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The Survival of the Liberal West Requires Ethnic Nationalism

Proclamation of Prussian king Wilhelm I as German Emperor at Versailles in 1871

Historically the bourgeois representative nation-states of Europe developed in the direction of becoming a majority ethnic group strategy, at least until the mid twentieth century. It did so because elites could more effectively mobilize military and economic collective goods the closer the state resembled a tribal strategy. Global laissez-faire capitalism was perhaps more effective at maximizing the growth of the international economy as a whole; at least that is what formal econometric models predict. But nationalism was the most efficient means for harvesting the public altruism of a population, whether for the purpose of defence, empire building, economic protection, or legitimising socio-economic hierarchy. Nationalism was and remains a powerful political force partly because the social technologies most efficient in mobilizing mass anonymous societies are constrained by the evolved human behavioural repertoire to mimic kin and tribe. It also mobilized elites. Sincere patriotic leaders were among those who supported graduated income taxes and sent their sons to the battlefields in company with the sons of the lower classes.

For these reasons, at the mid point of the twentieth century the typical Western nation state approximated in outline an ethnic group strategy. The state could be said to administer what approximated an ethny (or closely related set of ethnies), because European nation building culminating in the nation state system of the late nineteenth century worked by deploying kinship markers that did in fact correlate to some extent with ethnicity, markers of territory, language, culture and religion. The chief advantages of the ethnic nation state are as follows:

  1. A majority of the population it administers is drawn from one ethny or closely related ethnies, providing some confidence of ethnic relatedness and reducing the impact of ethnic free riders.
  2. It exercises sovereignty over a territory.
  3. It wields unprecedented power to defend borders from unwanted immigration, violent or peaceful.
  4. Finally, its administrative apparatus is backed by a monopoly of legitimate coercion that allows the provision of significant collective goods partially proofed against free riders.

Despite these initial strengths, no Western state has for long kept its promise as an adaptive ethnic group strategy. One failing has been the lack of an ethnic constitution clearly defining how a liberal state may also be an ethnic state. Instead, after WWII, the emphasis has been on declaring Western states to be based on propositional values, representative institutions, rule of law, freedom of expression, and free markets — in place of any notion of ethnic identity. This way of defining citizenship in the West has involved tricking the native citizens into extending solidarity to individuals and groups on the basis of group markers that have lost their efficacy as extended-kinship markers.

Many Western nation states have indeed changed into multi-ethnic states that are replacing or tolerating the replacement of their founding populations. Such a state can hardly be considered an adaptive group strategy, at least on the part of the founding majority ethny. From the perspective of genetic interests, even a robust and wealthy state, one that makes its way in the political and economic worlds, is maladaptive if it fails to preserve its citizens’ fitness relative to other ethnies, at a minimum within the state boundaries.

The traditional nation state’s failure as an adaptive group strategy is tragic for the founding ethny, because it is the only group strategy they have. In Western societies the majority ethnies have lost much of their original tribal identities. In the historical process of nation building the members of many small tribes pooled their identities and territories. In effect, if not by intent, they swapped their small tribal group strategies for larger national group strategies, drawn by the implicit promise of a tribal group strategy. In the same process they yielded control of culture production and distribution and became consumers of media products manufactured and marketed by specialized elites. Ethnic culture was thus cut adrift from the sentiments of its original tribal controllers, and vested in a branch of the new state elite. But in modern societies, especially Western ones, there is no mechanism for ensuring the loyalty of cultural elites.

An ethnic constitution would correct some of the weaknesses in Western nation states. Existing constitutions are limited to defending proximate interests. But the ultimate interest is not happiness, nor liberty, nor individual life itself, but genetic survival. A scientifically informed constitution that takes the people’s interests seriously cannot omit reference to their genetic interests.

