Nationalism: The Healthy and the Unhealthy

Nationalism, like so much else today, represents something of a paradox. It has healthy and unhealthy aspects corresponding to Gebser’s “life-pole” and “death-pole” of all psychic energy (or eros and thanatos “instincts” in Freud’s terms). I was musing upon that this morning in relation to the selection of Boris Johnson as the UK’s next prime minister, which is probably a god-send for the Scottish Nationalists. The contrast between Scottish nationalism and the English nationalism of the Brexiteers is rather stark.

In contrast to English nationalism, which is a rejection and retreat from the whole, Scottish nationalism moves in exactly the opposite direction. Scottish nationalism is, contrariwise, quite inclusive, and it sees its future as an integral part of Europe and the European Union.

There is a certain kind of nationalism and patriotism — we will call that an “inclusive” kind — that takes great pride in what the country can contribute to the whole and to the development of the whole. This is a creative kind of nationalism. On the other hand, there are diseased forms of nationalism which we may describe as “exclusionary” or subtractive, and seek to withdraw from the whole, which we might describe as “particularism”.

A healthy patriotism and nationalism is expressed in the joy in making a healthy and creative contribution to the overall well-being of the whole (let’s call that “the global commonwealth”), while a diseased form of nationalism and patriotism — a quite nihilistic form — damns the whole and erects walls, mental, cultural, or even physical, against it. In this kind of nationalism or patriotism, the thanatic pole dominates, and it is also often seen in its surrounding itself with symbols of the morbid and the thanatic as well, which is rather typical of fascism.

As in everything, then, with nationalism too we must exercise some discernment to obtain a proper diagnosis and prognosis, for the rise and fall of nations is also very much linked to this alternation of energies (a kind of alternating current, as it were) of the life-pole and the death-pole of energy.

As always, we must submit such questions to Nietzsche’s standard of value: “what is its value for life?”

Nietzsche was, in fact, one who had explored this polarity of psychic energy and knew it extremely well. His whole philosophy basically emerged from that and he also tried to get us to think “beyond good and evil” to perceive how the eros pole and the thanatos pole were paradoxically related. This probably accounts for Gebser’s great interest in Nietzsche, too. And this was also expressed in Heraclitus’s observation of the paradox of Dionysus (who represents eros) as being also the alter ego of Hades (who represents the thanatic). Nietzsche himself testified that his “unique” way of looking at things was owing to the fact that he had one foot in life and another in death.

And, ironically again, that’s implicated in the symbol of Christ’s tongue as a “two-edged sword” — the paradoxical — for Jesus was also one who had one foot in death and another in life, and therefore knew the value of life like few others.

What today flaunts itself as nationalism and patriotism is a diseased, destructive, and thanatic form of it symptomatic of decline — a kind of morbid and nihilistic nationalism that is no longer capable of creating beyond itself, or that is capable any longer of making its own unique and positive contribution to the well-being of the whole, which should rightly be the very thing that constitutes its joy and its “pride”.

So, this was the “spirit of America” — the promise of “equality and justice for all” and without regard for “race, creed, or colour”. This is what made America great and the idea of “the shining city on the hill”. But this isn’t what is meant by Trump’s “MAGA”. The new nationalism and superpatriotism is actually the antithesis of all this and its own self-negation. It’s a pretty stunning example of Nietzsche’s formula for nihilism: “All higher values devalue themselves”.

The same, of course, can be said for the UK — the home of the Magna Carta which now seems to be in process also of dramatic reversal and self-negation.

These symptoms do, of course, bear on what Gebser has described as “the deficient mode” of the mental-rational (or perspectival) consciousness structure. But, still, you might take heart in the conviction of a Nietzsche, or Gebser, or William Blake, or many others, that all this current nihilism and decadence is a necessary preparation for the “leap” into a new consciousness structure and a new “revaluation of values”.

Although, that “leap” is like Neo’s first leap in The Matrix — fraught with peril and the grave danger of failure, which is what makes our times so tense and suspenseful.

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16 responses to “Nationalism: The Healthy and the Unhealthy”

  1. Steve says :

    Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science. A really great book of essays by Christopher Bamford, Keith Critchlow, Robert Lawlor, Anne Macaulay, Kathleen Raine, Arthur Zajonc.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Aurobindo: “The Gods and the Brahman”. This is also a description of the meaning of Blakes “four Zoas”

    https://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com/2019/07/24/the-gods-and-the-brahman-the-parable-of-the-gods-part-1/

  3. O Society says :

    Agreed. The path we are on now (We = US + UK + anyone stupid enough to come along) leads to nothing but death and nihilism when we follow it to its logical conclusion. Apparently most people don’t care enough to step off yet.

    https://osociety.org/2018/10/05/will-conservatism-end-in-nihilism-conservative-moral-hierarchy-12/

  4. Scott Preston says :

    I suppose you could say that there are integrative and segregative forms of nationalism, participatory and non-participatory and reactionary forms, and that it’s a matter of sorting out the wheat from the chaff, here.

  5. Scott Preston says :

    “Democrats pinned their hopes of defeating a president willing to say anything on man willing to say nothing.” — Glenn Thrush

    That is very clever and witty.

