2 Legit Part 3

The question now becomes: Can an “ethno-state” be made?  I think so.

Eric Hobsbawm, Terence Ranger, and Benedict Anderson were all dirty Commies, but their work on “invented traditions” and “imagined communities” says something profound about human group interaction for all that.  It’s actually pretty easy to weld a disparate group of people into a tight unit, zealous for a collective goal.  Boot camp is an extreme example, but it’s easier than that — think of your high school.  The mascot, the fight song, “our” hated rivals from the school across town, all those invented traditions create an imagined community, loyalty to which can span a lifetime.  Check your Facebook account — how many old high school buddies are in your friends list?  Of them, how many still belong to groups like “Class of ’85 Rocks”?  We laugh at Al Bundy telling everyone who will listen about the time he scored three touchdowns in a game back in high school, but the joke only works because everyone knows someone like that.*

In the grand scheme of things, nothing is more meaningless than a high school football game… but there are people who define their whole lives by it.  Imagine what a flag and a national anthem can do!

See, for example, Japan.  Meiji Japan was an imagined community, built on top of an actually existing community.  The genro took the incohate sense of “Japanese-ness” that existed throughout the realm and gave it symbols — the Charter Oath, the Army, the imperial Rescript on Education, the Rising Sun flag, the Emperor himself.  It was astonishingly effective.  In a generation or two, “loyalty to the Emperor” simply was Japanese-ness, despite the fact that Meiji, like all Emperors stretching back into the remote medieval past, was a powerless figurehead.

Of course, Japan was full of Japanese at the time.  But it can be done elsewhere, with a much more heterogeneous population — e.g. the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Forget the huddled masses at Ellis Island, yearning to be free.  Think about the former Confederacy.  North and South were, in 1861, different enough to get into a shooting war with each other.  By 1871, most of the former CSA states were back in the Union, and by 1881 the country was welded together tighter than it had ever been… such that, by 1898, veterans’ groups on both sides were loudest in demanding war with Spain.  40 years after a war that killed more Americans than all the previous wars combined — with hundreds of thousands of veterans still alive (and the most vital voting block in American politics)! — and it was like it had never happened.  Behold the power of the Lost Cause!

Turning Irish, Jews, Italians, Poles, whatever into “white Americans” is child’s play compared to that.  All you need is baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

This is the secret to American History that baffles the imagined community of the ivory tower (see footnote below).  Think about the source material.  Europeans are famously fractious — when Groundskeeper Willie says that brothers and sisters are natural enemies, like Englishmen and Scots, or Welshmen and Scots, or Japanese and Scots, or Scots and other Scots (damn Scots! They ruined Scotland!), he’s summing up 19th century Europe…. and we got the worst of the lot (folks who are happy with the way things are going at home don’t emigrate).  The French went to the barricades every time someone invented a new kind of cheese, but despite every conceivable source of friction — national, religious, class, clan — going back hundreds of years, Americans, to the perpetual bewilderment of professional historians, never came close to another revolution.  For every Haymarket Square or Pullman Strike or Pennsylvania Coalfield Strike, there were hundreds of incidents that could’ve spiraled out of control, but didn’t.  Something kept all that in check.

What was it, and can it work again?




*The imagined community “academia” is an ironic meta-example.  Hobsbawm and Ranger were historians, Anderson was a political scientist.  In other words, these were guys who made the study of human interaction their life’s work; they, of all people, should’ve been rock-ribbed conservatives.  But they were Marxists, of course, because they were Professors, and Professors by definition are left wingers.  No matter what their “research” said, in other words, their political commitments to their imagined community always came first — in Hobsbawm’s case, actually admitting, on live TV, that 15-20 million dead would’ve been worth it had Stalin succeeded in creating a real Workers’ Paradise.



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2 thoughts on “2 Legit Part 3

  1. WOPR

    It is a list of things and not one thing.

    1. A fairly unobtrusive Federal gov’t. Despite what a lot of people on our side whine about Lincoln and Leviathan, after the Civil War the Feds pretty much went back to the rules before. It wasn’t until Wilson and FDR that the Feds started rolling.

    2. Christianity. It provided at least a general world view that everyone could agree on. Notice that no one had much of a problem with telling Mormons to either drop polygamy or get lost. Sure there were a lot of different denominations, but they pretty much agreed on the big stuff.

    3. Less communication. If you don’t know much about what they are doing 200 miles away, you can feel a lot more kinship than if you know exactly what they are like over there.

    4. Less diversity. You can accommodate a certain amount of diversity. What happens when you have five religions, 20 ethnic groups, and a multitude of world views?

    5. Space. People could spread out and stay out of each other’s way.

    At some point you hit the Austro-Hungarian Empire level where no one really likes anyone and the bubble heads at the capital don’t really rule much of anything. It becomes reality the first time someone gives the structure a good push.

  2. Frip

    Wopr, really good comment. #3 is something I’ve often thought about. Too much communication. Familiarity breeds contempt. Even if Americans all loved each other, the love would still be ruined by over-communication. With social media, we’re all in each other’s faces all the time. Like the old family vacations stuffed into the back of a station wagon. Too much of everyone in everyone’s grill. I don’t think this can be fixed. True Pandora’s Box.

    I do have a problem with your #2, Christianity. I’m sure the subject has been exhausted. But yeah, I just can’t fake Christianity anymore. Not since my late teens. You say come together as Christians. I see the logic and facility of that. But again, can’t fake it. I hate the concept of God.
    Childhood cancer. Need I say more? Maybe we could all come together as Atheists. No?

    To try and answer Severian’s question. Tough to say. I remember as a kid, the world wondering why Americans weren’t political. Like, they thought something was wrong with us. I guess it was because we were all doing relatively well financially. I don’t know. When I was young in the 70s and 80’s, I didn’t hate any group. Since we were still all “fellow Americans”. Now I hate many groups. I wouldn’t fight for this country anymore. Things have changed badly.

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