American Exceptionalism

It’s typical of me to be a day late in a 4th of July related post, but given that I’ve been reading through a fair amount of non-US 20th century history lately, I wanted to write about three aspects of my country that are (fairly) exceptional, and for which I am distinctly grateful.

The US has a real history of separation of church and state. Yes, many of the individual colonies had established churches, but the US never did, and even the established churches within the colonies were comparatively small and did not control major portions of the wealth in those colonies. Yes, this means that we Christians in the US have never had the kind of totally integrated experience of religious and secular life that existed in some of the societies of the old world, but it also means that we have been spared the ills that seem necessarily to follow eventually when the church functions as a quasi (or official) government or when it is one of the largest and richest landlords in an area. The more I read of European (and to a great extent Latin American) history, the more it strikes me that we in the US simply have no frame of reference for the levels of anti-clericalism and government hostility to religion which resulted from the breakdowns of these old church-state partnerships.

The US is not defined by cultural or ethnic nationality. When intellectuals warn about “nationalism” in the US, they seem to think that nationalism is a matter of holding parades and thinking your country is a nice place. It’s hard to see how this could be a bad thing, mainly because they aren’t bad things. The nationalism which has been at the root of most 20th (and many 19th) century conflicts is another and wholly darker animal: the belief that a cultural/ethnic group by virtue of its existence deserves to have a country that is distinctively its own. It sounds all very idealistic to say that a people deserves to have its own country, but if a country is defined as belonging particularly to one ethnic or cultural group, the necessary follow-on is that it does not belong to any other. This is why, to cite the most famously intractable conflict, the situation in the Holy Land is so poisonous: because Israel is intended to be a country of and for the Jews, while the Palestinian Arabs desire a country occupying the same space that is of and for the Arabs. Neither group can have what they want so long as the other group exists in the same area. The United States, by contrast, while it is vaguely a member of the Anglosphere, is as Chesterton put it “the only nation in the world founded on a creed.” Because is the American idea which is considered central to America, despite all too much prejudice directed against whatever is the most recent wave of immigrants, not to mention the even more shameful history of slavery in the US, the country has remained notably free of the kind of nationalism which has made ethnic cleansing a nation building tool through much of the world.

The US has a noble history of a non-political military. For this we simply cannot give enough thanks to General Washington, a man so universally revered for his service in the Revolutionary War that he could very easily have made himself President For Life, and set the US on the road which is standard for virtually all countries which have their origins in revolutionary wars. Washington truly followed in the ideal of the Roman hero Cincinnatus, fighting for and ruling his country, and then stepping aside. 236 years into the American experiment, the idea of generals seizing control of the country and replacing the government is virtually unimaginable, and yet for many countries this has happened multiple times just in the last 100 years.

47 Responses to American Exceptionalism

  • “For this we simply cannot give enough thanks to General Washington,”

    Indeed! We should also thank Oliver Cromwell, first of the modern military dictators. His rule by the sword in England aroused such horror that a total rejection of military rule seems to have been imprinted in the political DNA of all English speaking peoples.

  • Art Deco says:

    if a country is defined as belonging particularly to one ethnic or cultural group, the necessary follow-on is that it does not belong to any other. This is why, to cite the most famously intractable conflict, the situation in the Holy Land is so poisonous: because Israel is intended to be a country of and for the Jews, while the Palestinian Arabs desire a country occupying the same space that is of and for the Arabs.

    What you are describing is peculiar to that particular conflict. National states commonly do tolerably and the dominant population works out some sort of modus vivendi with its minorities.

  • Chris says:

    Sadly the military is becoming more political. Still not as political as other places like Pakistan or Egypt, but the way that various politicians and political groups have used it as a political football creates a dangerous trend.

  • Mico Razon says:

    You have some valid points, but consider:

    (1) Massachusetts was founded as a haven for Puritans, Rhode Island for Baptists, Pennsylvania for Quakers, Maryland for Catholics, and Utah for Mormons. When Florida, Texas, New Mexico, California and Louisiana were first colonized, Catholicism played an important role in the colonization efforts. Obviously, Maryland and Pennsylvania championed religious toleration, and Thomas Jefferson gave Virginia her Religious Freedom bill. But as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, America is a nation with the soul of a church.

    (2) From the very beginning, non-Catholics have always been suspicious of us Catholics. For some reason, we had the reputation of trying to permeate every aspect of life with our Catholic values. Maybe in 21st Century America, we ought to start living up to this reputation.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    A very instructive post

    On the subject of nationalism, there are really two kinds in Europe, the French and the German model.

    In Germany, nationality was defined by descent and birth, and it is neither revocable nor is it attainable at will. A German may lose his citizenship but not his nationality. The term nationality, as it is defined in German legal practice, does not refer to citizenship and legal status, but to ethnic characteristics that are transmitted through descent. Underlying this is the assumption that the German nation is a unit of common descent and blood and not of voluntary adherence and of association. From this, the legal definition of minorities as permanent aliens logically follows.

    In France the model is different. The Revolution was a revolt by the unprivileged majority (the Third Estate) against their own ruling class (the Nobility and the Clergy), whose privileges placed them above and outside the nation. Accordingly, in French legal theory, , the nation is the community of all those who are not exempt from taxation, military service and other public duties, and it includes all those, and only those, who are willing and capable of sharing in the service of the country. The national community, declares Renan, resides in the voluntary and revocable loyalty of its individual citizens. In this sense the nation is based on a “plébiscite de tous les jours” – on a daily vote of confidence. This philosophy has become the basis of French legal practice. The French citizen is defined as a person who is born on French soil, shares the cultural heritage of the country and gives evidence of loyalty to the French commonwealth. Populations of alien stock or culture who are born or living on French soil are either potential Frenchmen or else they are aliens by resolution, but they are neither aliens nor Frenchmen by birth alone.

