Look at a world map. You will find numerous nations with their territorial boundaries neatly demarcated. Turkey, Ethiopia, India, Saudi Arabia, Mali, Mauritania, Bolivia, Honduras, Paraguay. Do not take this for granted. The identification of the peoples of the world within clearly demarcated nation states is one of the greatest, least understood and most maligned, accomplishments of modern Europeans. Without this identification, based on ethnic and cultural markers, humans would have been forever bickering with each other along tribal lines. They still fight and many “minorities” want their own nation states. But the relative peace that has come to the world as official national boundaries were solidified in the aftermath of WWII should not be underestimated.
Contrary to what most people think, nationalism does not equal tribalism but presupposes an end to tribalism. Europeans were able to think in terms of ethno-national identities because they were a people freed from kinship/tribal networks and thus capable of conceptualizing themselves as members of a nation-state in terms of broader collective terms such as language, religion, common history, and ethnicity.
Origins of Nation-States and “National Self-Determination”
Prior to the centralization of power by monarchs in the late medieval and early modern era, the authority to wage war, to tax the population, to administer and enforce the law, were personally owned, hereditary rights of a feudal class with patrimonial/tribal authority. Patrimonialism is a form of authority that retains aspects of the old patriarchal kin-based rule centered on extended family lineages, with the difference that it projects the rule of the patriarch onto a broader segment of the population atop kin-based relations.
With the rise of absolutism in the 17th century, the ruler came to justify his right to complete sovereignty over a territory on the basis of divine and natural law, with kin-based norms playing a minimal role. It was argued that a sovereign ruler had a right to monopolize all power and justice away from private feudal families because that is the rational way by which God ordained all creation to be ordered, for the purpose of achieving the common good and the peaceful coexistence of people within a territory.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the idea came to prevail that the right of the government to rule comes from the people who inhabit the territorial state, and that a true national state is not founded solely on the power of a ruler to impose his will over conquered territories but presupposes a territory that is made up of people who actually have a common ancestral lineage, ethnicity, and cultural identities.
While the formation of absolutist states and modern nation states had eliminated intra-group feudal warfare, it intensified inter-state competition and power struggles. But with the spread of the idea that the territories of a nation are justifiable only on the basis of common ethno-cultural identities, the notion of national self-determination spread among Europeans, with the result that empires were dissolved, many new European nation states were created by formerly suppressed ethnic minorities, and the League of Nations was born to ensure the self-determination and peaceful coexistence of all peoples in Europe.
The reality of WWII, however, brought this humanitarian ideal to an end. The persistence of disputes over the rightful ethnic borders of European peoples, the determination of the highly powerful Germanic peoples to unify themselves within one nation state, and particularly the attempts by the Nazis to conquer lands with non-Germanic peoples, resulted in the complete discrediting of ethnic nationalism and the rise of the idea that Western nations should only have a civic identity.
For some time, up until the 1960s, it was commonly believed among the Western nations that won WWII that they could have both a civic-liberal and an ethnic identity. White-only immigration policies prevailed in the West until the 1960s. But with the rise of hostile globalist elites and the transformation of liberalism into cultural Marxism, the notion of an ethnic identity among Europeans came to be equated with “racial supremacy”. Even the idea of civic identities based on Western liberal values was discredited. Multiculturalism took over, the borders of European nation states were set wide open, and liberalism came to be identified with the elimination of European identities and the promotion of immigrant-based race mixing.
It is with this background in mind that one should read chapter 10, “Domesticating Competition,” of Henrich’s book, The WEIRDest People. He wants us to believe that WEIRD Europeans never created ethnic nation states and that a WEIRD psychology naturally leads to societies where individuals are totally detached from any national collective identities. As I see it, the breakdown of kinship identities and the emergence of proto-WEIRD Europeans led them to forge broader national identities against the tribal identities and kin-based nepotism that continues to prevail in non-Western nation-states.
It is worth examining the logic of Henrich’s argument, and from this point elucidating how nationalism was originated by Europeans. The key to his argument is the relationship between intergroup competition (or warfare) and the scaling up of kinship networks to broaden cooperative ties among ingroups to augment their competitive capacities. We will see that Henrich can’t handle the fact that as Europeans demolished their kinship ties, they adopted a new form of scaling up based on ethnicity and nationality. He wants us to believe that WEIRDness inevitably leads to the dissolution of national identities, a process of “residential mobility” across national borders, and a form of scaling up involving global companies manned by WEIRD creatures from all over the world.
War Leads to Cooperation and Social Evolution
This is the essence of Henrich’s argument: Competition and conflict are a permanent reality of the nature of living things and human life. They have been “the driving force in societal evolution”. There is competition within a group and between groups. Within group conflicts can divide and seriously weaken the ability of a group to compete with outside groups. Competition with outside groups encourages ingroups to strengthen their cooperation and extend their ties with groups from the same ethnicity. The evolution of societies from bands and clans to tribes/patrimonial kingdoms and nation states has been all about increasing cooperation within kin related clans and tribes in the face of intergroup competition.
