Steven Alan SAMSON, PhD
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?
Abstract. Two driving forces help account for the historical dynamism of the West. As iron sharpens iron, the interaction of Christianity and the revival of Roman institutions made space for a series of agricultural, commercial, scientific, and industrial revolutions that have transformed the world. The principles of civil liberty and self-government matured alongside the development of a nation-state system which is now being dismantled in favor of a more interventionist administrative system. Today the very notion of a nation-state which embraces a unique cultural identity and national history is yielding to a more anonymous homogenization that serves the interests and agendas of the governing class.
If a person can have an identity or character – the word persona comes from the Latin for an actor’s mask – does a nation or even a civilization have similarly identifiable traits? Given that a corporation is a legal person – distinct from its employees, trustees, and stockholders – can it preserve its identity and mission through decades if not generations of personnel changes? When the long shadow of the founder of an enterprise or the founding generation of a country fades from view, what becomes of the vision or purpose that originally formed it and inspired a loyal following?
Writing from Geneva in 1927 the historian and diplomat, Salvador de Madariaga, devoted a book to describing the national character of three peoples of Western Europe. He argued that it is possible to detect the idea-sentiment-force peculiar to each of the three peoples, and constituting for each of them the standard of its behaviour, the key to its emotions and the spring of its pure thoughts.
These three systems are:
In the Englishman: fair play.
In the Frenchman: le droit.
In the Spaniard: el honor.
We will notice at the outset that the three words which represent our three systems are untranslatable.
Even then, however, Madariaga detected clouds on the horizon that portended a melding of such distinctions through what Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn would later call “the contagion of uniformism” and “identitarianism.” Madariaga asked: “In the name of what could we wish to impoverish the world by reducing these three types to one? The ideal of a world-regulated community is but a mirage. We do not know for certain by what standards to define it.”
The problem Madariaga identified nearly a century ago has been compounded repeatedly due to the vulnerability of individuals and communities to subtle forms of manipulation. Renè Girard contends that, lacking instincts, human beings are mime-tically motivated to seek goods that are modelled by others as desirable. Such mimetic desire, which can lead to rivalry, favors a character more plastic and suggestible than might otherwise be expected, which makes it crucial to protect the very sources of identity and community against stealthy attack.
Similarly, David Hume opens his essay, “Of the First Principles of Government,” by observing a peculiar trait of humans: “Nothing appears more surprising to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.” Consequently, in the architecture of politics, provision must be made protect our natural diversity by ensuring both procedural and substantive protections for civil liberty, public discussion, dispassionate judgment, and unforced consent in order to serve the public interest.
Each person lives a particular life at a particular time and in particular places. We cannot go beyond this, as Chantal Delsol warns: “The identification of the singular human being with a universal culture therefore would be equivalent to lessening him, perhaps even to destroying him.” She notes that earlier bids for universal unity through ancient empires and Christendom nevertheless left diversity in place. The real danger, instead, arose with the French Revolution with its “notion of a world government deployed throughout the entire earth with all the prerogatives of what Christians called ‘temporal government.’”
During and following the Second World War, talk of regional and global governance would become a driving force behind such organizations as the United Nations, the early stages of the European Union, and the agencies created under the auspices of Bretton Woods and other agreements. Together these institutions have spun a complex administrative web designed to promote common principles consistent with the demands of a burgeoning empire of commerce. The League of Nations with which Madariaga served originated as a project of Wilsonian Progressivism – commonly known as liberal internationalism – but, during the last half century, the project of global governance has become increasingly social democratic in outlook. An expansion of human rights, partly through an identity politics, has embedded itself into legislative agendas and an administrative apparatus which further erodes the traditional foundations of life – family and church in particular.
In Democracy without Nations? Pierre Manent sees this institutionalizing and universalizing of human rights as a means of transforming the character of West:
Philippe Raynaud has recently underscored the following important point: the original understanding on which the modern state was founded strongly linked individual rights and public authority or power. Today, however, rights have invaded every field of reflection and even every aspect of consciousness. They have broken their alliance with power and have even become its implacable enemy. From an alliance between rights and power we have moved to the demand for an empowerment of rights. The well-known sovereign ‘power of judges’ claiming to act in the name of human rights is the most visible manifestation of this trend.
