“The foundation of Ireland is the Gael, and the Gael must be the element that absorbs. On no other basis can an Irish nation be reared that would not topple over by force of the very ridicule that it would beget.” – D.P Moran.

The Necessity of Defining Nationhood

The aim of this essay is to answer the following question: What is a Nation?

A query which is deceptive in its simplicity. Reflexively, we assume that nationhood is easily definable, owing to its persistent omnipresence, despite the best efforts of the hegemonic oligarch-driven global agenda which regards it with scorn. A layman could easily point to America, Germany, and Finland as examples if questioned, but could he define what a nation is?

It’s transparent that the subject of Irish Nationalism is the ‘Nation’. But, if our definition of this subject is rife with ambiguity, does that not convey a lack of consideration of matters which are of cardinal ideological importance? If asked, a Marxist could define the proletariat —can most Nationalists define Irish nationhood?

This nebulousness has left us conceptually deficient vis-à-vis competing political orientations. Too often Irish Nationalists crumble before such questions as: “What does it mean to be Irish?”, “I have a Norman surname, I wish I had an Asian gamer girlfriend, and I have one percent Finno-Ugric ancestry —am I Irish?”, and so on. Notwithstanding the reality that such questions are posed by (typically) disingenuous interlocutors, it’s important to be able to answer them.

Due to the efflorescence of genuine Irish Nationalism in recent years, our notion of nationhood has undergone hyper-politicisation. Hitherto, our traditional (relative) homogeneity ensured that defining nationality was not previously a contentious arena of debate.

However, the growth of the migrant population has corresponded to an increase in anti-racist (anti-Irish) activism and sentiment among a cadre of NGO employees, journalists, and professors —it should be noted that this clique is buttressed by international financiers. As a result of their need to justify the project of multiculturalism, the notion of what it means to be Irish —a question traditionally taken for granted— has come to the fore of contemporary political discourse.

Constructivist Notions of Nationalism

The history of the 19th and 20th centuries is a record of nationalism’s endurance, despite the facile predications of Marxists and Liberals. Albert A. Lindemann perceptively noted that the left-liberal German Social Democrats supported the German war effort during the time of World War One. Why? Because they feared that their supporters would beat them to death if they didn’t —certainly a testament to the German proletariat’s nationalist sentiment.

Even Marxist regimes, such as the USSR, were forced to engage in the politics of mass patriotism during the Second World War. That nationalism was and continues to be a potent force is undeniable, irrespective of one’s political orientation.

A number of theories which purport to define what a nation is have been advanced since the 19th century. One of the most notable is the constructivist theory of nationality, argued for most famously by Ernest Renan in his 1882 Lecture: ‘What is a Nation?’ A more recent addition to this tradition of constructivism is Benedict Anderson’s ‘Imagined Communities’.

The constructivist theory of nationality argues that nations are not the result of organic, lineal, and primordial kinship bonds. Rather, modern nationhood, in their view, is the product of enlightenment-era contrivance, the fall of religiosity, and the printing press.

Such a view implicitly buttresses the politics of those who support mass migration. Thoresen identifies the ideological motivation which underlies Anderson’s thesis: “Nationalists, to Benedict Anderson, are simply extraordinarily committed devotees of particular works of fiction. Behind his arguments is the notion that they are ultimately either dupes of various elites or victims of material forces beyond their control with no understanding of either real history or themselves”.

The question must be posed: if nationalism is simply a contrivance of modernity, why is it such an abiding phenomenon, historically and contemporaneously?

The constructivist approach to nationalism was rejected by the Finnish sociologist Tatu Vanhanen on this basis: “modernisation theories predicting the disappearance of ethnic conflicts at higher levels of modernity or socioeconomic development fail to explain the universality of ethnic conflicts, for the simple reason that ethnic conflicts have not disappeared at higher levels of modernity and socioeconomic development”.

Marxists and Liberals typically subscribe to constructivist notions of nationhood which regard nationhood as a phenomenon which is contingent upon the conditions of a particular age, and hence will disintegrate with the coming of a new era. Marx believed that the nature of 19th century industrial economics signified the end of nations —henceforth comity would no longer be between members of a fatherland, but along international class lines.

