The West and National Identity

On Friday morning the Scottish people must felt like the failed suicide who awakes in hospital the next day and wonders to himself: "Now why in the hell did I do a stupid thing like that?"

The convincing drubbing that the independence movement took on Thursday should have made most Scots aware of how facile and threadbare were their ideas of separation.

Without a solid financial structure, with the threat of the UK withdrawing the usage of the English pound and with the EU 's own president declaring how difficult it would be for Scotland to gain entry into the European Union, there was, in the end, really no doubt about the result. Secession would have brought economic and political pain beyond endurance.

Suicide averted and now life can move on. 

But the foolish Scottish secession movement may be a harbinger of more drastic things to come. Put simply, the drive to break up great nations has not ended; it has only just begun.

Catalonians and the Basque in Spain, Quebecois in Canada, the Flemish in Belgium, the Faroe Islanders in Denmark, Venetians in Italy and Bavarians in Germany have all contracted something of the same secessionist bug.

Which is not to mention Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, Silesia in Poland, Frisia in Netherlands/Germany, Corsica in France, Aaland in Finland and Kashmir in India. These countries all sport incipient movements that call for breaking away from the motherland. And over time, the movements will only gain in strength as the nation-state as we know it comes under relentless pressure to fragment.

One of the causes of this process of dismemberment is the resistance to the intense globalization which has affected the economies, social structures, and political climates of all Western oriented nations. As these countries see more of their jobs outsourced to Asia; as they feel their own wealth drained by supranational entities or else by heavy taxation from a central government which sends back very little in return or as their distinctive cultural identity is eroded by an invasive English language-based culture, there is a tendency to wish for the days in which one could claim to actually belong to something other than a nominal state, whose political  and economic frontiers are fast disappearing to the point of invisibility. 

There is also no doubt that the emergence of the European Union has significantly sliced away at the distinctive cultural identities of Europe's nation-states.  In the effort to meld 28 European states into a cohesive economic unit, the Brussels-based bureaucracy has gingerly skipped over the significant cultural, political and historical differences that divide its constituent members, imposing a rather bland and impersonal " "European" identity to which few can truly connect. There is, after all, no distinctively European language (experiments in Esperanto having miserably failed) ; nor is there a universal cultural affiliation which is uniquely European -- and no significant effort to create one either. There is, in short, no such thing as a ' European' -- and nor is there likely to be in the near future. 

The decline of nationalist spirit, evident throughout the West, is really an issue of collapsing identity. I discovered this first hand in a walk through southern England in the summer of 2008. There I met villagers who complained to me that they were mystified about who they were supposed to be -- were they British, European or world citizens? Their pubs were now served by Polish barmaids who barely spoke English; their cars serviced by Czech mechanics who knew very little about their British-made cars and even their parks and wild lands managed by immigrants from Bangladesh. England, I discovered, was a place where multiculturalism and an attempted integration into Europe was eating into the very fiber of British identity, stripping away centuries the view of Great Britain as one of the great civilizing forces in world history. .

I write these words, of course, at the time of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict spurred, in large part, by escalating, unfettered nationalism. The Europeans' answer to the 'nationalist' problems of the 20th Century was to de-emphasize the nation-state in favor of the collective. The irony, of course,  is that in doing so, they have tampered with the basic human need  for paternalistic symbols, whereby one shapes his or her identity -- and perhaps even existence -- by reference to a defined sovereign entity, which reigns over our individual lives beyond family and beyond our immediate communities.  

The problem of failed identity in a world without frontiers will bedevil the citizens of the 21st Century. The governments of western countries must therefore recognize that the utopian drive towards integration and collective identity -- and the inherent emptiness of that enterprise -- will necessarily stir to life the dormant but very real attachments citizens have to their language, culture and history. There can be no surprise then when a country such as Scotland, for 300 years a peaceful, if not exactly placid, constituent member of the United Kingdom, suddenly rebels against British dominion and demands independence. Strengthening the spirit of nationalism, drawing on a nation's rich history and collective memory, emphasizing national uniqueness and pride as well as the nation's special mission, is a task worthy of any Western leader. The question remains whether we have any leaders left worthy of the task.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles, the coordinator of the AFA  Identity Crisis Conference in Rome in 2008 and the moderator of the Outbreak of the First World War and its Consequences conference held on September 21, 2014.

