Let’s get wonky for a moment, said Bill Clinton between cigars. But really, Michael Gerson, on CBS “Face The Nation” with John Dickerson got wonky on France, Europe, nationalism, and the Holocaust.
“All the worst events of the twentieth century took place because of the triumph of identity over idealism, in Europe,” Gerson exclaimed.
Wow, that’s a mouthful.
But before we venture down into the bowels of that particular dark and mildewed bat cave, first a disclosure. I actually agree with Gerson’s conclusion that hyper-nationalism is a really bad idea in crowded and culturally competitive Europe. I wrote about it just after the French general election.
What we’re seeing in Europe is actually dangerous. I’m no fan of one-world government globalism, or some utopian panacea to produce Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité forever. But forgive me for pointing out that Europeans, untethered from the requirements of entwined interests, tend to pursue extremely self-interested courses, regardless of the political philosophy or structure of state government applied to each nation.
Where Gerson and I differ is the alternative to Le Pen’s, Geert Wilders’ and Nigel Farage’s vision of Europe divided into neat fiefdoms.
Now light your lantern, as we go spelunking into knee-deep bat guano. Gerson glibly cited a technical term, “transnational values,” without defining it or putting it into context. It could mean what former President Barack Obama referred to in his Cairo speech in 2009. That worked out really well, wouldn’t you agree?
But it more probably means what Walter Goebel and Saskia Schabio exposited in the rather obscure academic tome “Locating Transnational Ideals.” I warned you this was going to get wonky.
Covering such wonderful topics as “The Fascination of ‘Living Together in a Civilized Way’ or Nations and Cosmopolitanism in More’s Utopia (1516) and Ribeiro’s Wild Utopia (1982),” transnational ideals consist mostly of anti-colonial screeds, the ascendancy of art and sex over the White oppressor, and Jane Austen. You get the idea, I think. Unicorns and rainbows and unlimited sex–liberal claptrap.
To Gerson and the liberals, the choice is binary. Either you choose Blut und Boden, complete with anti-Semitism, homophobia, and the associated atrocities of a Holocaust, or you embrace the unicorns of Utopia. Oh by the way, Thomas More, who wrote Utopia, was beheaded for treason by King Henry VIII. So much for getting along.
You see, human nature being what it is, we’re more likely as a species to devolve into Lord of the Flies than the evolved humanism of Utopia. Therefore, it’s almost certainly not the failure of idealism that sparked “all the worst events in the twentieth century,” but the choice of the wrong ideals without entwined interests and moral absolutes to check them.
It was the belief that Man can possibly attain “peace in our time” through things like “transnational ideals” that allowed vicious dictators like Stalin, Hitler, and the hyper-nationalist Imperial Japanese Army to thrive and attempt to own the world. Not all nationalism is bad–in fact, a dose of nationalism is healthy. The “us versus them” drive in human beings has to be satisfied; only naifs believe it can be permanently suppressed.
Macron is a better alternative to Le Pen for France and for Europe. Then again, unicorn rainbows would be a better alternative given the penchant for Europeans to knock the bloody hell out of each other. But cooperation and shared economic, military and security values doesn’t make for some triumph of “transnational values” ideals over identity.
That’s total garbage, and if you want to test it, go into a random bar in a small city in central France, and start speaking German and talking about shared values. Let me know how that works out for you. Nationalism is part of who Europeans are. Only the common enemy of communism and the Iron Curtain have kept the last 70 years relatively free of conflict on the continent.
Now Europe has the challenge of finding other things to tie themselves together so they don’t start another war. Thinking that some enlightened secular humanist idealism is the answer is what got them into the last war. Let’s not have naïve liberals like Gerson encourage them to make that mistake again.