AS WE reached the end of a turbulent 2018--there was (and is) an uproar against the nation-state... and not for the first time. "World leaders" now are accustomed to call for the subordination of the nation to the good of the globe. This call is amplified by the media and the intellectual elites, who march in lockstep. If the call is right, the peoples of the world will enter a new age of global peace, prosperity, and cooperation. If it is wrong, the free nations of the world will lose the remnants of democratic accountability that have kept them free.
The location of the latest outburst of transnational enthusiasm was a grim anniversary, the 100th Armistice Day, the annual remembrance of Nov. 11, 1918, the end of World War I, known at the time as the Great War. The losses of Europe in that conflict were staggering: 8,500,000 soldiers killed, including 900,-000 from the British Empire and Commonwealth and 1,360,000 French. By comparison, the number of British military killed in World War II, a much costlier war overall in terms of life and treasure, was just under 400,000; that of the French military killed, France's army having been defeated quickly, 210,000. Such horrors never had been seen, and their scars still are visible all over Europe: lists of the dead on the walls of colleges; statues in town squares; national gatherings of solemn dignity.
Modern eyes see these wars as the result of the nation-state and proof that nationalism cannot be sustained, but this is a half-truth. It leaves out the distinction that matters more than any: what kind of nations do we mean?
With world leaders gathered in Paris in what was to be an atmosphere of unity, Pres. Emmanuel Macron of France was the keynote speaker at the Armistice Day ceremony, and his speech made a sensation in the press. He delivered it standing before the Arc de Triomphe, a monument to the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars that formed modern France. Beneath the Arc is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from WWI. As much as any place on Earth, it is hallowed civic ground--a curious place to launch an attack on the civic.
Nationalism, Macron argued, is the cause of war--the reason so many died in the 20th century. The cure is to rid ourselves of nationalism. Macron spoke beautifully of the sacrifices of the soldiers who perished in the Great War, of the misery in which they fought, of the lives they might have had.
However, as he mourned and honored them, he also conscripted them into the cause of transnationalism, for which he says they fought: "In those dark hours, that vision of France as a generous nation, of France as a project, of France promoting universal values, was the exact opposite of the egotism of a people who look after only their interests, because patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is a betrayal of it."
What can it possibly mean to say that patriotism is the opposite of nationalism? Think of the meaning of the words. "Nation" comes from the Latin word natus, which means "birth" or "to be born." In its root, nation is the place where one is born. Natus also is the root of the word "nature," which means how and what a thing comes to be and, therefore, what it is.
Nature and nation are connected terms. One might say it is the nature of man to have a nation. The classical philosophers and, for that matter, the greatest French philosophers, trumpet that very thing. Take Montesquieu, who, like many of the best thinkers, sought a law or a standard of behavior among nations that would avoid perpetual war. He did not propose, however, that the nation should pass away. To the contrary, he wrote: "Law should be so appropriate to the people for whom they are made that it is very unlikely that the laws of one nation can suit another."
"Patriotism" also is an interesting word. It comes from the Latin root pater. The pater is the father, thus, for example, "paternity"...