By Robert Higgs
Everyone, it seems, has a hollow space in his makeup. Perhaps he has no faith, no hope, no charity; no sense that he is basically a lord or a priest or a peasant; no comfort in knowing his personal latitude and longitude in the great scheme of things; no ethical compass to give him his bearings and help him navigate between what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad.
As religion’s hold on the Western man’s mind has diminished during the past several centuries, replaced by a cold scientific sense that, at bottom, everything is just a lot of lifeless particles and electrical currents or, in many cases, replaced by nothing at all, this empty space has dilated. Into the vacuum of ethical emptiness and absent personal identity has rushed nationalism. More and more people answered the question, “What are you?” by saying “I am a Frenchmen,” or a German, or an American, or whatever. State rulers, of course, actively strove to encourage such mass identification because it rendered the masses easier to exploit, plunder, and command. The culmination came in the world wars, when scores of millions submitted to kill and to die in the service of nationalism.
Americans, perhaps more than any others, are immersed in nationalism, drenched to the bone. It follows them everywhere — to school, to work, to their amusements and entertainments, even in many cases into their churches. They wallow in it, and they wallow happily. The merest village idiot takes pride that “We are #1,” whatever such a declaration might mean. Usually, sad to say, it means only that the idiot’s rulers in Washington have their hands on the levers and buttons that allow them to dish out violent death and effective intimidation on a global scale. Hooray for us, he proclaims; we’re the biggest, baddest bully in the history of mankind. Yet, this pathetic individual, and the hundreds of millions who resemble him more or less, are really nothing at all. Their inner selves are entirely ersatz; their moral core is devoid of real substance. They have effectively surrendered their souls, their minds, and their capacity for living a moral life to politician/rulers who shamelessly pull the strings of their identity.
Nationalism and its fruit — the powerful welfare/warfare nation-states that now infest virtually the entire planet — are the banes of the modern age. Their fundamental resources are violence and fraud, and their most indispensable fraud is the conviction they have inculcated in their subjects that the people’s very identity, the very essence of who they are, derives from and depends on the nation-state that dominates their lives.
About the author: Robert Higgs
Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy for The Independent Institute and Editor of the Institute’s quarterly journal The Independent Review. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Johns Hopkins University, and he has taught at the University of Washington, Lafayette College, Seattle University, and the University of Economics, Prague. He has been a visiting scholar at Oxford University and Stanford University, and a fellow for the Hoover Institution and the National Science Foundation.