On Friday morning the Scottish people must felt like the failed suicide who awakes in hospital the next day and wonders to himself: "Now why in the hell did I do a stupid thing like that?"

The convincing drubbing that the independence movement took on Thursday should have made most Scots aware of how facile and threadbare were their ideas of separation.

Without a solid financial structure, with the threat of the UK withdrawing the usage of the English pound and with the EU 's own president declaring how difficult it would be for Scotland to gain entry into the European Union, there was, in the end, really no doubt about the result. Secession would have brought economic and political pain beyond endurance.

Suicide averted and now life can move on. 

But the foolish Scottish secession movement may be a harbinger of more drastic things to come. Put simply, the drive to break up great nations has not ended; it has only just begun.

Catalonians and the Basque in Spain, Quebecois in Canada, the Flemish in Belgium, the Faroe Islanders in Denmark, Venetians in Italy and Bavarians in Germany have all contracted something of the same secessionist bug.

Which is not to mention Wales, Cornwall, Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom, Silesia in Poland, Frisia in Netherlands/Germany, Corsica in France, Aaland in Finland and Kashmir in India. These countries all sport incipient movements that call for breaking away from the motherland. And over time, the movements will only gain in strength as the nation-state as we know it comes under relentless pressure to fragment.

One of the causes of this process of dismemberment is the resistance to the intense globalization which has affected the economies, social structures, and political climates of all Western oriented nations. As these countries see more of their jobs outsourced to Asia; as they feel their own wealth drained by supranational entities or else by heavy taxation from a central government which sends back very little in return or as their distinctive cultural identity is eroded by an invasive English language-based culture, there is a tendency to wish for the days in which one could claim to actually belong to something other than a nominal state, whose political  and economic frontiers are fast disappearing to the point of invisibility. 

There is also no doubt that the emergence of the European Union has significantly sliced away at the distinctive cultural identities of Europe's nation-states.  In the effort to meld 28 European states into a cohesive economic unit, the Brussels-based bureaucracy has gingerly skipped over the significant cultural, political and historical differences that divide its constituent members, imposing a rather bland and impersonal " "European" identity to which few can truly connect. There is, after all, no distinctively European language (experiments in Esperanto having miserably failed) ; nor is there a universal cultural affiliation which is uniquely European -- and no significant effort to create one either. There is, in short, no such thing as a ' European' -- and nor is there likely to be in the near future. 

The decline of nationalist spirit, evident throughout the West, is really an issue of collapsing identity. I discovered this first hand in a walk through southern England in the summer of 2008. There I met villagers who complained to me that they were mystified about who they were supposed to be -- were they British, European or world citizens? Their pubs were now served by Polish barmaids who barely spoke English; their cars serviced by Czech mechanics who knew very little about their British-made cars and even their parks and wild lands managed by immigrants from Bangladesh. England, I discovered, was a place where multiculturalism and an attempted integration into Europe was eating into the very fiber of British identity, stripping away centuries the view of Great Britain as one of the great civilizing forces in world history. .

I write these words, of course, at the time of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, a conflict spurred, in large part, by escalating, unfettered nationalism. The Europeans' answer to the 'nationalist' problems of the 20th Century was to de-emphasize the nation-state in favor of the collective. The irony, of course,  is that in doing so, they have tampered with the basic human need  for paternalistic symbols, whereby one shapes his or her identity -- and perhaps even existence -- by reference to a defined sovereign entity, which reigns over our individual lives beyond family and beyond our immediate communities.  

The problem of failed identity in a world without frontiers will bedevil the citizens of the 21st Century. The governments of western countries must therefore recognize that the utopian drive towards integration and collective identity -- and the inherent emptiness of that enterprise -- will necessarily stir to life the dormant but very real attachments citizens have to their language, culture and history. There can be no surprise then when a country such as Scotland, for 300 years a peaceful, if not exactly placid, constituent member of the United Kingdom, suddenly rebels against British dominion and demands independence. Strengthening the spirit of nationalism, drawing on a nation's rich history and collective memory, emphasizing national uniqueness and pride as well as the nation's special mission, is a task worthy of any Western leader. The question remains whether we have any leaders left worthy of the task.

Avi Davis is the President of the American Freedom Alliance in Los Angeles, the coordinator of the AFA  Identity Crisis Conference in Rome in 2008 and the moderator of the Outbreak of the First World War and its Consequences conference held on September 21, 2014.