    “ the idea of generals seizing control of the country and replacing the government is virtually unimaginable” A cynic might say that this is because there is no American embassy in the United States. In France, by the by, the army is commonly referred to as « la grande muette » [the big mute] – It never speaks about politics.

  • DarwinCatholic says:

    Art,


    if a country is defined as belonging particularly to one ethnic or cultural group, the necessary follow-on is that it does not belong to any other. This is why, to cite the most famously intractable conflict, the situation in the Holy Land is so poisonous: because Israel is intended to be a country of and for the Jews, while the Palestinian Arabs desire a country occupying the same space that is of and for the Arabs.

    What you are describing is peculiar to that particular conflict. National states commonly do tolerably and the dominant population works out some sort of modus vivendi with its minorities.

    I’d agree that the Israeli/Palestinian situation is uniquely poisonous, but I don’t think it’s hugely unique. Other examples would include:

    -Greece and Turkey’s mutual expulsion of ethnic Turks from Greece and ethnic Greeks from Turkey,
    -The huge population transfers (and violence) that centered around the partition of India and Pakistan.
    -The expulsion of ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries after WW2 (and the expulsion of ethnic Poles from eastern Poland which was incorporated into Ukraine and Belarus)
    -The second-class-citizen status accorded to Jews in various European nations as national consciousness became a major force in the 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to the perceived need for a Jewish national state (and thus eventually the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.)
    -The various colonial/post-colonial struggle for national dominance (Algeria, South Africa, etc.)
    -The ethnic tensions that made “Balkanize” a verb in some quarters.

    In milder forms, we see it in situations like Belgium’s political crises in recent years over tensions between Flemish speakers and French speakers.

    While I may have over-stated a bit, I think it’s at least a moderately pervasive problem in the modern world.

  • DarwinCatholic says:

    Michael Paterson-Seymour,

    I’m not sure that the French model is as totally distinct from the German model as you suggest. After all, one of the things that had this top of mind for me at the moment is that I’m finishing off Alstair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace about the Algerian War, one of the major causes of which was that although Algerian was incorporated into the French state (rather than just being treated as a colonial possession) Arab residents were distinctly not treated as French citizens in the majority of cases. This meant that Arab nationalism was strongly (and eventually exclusively) focused on an exclusively Arab Algeria (and thus the expulsion of the Pieds-Noirs population, which at the time was about 1/10th of the total.)

    Also, I guess I’m a bit less sympathetic to the division in that the French basically taught Europe nationalism (in the course of conquering it and spreading French revolutionary ideas in the wake of the French Revolution.) So while one might distinguish between French and German strains of nationalism in some sense, the French are the ones who taught the Germans nationalism.

    “ the idea of generals seizing control of the country and replacing the government is virtually unimaginable” A cynic might say that this is because there is no American embassy in the United States. In France, by the by, the army is commonly referred to as « la grande muette » [the big mute] – It never speaks about politics.

    Actually, after perhaps Spain and Portugal (which are moderately peripheral to 20th century geo-politics, having sat out the two big wars) France is probably the biggest Western example of a politicized army. Obviously, the French army was incredibly politicized in the Dreyfus era, and it became perhaps the major totem of national consciousness during the Great War as France gave everything in its eventually successful struggle against Germany. There’s a tendency in the Anglo world to see the French as un-military pushovers in the latter half of the 20th century, due to the rapid collapse of the French military in 1940, but this, I think, misses the real complexities of what was going on. One thing I’ve increasing come to think as I read more 20th century European history is that the “cheese eating surrender monkey” myth could not be more wrong.

    And, of course, De Gaulle himself straddled the political and military realms: an officer who stepped in to re-found the republic after liberation, then left in disgust. However, it was the army (in Algeria and elsewhere) throwing its political weight around which was to a great extent responsible for bringing De Gaulle back to found the 5th Republic when the 4th collapsed in 1958, and in the lead up to his return to power De Gaulle not quite subtly hinted that if he was not invited back to form a new government, a military putsch would likely put him in instead. Once he was in, he had to deal repeatedly with the highly politicized military (primarily the leadership intent on winning the Algerian War at all costs) including the Generals’ Putsch of 1961 which (with more competence on the Generals’ part and less solid instincts on De Gaulle’s) could quite possibly have brought down the 5th Republic.

  • Joe Green says:

    When I hear the term “American exceptionalism” I almost want to cringe because it implies the notion of superiority. The late Seymour Martin Lipset, considered a foremost authority on the term who was influenced by de Tocqueville, George Washington and Aristotle, wrote “Those who only know one country know no country.”

    The vast majority of Americans are insular, ill-educated and ignorant of history and of other cultures and typically believe that foreigners are inferior. Americans are probably the most patriotic people on earth, quick to believe the propaganda dished out by their leaders and worship the flag rather than question the sacred tenets colored by the red, white and blue.

    Ask a Frenchman, Greek or Israeli, for example, whether they believe their countries are “exceptional” and they will say they do.

    The Declaration outlined a vision of equality, egalitarianism, freedom, etc., but it took 200 years for slaves to be freed and another 50 before women were considered first-class citizens. Thousands of Indians were slaughtered, land stolen and tons of blood were shed in a Civil War that came about in part because of the same grievances by southerners who echoed those that Founders made against King George.