An ethnic state would have an ethnic constitution, one that explicitly provided for the protection of existing ethnies’ interests, or at least for the majority ethny’s interests. Such a constitution would impede any attempt or tendency to abrogate the nation state’s adaptive promise. It would contain provisions that defined citizenship in ethnic terms, and establish group rights designed to protect relative fitness. In the federal version each constituent ethny would receive the same guarantees, applicable within ethnically homogeneous regional territories. The federal government would not possess the authority to override regional immigration or ethnic laws. Territories could also be retained by those who prefer multiculturalism. Regional federations with open internal borders would be constitutionally prevented from accepting membership of states whose populations were genetically distant from that of the founding members.

There are precedents for ethnic states. In its Staatsbürgerschaftsrecht legislation of 1913, the German federal parliament defined ethnicity-as-descent as a sufficient condition for citizenship, adopting the principle of jus sanguinis rather than jus soli. Children with one German parent were automatically eligible for citizenship. The country accepted non-German guest workers in the 1950s and 1960s, but full citizenship for non-Germans entailed a lengthy period of residence. The law was reformed in 2000 to make it easier for individuals of non-German descent to gain citizenship.

Like Germany’s 1913 law, Israel’s “Law of Return” makes it mandatory for the government to accept Jews wishing to immigrate from anywhere in the world. Immigration by non-Jews is discouraged. Although the Australian Federation, established in 1901, did not specify the nation’s ethnicity, this provision was implicit in the first legislation passed by the new parliament. The so-called “White Australia policy” was a central pillar of Australian nationality, that drew on the restrictive immigration legislation adopted by the individual states before federation to protect against large scale Chinese immigration during the gold rushes of the mid 1800s.

The United States was to a significant degree an ethnic state until the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement and immigration reform swept away special protection of the white majority. Arguably the convergence of these two movements — the breaking down of external and internal protections for the majority ethny — transformed these Western societies into different kinds of ethnic states, ones that privilege minorities in various ways. The United States began as an implicit ethnic state, whose Protestant European identity was taken for granted. As a result, the founding fathers made few remarks about ethnicity, but John Jay famously stated in 1787 that America was “one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors”,a prominent statement in one of the republic’s founding philosophical documents that attracted no disagreement. Soon afterwards, in 1790, Congress passed the new republic’s first naturalization law, which limited benefits to “free white citizens”. In 1870, following the Civil War, new legislation expanded the right to citizenship to include individuals of African descent, retaining ethnic particularism. Further elements of an ethnic state were added over time in the form of immigration laws. Asian immigration was barred in the late nineteenth century and in 1921 and 1924 legislation introduced a quota system that severely limited immigration overall and allocated quotas based on national origins, effectively reserving most immigration for Western Europeans. The 1924 legislation further stipulated that “no alien ineligible to citizenship shall be admitted to the United States”, in effect defining the country as composed of citizens of European and African descent.

Malaysia is a modern ethnic state that gives special protection to the Muslim Malay majority at the expense of the Chinese and Indian minorities. A wide ranging system of affirmative measures favouring Malays was introduced in 1970 following bloody riots against Chinese businesses which practically monopolized the economy and were greatly overrepresented in higher education. Under the system a Malay, or Bumiputra (‘son of the soil’), can benefit from quotas at the country’s universities and in the corporate world. Long-serving Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad summed up the aim of the measures as ‘making my race a successful race, a race that is respected’. Since the system was put in place, ethnic Malays have improved economically and educationally, though not all goals have been met. The Chinese and Indian minorities have suffered from the rigid system of preferences.

The best known modern ethnic state was National Socialist Germany (1933-1945). This state derived many strengths from its nationalist character. Its accomplishments included a revitalized social policy, full employment, rapid economic growth, an egalitarian class structure, and the salvaging of national pride after the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty. Furthermore, some economic and health benefits flowed from the Nazi ideology’s biological orientation, compared to Marxist-Leninism and in some respects even liberal democracy. For example, retention of elements of the free market economy allowed the German economy to become a run-away success while communist experiments became grim affairs of quotas, heroic labour, and deprivation, and Western economies languished. Nazi Germany was decades ahead of the West in recognizing and blunting the dangers of tobacco products. The majority ethny in Nazi Germany did quite well until 1939, while ethnic Slavs were killed in large numbers by Lenin’s and Stalin’s security forces. The Hitler regime was popular, uniting Germans across social classes. This allowed it to out-compete the powerful German Communist Party, a branch of the seemingly unstoppable Bolshevik revolution that since 1917 had been killing, enslaving, and terrorizing large numbers of citizens wherever it came to power. If the Nazis had not themselves killed and enslaved millions, their reputation would not be what it is today. Nazi Germany became justifiably notorious for practising aggressive war and genocide against eastern neighbours and minorities. If an ethnicised constitution necessarily resulted in catastrophes such as Nazi Germany initiated, that would be a sufficient reason to abandon the idea altogether.

