Nationalism: Enemy or Ally?
Can Democracy Afford the Internationalist Fetish?
One of the queerest phenomena of the 20th century has been the cult in America and Britain of “internationalism.” Despite the teaching of Woodrow Wilson, who rightly saw that national self-determination is a precondition of political and economic liberty, we have come to associate progress with the formation of supra-national unions and to treat nationalism as a sentiment unworthy of the progressive mind, or even as an enemy of democracy. The young men of the Oxford Union who, on a famous occasion in 1932, refused to fight “for King and Country,” would have been ready to die for the League of Nations, and some of them did die fighting in Spain with the International Brigade. But at that time they felt that a war fought to defend the nationhood of Great Britain would be a futile—possibly even an unjust—war.
Such sentiments are not nearly so strong today—at least in Britain. Now that our own independence is gravely endangered by economic and strategic weakness, we are beginning to realize that national self-determination is the most priceless possession of a free people. Our associations with other nations—whether in Western Europe, in the Commonwealth, or across the Atlantic—are undertaken with the object not of transcending nationalism, but of creating conditions in which the British nation can survive. When ECA experts tell us that we must federate with Western Europe or take the consequences, our instinctive reply runs as follows: “We are not prepared to sacrifice our basic freedom for the sake of an economic theory, or even as the price of dollar aid. We would rather starve on our island than be forced into the prison of an artificial super-state. Alliance? Yes. Military integration? Yes. Internationalization of public utilities, such as transport and power? Yes. But each step must be designed not to abolish nationhood but to defend it. Nations are not industrial concerns, which can be amalgamated at will in order to increase their efficiency and profitability. They are living organisms out of which individual freedom grows. Destroy the nation, and you destroy freedom itself.”
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