Liberals too foresaw the death of the nation. The British MP Richard Cobden believed that laissez-faire free trade would lead to globalisation. In his curiously entitled ‘I Have a Dream’ (1864) speech, Cobden stated: “I see in the Free-trade principle that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe, —drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace”.

Unfortunately for Marx and Cobden, the spirit of Arthur Griffith lingers on, boldly proclaiming that “between the individual and humanity stands, and must continue to stand, a great fact —the Nation”.

Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft

The assertion that a nation —albeit significantly moulded by modernity— is derived from a core ethnic, familial, or tribal grouping is the main theoretical competitor to the constructivist viewpoint. Those that subscribe to this notion of nationhood attribute its endurance in the face of modernism to its ethnic rather than civic aspects.

Ferdinand Tönnies, the co-founder of German Sociology, provides a useful dichotomy to conceptualise the distinction between ethnic and civic groupings, and the concomitant superiority in terms of endurance and cohesiveness of the former. In his 1887 magnum-opus ‘Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft’, Tönnies makes the sociological distinction between two distinct forms of society: Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.

A Gemeinschaft is an organic, lineal, and historically constituted identity which has formed in a protracted manner over time, such as an ethnic or tribal grouping. In contrast, Gesellschaft refers to identity-less, self-interested market relations, inorganic relations between “citizens” whose unity depends on nominal factors, and other artificial consent-based associations.

Tönnies’ imprint was left on the mind of the famous German Philosopher of History, Oswald Spengler. Spengler incorporated and contextualised Tonnies’ distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft within his organicist theory of human civilisations.

Spengler employed the term ‘Kultur’ to refer to the period of historical development wherein society is permeated with organic kinship ties —a phase in which Gemeinschaft is prominent. In contrast is the latter period of decadent ‘Zivilisation’. It’s littered with mass, atomistic relations —akin to Tönnies’ Gesellschaft.

The superiority of Gemeinschaft­-groupings has been argued by several thinkers. The Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun juxtaposed the Arabic and Berber cultures. He concluded that the greater sense of unity among the latter derived from their more ethnically pronounced bonds. Further, he believed that there is a “tendency for mass urban societies to break down when the social solidarity characteristic of tribal and national societies disappeared”.

In the tradition of Tönnies, Alain de Benoist —the leading scholar of the French New Right (GRECE)— argues that the abrogation of kinship bonds inexorably results in a society based on “economic exchange and economic wealth” —in line with Spengler’s contention that there “is no proletarian, not even a communist, movement that has not operated in the interests of money”. Kinship-derived unity helps to avoid “major conflicts concerning basic values since all shared a common set of mores and a common sense of destiny”.

Spengler agreed with Tönnies, Benoist, and Khaldun. The fall of Gemeinschaft-groupings engendered collective apathy and concern simply for oneself: “The last man of the world city no longer wants to live — he may cling to life as an individual, but as a type, as an aggregate, no, for it is a characteristic of this collective existence that it eliminates the terror of death. That which strikes the true peasant with a deep and inexplicable fear, the notion that the family and the name may be extinguished, has now lost its meaning. The continuance of the blood-relationship in the visible world is no longer a duty of the blood, and the destiny of being the last of the line is no longer felt as a doom”.

Robert John elucidates the evolutionary edge that ethnic and kinship based groups have over their civic counterparts: “when a distinctive population or gene pool retains its identity and persists in generally practicing endogamous marriage, showing a sense of brotherhood, the probability of survival as an identifiable biological group is enhanced”.

In other words when it comes to dating don’t parish mix. Keeping it local might just save your nation —#Lindy.

A Definition of Nationhood

It is contended that the division between the constructivist and kinship camps can be bridged. Both positions have their respective merits and faults. While the constructivists are wilfully ignorant of the ethnic-induced endurance of nations, they are certainly correct that nationhood is a phenomenon subject to historical waxing and waning. Therefore, a suitable definition of nationhood necessitates the unity of (relative) permanence and flux.  