  6. Max Leyf says :

    You wrote:

    There is a certain kind of nationalism and patriotism — we will call that an “inclusive” kind — that takes great pride in what the country can contribute to the whole and to the development of the whole. This is a creative kind of nationalism. On the other hand, there are diseased forms of nationalism which we may describe as “exclusionary” or subtractive, and seek to withdraw from the whole, which we might describe as “particularism”.

    I have often reflected on what I now recognise to be the same principle on a personal scale. There is no possibility for a flourishing society without unique individuals to make it up. But often being unique is a pretence of narcissism. I think you articulated the crucial distinction: that individuation be pursued with the motive of being able to offer something unique to the world. You are pointing to “individuation” on a national scale it seems.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Yes. Pretty much the same, I’ld say.

    • Antonio Dias says :

      Max,

      This may become more clear if we distinguish the integration of a personality where-in its parts come to form a whole versus the Narcissistic individualism which is nothing more than aggrandizing a single aspect, Ego, at the expense of the rest. This personal integration then makes it possible for an individuated person to join into relationship with vitality, with life, in all its forms and aspects.

      This would translate into larger social organisms – as opposed to merely mechanical/legalistic organizations – which form out of the relationships between integrated individuals and their relationships with each other. We might presume this could continue to expand to encompass all of life. As it most likely did before our human excursion into Nihilism….

      At this point, on the scale of nations, I don’t think anyone is doing this in any deep and abiding way. The closest models we have for when this has worked would have been at earlier stages of human development when much of what we now would call individuation was still more or less following on from the way other creatures do it. For us such a stage can only arrive on the other side of our Chrysalis.

      All of this being another interesting way to look at the potential for this four-fold movement.

  7. Benjamin David Steele says :

    “In contrast to English nationalism, which is a rejection and retreat from the whole, Scottish nationalism moves in exactly the opposite direction. Scottish nationalism is, contrariwise, quite inclusive, and it sees its future as an integral part of Europe and the European Union.”

    England and the Anglosphere has defined itself in opposition to France. This is because of the Norman invasion and because of the French Revolution. But historically, Scotland had a close relationship to France. And maybe this still influences Scottish nationalism, specifically as distinguished from English nationalism. Here is a passage that gives some historical context:

    Agreeable Connexions: Scottish Enlightenment Links with France
    by Alexander Broadie
    Kindle Locations 189-202). Birlinn. Kindle Edition.

    Evidently Scotland and France in the eighteenth century were very different from each other, with the former, far more closely than the latter, respecting the ideals of religious and political toleration. But the two countries had this much in common, that they were main players in the European Enlightenment. As this book develops we shall see not only that they shared a host of intellectual interests and concerns, but also that they were in discussion and debate with each other throughout the century of Enlightenment. In preparation for a discussion of the relations between the two countries and cultures, I shall first focus on the fact that these close relations have a long history, and especially on the fact that for many centuries Scots have engaged in several crucial sorts of cultural activity in France. One small indication of the depth of these activities is the fact that by about 1600, at least seventeen Scots were rectors of the University of Paris. There may well have been far more.

    “About the time of this David [sc. David I of Scotland] lived Richard of St Victor, a Scot by birth, a religious of the Augustinian order, and he was second to no one of the theologians of his generation; for both in that theology of the schools where distinction is gained as wrestler meets wrestler on the battlefield of letters and in that other where each man lets down his solitary pitcher, he was illustrious.”

    There is rich symbolism in the fact that the earliest known person to have been active in the Scottish philosophical tradition spent a large part of his life in France. He is Richard of St Victor (d. 1173), whose Latin name, which tells us his country of birth, is Ricardus de Sancto Victore Scotus.

  8. Scott Preston says :

    Stephon Alexander, author of The Jazz of Physics has published this interesting essay on art and science that is probably going to be of principal interest to students of Jean Gebser

    http://nautil.us/issue/46/balance/what-this-drawing-taught-me-about-four_dimensional-spacetime

  9. InfiniteWarrior says :

    that “leap” is like Neo’s first leap in The Matrix — fraught with peril and the grave danger of failure, which is what makes our times so tense and suspenseful.

    Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

    {blush} Couldn’t resist….

    Okay. For some unfathomable reason, that danger doesn’t seem like all that in the face of “global” (in your terms) or “Cosmic” Consciousness (in mine). I mean. It just…doesn’t.

    Breaking through the “upper crust” of the human ego? Well, it actually seems an awful lot like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiw3wWcfesk

  10. Scott Preston says :

    George Monbiot on the plutocrats and dark money driving today’s super-nationalism. As usual, Monbiot nails it.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/26/trump-johnson-nationalists-billionaire-oligarchs

    • Benjamin David Steele says :

      That is the best social commentary I’ve read in a while. It’s refreshing to find that in a major publication where many will see it. It already has over a 1,000 comments and most express agreement.

  11. Scott Preston says :

    Trump seems quite willing to sacrifice America’s long-term future for the momentary glories of his own self-aggrandisement.

    • Steve says :

      Excellent book…” Owen Barfield: Romanticism Come of Age ” by
      Simon Blaxland-de lange. Very cool.

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