    Yes, I like living in America even though I believe the “unalienable” human rights I have are available in many other countries. However, dissent from majority opinion is likely to be me with the simplistic: “Love it or leave it.”

    Paul wrote in Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    The American Catholic or Catholic Americans? Which is the modifier? Are you Catholics first or Americans first?

  • Art Deco says:

    You’re cherry picking. Spain, Finland, Israel, New Zealand, most of the Anglo-Caribbean states, the Baltic states, Thailand, &c. have ethnic minorities of one sort or another. They make do. It is difficult to see how defects in political society would be addressed in any of these places by disposing of national identity and amalgamating with some larger unit. Truly multiethnic states are generally tense, whether they have imbibed European nationalism or not.

    The expulsions in question all occurred consequent to generalized warfare in the loci in question. Your invocation of Belgium is bizarre. It is not a national state and never was. It is a refutation of binationalism.

    The United States has an associative understanding of belonging. That is something peculiar to countries composed of migrants. Another model of affiliation is fealty to a common dynasty. That is an organic growth, however. The most salient example would be the Hapsburgs. Somehow I do not think a political program of attempting to replace national particularism with allegiance to whomever (the Windsors, the Bourbons, the House of Savoy, &c.) is the best investment of one’s time.

  • “Those who only know one country know no country.”

    Something only an intellectual could think up. It makes as much sense as saying that someone who only knows one religion knows no religion. Too many intellectuals mistake being glib with being true.

    “The vast majority of Americans are insular, ill-educated and ignorant of history and of other cultures and typically believe that foreigners are inferior.”

    Americans are more well-traveled than almost any other people in the history of the globe. Americans are not ill-educated in comparison to the vast majority of people who have ever lived. Knowledge of other cultures of most Americans due to their exposure to other cultures in their own nation and from browsing the internet is probably higher now than at any point in our history. The United States is usually regarded as one of the friendlier nations on earth to foreigners traveling or living in it. I have encountered this personally when meeting with foreign Rotarian groups traveling in the US. They almost always remark upon the friendliness and helpfulness of the average Americans they have encountered.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/bethgreenfield/2012/01/06/the-worlds-friendliest-countries-2/2/

  • Art Deco says:

    “The vast majority of Americans are insular, ill-educated and ignorant of history and of other cultures and typically believe that foreigners are inferior.”

    Joe, do you honestly believe that if you get in a roadster and tootle around Belgium or Moravia you will find masses of people with a serious appreciation of the regional cultures of the United States or Argentine folk music or Japanese religion? People have a passable understanding of their trade or their local business. Some are intellectual hobbyists, but you only have so much time to learn something. The more you know about Uzbekistan, the less you know about carpentry. Americans are not bibliophilic in the way they are in France or Iceland, bilingualism is quite uncommon here, and popular political discussion lacks a comparative sense, but every society and culture has its vices.

  • Pinky says:

    The usual model for dealing with a minority is slaughter. It’s somewhat less common than it used to be, but it’s been used in all parts of the world. And while I’m as patriotic as anyone, I think the article overlooked the treatment of the natives during American expansion. It’s possible to be proud of one’s country but realistic about its failings.

    This was something I noticed on a recent trip to England: a patriotism without defensiveness about the past. Now, I’m sure you can find both blind national pride and blind national loathing in England, but I got the impression that they were pretty willing to admit that they’d had some honorable and dishonorable moments in their many centuries.

    As for the American knowledge of cultures, I remember hearing that Europeans know their history deep but not wide. They can tell you everything about their native land bu aren’t particularly well-informed about their neighbors or the rest of the world. Now that, too, is a generalization, but I suspect that there’s some truth to it.

  • Pinky says:

    Dang it, I hate to look at a comment of mine and realize that I failed to complete the thought.

    My point was that there’s a lot of near national-worship in the US, and a lot of national shame. It seems to match the rural/urban or conservative/liberal divide. I don’t think the original article was written to blindly praise the US – it was a historian’s musings on the Fourth of July – but it’s very rare to find the two-cheers mentality among Americans.

  • Pinky says:

    Art – I’m not endorsing it. And maybe it only happens once every hundred years. You live in the same land with the ethnic minority for a couple of generations, getting along well enough but not equally. Then one day tempers flare and half of their males end up dead, and most of the remaining minority people get deported. Call it what you want, but history has a lot of examples of populations suddenly becoming less genetically diverse.

  • Art Deco says:

    And maybe it only happens once every hundred years.

    Then it is not the usual model.

    but history has a lot of examples of populations suddenly becoming less genetically diverse.

    That it may. Outside of Africa (where communal boundaries can be hazy and subject to considerable evolution), you would be hard put to find too many examples in the last 500 years. You do have examples of sparse aboriginal populations being demographically overwhelmed (in North America, in Brazil, in the southern cone of South America, in the Caribbean, in the Antipodes, and in Siberia), but that is a different phenomenon. You also have examples of aristocratic elements dispossessed and expelled, but the nobility is always a small minority in most any society. The Young Turks and Joseph Stalin moved people all over the map at great human cost and Nazi Germany systematically slaughtered 2/3 of the Jewish population of continental Europe. These are not routine behaviors in the life of any nation, nor even one which returns with infrequent periodicity.

  • DarwinCatholic says:

    Art,

    You’re cherry picking. Spain, Finland, Israel, New Zealand, most of the Anglo-Caribbean states, the Baltic states, Thailand, &c. have ethnic minorities of one sort or another. They make do.

