Category Archives: Nationalism

Prager U: Warmonger Propagandist Machine

Prager University appears to be a fairly well-funded YouTube channel that, while outwardly expressing a faux dedication to free thought, is essentially a neoconservative propaganda machine. Consider the following video, “Should America be the World’s Policeman?”

I find this video almost comedic, as if the goal was to create a satirical piece a la Team America. The narrator of this video, Bret Stephens, at one point asks, “What stopped the Soviet Union?” The answer: ‘Merica! No further explanation is necessary. (Ironically, this seems to belie their other videos that pay lip service to the importance of free markets. According to Stephens, it wasn’t the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism that rendered the Soviet Union a basket case, but America simply being America.)

In trying to seriously consider and evaluate the points made in this video, one cannot come to any other conclusion than that it is an incredibly shallow presentation of a complex subject meant to appeal to individuals who have a severe lack of critical thinking skills. After all, flash animation accompanying narration of baseless claims draws more attention than serious study.

Admittedly, I was surprised at how Stephens began the video, asking “What’s the alternative?” to the United States being the policeman of the world. In another Prager University video defending the US’s dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the speaker was a reverend (!) attempting to justify this mass killing of civilians by favorably comparing it to only one alternative – the US infantry invading Japan – as if there were no other option. In that video, the non-interventionist position was entirely ignored. In this video, Stephens does briefly consider the idea that, perhaps, the US does not have to get involved in conflicts that have no direct bearing on the security of Americans. Such silliness is quickly brushed aside however, because “great powers…don’t get to take themselves off the terrorist target list.” Unfortunately, Stephens fails to consider other important questions:

  • Why is the US on such a list in the first place?
  • What do the bulk of US interventions (intervening in Ukraine, for example) have to do with being on the terrorist’s watch list?
  • Even if the US is on such a list, why does that preclude the US defending Americans from foreign attack?

Rather than addressing any of these questions, Stephens quickly concludes that the US must be the world’s policeman because THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE! It is simply amazing to me that he believes this is anything akin to an argument. Indeed, it is difficult to discern any actual argument being made (that is, one that begins with premises and from them draws a conclusion). Stephens simply conjures a conclusion that is in no way implied from his earlier insertions and fails to seriously evaluate alternatives.

His attempt to defend his conclusion is nothing short of laughable. Things go bad when the US leaves, says Stephens, just consider the rise of the Islamic State! If one’s goal were to create a video satirizing the incredible myopia of warmongers, they would have no need to do anything further, as Stephens has already accomplished it. Does Stephens believe that ISIS simply arose as a force of nature, and would have done so regardless of whether the US attempted to replace the previous government of Iraq? It is difficult to know what to think, as Stephens then acknowledges the ill-advised interventions in Vietnam and…the first few years in Iraq.

The other cited successes of US foreign interventionism (besides the aforementioned stopping of the Soviet Union) include the 1991 intervention in Kuwait (though Stephens seems to contradict himself here; apparently the UN’s role in the death of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans is worse than the US’s role in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis) and that in the Balkans. Keep in mind: these are his examples of successful interventions.

Near the conclusion of this video, Stephens attempts to demonstrate how this “Pax Americana” has benefited the world since the fall of the Soviet Union by showing how much Gross World Product had increased from 1990 to 2012. No theory of causation is provided. The Soviet Union collapsed and Gross World Product increased, therefore one caused the other. I doubt Stephens would accept such a flimsy and fallacious argument from someone with whom he disagrees. But, then again, based on the quality of the pseudo-arguments made in this video, it is difficult to say.

But if this video is so silly, why is it worth talking about? Bret Stephens happens to be an award-winning journalist and works for the Wall Street Journal. There are people who actually take him and these types of arguments seriously. And, based on the current state of US foreign policy, there is a sufficient number of people who believe these things. And this has important implications for localism.

Simply put, a bellicose foreign policy requires nationalism to feed upon. It requires that individuals think of themselves less as members of families or communities, but as citizens of nation-states; it is citizenship with the nation-state that is the critical (yet illusory) link between an individual in Idaho and events occurring thousands of miles away. They would otherwise have no relationship with one another, but we are told that serving our country is synonymous with obeying the whims of those in Washington, D.C., whatever those whims may be. Washington, D.C. does not care about Idaho or Oregon or Colorado or Utah. Washington, D.C. cares about Washington, D.C.

