Principalities & Powers

Nationalism Looking Pretty Good

If conservatives carried revolvers, they'd probably reach for them at the sound of the word "nationalism." Perhaps it's just as well they don't carry revolvers, since nationalism usually makes its appearance armed with considerably bigger guns. In the Europe of Metternich and Castlereagh, nationalism was the vehicle for the revolutionary destruction of dynastic and aristocratic regimes and the parent of all sorts of modern nastiness. "From the French Revolution," wrote the conservative Anglo-Polish historian Sir Lewis Namier, "dates the active rise of modern nationalism with some of its most dangerous features: of a mass movement centralizing and levelling, dynamic and ruthless, akin in nature to the horde."

American conservatives have never been much more enthusiastic about nationalism than their European counterparts. The opposition to ratification of the US Constitution was led by country gentlemen who knew very well that Alexander Hamilton's national unification meant merely the consolidation of Northeastern dominance over the states and their distinctive subcultures. For the first seventy years of American history, the main political conflict revolved around whether the nationalists of the Northeast would succeed in impressing their thumbprints on the wax of the new republic. That, as Richard Weaver saw, was the issue in Daniel Webster's debates with South Carolina's Senator...

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