and other portions of the ex-Roman western half of the empire despite those lands lacking natural resources and strategic value. What mattered was the idea of Rome and its symbolic value to those in the Eastern half of the Empire. There are other examples which could be given, but the important point to make is that Nationalism is real and has always been with us in some way shape or form. It took the Enlightenment and the implementation of its ideas, leading to its characteristic social atomism to awaken a counter reaction and give content and coherence to Nationalism.
Nationalism is in essence the desire for national unity; unity through shared thought, culture, language, and history. Hence, the need for a strong ethical State. Shared experiences may produce common desires but only through State action can those desires be molded into a national unity. Thus, Nationalism is primarily a feeling not a set of defined, well articulated ideas. Upon the establishment of the Nation nationalism loses its import and evolves into more sustainable Statist ideologies. However, upon the construction of the State Nationalism then becomes a danger if it continues to exist. The State being the culmination of nationalist feelings dispenses with the need of nationalism as it filters those feelings into more constructive enterprises. The need for national unity being satisfied by its continued existence could only lead to nationalism turning in upon itself, leading to fracturing tendencies such as racism and nativism.
Above I mentioned that Nations exist as a unity through shared thought, culture, language and history. Certainly a common language exists, notwithstanding some pockets in the southwest where Spanish is spoken in abundance, English is overwhelmingly the dominant language of discourse. The other factors which make a nation though are not so clear.
What unity existed at one point in American History has always been fractured in nature due to America’s unique origins. With most other countries the process of national formation took hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. The colonists that came to America were from disparate backgrounds, some to escape their home cultures, and others to build new ones, and then others came as slaves. So nothing except a common language was present. To top it off the agency responsible for forming the nation (the Government) didn’t exist on a national level, but only regionally in the form of 13 separate colonial governments. Out of this disparate confusing situation Fascism would be the ideal answer, but at this time no such alternative was available. Instead of applying the communal experiences of the peoples of the thirteen colonies to a unified structure, the founders, especially Thomas Jefferson and his followers decided to apply the theoretical concepts of the enlightenment onto a population foreign to them, and poison to any society they’re thrust upon.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”
The above is arguably the most well-known and important part of the Declaration of Independence; while it’s true that the DOI is not the law of the land. It is the philosophical foundation of those laws and has been the context which has given form to political debate and social interaction. Democrats and Republicans both claim to be the inheritors of these values and try to justify their positions based upon their connection to the thoughts of the founders; even figures as diverse as George Lincoln Rockwell and Norman Thomas claimed to be the rightful heirs of the founders. So it’s understandable if adherence to these ideas would create the perception that they would constitute American Nationalism. The problem is with the perception. Nationalism is the desire for unity through the creation or establishment of one; its goal is to either create a nation or solidify a nation in a state of decay. Because America was not a nation at its founding an American Nationalism would have been geared towards nation building, instead what we got were ideas which attempted to extract man from his environment by teaching that individuality was a quality already instilled at birth, and that governments were meant to be lifeless institutions acting solely as a reflection of the nation developing independent of it. The very elements which enthrone the individual over the Nation. While not apparent at that time the cultural and moral relativism of 21st century American had its roots in 1776.
Enlightenment ideals didn’t go completely unopposed though. While official opposition was few and far between the overwhelmingly rural lifestyle of Americans was able to create an attachment to the land and community which is often lacking in more industrial settings. And the original religiosity of the colonialists was able to thrive throughout much of American history helping to maintain a strong family and value structure up until recent times. The novels of Mark Twain, the paintings of Norman Rockwell reflect an America which was more than a fantasy and did to a certain extent exist. There’s nothing stronger than the idea to unite and make a nation around. Unfortunately, the idea this country was built upon was the wrong idea.
Those threads of American nationalism which were able to withstand for so long the decaying effects of the founder’s ideology today exist as shadows of their former selves. Agriculture has been replaced by a sedentary monotonous work routine which alienates the citizen from his work, a crass consumerist culture which alienates the citizen from familial attachments, an economic system which pits neighbor against neighbor and in place of culture we’ve substituted the ethic of the marketplace. What this describes is not a nation but an atomized conglomeration held together by the desire to accumulate material wealth.
So what are we to do? How do we reconcile our ideals with an America which spits in the face of everything we hold sacred? First we have to elucidate what true Nationalism is and is not. As I’ve tried to explain above Nationalism is the avocation of national unity; the creation or the strengthening of a historically connected group of people and the nation which is their object. It isn’t supporting ideas no matter how cherished that destroy that unity. Deifying the Declaration of Independence, attempting to reassert the supremacy of the Constitution and limited government is not American Nationalism, but the attempt to seek out meaning in a false mythology. Supporting your country when it goes to war with the avowed purpose of overthrowing a friendly State and installing one opposed to everything you believe in is not supporting your country but wishing for its disintegration.
As Americans it’s necessary for us to take Nationalism and go beyond it. Truth is a Universal value and wherever it’s found should be used to uplift and to create a better future.