With the rise of populism, worldwide immigration crises, and the hubris of globalism, there has been a strong rise in nationalist sentiment among those on the right worldwide. Although there is nothing wrong with being a nationalist superficially, there is a danger that is almost never properly discussed among conservatives. Most American nationalists are good conservative people, but not all nationalists are conservative — or even good.
My distrust of nationalism stems from my family history. All eight of my great grand-parents were born in the historic lands of western Armenia, which is now present-day eastern Turkey. The reason no one in my family lives there now is because of the Armenian Genocide. The Genocide was caused by a group of nationalists known as “the Young Turks.” They promised to usher in an age of prosperity that was not weighed down by the sultan’s old regime. The Young Turks billed themselves as both progressive and nationalist. They would create an Ottoman Empire for the Turkish Ottoman people. It would have a secular government with religious toleration.
To the Christian ethnic minorities who had been horrendously persecuted by the sultans, this was something deeply desired. However, even after they helped the Young Turks gain power, they slowly realized they were not a part of the Young Turk’s vision. First, the Armenian intellectuals, artists, politicians, and members of the military were kidnapped and assassinated. Then, village by village, the Turks rounded-up all those who did not fit into their nationalist vision and forced them on death-marches through the Syrian desert. About 1.5 million Armenians were killed, in addition to other Christian minorities such as the Greeks, Assyrians, and Chaldeans.
But that was in 1915, what does that have to do with today? Hasn’t the idea of nationalism changed?
That’s what is so dangerous about nationalism: it changes too fast. It is a nebulous and easily hijacked term.
What person does not want to be loyal to their homeland? What kind of person seeks to be an outcast? Why shouldn’t people put their country first? The fact of the matter is, even if the intent of some nationalists is good, it means nothing if another sort of nationalist takes power — which will inevitably happen.
Nations are always changing, not just because of demographic changes from immigration, but also culture, a rise in fads, changes in consumer tastes, environmental changes, territorial expansions or losses, religious conversions or apostasy, and new technologies. Each society ought to discuss if those changes are sinister or beneficial, but it must be acknowledged there are certain aspects within every nation that can change without the population losing its national identity. Furthermore, it must also be acknowledged there are some fundamental things which if altered will turn a people into a fundamentally new nation. It is the duty of each generation to debate which aspects fall into which category.
But with nationalism, they claim their entire platform is fundamentally integral to the national identity. It leaves no room for debate. Anyone against the nationalists can be easily painted as traitors and the nationalists can project themselves as the saviors of their nation. Because there is no consistent definition of a nationalist, even within a particular country, the meaning can change with each generation, depending on the convenience of those who want power. One day, the Young Turks can claim religious toleration is the Ottoman way, but the next day, only those with the Muslim faith can be real Ottomans.
As conservatives, we do not seek to preserve any one nation for the sake of the nation itself. Rather, we seek to preserve the values of the Western Tradition. Nations, empires, and group identities will come and go, but the things which are eternally good, real, true, and beautiful are worth fighting to preserve. Conservatives should strive to be remembered as the vanguards for the transcendental things, not some idealized nation that may never have existed or could only exist through wicked actions.
Preserving one’s nation is only a good action if that nation preserves those transcendental values. Nationalism inherently causes people to think about the materialistic or superficial aspects of a country, whereas conservatism puts its focus on matters like the family, virtue, friendship, wisdom, enlightenment, and spiritual salvation. If preserving the nation is the best way to preserve those values, then so be it! But we should never allow lines on a map to distract us from the lines separating good and evil.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.