    Well, yeah, though Spain had a pretty huge amount of fighting relating to regional/minority nationalism during their civil war, and continues to have Basque separatist fighters, and Israel has the aforementioned issue of being a definitionally Jewish state with a lot of Arabs who are convinced they live there. And the Baltic states have had conflicts over the years with Poland and Russia over territory and minority populations.

    My claim is not that countries defined by nationality inevitable collapse into nationalist strife, but rather that it is far more healthy (less potentially self destructive) for a country to be defined by geography or by ideals than it is to be defined by ethnicity and culture — that being defined by ethnic/cultural national identity give a country a large amount of potential energy which can find itself activated in nasty ways. So while a number of countries may define themselves around a cultural and ethnic nationality without breaking down into nationalist conflict, nationalist conflict has been at the ignition point of most wars in the 20th century, and in general it seems like an unsafe thing to have around.

    Also, just to be clear to all: I certainly wouldn’t claim that the three characteristics that I listed are unique to the US, as in that no other country has any of them, though I think the US is comparatively exceptional in having all three. (For example the UK has a non political military and a geographically-based identity — to an extent also an identity centering around English common law and its unwritten constitution — but does have an established Church, thus giving it 2 out of 3.)

  • Art Deco says:

    Well, yeah, though Spain had a pretty huge amount of fighting relating to regional/minority nationalism during their civil war

    There were ethnic disputes in Spain at that time. There are all manner of disputes at any time. The drivers of the Spanish Civil War were social and cultural, not ethnic.

    and continues to have Basque separatist fighters,

    Never a large problem and unimportant at this time.

    and Israel has the aforementioned issue of being a definitionally Jewish state with a lot of Arabs who are convinced they live there.

    The Arabs actually do live there. Israel’s ineradicable problem is not with its domestic Arab population but with the West Bank, Gaza, and the UNRWA camps.

    And the Baltic states have had conflicts over the years with Poland and Russia over territory and minority populations.

    Of what severity and consequence?

    it is far more healthy (less potentially self destructive) for a country to be defined by geography or by ideals than it is to be defined by ethnicity and culture

    Darwin, how collectivities ‘define’ themselves is not open to some sort of conscious choice. People have the sense of affinity they do. These are not quite fixed, but they are not fluid either. The implication of your remarks is that national self-definition incorporates some sort of pathology and is properly ignored in political decision making. The implication of that is jerry-rigged contrivances like Belgium and Canada, which are wretchedly inhibited in conducting public business because ethnic questions keep intruding on the usual disputes advanced occidental societies have (and will continue to do so whether or not you think it ‘healthy’).

    Honestly, what is your alternative? Whether it is at this time ‘healthier’ or not, Australia was produced by a specific historical process. That process did not occur in the Baltics. Estonians, Letts, and Lithuanians have to make arrangements derived from their own past, not anyone else’s. Advocacy of self-extinguishment does not cut much ice with most people.

    About 25 years ago, a British writer named Stephen Spender wrote a piece of commentary for which magazine I cannot remember advocating a restriction of immigration into Great Britain, saying extant levels were stoking additional social conflict therein. That provoked a reply in high dudgeon from the literary critic Leon Wieseltier, whose position was that if the British proles do not like it they are blameworthy and it is the job of Britain’s high-minded literati to tell them to suck it up in the name of whatever principle of affiliation beings like Wieseltier favor. (Wieseltier is a passionate Zionist who evidently believes that communal self-preservation and common life are commodities only properly enjoyed by a favored few). This sort attitude is asinine.

  • Actually Basque desire for autonomy determined Basque support for the Republic which was a pretty important event. Separatism, both Basque and Catalan, were immensely important issues just prior to the Civil War and during the War, with Madrid and Barcelona in effect running separate wars. Separatism in Spain has always been a major issue.

    In regard to the Baltic States and Poland, bloody episodes of ethnic cleansing occured in the aftermath of World War I, with the Russians tossed into the mix.

  • Art Deco says:

    That I knew. Regional and ethnic questions were a source of conflict, but that’s not why Gen. Franco et al put all their chips on the table and that was not a central concern of the regime, either.

    And I am still not understanding why separation or accommodation would be or would have been less desirable solutions than attempting to manufacture some sort of all-Iberian self-concept (or attempting to suppress minority language and self-governance, which Franco did to the consternation of the Carlists).

    I cannot but help note in this context that we are seeing aspects of the project of a synthetic European superstate (complete with Ode to Joy as the national anthem) come completely a-cropper. It has always been a fancy of the political class at a variance with the majority of public sentiment here, there, and the next place and relying on courts and bureaucratic agencies in Brussels for its imposition. Sounds awfully familiar. Is it ‘healthy’?

  • One of the pillars of the Nationalist cause Art was that Spain was one. They were against granting autonomy to any of the regions of Spain. The supporters of the Republic made the granting of autonomy one of their prime goals. I don’t think you can say that the struggle over regional autonomy was not one of the major factors in bringing about the Civil War. In regard to separation it all comes down to how one viewed Spain: one united nation or a mere assemblage of squabbling petty states that should go their own ways. The comparison of the artificial European Union with Spain highlights the flaws of attempting to argue by analogy. Spain has enjoyed political and economic unity since the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the cultural similarities of the regions of Spain dwarf their differences.

  • sal says:

    When I think of the world I think of an order that is, in the words of Paul, passing away. We look to a new heaven and a new earth when this earth yields to the kingdom of heaven. The present configuration may change many times over. We will no doubt continue to witness the rise and fall of many peoples. But it is New Jerusalem to which we look forward with eager hope, because that is our destination: our home.

