Speaker touts benefits of healthy nationalism

Ray Carter | December 5, 2019

Speaker touts benefits of healthy nationalism

Ray Carter

Some cultural elites dismiss nationalism as the worldview of the small-minded at best and the first step to Nazism at worst. But Rich Lowry, syndicated columnist and editor of National Review, says a healthy nationalism is foundational to national purpose and self-government and has been for centuries.

“It’s very old. It’s very natural. It is very powerful,” Lowry said. “Empires have tried to destroy it over the centuries and failed. Totalitarian ideologies have tried to wipe it out over the centuries—inevitably fail.”

As an example, he cited the story of Joan of Arc, who led efforts to drive the English out of France in the 1400s. Eventually, the English burned the teen girl at the stake and scattered her ashes in a river.

“The point of doing that was to eliminate all memory of her and what she had done,” Lowry said. “And in fact, the opposite was the case. She became a symbol of the French nation forevermore and could not be wiped out because she was a symbol of French independence and French resistance and French pride.”

Lowry spoke in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, Dec. 4 at an event hosted by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, discussing his new book, The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free.

“You don’t get an American Revolution without nationalism,” Lowry said. “The basic proposition of the American Revolution is that there is an American nation and it should govern itself; it shouldn’t be part of the British Empire. You don’t get the drafting and the ratification of the Constitution without nationalism. The basic idea of the Constitution: We’re going to have a strong and capable national government.”

He said nationalism is a tradition that runs throughout U.S. history through people like Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan.

“Anyone who thinks we should turn our back on nationalism, or that it’s inherently noxious or hateful, is arguing that we should turn our back on a huge part of our own tradition that made our country what it is today,” Lowry said.

He said opponents of nationalism deride it as “small-minded” and argue people should see themselves as citizens of a global community, rather than being bound by cultural ties and geographic boundaries. But that alternative worldview does not succeed in making the leap from theory to practice, Lowry said.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘citizen of the world,’” Lowry said. “Let’s take, again, a hypothetical example. You get in a jam around the world. You get kidnapped by pirates somewhere, the world doesn’t come save you, right? Your country cares about you. No one cares about you the way your own country does. There’s no universal nation, no universal military, no universal language.”

Lowry said a nationalist agenda must emphasize “the importance of our cultural core and defending our cultural core.” He said that includes defending the use of English as the United States’ unifying national language, noting nations like Canada and Spain have experienced severe strain because a large segment of their populations speaks a different language than the majority.

It also involves maintaining public respect for national symbols, including the U.S. flag, he said.

Lowry said a nationalist agenda must also preserve accurate teaching of the nation’s history, including defending the nation’s founders against efforts to eradicate acknowledgment of their achievements.

 “We need to teach our history in a truthful version of our history,” Lowry said. “We cannot allow our history to be distorted and lied about in our schools and made into an unrelieved tale of oppression and woe. It has to be told as the glorious story of free people living in a blessed land.”

Critics of nationalism often tie it to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or Nazi Party, that ruled Germany from the 1930s through World War II. But Lowry said the Nazi Party was “an aberrant form of nationalism” that was defined far more by its imperial “race-based vision” than nationalism alone. He also said nationalism, “like any powerful force, can be abused and used to malign ends.”

However, noting that the United States is “not an idea alone,” Lowry indicated a country whose populace rejects nationalism is a nation that cannot long survive.

“Nations are thicker than just ideals,” Lowry said. “Our culture is hugely important and place is very important. If you ask, no one lives in an abstraction, not even philosophers.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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