This is unlikely to be any truer than the possibility that all socialism must necessarily regress into Stalinism or that the benefits of free markets can only be realized if slavery is also accepted. Ethnocentrism is a double-edged sword, but there is good reason to believe that human ingenuity can devise social technologies for keeping the aggressive edge blunt. Also, in a growing interdependent world, nationalism can only be sustained and prosper if it respects other national interests. Ethnic constitutions are compatible with universal nationalism because they are universalisable. The world population could conceivably live in several hundred ethnic states, some independent, some belonging to federations, participating in international trade, cultural exchange, and the give and take of limited immigration. Such an international system would optimize the genetic interests of most humans by assisting continuity rather than expansion.

The right to citizenship in an ethnic state would be a fitting plank in a biologically informed universal declaration of human rights. Such a declaration would not be out of place in the constitution of any ethnic state. Like the freedom to raise a family, it is in everyone’s interest to have his ethnic interests protected by the power of the state and to be free to invest in his ethny by contributing to collective goods that are proofed against free riders. Conflicts of interest would still occur. But it is in most states’ interests to unite to contain cancerous cells that threaten neighbour states. In a crowded world there is much more to be gained by respecting others’ interests and benefiting from peaceful trade, than contributing to an endless war of all against all.

This is not to deny that nationalism is associated with violent conflict. It is an ideology both of national liberation and aggrandisement, both goals producing conflict. Bringing political borders into alignment with ethnic ones is often a zero sum game. Moreover, as the most potent legitimating force in the modern world, nationalism arouses intense emotions when national integrity is threatened. Mobilizing a people to defend its vital interests is nationalism’s most precious characteristic. The human cost of a war cannot be condemned without taking into account the interests thus preserved. But tribal passion can blind communities to peaceful alternatives, causing unnecessary misery. Adaptive nationalism would work to bring patriotic emotions into alignment with real interests.

To concede that war can be adaptive is not to advocate its glorification as found in fascism. The huge scale and destructiveness of modern warfare are only adaptive for participants, which now includes whole populations, under special circumstances of real threat or opportunity for risk-free expansion. The former has been greatly reduced by diplomacy, international trade, and the spread of democracy, while the latter has all but vanished in a crowded world awash with surplus weaponry. Fascism, including the Nazi variant, did not meet the criteria of an adaptive ethnic state as defined in this chapter because it was not democratic and thus put the people at risk of free riders. This might seem counterintuitive, since this ideology laid mystical emphasis on “blood and soil”, metaphors for genetic and territorial interests, and advanced the state as the champion of these interests.

However, except for the willingness to sacrifice millions of lives in a reckless military adventure, these values did not distinguish fascism from conservatives of the time elsewhere in Europe and America. Both correctly identified the nation and its territory as vital interests. The distinguishing elements of fascism included the unscientific components of its ideology and, of special importance, its defective political institutions. National Socialist ideology had at its core a mystical conception of race that contributed to an erroneous view of ethnies as almost distinct species with disjunctive rather than statistical differences. This was compounded by an extreme ethnocentrism that evaluated the ingroup as possessing superlative values not found in other ethnies. Struggle and competition were ripped from Darwinism and roughly pasted at the head of social policy as semi-religious goals. These categorical and hierarchical conceptions are at best naïve in light of modern biological and social science, and in practice translated into brutal chauvinism. In contrast, a nationalism that was attractive to all societies would advocate dignity for all, as a necessary condition for favouring the in-group. It would be a demystified set of propositions based on objective truths revealed by science, truths concerning group identity and group interests, equally valid for all ethnies.

