“A steady patriot of the world alone,
The friend of every country but his own.”*
The centenary of Armistice Day occasioned a good deal of gabble about the evils of nationalism, with the childless President of France, Emanuel Macron, going so far as to denounce it as “a betrayal of patriotism.” I do not see how one can revere the forefathers while reviling their posterity, but that may be because I am, unlike Macron, a father with posterity. What Macron calls patriotism, a more accurate politician called Philanthropy—indeed, in the poem from which my epigraph is drawn, George Canning called it “French Philanthropy.” This was,
“Not she, who dries
The orphan’s tears, and wipes the widow’s eyes
But French Philanthropy, whose boundless mind
Glows with the general love of all mankind;
Philanthropy, beneath whose baneful sway
Each patriot passion sinks, and dies away.”
When Canning says that the mind of a French Philanthropist is “boundless,” he means that it does not recognize borders and operates sans frontières. Thus
“Through the extended globe his feelings run
As broad and general as the unbounded sun!
No narrow bigot he, his reason’d view,
Thy interest, England, rank with thine, Peru!
The globalist Macron is likewise no narrow bigot, so we may suppose his reasoned view is that the interest of France rank not one millimeter above the interest of anywhere else. Indeed, as “a steady patriot of the world alone,” we may suppose that Macron compensates for unconscious bias by ranking the interest of France a kilometer or two lower.
And by so doing, Macron exhibits a perverse patriotism that justifies his treason to France. I say that French Philanthropy is a perverse patriotism—even in France—because Reason and Philosophy bend and misshape the natural affection that a man feels for his homeland. Another poet describes this natural and unreasoned affection this way,
“There’s a strange something, which, without a brain,
Fools feel, and which e’en wise men can’t explain,
Planted in man to bind him to that earth,
In dearest ties, from whence he drew his birth.”**
This natural patriotism is one of those reasons of the heart that, as Pascal told us, Reason does not know. It is not a fruit of intellection, since it is felt by even fools “without a brain.” It is an instinct that nature has “planted in man,” and that man will cherish so long as he does not think too hard about it. But, since there are “wise men” who cannot find a reason for this instinct, who cannot see why this instinct must be so, these wise men will call local affections an excrescence and set to work on its extirpation.
Thus, we see one again in French Philanthropy the mischief of the “meddling intellect” that is deaf to the “sweet lore which Nature brings,” and that in its deafness perverts and “misshapes the beauteous forms of things.”
That was the eighteenth-century English poet Charles Churchill writing about the “dearest ties” that bind a man to the land of his birth. Churchill went on to say this of French Philanthropy:
“To deem of every country as the same
Is rank rebellion, ’gainst the lawful claim
Of Nature, and such dull indifference
May be philosophy, but can’t be sense.”
I daresay this last line is as good a retort as a nationalist can hope to find when set upon by some hectoring Macron with his vile French Philanthropy. The human heart has reasons that Reason does not know, and nothing but mischief results when the meddling intellect begins fossicking through things that it cannot understand. In this case, the meddling intellect produces an anesthetized apathy that Churchill calls “dull indifference.” Or as Canning would write thirty years later:
“Philanthropy, beneath whose baneful sway
Each patriot passion sinks, and dies away.”
* * * * *
Patriotism first fell under the baneful sway of French Philanthropy in the eighteenth-century enlightening, even before the terrible revolutions that marked the end of that miserable century. Kant taught that enlightening meant putting everything to the test of Reason, and discarding anything for which unsufficient reason could be found. As he wrote in a famous line,
“Have courage to make use of thy own understanding! Is therefore the dictum of enlightening.”***
What Kant means is that enlightening obliges a man to discard, denounce, and destroy any of his beliefs, habits and sentiments that he does not, upon consideration, fully understand. Unfortunately, as the next two hundred and fifty years would demonstrate, there are many things both lovely and beautiful that even “wise men can’t explain.” And the “strange something” that forms the “dearest ties” between a man and the land of his birth is one of these things.
Yet it seems French Philanthropists do not propose to let off enlightening until they have destroyed everything that is unreasonable, no mater how lovely or beautiful. And men like Macron will not be satisfied to extirpate patriotism only from France, for as Canning told us, the mind of a French Philanthrophist is “boundless,” and “through the extended globe his feelings run.”
Writing from Paris in 1792, the American radical Joel Barlow said that he was witnessing the birth of “a general revolution . . . whose progress is irresistible.” The essence of this revolution was (and remains) enlightening, or the destruction of every belief, habit and sentiment that does not pass the test of universal Reason. This work of enlightening will end in perfect uniformity, since to pass the test of universal Reason, every place and person must be exactly alike. The work of enlightening will thus end (unless stopped) in an undifferentiated universal state in which patriotic feeling for anything less than the world will have been eradicated as an irrational superstition.
“Such a revolution cannot stop short of fixing the power of the state on the basis allotted by nature, the unalienable rights of man; which are the same in all countries. It will eradicate the superstitions about territorial jurisdiction.”****
*) George Canning, “New Morality” (1798)
**) Charles Churchill, “The Farewell” (1764)
***) Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question, What is Enlightening” (1784).
****) Joel Barlow, Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe (1792)