"National Conservatism"

A recent conference has a YouTube channel featuring its lectures. A piece in the WSJ lays out why it seems plausible to so many right now:
In America, the nationalist claim is that the federal government has abdicated basic responsibilities and broken trust with large numbers of citizens:

• It has failed to secure the national borders and provide regular procedures for immigration and assimilation.

• It has delegated lawmaking to foreign and international bodies, and domestic bureaucracies, that have scant regard for the interests and values of many of our fellow citizens.

• It has acquiesced in, or actively promoted, the splintering of the nation into contending racial, religious and other groups and has favored some at the expense of others.

• It has neglected core American principles and traditions—separation of powers, due process, the presumption of innocence, local prerogative, freedom of association—allowing them to atrophy or be subjected to political conditions.


The illusion of unlimited optionality has been especially damaging in government and politics. A dramatic recent instance came in the Democrats’ presidential primary debates, where many candidates favored both open borders and free health care for everyone who shows up. This would plainly amount to the abolition of the United States. Still, the proponents would say in all earnestness that they have ingenious plans to make it work.

That is an extreme instance of the phenomenon that every social problem or inconvenience summons forth costly new spending or regulatory solutions, with hardly a care to where the resources will come from or what other problems will be slighted. It is a bipartisan phenomenon, and it has left us with a massively indebted government that spends trillions of borrowed dollars on our immediate needs, with the bills kited to future generations.

The American nation-state is rich, powerful and less constrained than any other, yet it is much more constrained than we have led ourselves to believe. Thinking of ourselves as a nation-state is, as Peter Thiel has observed, a means of unromantic self-knowledge.
That all sounds basically correct to me.


Anonymous said...

My greatest difficulty with his talk and essay is using "nationalism." I spend so much time reading and working with European history that "nationalism" in my mind is the blood-and-soil sense used in European history. I wish there were a word that carried more weight than "patriotism," but without the firm walls of birth, faith, and national legend that surround "nationalism."


Texan99 said...

Someone was saying the other day that any country that can put a man on the moon can eliminate the federal income tax. I'd add that any country that can put a man on the moon can enforce its borders.

Grim said...


I agree that 'nationalism' is freighted as a term. The fact that they're using 'national conservatism,' rather than 'conservative nationalism,' may be intended to address that partly.

Still, sometimes you can reclaim fraught terms if you use them well and consistently.

Grim said...


We used to talk about 'the man in the moon problem' in Iraq. The Iraqis always thought that 'any nation that can put a man on the moon could X,' where 'X' was anything they thought we should be doing. 24/7 uptime in power for the whole country? The USA should be able to do that, even if the infrastructure was crumbling old Soviet garbage with no possibility of obtaining replacement parts because the factories that made them died with the USSR. If we didn't do it, it was because we wanted them to suffer.

Same deal with ending the insurgency, ensuring adequate fresh water, stabilizing the economy, etc., etc. They thought we should be able to do any of that; and maybe we could have done any of it. The problem was we were trying to do all of it, as well as taking care of our own business, and it wasn't really possible to do it all. Certainly not quickly.

That's the problem we're seeing here. They really do seem to think that we can simply release everyone who shows up into America, give them free health care, do the same for the millions more who will come once they realize that's the deal they'll get, and also institute Medicare for All, eliminate student loans, establish free college educations (presumably for the migrants too!), have a Green New Deal.... the ball is open, the money is endless, the fun never stops.

Grim said...

Here’s an even worse version of the man on the moon problem:


douglas said...

If you go a little further back than the early 20th century, nationalism was a radical idea, and not based on 'blood and soil'. It was hard to create the Westphalian nation states because they were trying to bring people who considered themselves different together into one nation. It was only soil based insofar as the religious ties of the Thirty Years War were not soil based.

So the freight seems to me more of a proximity bias than anything else.

But I am reaching beyond my better knowledge base here and just seeing what might stick, so I expect some corrections!

Grim said...

In its original formulation, it was about creating greater unities around shared cultural elements — especially language. So, eg, city states that had long considered themselves separate and unique were forged together into Italy. The commonality of Catholicism has failed to some degree, as you note, in the great religious wars. So this was, “Well, we’re not just Catholic; we also share a world because we all speak the same mother tongue.” A similar set of arguments was employed to try to unite the pieces of the Holy Roman Empire, though it took longer.

I think to some degree it was a response to Napoleon, though. The French has managed to do something similar under Louis XIV, but then Napoleon used that linguistic-cultural unity not in French speaking lands alone, but to build a grand army to dominate Europe. The attempt to forge similar unities was defensive as much as anything.

douglas said...

Yes, I was thinking about Italy and Germany in particular.
Language really is culture in many ways, so it makes a great deal of sense to organize in that fashion, and after the failure of the Thirty years war to reorganize by religious sect (although, that was part of the early American Colonies makeup- but a hybrid system that allowed both the religious alignment and the union of those various states ultimately), it made sense as a mode of organization. It also allows for non-blood linked people to be part of such a society- if you speak as we do, and live as we do, you're one of us.

Religious alignment might have also allowed that, but that didn't happen, so here we are.

The Chinese have really always been this way, even to the extent of absorbing conquering cultures into Han Chinese culture, and ultimately winning a war they lost that way.