In Defence of Civic Nationalism

© May 2017 Tom Rogers

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I got thinking about 'civic nationalism' some time ago when I noticed everybody else was either demonising it or saying it is the only form of nationalism available. On further examination, I have come to the conclusion that both positions are wrong, as are most of the definitions of civic nationalism found online.

Civic nationalism and ethno-nationalism are not opposites. If anything, they are complementary, and one is needed for the other. America until the 1870s was civic nationalist. This was only possible because it was founded as an ethnic nationalist country for people mostly of British descent and north-western European descent. To be a civic nationalist and to have a civic society, you must first have ethno-nationalism. The former is the real-world construct of the latter.

The civic sphere is voluntary (based on acceptance of citizenship or a process of naturalisation), while the ethnic sphere is involuntary (based on birth or assimilation of closely-related ethnicity). An ethnic nationalist society must develop a civic identity, both to reflect the assimilation of closely-related peoples and also so that other assimiliable peoples can join the 'political community'. That is what the United States was, a 'polis' based on ethnic identity, until the radical change in its immigration laws in the 1870s.

I expect when most people refer to 'civic nationalism', whether disparagingly or favourably, what they have in mind is the modern bastardisation of the concept, which is actually not civic nationalism proper, but just an extreme form of liberal republicanism or Marxoid neo-nationalism viz. the Maoist 'stages theory of revolution'. The 'polis' has changed in the USA and other Western society due to the abandonment of the 'natio', the folk who make up the relevant societies in favour of a multi-national demographic composition for these societies. It should therefore be no surprise that the concept of 'civic nationalism' has changed with it, but this new interpretation is not a fair reflection of what civic nationalism is, rather it is just an evacuation of the original concept.

This might seem like pedantry, but it's important because unless we scrutinise language and the definitions used, we can end up off-track criticising the wrong things. When we call ourselves Nationalists (for those among us who do), we are actually making a bold statement of intent. What we are saying is that we assert the legitimacy and existence of a 'natio', a folk, a kind, a native-born people. Civic nationalism is not a dirty term and does not deserve to be maligned. In a sense, we are all civic nationalists, or should be if we want healthy societies.

Civic Nationalism is entirely a red herring here. I am a civic nationalist I am also an ethnic nationalist. I am both, because the two things essentially go together. Once you grasp this, you begin to realise that most of these discussions make no sense, and in some cases, it's a deliberate attempt to divert you from useful activism and political work, and a way to alienate you from the general population by making you seem more 'extreme' than you need to be.

The converse is also true. The moderate civic patriotic types like Nigel Farage, and more ponderously, Roger Scruton, get things wrong when they assume that you can have a sort of free-floating 'civic nationalism' based on racial and ethnic integration. That is exactly what has been attempted in the United States since the 1870s, and in Britain from the 1950s onwards, and it hasn't worked. It's a disaster. Asking for more of it, as Farage and Scruton do, is asking for more of the same problems. It's like digging yourself deeper in the hole and wondering why the problem can't be solved. It's errored thinking.

Farage needs to understand the link between the civic and the ethnic. Once this is grasped, then the solution presents itself. That is not to say that we need to start kicking out non-whites tomorrow. That won't be practicable and too many ordinary people will oppose this. But other policies could be formulated that gradually steer the country back to a proper form of civic nationalism.