A definition of nationhood is proposed to reconcile this seeming contradiction. A nation is a holistic unity of consciousness and loyalty, predicated upon certain factors which, although inferior to the national whole, nonetheless engender it, and are therefore integral to its continued subsistence.

Factors which contribute toward the creation of a nation include: ancestry, religion, mythology, a conception of historical events, shared collective struggle, language, custom, and so forth. The mix of some or all of these factors leads to the creation of in-group feeling and consciousness of the nation as unique and distinct vis-à-vis other groups. Such factors are inferior by virtue of the fact that they do not result in ethnogenesis in and of themselves.

Identity is formed when one people comes into contact with another. Factors and characteristics which were previously thought to be universal, or at the very least were taken as a given and not pondered, are transmuted, and become the defining characteristics which demarcate and hence define the nature of the group —a national consciousness is born.

Through negation we come to know ourselves. Nations can have important distinguishing factors which can lay dormant for millennia due to the absence of a contrasting group. Christianity is a far less meaningful identity without a contrasting Muslim or Jewish populace to juxtapose itself with.

It’s no surprise that whiteness was buttressed during the era of European colonialism. The older demarcating characteristics of language and custom were less important among Europeans in the New World who faced people-groups whose distinguishing characteristics were far more pronounced. The differences between a Welshman and Scotsman shrink when faced with nomadic North American tribes.

The ethnogenesis of the Afrikaans people exemplifies the power of myth to engender and sustain national consciousness. Regarding this, Bolton states: “The strength of the Afrikaner had not been from genes but from race-forming myths of the Great Trek, and the Battle of Blood River […] it is this mythos that formed the Afrikaner race.”

There are essential and primordial factors which contribute toward the creation of the nation as a holistic unity —this is the permanent aspect of nationality. However, the relevance of such factors is contingent upon the proximity of the nation to alien groups and the latter’s characteristics —this is the fluctuating element of nationality.

It can be said that nations are temporary constructs whose inner permanence and depth are unveiled and revealed through struggle, history, difference, and the hand of providence. 

Nationality and Degeneration

A theory of nationality and an elucidation of its formation has been provided. It’s now necessary to build off this base and explicate how a nation degenerates.

While the elements which give rise to nationality are technically inferior to the holistic consciousness of the nation, they are nevertheless important for its continuing subsistence. Nation-inducing elements form the columns upon which the unity of consciousness rests. Knocking down one will not destroy the nation, but it will damage it. The abrogation of all or most of the columns spells doom for the nation.

For instance, language formed a key historic distinction between the Irish and English peoples. With its abrogation, Irish identity persists, albeit on a weaker footing. The tragedy that resulted from the destruction of our national language pales in comparison to the effects of mass immigration, which poses a threat to the ancestral, organic and customary aspects of Irish national consciousness.

If this phenomenon continues unencumbered, Irish identity will unalterably change. Ireland will exist in nominal terms without any underlying substance. A tax haven without history or destiny. To quote Pearse: “But had the last repositor of the Gaelic tradition, the last unconquered Gael, died, the Irish Nation was no more. Any free state that might thereafter be erected in Ireland, whatever it might call itself, would certainly not be the historic Irish Nation”.

Conclusion

The subject of our political struggle is the Nation. Comprehending what a nation is and how it forms is cardinal. I believe that this article, to a satisfactory degree, has succeeded in elucidating this.

I end the article with Pearse’s dictum, which captures nationhood’s most essential aspects: 

“Davis thought of Ireland as a spiritual unity. He recognised that the thing which makes her one is her history, that all her men and women are the heirs of a common past, a past full of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual experiences, which knits them together indissolubly. The Nation is thus not a mere agglomeration of individuals, but a living, organic thing, with a body and a soul; twofold in nature, like man, yet one.”

Posted by Ulick Fitzhugh

One Comment

  1. Seaghan Breathnach 15/02/2021 at 8:23 pm

    This is a very good article, though your point about Afrikaners is mistaken. Afrikaner is a cultural constuction entailing any White who speaks Afrikaans – Hendrik Verwoerd, a first generation South African being an example. It was the Boer people and nations which were forged by the Great Trek. While all Boers are Afrikaners, not all Afrikaners are Boers.

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