  • Anzlyne says:

    Speaking for myself, I am an American Catholic. I am Catholic and my faith shapes my civil participation.
    I like that boy scout pledge- it puts God first.
    “On my honor, I will do my best
    To do my duty To God and my country”

    There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism. I choose patriotism.

  • Art Deco says:

    One of the pillars of the Nationalist cause Art was that Spain was one.

    I think you are confounding Franco and the professional military with the whole Nationalist panorama. Advocacy of regional autonomy was a signature of the Carlists.

    The comparison of the artificial European Union with Spain highlights the flaws of attempting to argue by analogy.

    Please see above. My complaint against Darwin concerns the utility and advisability of ethnic demarcations for national states generally. Spain is an example you all brought up.

    Spain has enjoyed political and economic unity since the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the cultural similarities of the regions of Spain dwarf their differences

    There are four mutually unintelligible vernacular languages spoken in Spain and there have been autonomist and separatist movements active both during the period running from 1930 to 1939 and during the period since 1975. It is not like the problem could be ignored.

  • The Carlists during the Spanish Civil War had no love for the Basques who supported the Republic, Art. After the War, Franco abolished all of the regionalist privileges except in Navarre as a reward to the Carlists, his shock troops during the War. What the Carlists were aiming for and what the autonomists were aiming for were completely different. The Carlists never doubted that Spain had to remain one nation.

    “There are four mutually unintelligible vernacular languages spoken in Spain and there have been autonomist and separatist movements active both during the period running from 1930 to 1939 and during the period since 1975. It is not like the problem could be ignored.”

    As I indicated Art, separatism has been a problem in Spain for centuries. As to Spain and vernacular languages I am turning this over to my wife for the remainder of this comment as she speaks both Spanish and Catalan!

    Spanish (AKA “Castilian,” as speakers of the other vernacular languages prefer to call it) is the language of the Spanish national government, and the birth tongue of residents of most parts of Spain. Children throughout Spain learn Castilian in school and are exposed to it in everyday life throughout Spain, and thus the vast majority of people in the regions where the other vernacular languages are spoken are effectively bilingual in their birth tongue and Castilian.

    Catalan is spoken in the 4 provinces of Catalunya (Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona), and also in the “Valencian Country” (Valencia and Alicante/Alacant provinces), the Balearic Islands, the principality of Andorra, the French border region immediately adjacent to Girona & Lleida provinces in Spain (the Rousillon region), and (to a certain extent) in the provinces of Aragon (which once ruled Catalunya) and the environs of Alghero(?) in Italy (once part of Aragonese holdings in Sicily and the Naples region). Provencal (the language medieval southern French troubadour poetry was composed in) is closely related to Catalan.

    Galician is spoken in the provinces of NW Spain, and to a certain extent along the N coast of Spain to the immediate E of Galicia proper. The first vernacular poetry to be composed in Christian Spain was composed in Galician (f.ex. the Marian hymns and miracle stories of King Alfonso X “the Wise” of Castile), not Castilian. Galician is closely related to Portuguese (and probably mutually intelligible).

    Basque is spoken in the 3 Basque provinces at the W end of the Pyrennees along the Spanish-French border, in the province of Navarra immediately to the E of the “Basque Country,” and in the French provinces across the border from those areas. Basque is linguistically pretty unique. The Basques as a people have long had a reputation for being feisty (scholars say it was actually the Basques, not the Moors, who gave Charlemagne’s rearguard a drubbing, as told in “The Song of Roland”).

  • Darwin says:

    Art,

    FWIW, I certainly don’t think that groups with strong nationalistic aspirations should be forced into some sort of larger country not based on national characteristics. Indeed, once nationalism takes hold, pretty much the only way to satisfy it seems to be to acquiesce to a country defined by nationality. I just think it’s a poisonous way of looking at the world which has led to a huge amount of bloodshed and suffering over the last 100 years, so I think it’s generally a bad sign when a country is based on that — especially when it’s a larger country which is has one more more regional minorities who will, naturally, come to have their own national aspirations.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Anzlyne

    I think there is an important difference between patriotism and nationalism, in that patriotism is a sentiment, whereas nationalism is a political philosophy. Nationalism was well summarised by Fichte, when he said that “frontiers should be determined, not by dynasties and treaties, but by language and nationality.” It plays a prominent part, for example, in Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points.

    One of the driving forces behind German nationalism was the belief that it could overcome the confessional divisions between the German states brought about by the Reformation. Many of the leaders of the Irish uprising of 1798, a number of whom were Protestants, thought the same.

  • Joe Green says:

    Don wrote, “Americans are more well-traveled than almost any other people in the history of the globe. Americans are not ill-educated in comparison to the vast majority of people who have ever lived.”

    ———————————————————————

    Let us review one revealing fact of American education:

    In 1882, many fifth-graders were reading the works of William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, Sir Walter Scott, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan and others like them, according to the Appleton Reader.

    Although illiteracy was still fairly widespread at the time in America, those who could read and write generally excelled. Jumping ahead to 1940, the literacy rate for all states rose to around 90 percent and the classics were still popular.

    Today in 2011, two-thirds of eighth-graders in Wisconsin public schools cannot read proficiently, says the U.S. Department of Education. Compared to their counterparts 120 years ago, many kids today are struggling with “Green Eggs and Ham” while back then youngsters were absorbing Daniel Webster, Emerson and Twain.

    Facts and figures don’t lie. Literacy rates in America have plunged in the past half-century, starting notably in 1955 when Rudolph Flesch penned his best-seller “Why Johnny Can’t Read” lamenting the perceived decline in reading skills. Back then you went to a library to study, do your homework or take out books. Nowadays, it seems most kids go there mainly to check their email, play computer games or chat online.