Manent sees this elevation of rights over power by legislative, judicial, and administrative bodies as “an increasingly decisive and debilitating factor at work in the political life of the European nations.”
The West is the dynamic product of the interaction of Christianity and the revival of Roman institutions, which made space for a series of agricultural, commercial, scientific, and industrial revolutions that have transformed the world. Today, however, cultural and civilizational structures once based on civil liberty and self-government are being dismantled in favour of an ever more interventionist administrative state which is impatient with the pace of reform. Led by prominent political scientists, including Woodrow Wilson, “the American adoption of European administrative ideas” more than a century ago, as the legal scholar Philip Hamburger puts it, “is a direct continuation of the absolutism that persisted in administrative form on the Continent.” This has led to “a transfer of legislative power to the knowledge class” since that time. Given the sheer diversity of the country, “Wilson welcomed administrative governance. The people could still have their republic, but much legislative power would be shifted out of an elected body and into the hands of the right sort of people.” Having once notoriously said to a British envoy that “I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men,” now-President Woodrow Wilson applied the same humanitarian sentiment to his own people, an attitude that carried over to the rising knowledge class he inspired:
This class includes all who are more attached to the authority of knowledge than the authority of local political communities. This is not to say that they have been particularly knowledgeable but that their sense of affinity with cosmopolitan knowledge, rather than their local connectedness, has been the foundation of their influence and identity. And in appreciating the authority they have attributed to their knowledge, and distrusting the tumultuous politics of a diverse people, they have gradually moved legislative power out of Congress and into administrative agencies – to be exercised, in more genteel ways, by persons like . . . themselves.
The post-Civil War civil service reform had originally once promised good government for all as an alternative to urban political machines. Yet as the German sociologist Max Weber observed in 1907:
Everywhere the house is ready-made for a new servitude. It only waits for the tempo of technical economic ‘progress’ to slow down and for rent to triumph over profit. … (T)he increasing complexity of the economy, the partial governmentalization of economic activities, the territorial expansion of the population – these processes create ever-new work for the clerks, an ever-new specialization of functions, and expert vocational training and administration. All this means caste. Those American workers who were against the ‘Civil Service Reform’ knew what they were about. They wished to be governed by parvenus of doubtful morals rather than a certified caste of mandarins. But their protest was in vain.
Mobilization for the First World War, the use of systematic marketing strategies, and the development of a behavioural approach to the social sciences during the same period opened the door to increasingly sophisticated propaganda and political polling.
As the more recent promotion of identity politics and kindred ideological movements endlessly reshuffles the political deck, the question of national identity has become more urgent for Americans as well as Europeans and others. In Who Are We? (2004) the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington even referred to a “global crisis of identity.” Huntington himself wished to show the wisdom of choosing a revitalized “Anglo-Protestant culture, traditions, and values that for three and a half centuries have been embraced by Americans of all races, ethnicities, and religions and that have been the source of their unity, power, prosperity, and moral leadership as a force for good in the world.” But the assimilationist “melting pot” ideal of a century ago has more recently been challenged in the name of multiculturalism.
By 1990, the American political class and the leadership of both major political parties increasingly spoke the language of globalism, quite noticeably so with George H.W. Bush’s vaunted “New World Order” a decade before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The idea of “global governance” became part of the new political language and the Supreme Court began citing extra-national decisions and standards. The press itself proved largely oblivious to public sentiment outside the major metro-politan areas and consequently failed to detect a growing resentment over perceived disrespect, both to the people themselves and to the country.
The convergence of a Gramsci-style “long march through the institutions” and a new elite political style that has grown out of the sexual revolution has lifted identity politics from its once precarious position within the rough-and-tumble of interest group competition into an almost unassailable protected status. By contrast, the very notion of a nation-state that embraces a unique cultural identity and national history is yielding to a more anonymous homogenization that serves the interests of the governing class and a growing empire of intergovernmental organizations. Also at work is what Roger Scruton calls a “culture of repudiation” which, at times and places, erupts in fits of frenzied destruction.
Of course, the friction generated by competing perceptions of events is nothing new. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., noted thirty years ago, “American history was long written in the interests of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males.” He added that ethnic enclaves within the country “developed a compensatory literature” to celebrate their own contributions to the country’s history. A very different tone prevails today, however, as wholesale attacks on yesterday’s heroes and monuments seem to fit the prejudices of the hour while imposing a new cultural hegemony that has all the flavour of Stalin-era purges and revolutionary struggle sessions.
