Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Transnationalism Is The Last Refuge of A Scoundrel

This fits nicely with the last post though it is from exactly a year ago.

Samuel Johnson originally said "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." Johnson said this in the mid-18th C, before Europe became convulsed -- for good and ill -- with movements which purported to transcend mere national boundaries and uplift Mankind in general. The nation was a cause larger than one's own self, and thus the most convenient sheep's clothing for a wolf to hide in. Marx would not appear on the scene for a century. Even the American and French Revolutions, with their high-falutin' language about the Rights of Man, were unknown.

If transnationalism had existed, Johnson would have picked that instead, not merely because it follows that the "higher" cause creates the better cover, but because he would have observed it happening.

Mark Steyn excoriates the UN, (HT: Instapundit) not because it is flawed, but because its flaws are now central to its existence. The UN retains wide emotional approval, especially on the left, despite its demonstrated corruption and active interference in the improvement of nations.

In fact, however, the UN is a shamefully squalid organization whose corruption is almost impossible to exaggerate. If you think—as the media and the left do in this country—that Iraq is a God-awful mess (which it’s not), then try being the Balkans or Sudan or even Cyprus or anywhere where the problem’s been left to the United Nations. If you don’t want to bulk up your pension by skimming the Oil-for-Food program, no need to worry. Whatever your bag, the UN can find somewhere that suits—in West Africa, it’s Sex-for-Food, with aid workers demanding sexual services from locals as young as four; in Cambodia, it’s drug dealing; in Kenya, it’s the refugee extortion racket; in the Balkans, sex slaves. On a UN peace mission, everyone gets his piece.

It retains this cachet because transnationalism is thought to be a holier cause than nationalism. Perhaps even especially in the Christian denominations, there is a fuzzy logic which believes "Because the Church transcends national boundaries, therefore anything which also transcends national boundaries is holier than the merely national." When you put it this way, it is revealed as merely silly. But the denominational offices, the seminaries, and the higher clergy really do think this way. Causes which "reach across" (notice the image) national boundaries are seen as aspirational and inspirational. Trying to rise above "mere nationalism" is seen as a default Good Thing.

It is not. CS Lewis notes that the higher things may rise, the more evil they may become. Devils are made of fallen angels, not fallen cattle.

Additionally, notice that the Church didn't begin to think this way until socialism became part of the equation. The Holy Roman Empire did not envision itself as a mini-UN. The laudable cooperation of Christians from different backgrounds occurred because they had an allegiance to the Church, and hopefully, ultimately to Christ, not because they had an allegiance to transnationalism per se.

Transnationalism is a new false god, and like Moloch, has devoured many children.


Anonymous said...

I think your argument is slightly confused, historically speaking, and I'm not really sure what you're arguing for or against. That may be a problem on my side - you speak quite a different political language to me.

I understand the thrust of your argument to be that "transnationalism" is a corrupt ideal, that the United Nations is a glaring example of this, and that nationalism is a preferable feeling to have.

However all the points that you make against transnationalism could equally be made against nationalism. You argue that there's nothing inherently good about transnationalism, but equally there's nothing inherently bad (I think). The UN is not a transnational body, but an international body, since it is composed of representatives of nations. National governments around the world are generally more corrupt than not, yet I think we'd agree that we need them.

Also, I have to be honest; I think Mark Steyn is an idiot. He basically has a really large clippings file, but he doesn't really understand what's in it. Many of the points he makes are valid individually, but he conflates different ideas and so can't make a coherent argument.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I'm not sure I can put it better than I did a year ago. Nationalism is popularly regarded as dangerous. Aspirations which include people from many countries are considered to be of a higher order of morality. I have called that transnationalism because it is not about people cooperating in their nationalisms, but in transcending them for some "higher" cause. My point was not to suggest that nationalism was naturally good, but that transnationalism is both theoretically and empirically worse. Because it is held to be such a high ideal, its failures are ignored. The UN is an exceptionally good example of this. As to its "international" flavor, I would submit that while this is the original design, and many countries are indeed nationalist in their approach to the debates in the UN, the more powerful nations are condemned for asserting their national interests there. They are expected to be international in ntheir approach. The various Rios, Kyotos, and Durbans attract a similar affection. People have a vision of how cheery it would all be if the nations of the world did sit down to talk and negotiate rather than fighting. Because the UN looks in structure to be sorta like that, people will forgive any evil it commits.

Most simply, nationalism is regarded as morally dangerous, transnationalism as morally elevating. I think that is false, and may even be backward.
Nationalism is less dangerous because it is more modest.

Anonymous said...

I think your argument falls down simply because you acknowledge that the UN was designed as an international institution, and that many nations approach it in this way. While "more powerful nations are condemned for asserting their national interests there" - well, this has very little to do with the UN specifically. Look at any international institution and you'll see exactly the same politics playing out there.

I think your contention that nationalism is less "dangerous" than transnationalism, because it is "more modest" is completely wrong. I might be misunderstanding your definition of "dangerous", but can you name a single war that was started in the name of transnationalism?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The entire communist movement: 94,000,000 people dead, minimum. Estimates actually range up to 200,000,000. "Transnationalism" itself was not the aim. But the holiness of the cause was sold primarily on the fact that it united a class of people - the workers - across national boundaries. It was considered a greater cause because it was a worldwide liberation, whose claims superceded the merely local ones.

To a lesser extent, the racialism of the Nazis, which held that the destiny of the superior race transcended the local morality, is another example. Eugenics sought to improve all mankind.

Militant Islam has the same failing. It purports to rise above even pan-Arabism, and be something for all the peoples of the world. An Inquisitor is more dangerous than a mere murderer. It is the Grand Visions which result in the death of many and the corruption of more. Any aims for higher moralities, well-meant as they might be, carry with them the danger of even greater corruption, because it can be rationalized away for the cause.

Patriotism is included in this, as Johnson noted. He called it the last refuge of the scoundrel. I would say it is now second- or third-to-last. While giving ourselves to a larger cause may carry us beyond mere narcissism, it also puts us at risk of ignoring the smaller moralities for the sake of the higher - a net loss.

Jihad Hernandez said...

I think this might be the second or third time I've thought since college. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Ah. Forgive me. I didn't understand you before - I thought you were talking about the social theory of transnationalism. If I understand correctly, you're talking about any political ideology that makes claims across national boundaries.

I find it a little too convenient that this definition includes Communism, Nazism and Militant Islam. While I agree that states practicing the first two were responsible for deaths on a huge scale, I think it's too simplistic to say that this was possible because they made transnational appeals, without accounting for the local historical conditions.

But the thrust of your argument is that transnationalism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, which I take to mean that psychopathic bastards were simply using these movements as cover for their foul activities. I would argue that 94,000,000 people is a huge number to kill unless people actually believed in what they were doing - which I think is your real point, that Grand Visions kill more people than anything else.

I would agree. But such visions can be nationalist, supranationalist, religious or anything else - their abiding characteristic is not their transnationalism, but their grandness.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I agree with that. Wolves can hide in the clothing of any variety of sheep. Transnationalism, because it has great cachet as a noble aspiration, is the favored wool of this era, particularly among American and European progressives. There is certainly value in transnational aspiration - the church does aspire to that, for example. I worry at the mischief that has been smuggled in under its cover.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

merkur, thank you, BTW for the distinction of transnationalism contrasted with internationalism in a formal sense. I was using the words descriptively, not realizing they had formal sociopolitical meanings. I went and looked them up, which was informative. My use of the terms approximated but did not equal the formal usage. I don't know if I will change my phrasing or not.