On the other hand, ethnic constitutions on their own, without a society-wide understanding of the nation’s history, a nurturing of patriotism and ethnic solidarity in the public sphere, can also have shortcomings. No document can guarantee the behaviour of a polity. For example, despite its ethnic definition of citizenship, Germany accepted large numbers of non-European “guest workers”, mostly from Muslim Turkey, as it ran out of workers to power its “miracle economy” from the 1950s. Although they were admitted for short-term mutual economic benefit, many of these workers remained as a slowly-assimilating minority. In the 1990s large numbers of refugees, mostly from Europe but also from Africa and Asia, were taken in. By the end of the century Germany had settled some seven million foreigners, making up 9 percent of the country’s 81 million inhabitants. This minority is reproducing much faster than native-born Germans. This dilution of German homogeneity happened despite the country’s ethnic definition of citizenship. A key contributing cause was changes in Germany’s political culture. The post-war denazification program was an understandable and healthy reaction to the extreme National Socialist regime. However, the program became an arguably maladaptive campaign of systematic institutional shaming of the nation’s identity, prosecuted through the education system and mass media. Despite being legally entitled to repatriate guest workers and their families, the political will has not been found to do so. Changes to political culture, whether induced by external pressure or by internal elites, can bypass ethnic constitutions.

Another way that ethnic constitutions can fail is through external pressure, as demonstrated by Macedonia. This is a Christian Slavic nation with a rapidly growing Muslim Albanian minority. Following the breakup of the communist Yugoslavian state in the 1990s Albanian guerrillas began an armed struggle against the Macedonian state, which denied them equal rights.The dispute fitted a wider pattern of Albanian nationalism and demographic expansion. In the Serbian province of Kosovo the ethnic Albanian birthrate was over three times that of the ethnic Serbs in the second half of the twentieth century. The result was that the Albanian majority grew from 68 percent in 1948 to 90 percent in 1994. A guerrilla campaign against Serbian police and terrorist outrages against ethnic Serbs aimed to ethnically cleanse the province and make it part of a greater Albania.

In Macedonia, the ethnic Albanian minority was rapidly growing and by 1994 had reached about 23 percent of the country’s 2 million people. Ethnic Macedonians were down to 66 percent, with the other 11 percent made up of Turks, Vlach and Serbs. Western leaders were worried that Macedonia would descend into bloody civil war as had other ethnically mixed provinces of Yugoslavia (Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo). In October 2001 Western diplomats were pressuring the Macedonian leadership to change the country’s constitution from an ethnic Macedonian republic to an ethnically neutral one. The country’s constitution already stipulated tolerance, though in practice ethnic rivalry was manifest. The constitution posed a symbolic problem for European and American diplomats, since it proclaimed that “Macedonia is established as a national state of the Macedonian people”. Yet it was known to all concerned that the relatively high ethnic Albanian birth rate would soon make that national group a majority in Macedonia. The Western position was thus tantamount to demanding that the Macedonians hand over their state to a different ethny and be replaced on their historic territory.

Alternatives existed that would have secured peace, but were not urged by the West. These included granting ethnic Albanians equal rights within an ethnic federation, with local autonomy and restrictions on inter-state migration. Another option was outright secession, in effect cutting the ethnic Albanians free to form their own state or join Albania proper, and retaining the rest of the ethnic Macedonian state for the Macedonians. Either solution would have insulated ethnic Macedonians from the fierce Albanian birth rate. Instead the fundamental ethnic problem was not addressed, and the Macedonian government effectively ceded sovereignty to Western monitors in matters of ethnicity to allow the external “verification of Macedonia’s treatment of minority rights in accordance with principles of universal human rights”.

Non-ethnic and ethnic constitutions belong to civil and ethnic societies respectively. The former is most compatible with ethnic diversity because citizenship is defined in strictly contractual terms. Citizens’ social obligations are limited to behaving in a law-abiding manner. There is no obligation or bond to society as a whole, but rather an obligation to respect other citizens’ autonomy and difference. Tolerance of religious and ethnic diversity is therefore a core value of civil society. Citizens of ethnic societies are also expected to behave lawfully, which in modern nation states includes limiting expressions of intolerance of religious and ethnic diversity to political debate and the electoral process. But much more is demanded of them because the legitimating assumption is that the society is an extended tribe; citizens have mutual interests beyond the golden rule. Patriotic duty is a core value of ethnic society.

