I have been recently reading Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book My Battle with Hitler. In it, I noticed something striking. Dr. D–as I like to call him–does not spend time talking about how Capitalism is better than Socialism. When he talks about the errors of those around him, he spends very little time talking about how individual freedom to follow one’s self interest is the greatest thing ever. Dr. D talked at length about nationalism, though, and its effect on those around him. In his time, the nationalistic elements of National Socialism were more deadly to him than the economic. This nationalism was the driving force behind the violence and anarchy being perpetrated by the Nazis.
We see a new nationalism taking hold today. To equate it to the nationalism of Nazis is ridiculous. The circumstances of Germany then and America now are completely different. What is the same, however, is the rise of nationalism with the rise of political violence. It is interesting to think how we got here. Ira Glass has some theories, as do many in the conservative parts of the GOP. However one determines the immediate cause, the first cause is always nationalism. It is a sort of nationalism that spurs on the Black Lives Matter movement. It is a sort of nationalism that spurs on the Tea Party movement. But why nationalism? The problem comes from liberalism itself and whether you are on the right or the left of American politics, you accept the notion of hyper-individualism i.e. do what you want but don’t hurt anyone.
Naturally, when you accept the proposition of individualism, you have inadvertently isolated everyone. As such, people need something in common to rally around. Nationalism is the only thing possible since the only thing everyone really has in common at this point is the nation. But this begs the question: what is “American?” We have both sides condemning the other for alleged crimes against what it means to be American. In the end, this nationalism is just as individualistic as individualism, being born from individualism. So many things have been born from the nationalists, from the culture wars to actual wars. One thing has remained constant throughout all these nationalist movements: violence. Violence in speech and action have been the calling card of these movements.
Most disturbing is the use of Reichstheologie to justify these nationalistic movements. Be it Catholic theologians pressured to support the Invasion of Iraq against the advice of Pope John Paul II or the radical individualism inserted into Christianity to nullify any religious censure of political positions, be they the death penalty or abortion, these nationalistic movements needed a theology to accompany them in some way. Dr. D talked about that at length as well. The nationalists could not conceive of a scenario where their nation and their national identity could be wrong. Ergo, all things, including theology, needed to conform to the nationalistic ideals. Whether it is be Patriotically or Politically Correct, all things must conform to the proposed nationalism…but be an individual about it, ok?
Today we have such Reichstheologie and such violence done in the name of America and what she stands for, though not nearly as obvious. But then again, it was not obvious to the German nationalists that they were working their own demise and the demise of Germany’s reputation for years to come. The anger and bigotry from all brands of nationalism in America will likely come to some horrific end and we will all learn a valuable lesson from it like Germany. Then again, it might not. Who can really say if these forms of nationalism will bring shame upon the nation they proclaimed to love? Only Time could say, if it were allowed to continued.
The ironic thing about nationalism after all, is that, while it tries to unify individuals to dedicate themselves to the nation and some national cause, it removes the individual identity from those individuals. They are now liberals, conservatives, patriots, #RealAmericans, and so on. In seeking to bring unity, it instead brings uniformity and conformity. It is a form of control upon the mind and heart to a specific set of ideals. Add some space aliens and you have yourself a cult. Somehow we are ok with it so long as you say America enough and you want to provide birth control to lower income families.
America needs to reject nationalism. Not simply because it causes violence and division in our country, but because it wholly opposed to humanity and the dignity of the human person. Nationalism accepts as a common notion that the state is somehow greater than the person. Plenty of Reichstheologie is created to back that up, both in Dr. D’s time and our own, and on both sides of the aisle. In reality, as Dr. D argues, the state and therefore the nation are not properly a substance in the same sense as the human person. The nation state only has being–especially in democratic societies–through the designs of man. The nation has its power, its very being from man himself and therefore subject to him.
America needs Solidarity. Unlike nationalism, Solidarity brings people together freely through authentic commonalities inherent in their dignity as human persons. It rejects implicitly and explicitly the lie that one needs a national identity to have unity, that man derives anything from the nation other than mutual cooperation and protection for the common good of the people in his community. Where nationalism would seek to divide the Tea Party and the Black Lives Matter movements, Solidarity recognizes that the good of both resides in mutual understanding and cooperation. Solidarity does not need complicated Reichstheologie to justify it; it is found in every major religion and obvious to the casual philosopher to be essential to human nature.
Our battle against nationalism will likely not be as dramatic as Dietrich von Hildebrand’s but it will be no less arduous. The nationalists are deeply entrenched in their political institutions, but then so were those who opposed Dr. D. The only thing that can adequately defeat nationalism is to show how Solidarity is not only superior, but will reinvigorate the American spirit, the spirit of ’76, the spirit of mankind given by Nature and Nature’s God.