“Towards the east they level their bayonets against nationality, towards the north they level them for nationality.”
Carl Ferdinand Allen, On Nationality and Language (1848)
Carl Ferdinand Allen was a nationalist historian and a Dane, and in this line he exposes the opportunism of nineteenth-century German attitudes towards nationality. When Slavs to the east resisted German expansion on the grounds that they were Slavs, the Germans said nationality was a dangerous delusion that must be destroyed; when Germans to the north, in in what was then the Danish duchy of Schleswig, invited German expansion on the grounds that they were Germans, the Germans of Germany said nationality was a sacred compact that must be preserved.
There was, Allen observed, an unmistakable opportunism in these nineteenth-century German attitudes towards nationality, but one can at least see what the old Germans were about. They wished to expand their empire and fitted their opinion to the circumstances and that end.
The empire builders of our own time likewise fit their opinion of nationality to circumstances and the end of power, and therefore likewise speak out of both sides of their mouths; but they differ from the nineteenth-century Germans insofar as they turn their bayonets against the nationality of what they claim is their own nation, and for the nationality of strange nations far away.
We have in recent days seen impressive displays of this updated, opportunistic, pro-and-anti-nationalism, as the nominally American empire builders in Washington shed simultaneous tears over January 6th and poor, bleeding Ukraine. This is by no means a solitary case, since one leitmotif of contemporary moralizing is that nationality is a sacred compact that must be preserved, except in those cases, always closer to home, when it is a dangerous delusion that must be destroyed.
As Allen saw one hundred and seventy years ago, the will to power is the key that unlocks this apparent riddle. The nationality on display on January 6, 2021, vexes the nominally American empire builders in Washington, and so they have turned their bayonets against it. The nationality on display in Ukraine oils the wheels of their power, and so they have turned their bayonets for it. Thus it is easy to make sense of what we see today by making small emendations to another line from Carl Ferdinand Allen.
“If they turn towards the east [towards what is, ostensibly, their own nation], then they say, nationality is a nuisance that must be put down by force; if they turn to the north [towards some alien catspaw nation, foreign or domestic], they say, nationality is a sacred right that must be maintained by arms.”*
*) Carl Ferdinand Allen, On Nationality and Language in the Dutchy of Sleswick or South Jutland (Copenhagen: Thieles, 1848), pp. 12-13.