04 February 2017

Let us Lieven the lumps

It seems this is the time for leftists of various stripes to be discussing the problem of the nation in various forms, as Anatol Lieven seems to be doing in Prospect. In some sense, his analysis dovetails nicely with my duelling notions of ‘nation’ and ‘thede’; in another sense, though, he gets some things rather badly wrong.

First, let’s start with where we agree.

I agree, wholeheartedly, with his diagnosis of the Eurozone and the structure of the European Union generally. A common currency without a common culture, a common rooted sense of solidarity, and most importantly a common governmental structure responsible for finical policy, was from the beginning a recipe for disaster. The Greeks were shafted, badly (along with the Romanians, the Spanish, the Bulgarians), by a structure which accrued the benefits of trade to the core (Germany and Poland especially), and left them responsible for the debts they incurred as a result – denominated in a form of money over which their government had no control! The resulting spectacle of victim-blaming by the victimisers – faulting the Greeks and other southern European peoples for being spendthrifts and cultural profligates – was so truly hideous, so un-Christian, that it was baffling to me that the European Union was able to survive it.

I also agree that nationalism has been, in part, a driving force for equitable economic policies in several countries in the world (particularly outside the Anglosphere and the European Union) – and that certain forms of ‘conservative’ resistance to demands for austerity have been cast as ‘national’ populism. I agree wholeheartedly that the ‘central task of the social democratic left today is to conserve civilisation in the face of the multiple threats generated by globalised capitalism’ – and I was tickled pink particularly when he rallied Burke and Confucius in defence of this cause. And I agree that this task presents certain challenging demands, particularly upon a Left which is wont to think in global, multicultural, brotherhood-of-man terms – but which is confronted with the failure of these terms to generate anything approaching equitable outcomes or opportunities.

And finally, we absolutely agree on the need to distinguish healthy forms of nationalism from unhealthy forms. But then we get into the weeds of what this will look like, and I discover some possible points of disagreement.

Lieven wonders if ‘civic’ nationalism can be opposed constructively to ‘ethnic’ nationalism. This is a valid dichotomy, as I have expressed elsewhere, but I don’t think it holds the distinction he wants it to hold. The love within one ethnos, within one thede, does not automatically equate to a hatred of others. And the spirit of the ‘civic’ nation can turn against out-groups in truly horrific ways – as in the Vendee, where the vanguards of the French ‘civic’ nation slaughtered peasants en masse for their loyalty to the King. The social, communal bonds of kinship (writ small) and thedeship (writ large) do not necessarily demand strong stratification – whereas the civic state does, even and especially when it pretends it does not! On its face, there’s nothing wrong with that. But we need to be clear-eyed about the distinction.

If I have one major bone to pick with Lieven, though, it’s this. If he truly is serious about recovering the virtues associated with patriotism (because, let’s be honest, when he says he wants ‘solidarity; equality; community; equal justice; self-discipline and self-sacrifice’, we’re really talking about a specific set of competencies, habits and modes of being rather than abstract ratiocinations), then he needs to get serious about shoring up not only the country as one level of practice and habituation against selfish interests, but ALSO religion and family loyalty. (After all, if the British nation truly is struggling to acculturate Muslims, are the claims of religious loyalty really as weakened as Lieven claims they are?)

There is a reason the ‘left’-thedish patriotisms, the ‘ethnic’ loyalties of Samuel Johnson, Richard Oastler, Aleksey Khomyakov, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Mohandas Gandhi and Patriarch Pavle of Serbia didn’t shade over into narrow chauvinism or bigotry. And that reason rests in Oastler’s formula – or Uvarov’s, if you will: altar, throne and cottagein that order. Pravoslavie, samoderzhavie, narodnost’in that order. (The Slavophils were not reviled because they repudiated Uvarov or Nicholas I, by the way. On the contrary, they were reviled because they took Uvarov’s formula more seriously than Uvarov himself did, let alone Nicholas I – they placed the theological principle of sobornost’ above the principle of the mechanisms of the state!) The theological and the homely virtues were practised along with the thedish ones.

And the practice of these virtues must be local and situated, rather than merely national.


  1. Are you not a bit hard on Nicholas I ?

  2. Hello, IronTsar1994! Welcome to the blog!

    Am I being hard on Nicholas I? Perhaps a bit. He does deserve credit for creating the formula in the first place. Though his repressions of the Slavophils tend to make me a bit leery.

  3. Ok,thanks you for your honest answer!