Between the late nineteenth century and the 1960s, the United States changed from being a nation state, in which the ideal citizen regretted having only one life to give for his country, to a civil society that cannot legitimately demand sacrifice from its citizens. Most of the founding fathers of the Republic took for granted the nation’s ethnic basis as a self-evident virtue. John Jay was an exception, believing it important to describe and praise this ethnic dimension.

Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country, to one united people, a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established their general Liberty and Independence.

Less than 200 years later, Michael Walzer, a leading intellectual advocate of civil society and ethnic pluralism working at the elite Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, could write that:

There is no country called America. . . . It is a name that doesn’t even pretend to tell us who lives here […] The United States is an association of citizens [not of nationalities or states]. Its “anonymity” consists in the fact that these citizens don’t transfer their collective name to the association.

Further, since the United States is not a nation state, and not a Christian republic, Walzer insists that the primary political duty of citizens is to protect their democratic freedoms, rather than to protect their nation or ethnic group. Walzer is not opposed to ethnic identity or solidarity per se, arguing that tribal feeling is universal and deserving of respect according to the golden rule. Writing for the ethnic publication Congress Monthly (1994), he praised Jewish youth for maintaining the Jewish tradition of civil rights agitation on university campuses, while also calling for revision of some aspects of Judaism. He also expressed pride in the young people of his own ethny. But he does not believe the United States ever was, or should be, an ethnic nation, or any kind of nation.

The kind of natural or organic loyalty that we (rightly or wrongly) recognize in families doesn’t seem to be a feature of our politics. . . . [T]he United States isn’t a “homeland” (where a national family might dwell), not, at least, as other countries are, in casual conversation and unreflective feeling. It is a country of immigrants.

Civil society is a precondition for multiculturalism, while ethnic society is a precondition for the nation state. A universal civil society would dissolve the nation state, but universal nationalism would be a global society of nation states. Ironically, the civic model would seem to be adaptive only in an ethnic state, where citizens can relax their ethnic guard and treat each other as individuals without losing fitness to ethnic free riders. But in multi-ethnic societies ethnic demobilization is maladaptive because of multiple risks to relative fitness. To be evolutionarily stable, civil societies must keep up their external guard in the form of military defence and control of immigration. Since the citizens of a civil society lose ethnic mobilization, group defensive functions must be motivated by institutions — the constitutional prescriptions and associated administrative apparatus that make up the ethnic state.

The history of the surreptitious, undemocratic dismantling of ethnic institutions in the US, Australia, Canada and elsewhere indicates the need for an ethnic constitution to carry the following provisions:

  1. Any change to ethnic policy requires a referendum.
  2. All referendums bearing on ethnic issues necessarily trigger a constitutionally-mandated process of mass mobilization that is completed before any vote is conducted.
  3. In the mobilization process, the citizenry is well informed of ethnic issues, perhaps by a bureaucracy charged with monitoring these issues and constitutionally authorized to disseminate knowledge via the mass media and education system.

Agitation by would-be free-riding elites would run up against this constitutional wall, leading to cycles of ethnic mobilization and demobilization. A beneficial side effect might be to keep the ethnic constitutional machinery in working order. The alternative would be to arrange for high levels of ethnocentrism to be made a permanent fixture, though this would call for non-destructive ways to discharge the resulting patriotic energy.

Ethnic constitutions do not guarantee the continuity of the protected ethny. However, an ethnically-tied constitution would greatly empower ethnic loyalists by giving them legal recourse in opposing imprudent immigration legislation and urging enforcement of existing laws. The delicacy of ethnic interests calls for powerful defences. A nation can take centuries to form. But as several Western societies have experienced, it takes a lapse of only one or two decades in immigration control for an economically successful society to find its unity broken and heading for genetic replacement.

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