Furthermore, a bellicose foreign policy comes at the expense of localism because war results in centralization of political power and administration. Even though the vast majority of Idahoans were not directly affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, these events are used as a justification for federal agents to grope Idahoans or view their nude bodies whenever they fly. Same reasoning applies to federal agents viewing our emails and listening to our phone calls, although domestic spying programs have mostly been used for domestic law enforcement rather than to protect Americans from foreigners. And, ironically, with the militarization of the police, we are seeing first-hand what it means for “America” to be the world’s policeman.

The only foreign policy consistent with localism is one of peace and non-interventionism. Otherwise, we become further subject to political decision-making in DC, further taxes to pay for their wars, and further deaths of family members and neighbors who never had anything personal at stake.

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Self-Reliance as the Envy of the Masses

Robert Bergdahl

It would be too simple to write off the reactions to Robert Bergdahl’s Arabic- and Pashto-laden speech – to say nothing of his beard – as merely so much anti-Muslim bigotry in America. Bill O’Reilly, for example, was obviously upset because Robert Bergdahl’s presentation could conceivably – somehow, somewhere, by America’s lowest common denominator – be construed as weakness on the part of the federal government, which is why he said “[Bergdahl’s] appearance was totally inappropriate.” Accusing O’Reilly of bigotry does absolutely nothing to further a real understanding of his influential views, which are dominated by a desire to implement large-scale national solutions to nearly every problem.

Mass media ignorance aside, Robert Bergdahl is obviously the kind of man who doesn’t lie down and accept that something awful is happening – he acts. Studying two languages while establishing numerous contacts on the other side of the planet is the real-world equivalent of Liam Neeson in Taken; it’s also proof of a level of devotion to which every father aspires. His unglamorous willingness to “look Muslim” and say whatever might keep his son alive shows that he loves his family more than the idea of “killing foreigners whom the State has designated the enemy.” As Will Grigg has pointed out, such commitments constitute “an unforgivable heresy.”

Perhaps more offensive to the masses than his failure to worship the unitary American nation-state, however, is Bergdahl’s failure to let government “experts” take the lead in returning his son; Robert was personally involved with “the Qatar connection” that ultimately led to his son’s release. This elevated level of self-reliance – which naturally carries with it some eccentricities – is still quite common in Idaho. But much of America has lost it, and to them Robert Bergdahl is a conspicuous reminder of their dependence upon the unsustainable nanny-state that is increasingly unable to meet their expectations.

As always, those who willingly submit to paternalistic government are above all envious of their more courageous peers. It seems to me that this envy is the real driving force behind the alternately vapid and vicious condemnations of the Bergdahls. How else can one make sense of the simultaneous claims that Bowe and Robert are individualists who “distance [themselves] from institutions” and that they sympathize with cults of religious violence?

Sadly, coherence is of no concern when there’s some imaginary darkness to defeat, and envy has a funny way of making its object appear pitch black.

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Boise PD Chief Masterson and His New Ride

MRAPOn Friday, November 18, Boise Chief of Police Mike Masterson wrote in the Idaho Statesman about the BPD’s acquisition of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle (MRAP). Ostensibly, these vehicles that were previously used in war zones and given to local police departments by the federal government are supposed to increase public safety. Chief Masterson asks a prudent question: “Are we seeing the militarization of local police?”

For many local police departments, this question can be answered undoubtedly in the affirmative (see this map of botched paramilitary police raids). However, I don’t believe this to be the case for the Boise PD (yet). Fortunately, policing is still largely under state and local control, but, as with everything else, the federal government continues to assert itself in these affairs, such as through these giveaways of military hardware, or even heavily funding the salaries of local police departments. Continue reading

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The New Polis Podcast, Episode 2: Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the Mass Media

In this episode, Jackson B. and I discuss not so much the facts of the immensely controversial Trayvon Martin case, but rather the national media’s power to shape public perceptions.

Can a “society” of over 300 million people have uniform racial problems or are they products of specific communities? Does the media need to create simplistic narratives on race to make sense across so many people? How much does the mass media influence our ideas of what issues are important and which are not?