    Surveys find less than half of American adults read “literature” (poems, plays, narrative fiction) although most are functionally literate.

    Today, the U.S. ranks 46th in literacy, well behind such countries as Barbados (4th), and Slovenia (3rd). Georgia and Cuba are 1 and 2, respectively and virtually 100%. The figures come from the U.N.

    Unlike Don, I’ve been to Europe and found many people to be bi-lingual or multilingual, especially in Germany and the Scandinavian countries where many are taught and speak English fluently in addition to their native language. Many Germans know Spanish, French and even Arabic. When I was in Italy, my Italian was much worse than most people’s English. While spending two years there traveling around Germany, Italy, France and Austria, I also discovered a deep appreciation of history and knowledge of the fine arts overseas, where the museums and places of historical interest put America to shame. At the Louvre, many Americans, fairly easy to identify by their goofy t-shirts and hats, rush to see the Mona Lisa and then leave to go to McDonald’s as soon as they can rather than taking hours to explore the other art treasures that most famous museum houses.

    ExxonMobil runs TV ads complaining that the U.S. is 24th in the world in science and math and it’s time to “solve this.” Many of the smartest kids in America come from Asian or Indian stock as is evident by their winning dominance at spelling bees, science fairs and the like.

    Take your average U.S. college student who, when he or she is not guzzling beer or engaged in orgies, can’t find most countries on a world map, much less name the Supreme Court justices or say what’s in the Bill of Rights.

    An example: A study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just 1 in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.”

    Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

    YouTube and the late night comedy shows are rife with “man/woman on the street” random interviews showing Americans as dullards while the audience yuks it up as if ignorance and stupidity were badges of honor. Here’s an example:

    http://youtu.be/LVz4VweMqFE

    Enough already about how “exceptional” we are.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Joe Green

    To be fair to the US education system, America is a world leader in mathematics, with 13 Fields Medallists since 1950 and 6 Abel Prize winners, since its inception in 2003. In the nature of the case, these must be the tip of a very large pyramid of talent and learning.

    The French, who treat their mathematicians as national heroes, has only managed 10 Fields Medals and 2 Abel Prizes over the same period. Of course, the US has a population five times as large, but its achievement is still impressive.

    No other country in the world comes anywhere near these totals

  • What a Jeremiad Joe! It is a pity however that you didn’t respond to what I actually said. Your reliance on the literacy statistics of the UN is charming in its guileless simplicity. The fact that Cuba is number one on the list might have given you a clue that the UN relies on self-reporting of member states in compiling such statistics.

    In reference to comparing US students today against the US students of yesteryear, the concept of keeping most students in school for twelve years is a rather modern one. Schools until fairly recently had no use for students who did not wish to be there or could not master the material. When making comparisons it is best not to compare oranges and rock salts. A survey of letters written by soldiers and sailors during the Civil War, World War I and World War II would quickly reveal to you that your appeals to the Halcyon days of yore is somewhat misplaced. The favorite reading material of our troops during World War II was comic books for a reason.

    Your mention of multi-lingualism in Europe is not surprising. If you are close to people who speak a different language you will pick up some of it, just as many Americans pick up Spanish for example if they live along the US Mexican border. From my interaction with Europeans, unless they use a language frequently, they retain about as much of a foreign language that they learned in school as Americans do of a foreign language they studied. My wife traveled in Europe twice as a college student and that was what she observed, and she speaks Catalan, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian and a little Danish. (She has relatives in Norway who write to her in English and she writes back in Norwegian!)

    America has always had an over-all healthy attitude of being hyper critical in regard to the shortcomings of its people. The attitude is healthy as long as it does not give way to undue pessimism and you crossed that threshhold long ago.

  • Anzlyne says:

    Good morning
    Yes. although “sentiment” doesn’t do justice to “love”…people live and die for love, not for sentiment!

    Yes- nationalism has been used to unite people for cause; but the top- down imposition of ideals or goals from “above” leaves some who don’t necessarily feel united — many Germans left the culture war and established German towns in Ohio for example. They retained their love of their family heritage (and their faith) in the American melting pot because in America you can do that. And Irish too

    The new national identity in the US was achieved in the Revolution; won and welcome, and continued and still continues to grow. This was not the case for the Hungarian soviets– whose nation was only represented in the United Nations as soviet- though the people who lived within those boundaries retained their true patriotic identity .

    There is lots of history about both top-down and bottom-up national identities– the german prussian russians, the germans in the ukraine, nazi sympathizers in German settlements.. and of course the southwest of Europe discussed here.

    Our sense of our American identity is being refined and, I think, strengthened, through all the current debates not only about language and borders,but also about ideals, about rights and about faith. Is American still the land where you can celebrate and practice your faith and patrimony?

  • Joe Green says:

    Michael, France has “only” 10 Fields, while the U.S. has 13. Well, since France has 65 million people and the U.S. 320 million, I’d say proportionately they’re way ahead. But what does that prove? The Jews have 20% of Nobel Prize winners and are only 0.02% of the world’s population. What inference from that?

  • Art Deco says:

    I just think it’s a poisonous way of looking at the world which has led to a huge amount of bloodshed and suffering over the last 100 years, so I think it’s generally a bad sign when a country is based on that

    A poisonous way of looking at the world????? Again, what alternative way of ‘looking at the world’ do you have in mind? The western hemisphere and the Antipodes are composed of societies of migrants, but that is unusual anywhere else. You are left with the option of negotiating transactional difficulties and rivalries in multi-ethnic states or segregating the nationalities and establishing some sort of accommodation for minority populations (the difficulty of which is local to each situation).