The societies that successfully scaled up their networks of kinship cooperation and promoted religious beliefs for the ethnic group as a whole eliminated or swallowed up those societies that failed to scale up their cooperation. Intergroup warfare thus worked as a promoter of social solidarity among people with the same ethnic and cultural ancestries.
Henrich opens chapter 10 going over a number of experimental studies showing that people from villages exposed to intergroup warfare tend to be more cooperative and egalitarian in their motivations toward their own village-tribal members. In “war-afflicted communities” (including communities that experience recent natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, and droughts) people have a greater psychological motivation to attend public meetings, vote in elections, join voluntary societies, and increase their commitments to religious traditions. The effects of war on a people’s psychology can last for many years and be passed on to future generations.
At the same time, these studies show that these stronger egalitarian motivations for one’s ingroup come along with greater competitiveness against outgroups. Warfare makes ingroups increase their solidarity within the village as a whole while increasing their animosity against outsiders.
Henrich says that “depending upon an individual’s group identity and social norms,” the fostering of greater cooperation under the impact of war “could be with their clan, tribe, town, or religious community.” Clan warfare can fracture the unity that had previously existed among a collection of clans from the same ethnolinguistic group. It can make the members of a clan more trustful of their clan leader but less trustful of leaders representing the tribal collection of the clans. However, in the course of history, those groups that managed to scale up their cooperation beyond bands, clans, and tribes have been the most successful and the ones driving up societal complexity and evolution.
Ethnicity in the Scaling up Process
One of the flaws in Henrich’s analysis of the psychological impact warfare has had in the scaling up process is that he never examines the role of ethnic identity in the formation of larger groups. He never analyses the meanings of the term “ethnic group” or “ethnicity”. He writes a lot about kinship groups, clans and tribes, but without addressing the ways in which ancestry, a common ethno-linguistic heritage, similar symbols and territorial roots, played a role in the scaling up process and the formation of larger social groups. He certainly avoids words about “ancestral blood ties” and “race”.
He gives us an image of communities growing “bigger, more powerful, and more complex,” fostering broader identities, with the “universalizing religions” (Hinduism, Islam, Confucianism) and larger kin-based networks always playing the key role, but never ethnic identity. He does not even say much about these so-called “universalizing religions”. He tells us that tribes are made up of clans, and clans are made up of bands without wanting us to think about the ways in which tribes are glued together by a common ethnicity and possibly a common race.
This absence weakens his analysis of the types of groups Europeans created after their kinship networks were dissolved. The impression one gets is that as individuals were freed from kinship ties, they went on to create their own voluntary associations based on impersonal norms, without any sense of their ethnic identity other than the new identities they forged with “strangers” within these voluntary associations. It is true that universities, monasteries, guilds, cities were not based on kinship ties and obligations but included individuals from a variety of backgrounds. But it is also true that the abolition of kinship groups opened the door to the formation of broader national ancestral identities based on a relatively common ethnic core.
The main thesis of this chapter is that the psychological effects intergroup competition had on proto-WEIRD Europe were very different from the effects it had on non-WEIRD groups. Non-WEIRD people become more “ingroup” oriented towards those who were like themselves, i.e., of the same clan or tribe or the same Confucian or Hindu kin-based civilization. They also become more aggressive and less favorable to outside strangers. WEIRD people, in contrast, become more psychologically inclined to seek membership in civic groups based on impartial norms of fairness. They participated more in their city governments and institutions with individuals freed from intensive kinship ties. He thus explains how warfare among the proto-WEIRD peoples of medieval Europe encouraged the rise of new forms of cooperation, such as monasteries, cities, universities, and business partnerships based on impersonal relationships and impartial norms.
Now, Henrich does say in passing that warfare had the effect of scaling up cooperation among WEIRD Europeans at the level of “national institutions” and promoting “national identities”. While in the non-Western world warfare promoted a scaling up process that remained anchored in kin-based groups and interpersonal networks, in the proto-WEIRD world of medieval Europe warfare had the effect of promoting “national identities”. But rather than focusing on these national identities, Henrich’s focus is entirely on the voluntary groups. He does not want to tell us that voluntary associations based on impersonal trust and cooperation with “strangers” were created within ingroup kingdoms and then nation states.
He only writes in passing about the rise of nation states, how the Hundred Years’ War “made the English more ‘English’ and the French more ‘French'”. And he says a few words about “national-level institutions”. But his statistical focus is entirely on the proliferation of cities, monasteries, guilds, and universities in many regions of Europe. He links the growth of these voluntary associations to the psychological effects of war without really linking the formation of ethno-linguistic nation states to warfare.
What he wants to demonstrate, as the title of this chapter says, is that intergroup competition in the West was increasingly “domesticated” away from warfare into peaceful competition among voluntary groups consisting of members with a purely individualistic identity unattached to any ethnic or national-level group.