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National ID and the Unfriendly Future of Liberal Nationalism

Kevin Drum

Blogger Kevin Drum

While reading up on the current Senate plan for “immigration reform” and a national ID card, I stumbled upon a post at Mother Jones from January of last year called “The Friendly Future of a National ID Card.” The arguments offered by blogger Kevin Drum are quite weak to say the least, and I caught myself wondering if he was the victim of a hacker hell-bent on setting himself up to knock down a straw-man. They do, however, serve to illustrate some important points about national ID and nationalism generally.

Drum begins by quoting, approvingly, another blogger who writes as follows:

I live in Singapore and all citizens are required to have an Identity Card. (IC) The IC is very useful. It doubles as a library card, it serves as identification when I apply for overseas visas, or want to open a bank account etc. Someone’s IC also allows me to identify the other party if I get into an accident (i.e. who to pay or who to bill for damages etc etc). At this level, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. So, what are the problems with having a mandatory IC policy?

That’s right, citizen: all the Founders’ warnings about the need to check government’s potential for tyranny can be casually dismissed in the name of removing the pesky inconvenience of carrying around a localized library card. Forget the timeless warnings about freedom and security – trading our sacred liberty for mere convenience is all the rage these days. What we would do without enlightened bloggers like Drum to relieve us of George Washington’s anachronistic prejudices, the Good Lord only knows.

Drum casually overlooks another important point, which is the relative size of Singapore and the United States. Singapore’s population stands at just over five million – less than 1/60th the size of the U.S. and over three times larger than Idaho. Unlike the United States, Singapore is a city-state with more homogeneous interests and much greater cohesion across the people’s way of life. It is naked self-deception to pretend that mandatory ID is the same thing for a city as for an extended republic like Idaho or a federation of extended republics like the United States.

For Drum, a national ID is by definition nothing more than “a way to make our lives more convenient,” and we should “get the whole Nazi-inflected ‘papers please’ thing out of our heads.” As to its advantages, he muses, “The whole voter ID movement would become moot. Sure, go ahead and require ID. Why not, as long as everyone has it?” Since in Drum’s imagination it seems no government anywhere has ever committed a clerical error, why not indeed? He further opines, “It would make it easier to keep employers honest about hiring illegal aliens.” Apparently illegal aliens who find honest work are a serious threat compared to those engaged in criminal enterprise – something a national ID system would obviously do nothing to curtail, by the way.

I admit that I’ve dealt with Drum’s comments rather harshly, but there is a deeper problem with the mindset he displays that needs to be addressed. I’ve chosen to call it “liberal nationalism,” but I’m using “liberal” here in a historical sense broad enough to include thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke as well as many – if not most – Republicans in Congress. In brief, it is the view that the most fundamental relationship in society is that of an individual to a central, national government. If this is true, then all meaningful relationships with family, community, and fellow citizens must pass through a uniform filter of government approval. Government under liberal nationalism must define marriage for us, decide which charities are worthy of tax-exempt status, and ultimately regulate any and all contact one could conceivably have with another person; this last is of course achieved in part by a national ID card and the privacy violations it necessarily attends. To a liberal nationalist like Drum, this is no big deal, but there’s no logical stopping point to it. The only barrier is what people will tolerate, and we know well from history that many people are willing to tolerate tyranny for quite a long time. In the name of individualism, liberal nationalism destroys the freedom necessary for true individuality.

“National ideals choke out the influence of genuine shared values and meaningful customs”

Liberal nationalism carries out its task by imposing uniform, one-size-fits-all rules across a vast, diverse collection of people. In order to avoid the charge of favoritism toward any one community or group, these rules must be abstract and unresponsive to the particular needs of particular communities. Culture and social life become sterile and bland as vague national ideals choke out the influence of genuine shared values and meaningful customs. As a member of a local community, you can be valued as a unique person; as a member of a nation-state, you are only an anonymous taxpayer designated by number and – if Drum gets his way – tracked by a universal ID card.

In contrast to liberal nationalism, localism can and does recognize instances where values like family privacy, community, and personal liberty must reign supreme. A true sense of community built around a local, shared way of life makes a person more respectful of his neighbors’ privacy and other rights. The mass society of liberal nationalism encourages the opposite – a herd mentality conforming to the lowest common denominator and obsessed with achieving an impossible guarantee of safety and fairness in every human interaction.

In short, localism fosters trust; nationalism fosters fear. Put not your faith in national ID or any other nationalist scheme. Instead, live locally.

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