23 October 2009

Moral Relativism

Antonia Senior of the Times of London suggests that moral relativism makes it difficult to fight against groups like the British National Party. While I think that blaming the academy is every bit as tired as straight-up moral relativism, the article is still interesting.

More on the BNP

Adding to my post yesterday, Nick Griffin added to his remarks on Question Time by saying that London has been "ethnically cleansed." You can read more here. At least he makes classifying the BNP very easy.

The British National Party

The British National Party's (BNP) leader, Nick Griffin, appeared on the BBC's flagship news show, Question Time today. [A full account, as well as several minutes of film footage, are available on the Guardian website.] While the appearance generated considerable protest—some 1,000 protesters convened outside the BBC studios—here at The Nationalism Project, we found ourselves wondering about taxonomy.

The BNP often draws fire as racist and is frequently equated to the Nazis; indeed, Griffin is well known as a Holocaust denier. Despite recent claims that the BNP would soon abandon a racial qualification for membership, the party seems to represent a clear example of "ethnic nationalism." Whereas "civic nationalist" groups such as the Scottish National Party (SNP) base their political platform on economic, and occasionally cultural, issues, the BNP offers an array of political arguments that are racial in tone.

Of course, from an academic perspective, it is often difficult to classify nationalisms. On the surface, it is easy enough to declare that the BNP represents ethnic nationalism, the SNP civic nationalism, Siol nan Gaidheal cultural nationalism. But where should such a matrix stop? If the SNP includes some cultural content, does that make it a cultural nationalist group? How much racial content is necessary before a group becomes "ethnic?" Do nationalist parties need to be classified according to a Venn diagram? What of liberal nationalism, ressentiment nationalism, and exclusionary nationalism? Are there a nearly limitless number of sub-genres of nationalism? At what point does endless classification become useless from a scholarly, let alone a popular, perspective?

Such questions may not seem relevant when discussing a group like the BNP. Their rhetoric speaks for itself. Yet the dialogue put forward by parties such as this one virtually begs for us to develop a clear classification system. While few parties will actively state: "We're racist!" the public needs to see past such rhetoric and to fully understand what it is looking at. To foment such understanding, scholars need to agree upon a language for analysis. The philistine dialogue taking place in the United States about "socialism" (which apparently means widely different things to different people!) should not be applied to nationalism. The stakes are all too painfully high.

22 October 2009

Nationalism Project updated

Over the past several years, The Nationalism Project underwent relatively little revision. Assistant Editor Catherine M. Burns did excellent work updating journal articles and adding conferences, we added a new section called "new books," and I completed an overhaul of the site's appearance—but that is more or less it.

As a result, the links section grew dated and a host of other issues cropped up.

All that is now changing. Several weeks ago The Nationalism Project enlisted the help of Aaron Mitchell, a talented undergraduate at the University of New England. Mitchell is a double-major in political science and history. Over the coming months, he will be working with Catherine and myself to bring all TNP content up-to-date and to add as much new material as we can locate.

If you are aware of information that is missing from our site, please let me know via email at: egzuelow@uwalumni.com. We're anxious to make sure that The Nationalism Project remains the most up-to-date and comprehensive nationalism studies resource available on the World Wide Web.

03 October 2009

What Does It Mean to be a Patriot?

CNN commentator Roland S. Martin just published an editorial in which he rips members of the current opposition party in America, the Republicans, for laughing giddily over the failure of the United States to win its 2016 Olympic bid. The gist of Martin’s argument is that the loss of the Games was not a defeat for Obama (who campaigned vigorously) or for the city of Chicago (a city that Republicans seem to hate), but rather for the United States.

He writes:

What the critics don't see is that Obama's loss on the Olympics is America's loss. Any red-blooded American who loves to see the American flag raised and the national anthem played when one of our own wins a gold medal should blast the Republicans' giddiness over the loss.

He goes on:

So, to all the critics happy about us losing the 2016 Games, turn in your flag lapel pins and stop boasting of being so patriotic. When an American city loses, like New York did in the last go-round, we all lose. And all you critics are on the same level as the America haters all across the world.