    Why not compare the ‘bloodshed and suffering’ since the from ethnic particularism to that with sources in any other cause to be found in the latter modern period? Messianic movements (the Taiping rebellion), power politics (World War I), imperial ambition conjoined to power politics conjoined to ideological crusades (Napoleonic France and Stalinist Russia), confessional distinctions (the partition of India), geographically bounded disputes over social economy (the American Civil War). Compared to these, the White Terror in Hungary in 1919-20 or the Finnish War of Independence (1919-20) or the interminable Arab-Jewish conflict in the Levant are fairly penny ante.

    You can haul up Nazi Germany as an example of pathological nationalism, but why forget that France and the Netherlands and Denmark were also national states? Ethnic particularism is not necessarily or even usually a revanchist particularism.

  • Darwin says:

    Pocket editions of Shakespeare and the classics were produced for the troops Joe, and some made use of them, although I shudder to think how many of the books might have been used for kindling and other purposes!

    On a semi-related note, the 1900 edition of the Oxford Book of English Verse (one of which I sought out, for historical reasons) was a pocket size book on India paper. It was the second most carried book among the British soldiers of the Great War, after the Bible.

    Of course, given the educational and economic barriers in English society at the time, those sales may have been heavily driven by officers.

  • I owe Joe for giving me an idea for a post on Armed Services Editions, Inc which published some 123 million copies of paperbacks, 1332 titles, for free for the US troops in World War II. It is a fascinating vignette of the War that most people are unaware of today. I have the post prepared for Almost Chosen People for next week and I will probably also run it on TAC.

  • Darwin says:

    A poisonous way of looking at the world????? Again, what alternative way of ‘looking at the world’ do you have in mind? The western hemisphere and the Antipodes are composed of societies of migrants, but that is unusual anywhere else. You are left with the option of negotiating transactional difficulties and rivalries in multi-ethnic states or segregating the nationalities and establishing some sort of accommodation for minority populations (the difficulty of which is local to each situation).

    I think it tends to be a lot healthier to base a country’s identity on geography and shared ideas (as in the US) or history (as in the UK) than it is to base it on ethnic/cultural identity. Since Wilson’s 14 Points (and to a lesser extent, since the first explosion of nationalism during the Napoleonic Wars) the idea that each national grouping deserves its own country has been a the root of a number of incredibly nasty wars (WW2 with its roots in German nationalism among them) and to a great extent the Great War itself was a result of a collision of German nationalism with Russian and French nationalism, touched off by the death throws of the Austro-Hungarian empire which was being torn apart by local nationalist movements (notably that of the Serbs.) Italy’s own utterly insane part of the war (both of them, actually) was to a great extent a case of Italian nationalism looking for some sort of outlet to express its newfound national unity through some sort of military quest for greatness.

    The alternative is simply that of taking the country one has and making the best of it, rather than embarking on a course of “national liberation” and the building of a national identity which will virtually necessitate the exclusions of minorities, who will then in their turn start seeking national liberation.

    Perhaps it’s the utter conservatism of the “make do with what you have rather than seeking salvation in something new” creed that appeals to me, but given that nationalism has given us the Napoleonic wars, the two world wards, and innumerable post-colonial (and post Communist) wars for national self determination, with the ethnic cleansing and oppression which seems necessarily to follow these, I don’t think it’s a bad ideal to have.

  • Art Deco says:

    (WW2 with its roots in German nationalism among them) and to a great extent the Great War itself was a result of a collision of German nationalism with Russian and French nationalism, touched off by the death throws of the Austro-Hungarian empire which was being torn apart by local nationalist movements (notably that of the Serbs.) Italy’s own utterly insane part of the war (both of them, actually) was to a great extent a case of Italian nationalism looking for some sort of outlet to express its newfound national unity through some sort of military quest for greatness.

    No, no, and no.

    1. You are confounding Italian nationalism with Italian imperialism. These are correlated phenomena but they are not identified phenomena. Britain, Russia, the United States, and Belgium all had imperial excursions sometime between 1840 and 1914 no driven by the particularism of the dominant nationality in each.

    2. With regard to World War I, I think if you offer that power politics is inadequate to explain the commencement of hostilities, you are making the lesser argument. The maintenance of the conflict and aspects of its resolution certainly partook of national rivalries. World War I and (in France at least) the Napoleonic Wars were wars of general mobilization, not chess games played by dynastic elites with professional soldiers. The thing is, mass mobilization is mass mobilization. Look at Spain (1936-39) or the United States (1861-65). You had 600,000 dead in one society which had about 31 million people and 600,000 dead in another with about 26,000,000 people. In neither case was any sort of ethnic (as opposed to more generically cultural) rivalry the main motor of the war.

    3. World War II had its sources in German revanchism. You could say Germany’s collective identity was implicated in this. The thing is, the political geography of the bulk of Europe during the inter-war period was ordered along ethnic lines, but only one country was bound and determined to put all its chips on the table to re-order the map. That was the country which had been subject to a number of contrived exactions and humiliations. This does not mean that the optimal political society is some sort of salad like the Hapsburg dominions. It means you ought to follow one of Winston Churchill’s dicta: “in victory, magnanimity”. This was done in western Europe after 1945.


    but given that nationalism has given us the Napoleonic wars [wrong], the two world wards [sic. and sic.] , and innumerable post-colonial (and post Communist) wars for national self determination

    They are not innumerable. You can list them.

