Nationalism

Why the New Zealand Terrorist Hated Not Just Muslims but also Capitalists

On March 15, in New Zealand, one of the most peaceful places on earth, an unspeakable massacre took place. A gunman attacked two nearby mosques, one after another, killing as many Muslims he could with his machine gun. In several minutes, fifty innocent souls were murdered, and some thirty others were seriously injured.  

One thing must be clear about this horror: it was not the work of some deranged individual with mental issues. It was an act of terrorism motivated by an ideology — an ideology we can call militant white nationalism.

We can see this clearly in the 74-page manifesto the attacker put on the internet. Titled “The Great Replacement,” the document is built around a major obsession: that the birthrates of white people, those who are “ethnically and culturally European,” are declining, whereas the birthrates of non-white immigrants, especially Muslims, are high. From this, the man projects that by the year 2100, whites in Europe will become a minority. He calls this “racial replacement,” and even claims: “This is WHITE GENOCIDE.” 

From this, he infers the duty to fight “the invaders within our lands,” who are primarily Muslims who have migrated to the West for opportunity. These invaders must be killed as much possible, he argues, both to scare them away, and also to “take revenge” for old conflicts. He is so ruthless that he sees “the children of the invaders” also as legitimate targets, because “they become adults and reproduce.”

“Any invader you kill, of any age,” he writes in cold blood, “is one less enemy.” 

This sick cruelty has taken fifty innocent lives in New Zealand, but this may be just a beginning.  In his manifesto, Tarrant writes that he planned the mosque attacks, “to show the effect of direct action, lighting a path forward for those that wish to follow.” So, there may be others who wish to follow.

We should be also aware that Muslims aren’t the only target here. There are also Jews, who the gunman considers non-European “invaders.” That is not unlike the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in August 2017 and chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” One such militant white nationalist attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, killing eleven innocent souls.

What Is Nationalism and What Does it Mean for Liberty?

From President Donald Trump to the rise of new nationalist political parties in Europe to a general resurgence of the term in recent years, nationalism seems to be on the march.  Nationalism is a political movement that has made major inroads in recent years while preaching a message of immigration restrictionism, trade protectionism, and a stronger government devoted to defending citizens from (mostly) imaginary harms.  But besides some policy positions and a style of governance, there is not a good working definition of nationalism widely used in popular discourse and there is almost no attempt to distinguish it from patriotism.  My base assumption was that nationalism must be something more than crude jingoistic tribalism, but few ventured beyond that.  Those reasons prompted me to read several thousand pages on the topic – and I learned quite a bit.  Below are some lessons I learned and a useful taxonomy of different types of nationalism.

North Korea: One Nation under Kim

In a comprehensive article on the comprehensive 1984-like propaganda efforts of North Korea, Anna Fifield reports on some underlying themes:

Tatiana Gabroussenko, an expert on North Korean literature who teaches at Korea University in Seoul, said that by not allowing people to form their own opinions, North Korea infantilizes its citizens.

“North Korea molds children socially,” Gabroussenko said. Books for different generations have different styles but the same message and characters, sometimes involving South Korean “stooges” or American “beasts.”

“In the children’s version, a child will be fighting Americans by throwing pepper in their eyes and making them sneeze and cough,” Gabroussenko said. In the adult version, weapons, rather than condiments, are used.

“The message ‘We are one nation’ implies that you can’t rebel against your father, you can’t rebel about your government, that it’s important to stick together,” she said.

North Korea’s totalitarianism may be unique, exceeding even that in the Soviet Union and Cuba, though perhaps reminiscent of Maoist China. So one must be careful not to draw too many analogies between the Kim cult and the efforts of political leaders anywhere else.

Service to the American People or to the American State?

One of the most persistent utopian visions over the last century and more is national service. By “national service” proponents never mean service to Americans. The United States long has been famous for the willingness of its people to organize to help one another and respond to social problems. Alexis de Tocqueville cited this activism as one of the hallmarks of the early American republic.

Rather, advocates of “national service” mean service to the state. To be sure, they believe the American people would benefit. But informal, decentralized, private service doesn’t count.

The latest proponent is columnist Michael Gerson, one-time speechwriter for “compassionate conservative” George W. Bush. Wrote Gerson:

How then does a democracy cultivate civic responsibility and shared identity? Taxation allows us to fund common purposes, but it does not provide common experiences. A rite of passage in which young people — rich and poor, liberal and conservative, of every racial background — work side by side to address public problems would create, at least, a vivid, lifelong memory of shared national purpose.

To Gerson’s credit, he does not advocate a mandatory program, where people would go to jail if they didn’t desire to share the national purpose exalted by their betters. But many people, from Margaret Mead to Senator Ted Kennedy, did want a civilian draft. Indeed, a number of noted liberals who campaigned against military conscription were only too happy to force the young into civilian “service.” 

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