You should be shouted down for not backing your own country. The next time any of you bang out a press release about "Buy American" or "Support our troops," remember this moment when your cynical, callous and small-minded brains happily rejoiced when America lost the 2016 Olympic Games.

The partisan tone of this exchange is part of daily life in the States these days. Liberals celebrated when former-President George W. Bush suffered defeats. Conservatives now openly embrace any perceived failure on the part of the Obama administration. Both sides claim that their respective opinions are "patriotic."

My question is simply this: what is patriotism and how do we identify it? Can both sides, so diametrically opposed to one another, really be patriotic? If so, what are the implications?

It strikes me that each side is using "patriotism" for political ends. Is patriotism really just a political symbol, to be utilized as is one's want? If so, should we bother studying it in terms of national identity or should we relegate it to the arena of political rhetoric?

Is anybody familiar with useful studies of patriotism and politics? I'd like to see more concerted study of so-called "patriotic" organizations and their political use of the "American" label.

02 October 2009

Crayfish and the Nation

Immigration has long been a major concern among ethnic and (among some) civic nationalists. These people imagine that incomers will steal jobs and infect gene pools. Immigrants are often presented as a disease, a virus infecting the body politic.

According to the Guardian, British National Party legal officer Lee John Barnes now takes this old saw to a new level of obfuscation in comments about an invasive species of crayfish that is causing considerable trauma to British ecosystems. The British paper quotes Barnes saying:

The North American Crayfish is the Mike Tyson of crayfish. It is a diseased, psychotic, evil, illegal immigrant colonist who displaces the indigenous crayfish, colonises their territory and then reproduces until it totally devastates the indigenous environment and indigenous crayfish. I am saying nothing governor.

But theres (sic) a phrase of his [George Monbiot] that I believe should be the motto of the Eco-Xenophobes everywhere. I intend to use it more and when I do I will accredit it to George Monbiot; DEATH TO THE USURPERS!

The equation of immigrants with invasive species and the desire to kill “usurpers” did not escape the Guardian which judged the remarks to be a “subtle” way to get around laws “on incitement of racial hatred.”

There is certainly nothing new about such rhetoric. It took little time at all for the emerging pseudo-science of race, which developed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to merge with nationalism. Scholars such as Eric Hobsbawm and Michel Winock recount the transformation of early nineteenth century “liberal” nationalism into a more sinister identity. By the twentieth century the ties between race and nation were even stronger—witness the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis) and their maniacal desire to eliminate race enemies or Lebensunwertes Leben. While living in Europe some years ago, I was struck by the degree to which “nationalism” and “racism” were often merged in peoples’ minds. To be a nationalist was, at least for some, to be a Nazi.

As the late George L. Mosse pointed out some years ago, “race” and “nation” are far from the same thing (see Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 1, Part 2), but sometimes it can be very difficult to separate them. Today, globalization and fear—of terrorism, economic malaise, and a host of other things that go bump—make immigration a major issue in many, many places, often resulting in violence. Racist parties are now active in countries where such politics was once largely unimaginable. What students of politics should keep in mind is that the political debate about “immigration” is usually a debate about “nation” and “race.” Understanding one element in this trinity demands understanding the other two.

When teaching a course about nationalism, I once asked a group of students about the biggest threats facing the United States. About half of the students immediately and without hesitancy said: “immigration.”

I asked them: “How many foreign-born immigrants are in the United States?” They responded: “Lots, maybe as high as 50%.” [The answer is actually about 12.9% and this includes all immigrants, both legal and illegal.]

I asked them why this bothered them. “They’re forcing their religion and their language on us, destroying our culture.” The students continued that if allowed to continue, immigration would turn the nation of immigrants into a decimated shell, a pale reflection of its former self.

What strikes me is how quickly the students unknowingly connected national identity and immigration (the students staunchly denied that “race” played any role in their opinions). While not remotely surprised by their thoughts, I nevertheless find myself wondering whether it is possible to separate race, nation, and immigration into discreet topics for discussion and study or whether they must be taken together. Would the debate exist in a post-national world? Were racial “science” relegated to the dustbin of history, would my former students take a much different view of the world around them? Put another way, nationalism paints popular perceptions even when it goes widely unremarked, just as surely as Barnes probably cares little about crayfish.