    1. Viet minh revolt (1945-54)
    2. Dutch East Indies revolt (1945-49)
    3. East Timor revolt (1976-99)
    4. East Pakistan revolt (1971-72)
    5. Tamil Tigers revolt (1983-2010)
    6. Kurdish revolts (sporadic, 1958-Present)
    7. Arab-Israeli wars (sporadic, 1948-present)
    8. Nigerian Civil War (1967-70)
    9. Sudanese civil wars (multiple, 1955-present)
    10. Mau Mau rebellion (1952-59)
    11. Rhodesian war (1972-79)
    12. Mozambique rebellion (1966-75)
    13. Angola rebellion (1961-75)
    14. South-west Africa rebellion (1966-90)
    15. Portuguese Guinea rebellion (1968-75)
    16. Eritrea & Tigre rebellions (1962-90)
    17. Ogaden war (1977)
    18. Karabakh war (1991-94)
    19. Trans-Dneister conflict (1991-)
    20. Chechen War
    21. Yugoslav wars (1991-2000)
    22. The Troubles in Ulster (1969-98)
    23. Terror campaign in Basqueland (1973-?)

    I did not include the horrors in Rwanda (1994) or Burundi (1972) because these concerned rivalries between subpopulations sufficiently inter-mixed that the formation of national states is not an option. Also not included are the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, because there are a number of confounding issues there aside from communal rivalries.

    If you look at the above list, you see with regard to examples 4, 5, 6, and 9 a history of severely provocative behavior on the part of the central power. It was not just ethnic self-assertion, but the common liberty of local communities and their lives they were defending.

    In examples 2, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 the object was not a national state but a territorial state not under the tutelage of a colonial elite. Implicated in all these was not merely ethnic questions but the question of the boundaries of the political society within the society as a whole (a question very much alive within European national states in the 19th century and in the United States as well). You see a kindred problem with regard to number 1. Those in number 3 were actually resisting a conqueror who treated them shamefully.

    Numbers 18 and 19 took place in the context of political ferment rendering boundaries quite fluid anyway. One might also note that 18, 19, 20, and 21 were much exacerbated by territorial possessiveness, another phenomenon correlated with nationalism but distinct from it.

    Regrettable as nos. 22 and 23 are, the scale of the violence there renders them not very important.

    Perhaps it’s the utter conservatism of the “make do with what you have rather than seeking salvation in something new”

    Enoch Powell might have agreed with that. Hmmm…

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Darwin

    The Napoleonic wars, which were round two of the Revolutionary Wars, had nothing to so with nationalism or imperial ambition. As Robespierre said, “the French are not afflicted with a mania for rendering any nation happy and free against its will. All the kings could have vegetated or died unpunished on their blood-spattered thrones, if they had been able to respect the French people’s independence.” A grand coalition of Prussia (who was very much the prime mover) Austria and Britain were determined to put down the Revolution, because they feared the contagion of its example. Having sown the wind, they reaped the whirlwind, when the armies of Napoléon gave a code of laws to a continent and restored the concept of citizenship to civilisation. Hence, G K Chesterton’s sardonic remark that “The British fought like lions, to keep themselves in chains.”

    That the defeat of Jena led to the rise of modern German nationalism is true enough.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Art Deco

    WWI & WWII was really a game of two halves: Europe’s second Thirty Years War

    In part, it was a clash of civilisations. To most of Europe, the fall of Paris to the Prussians in 1870 had been a thing of horror; the fall of the capital of civilisation to the barbarian from beyond the Rhine. It was a calamity unparalleled since the sack of Rome by the Goths.

    Prussia was a wholly lawless power. Under Frederick, it had stolen Silesia from Austria and instigated the partition of Poland; under Bismarck, it had robbed Denmark of two provinces and it had robbed France of two provinces; by intimidation and fraud, it had absorbed the Catholic South Germans into a servile alliance..

    In 1914, with its own population stagnant and Germany’s growing, France could not hope to win back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine it had lost to Germany in 1870, if it allowed another generation to pass.

    As for nationalism,

    1. Austria could not keep its fractious ethnicities within the empire if it did not castigate Serbia.

    2. Russia could not maintain control over the industrialized western part of its empire – Poland, the Baltic States and Finland – if it appeared weak by allowing Austria to humiliate its Serbian ally, and Russia depended on these provinces for the bulk of its tax revenues.

    3. Italy wished to recover” Italia irredenta” (Trentino, Trieste, Istria and Dalmatia) from Austria.

    The two remaining causes were

    Germany, sandwiched between two hostile powers, France and Russia, could not concentrate its army on a crushing blow against France, if it allowed Russia to complete its internal railway network.

    England could not maintain the balance of power in Europe, if Germany crushed France and it was already in a naval power race with Germany.

  • Art Deco says:

    The Napoleonic wars, which were round two of the Revolutionary Wars, had nothing to so with nationalism or imperial ambition. As Robespierre said, “the French are not afflicted with a mania for rendering any nation happy and free against its will. All the kings could have vegetated or died unpunished on their blood-spattered thrones, if they had been able to respect the French people’s independence.”

    The self-justifying opinion of an obnoxious historical figure justly executed in 1794 does not cut much ice in making sense of historical events occurring over the period fron 1793 to 1815. The Directory and the soi-disant Emperor of the French established client-states over the Low Countries, over all of Italy, over the territory where Polish is spoken, and over every square mile of German territory not ruled by the Hapsburgs or the Hohenzollerns. Then Napoleon sunk vast sums into an unsuccessful effort to manufacture a client kingdom in Spain and then put all his chips on the table in an effort to conquer Russia. I am just not seeing the lack of ambition here.

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