To conclude this brief introduction, it is appropriate to ponder some words of caution by the historian Michael Burleigh, who warned that a failure to acknowledge the role played by Christianity in shaping the West’s identity will mean that “entire reaches of our common culture will simply become inaccessible and there will be ghettos of the unassimilated many.” He asked:
Can any nation survive without a consensus on values that transcend special interests, and which are non-negotiable in the sense of ‘Here we stand’? Can a nation state survive that is only a legal and political shell, or a ‘market state’ for discrete ethnic or religious communities that share little by way of common values other the use of the same currency? Can a society survive that is not the object of commitments to its core values or a focus for the fundamental identities of all its members.”
- Bernays, Edward. Propaganda (New York: IG Publishing, 2005 ).
- Brague, Rémi. Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization (South Bend, IN: Augustine’s Press, 2002).
- Burleigh, Michael. Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the Great War (Bew York: HarperCollins, 2005).
- Delsol, Chantal. Unjust Justice: Against the Tyranny of International Law, trans. Paul Seaton (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008).
- Gerth, H., and C. Wright Mills, ed. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford, 1958).
- Girard, René. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001).
- Hamburger, Philip. The Administrative Threat (New York: Encounter Books, 2007).
- Hume, David. Hume’s Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. Henry D. Aiken (New York: Hafner, 1948).
- Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (Simon & Schuster, 2004).
- Kirk, Russell. The Wise Men Know What Wicked Things Are Written on the Sky (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1987).
- Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Erik von. Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1974).
- *** Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of our Time (Caldwell, ID: Caxton, 1952).
- Madariaga, Salvador Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards (London: Oxford University Press, 1928).
- Manent, Pierre. Democracy without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, trans. Paul Seaton (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007).
- Ricci, David M. The Tragedy of Political Science: Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy (New Haven: Yale, 1984).
- Rosenstock-Huessy, Eugen. Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man (New York: William Morrow, 1938).
- Samson, Steven Alan “A Strategy of Subversion,” The Market for Ideas, 22 (Mar.-Apr. 2020). http://www. themarketforideas.com/a-strategy-of-subversion-a541/
- Scruton, Roger. The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat (Wilmington, DE: Inter-collegiate Studies Institute, 2002).
- Schlesinger Arthur M., Jr. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (Whittle Direct Books, 1991).
 Salvador de Madariaga, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards (London: Oxford University Press, 1928) 3.
 Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Liberty or Equality: The Challenge of our Time (Caldwell, ID: Caxton, 1952), 15; Leftism: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1974) 15-16.
 Madariaga, op. cit., 248.
 See René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, trans. James G. Williams (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2001).
 David Hume, Hume’s Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. Henry D. Aiken (New York: Hafner, 1948) 307.
 Chantal Delsol, Unjust Justice: Against the Tyranny of International Law, trans. Paul Seaton (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008), p. 84.
 Ibid. 2.
 Pierre Manent, Democracy without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, trans. Paul Seaton (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2007) 16.
 Ibid. 16.
 See Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Out of Revolution: Autobiography of Western Man (New York: William Morrow, 1938); Rémi Brague, Eccentric Culture: A Theory of Western Civilization (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002).
 Philip Hamburger, The Administrative Threat (New York: Encounter Books, 2007) 55.
 Ibid. 52. As Russell Kirk acidly put it later: “The humanitarian believes in brotherhood: that is, ‘Be my brother,’ he says, ‘or I’ll kill you.’ He aspires to assimilate others to his mode and substance.” Russell Kirk, The Wise Men Know What Wicked Things Are Written on the Sky (Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1987) 28-29.
 H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, ed. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford,1958) 71.
 See Edward Bernays, Propaganda (New York: IG Publishing, 2005 ), 37; David M. Ricci, The Tragedy of Political Science: Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy (New Haven: Yale, 1984) 149.
 Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (Simon & Schuster, 2004) xvii.
 See Steven Alan Samson, “A Strategy of Subversion,” The Market for Ideas, 22 (Mar.-Apr. 2020).
 Roger Scruton, The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2002) 71.
 Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (Whittle Direct Books, 1991), pp. 24, 25.
 Michael Burleigh, Earthly Powers: The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the Great War (Bew York: HarperCollins, 2005) 14-15.