Friday, October 26, 2018

But does it enchant in your mind?

Unboxing the Statue of Liberty, 1885, via Rare Historical Photos.

Shorter David Brooks, "Yes, I'm an American Nationalist", New York Times, 26 October 2018:
I'm magically attached to New York but I'm romantically attached to the United States, Rockies, Declaration of Independence, World War II, Silicon Valley, madness, diversity. I'm an American nationalist, and this proves that Donald Trump isn't one, because I'm a nice guy and he isn't.
Quotes from the six-paragraph peroration of Ernest Renan's 1882 Sorbonne lecture, "What is a nation?", with no indication of where he got it from, likely Dr. Google and, which runs it without the rest of the text:
The 19th-century French philosopher Ernest Renan argued that “a nation is a soul, a spiritual principle”: “These are the essential conditions of being a people: having common glories in the past and a will to continue them in the present; having made great things together and wishing to make them again. One loves in proportion to the sacrifices that one has committed and the troubles that one has suffered.”
That's not really what Renan (a great rationalist, though also I'm sorry to say an anti-Semite, who is remembered best for his 1863 Vie de Jésus, depicting the life of Jesus with no miracles, as somebody who is not the son of God) "argues". By ignoring the rest of the piece—he may not even realize it exists—Brooks misses all the argumentation, which is a shame, because some of it is pretty funny, anticipating the great Benedict Anderson:
Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even of those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial. Unity is always effected by means of brutality; the union of northern France with the Midi was the result of massacres and terror lasting for the best part of a century. 
A nation is, as Anderson says, a work of fiction, an "imagined community" that may achieve existence when war has given way to politics, and what Renan "argues" is that the best way of being a nation, which he hoped France was achieving after getting rid of its second emperor and forming the Third Republic, is through getting rid of the metaphysics and theology of its foundation mythology and turning to "the people" and a humble transactional democracy:
This recommendation will bring a smile to the lips of the transcendants of politics, these infallible beings who spend their lives deceiving themselves and who, from the height of their superior principles, take pity upon our mundane concerns. `Consult the populations, for heaven's sake! How naive! A fine example of those wretched French ideas which claim to replace diplomacy and war by childishly simple methods.' Wait a while, Gentlemen; let the reign of the transcendants pass; bear the scorn of the powerful with patience. It may be that, after many fruitless gropings, people will revert to our more modest empirical solutions. The best way of being right in the future is, in certain periods, to know how to resign oneself to being out of fashion.
Of course Brooks belongs to the "transcendants" party and wants to keep writing the fiction.
In the soul of a nationalist, Yoram Hazony writes in his book “The Virtue of Nationalism,” there is a gratifying tension between a person’s intense loyalty to her inherited traditions and an awareness that there are many other traditions, similarly beautiful, but that don’t happen to be her own.
What's funny about Hazony, a conservative Israeli philosopher, is that when he mentions Trump in his new book (very briefly, on pp. 215-16), it's in praise of his penchant for unilateral action and hatred of the United Nations, as representing the kind of nationalism Hazony is talking about:

(Cited from the Kindle preview.) Heh. Just like Israel, as Hazony cheerfully goes on to say. Trump is Netanyahu.

Bad writing, on Brooks's family's history in Lower Manhattan:
That’s five generations within two miles. I feel a magical attachment to that neighborhood. The blocks and street names enchant in my mind.
On what is this crazy thing called "national attachment"?
What does this national attachment feel like? It feels a bit like any other kind of love — a romantic love, or a love between friends. It is not one thing that you love but the confluence of a hundred things. Yes, it is the beauty of the Rockies, but it is not just the land. It is the Declaration of Independence, but not just the creed. It’s winning World War II and Silicon Valley, but it is not just the accomplishments. It is the craziness, the diversity, our particular brand of madness.
On making more love:
Love for nation is an expanding love because it is love for the whole people. It’s an ennobling love because it comes with the urge to hospitality — to share what you love and to want to make more love by extending it to others.
On how when you respond to bombs with vitriol it's kind of like a bad breakup:
In a family you can feel when love is stretched and broken. And you can feel the same thing in the nation. Today, when bombs are sent and vitriol follows, our common American nationalism, our mutual loyalty, is under strain.
On why isn't everybody an American nationalist?
American nationalism has been one of the great joys, comforts and motivators of my life. I don’t know how anybody can live without it.

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