Conservatives and nationalists are regularly accused of being xenophobic. In this simple article, I want to make the case that the opposite is true– that conservatives and nationalists are deeply xenophilic. Far from hating the things that are strange and foreign, we love them and wish to preserve them.
It might even be argued that conservatives and nationalists are the only xenophiles in today’s ideological landscape.
Xenophobia means “fear of that which is strange, alien or foreign.” In the jargon of today, we might describe it as hostility to the “Other”, a term much thrown about in philosophy and social sciences today, and even penetrating into more general discourse.
The liberal-progressive attitude towards the Other is strange. On the one hand, the Other is an exalted concept, almost a sacred one. Presumably, most progressives would agree with Pope Francis’s injunction that we must “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” (Please let it be noted that I imply no disrespect or disagreement with the Holy Father.)
One would think, then, that “Othering”– casting someone in the role of the Other– would be a positive act. But on the contrary, Othering seems to be almost the worst possible thing you can do to somebody, tantamount to an act of violence. Othering stigmatizes, diminishes, marginalizes, and all those other bad things.
For an example, instead of picking on feminists or multiculturalists, let’s take a look at ourselves. Let’s take a look at Ireland and the Irish, and our own reaction to “Otherness” and being “othered”.
There was a time when Irish people were unembarrassed about invoking shamrocks, harps, and other “corny” Gaelic Revival tropes.
Take, for instance, the names of Irish sports clubs. Presumably, when the soccer team Shamrock Rovers were set up around the beginning of the twentieth century, nobody thought that the name was a concession to “stage Irishness” or “plastic Paddy syndrome.” The same goes for Finn Harps (1954), Erin’s Isle (1917), Erin’s Own (1938), Kenmare Shamrocks (1888), and even Emeralds GAA, a hurling team in Kilkenny, as late as 1972.
Popular magazines published in Ireland at the time of the Irish Revival included titles such as Emerald, The Shamrock, and Samhain. Hibernia magazine ran from 1937 to 1980.
This unembarrassed Gaelic romanticism even endured – just about – into my own childhood.
Anyone who was alive in Ireland in 1986 is unlikely to forget the charming television ad for Bórd na Móna, which showed a family settling down before a peat fire to the unabashedly diddly-aye tune of “Marino Waltz” by John Sheahan. There is even a red-bearded fiddler in a geansaí, for crying out loud!
Somewhere along the line– by the nineties at the latest– this all became more or less taboo. This was all cringe-inducing and strictly for the tourists. Irish people began to get uppity at such romantic tropes even being employed.
We had a drug problem and drag queens, you know. We were modern. Less with the bodhráns and wolfhounds, please.
Today we are in a strange situation where Irish people get mortally offended if Terry Wogan gets called a British broadcaster, or if an English journalist refers to “the Irish Prime Minister” (instead of trying to wrap their accents around Taoiseach) but we get even more offended if any poor foreigner expresses enthusiasm for the “twinkly” ideals that we ourselves espoused only a few decades ago.
We want to be treated as different, but we also want to be treated just the same as everybody else.
The same contradiction applies to other modern “identities”, of course. It would be tedious to go through them one by one. Feminists seem to be in a perpetual twirl between wanting their sex taken into account and wanting it to be ignored. It’s racist to treat people of different races differently, but it’s even more racist to try to treat them the same. Immigrants should be encouraged to cherish their native culture, but God help you if you pass a complimentary remark about their accent or ask where they’re from.
The word “exotic”, once a compliment, has become an embarrassing gaffe.
The modern world talks a lot about diversity, but it seems hellbent on a mission to impose dull and deadening sameness.
As for me, my own nationalism did not so much come from hearing rebel ballads around the electric fire, or reading Speeches from the Dock under the covers. My own nationalism came from looking outwards, at the world beyond Paddy’s green shamrock shore.
Although I attended two Irish language schools, I had no grá at all for the Irish language for my first two decades. I was very bad at it, I found Irish language revivalists to be annoying, I associated it with school, and so forth.
The first moment I really understood the preciousness of the Irish language was when I wandered the streets of Holyhead in Wales, in my late twenties, and actually heard ordinary Welsh people speaking Welsh. Not most of them, but a sizeable proportion.
It was a revelation. I realized then that there was nothing necessary about Irish people speaking English. I was enchanted to come upon a place so close to home where ordinary people were speaking a different language, a native language. It made the world that bit more interesting, more varied, in a certain sense bigger.
I was flooded with a profound shame that my own compatriots unthinkingly used the language of their conqueror every single day, as I am using it here. (Be it noted that I say this as a lifelong and enthusiastic anglophile.)
Visits to America and continental Europe induced similar feelings. Where I encountered otherness, my thoughts turned to my own country, and its increasing lack of any kind of otherness. Where I encountered sameness– McDonald’s restaurants everywhere, for instance– I felt the same reaction, but for a different reason. I wanted to emulate other nations in their “otherness”, and to fight the tide of homogenization in Ireland because that was my battleground. Those foreign nationalists fighting for their own distinctiveness were my allies, albeit on different battlegrounds.
The other? Man, I love it.
I love the femininity of women and the masculinity of men. Is there any sight more charming than a woman unselfconsciously touching up her make-up in a hand mirror on the bus? Is there any sound more invigorating than the sound C.S. Lewis described as being his favourite: “The sound of adult male laughter”?
I love the Irishness of Ireland, the Englishness of England, and the American-ness of America. I struggle to see how multiculturalism makes the world a more diverse place.
I love the innocence of childhood and the dignity of old age, and I don’t see how children making cynical wisecracks (learned from TV) or senior citizens playing air guitar makes the world more interesting or diverse or joyous.
You can call me stuck-in-the-mud, romantic, essentialist, backward, or any number of other things. I’ll grant them all.
But don’t call me a xenophobe. I am a thoroughgoing, dyed-in-the-wool, ardent xenophile, and that is why I am a sworn enemy to the progressive agenda– which is doubtless shivering in its boots.