Rather than focusing on the relentless warfare carried out by the ever more powerful and centralized national ingroups of different Europeans, he provides evidence showing that the percentage of Western people who think that “most people can be trusted” has been increasing in recent years with the deregulation of banks “spurred by the arrival of ATMs, banking, and new credit-scoring systems”. What we have now, he says, is really “interfirm competition” rather than intergroup competition, since we are no longer talking of ingroup loyalties and interpersonal attachments and obligations, but of groups that are hyper-WEIRD, open to everyone, based purely on impersonal trust. This is where the competition and the evolution of societal complexity has taken us. This is true enough. But we should not ignore the supreme fact that intergroup competition in the WEIRD West led to the formation of nation-states based on ethnic identities.
Ethnic Origins of Nation States
Henrich wants a WEIRD Western world jumping straight from the Church’s abolition of kinship groups into a new pathway of societal evolution centered on individual “strangers” inside voluntary associations without seriously considering the unique rise of national identities in Europe.
He enjoys writing in detail about the growth of monasteries, cities, universities, and business associations but not about the rise of new national identities in Europe. The word “nation-states” and “nationalism” do not appear in the index. Other than a few innocuous lines, there is nothing on the scaling up of European groups into national-level groups and identities. Or, to be more precise, Henrich never considers the possibility that, as the clans, lineages and tribes of Europe were substantially weakened, Europeans began to coalesce into broader groupings, kingdoms and nations, with a strong ethnic core.
An “ethnic group” is a group that has a relatively similar linguistic, racial, tribal, religious, linguistic, and cultural background. The extensive research of Anthony Smith, the foremost expert on the origins of nation-states and nationalism, has confirmed that, contrary to the cultural Marxist argument of Hans Kohn, Eric Hobsbawm, and Benedict Anderson, the nation states of Europe were not “imagined communities” or “invented traditions” artificially “constructed” by political elites interested in forging powerful territorial states among previously scattered and unrelated rural communities.
|“Waking Germania”. Painting, 1849, by Christian Köhler. The goddess Germania reigns supreme as a manifestation of the German people and as a protector of the arts and sciences.|
Nation-level infrastructures, official languages, centralized systems of taxation, national currencies and unified laws, were certainly “constructed” by elites seeking powerful territorial states with mass appeal. But this should not lead one to conclude that nation states and national identities were a contingent or arbitrary construction. As Anthony Smith argued in his book, The Ethnic Origins of Nations, and multiple publications since, modern nations were not created ex nihilo on the basis of modern techniques and civic values alone. They were created on the basis of pre-existing ancestral ties, “myths, memories, symbols, embodied in customs and traditions”. The nation states of modern Europe were based on “fairly homogeneous ethnies”. The minorities that did not identify with the core ethnic group did so precisely because they had their own sense of ancestry as a fairly homogeneous people.
Indeed, beyond Smith, we can find in the book, Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism, by the Israelite nationalist Azar Gat, the argument that nations “are rooted in primordial human sentiments of kin-culture affinity, solidarity, and mutual cooperation, evolutionarily engraved in human nature”. Gat agrees with “much” of what Smith says, but criticizes him for his lack of emphasis on human nature, evolutionary theory, and his unwillingness to go beyond a culture-oriented perspective. He writes that “ethnicity is by far the most important factor” in national identity and that through history nations “overwhelmingly correlate with and relate to shared kin-culture traits”.
Henrich purposely sidesteps the formation of nation-states in Europe because the concept and reality of the nation demonstrates that populations inhabiting territories with a WEIRD psychology can still have a very strong sense of collective identity. The rise of nation states speaks of a people who began to form a new kind of collective identity beyond the parochial and stagnant identities of clans and tribes. Relentless intergroup conflict drove European elites to forge a broader sense of “English” and “French” identities to lessen internal divisions, “within-group competition,” and gather closely related peoples within a single historic territory.
Why did Henrich ignore one of the most momentous historical epochs of Europe, the rise of nation-states? This was no accidental neglect. We saw in an earlier commentary that he also ignored the way Greek city states and Roman republican governments fused different clannish families into a broader civic unity and identity.
The answer is that Henrich is a globalist looking forward to a time when there are no national identities in the West, only voluntary associations with members (he likes to use the word “immigrants” even when speaking about rural dwellers moving into towns) coming from anywhere in the world. He wants us to think that a WEIRD psychology inevitably and progressively leads to a state of complete “residential mobility” across the West and through the West.
This should not surprise us. Academics have been acculturated to be fearful of any form of European nationalism. They have been compelled to accept the absurd notion that the genocide of minorities is the logical culmination of nationalism. They are willfully ignorant of the fact that minority rights were invented by nation states with strong European ethnic/racial majorities.
The liberal psychology of the West does not necessitate an end to national identities and mass immigration. Immigrant multiculturalism, not Western nationalism, is encouraging non-white tribal identities in the West and creating post-nations characterized by declining punctuality, declining professionalism, declining impartiality, declining trust, and declining self-control, combined with rising in-group non-white favoritism and nepotism.
Imagine a federation of European nations (Kantian style) unapologetic about its national and ethnic heritages. What we are witnessing instead are sheepish academics like Henrich calling for the total “domestication” of whites as the Chinese engage in genetic research to create a master Han race with masculine virtues and strong national identities.