Head & Heart
By the 20th Century Liberalism was seen as antagonistic to Nationalism. In crude terms Liberals placed the rights of individuals above all whilst Nationalists believed the group was everything. Thus Liberals and Nationalists were often locked in poltical conflict over the nature and function of the state. It wasn’t always so.
In the 19th century many (political) Liberals believed that the only way to create (in opposition to the multi-national monarchies/aristocratic rulers) and maintain (in a stable environment) individual freedom was within a community of equals. The nation (a people sharing a language, culture and history) was such a community. Nationalism was the pursuit of turning a ‘nation’ into a state. Thus such Liberals adopted nationalism as part of their creed and became known as National Liberals. Indeed many saw Nationalism as an aspect of Liberalism.
The end of history?
The success of peoples to craft out nations throughout Europe and largely create representative democracies within them boded well for the future. A commentator writing just before the Second World War (and fearful of the future) bemoaned the loss of an earlier age where Liberalism and Nationalism were working together towards a “completer humanity”. Further, it was felt “History…. was reaching, its final phrase, and increasing development of the rights of the individual and of democracy within Nation-States was all that the future would have to chronicle. The battle for liberty had been won at last; all the 20th century would need to do would be to garner the harvest.” Of course it never worked out that way.
The plethora of ‘nation-states’ after the First World War should have paved the way for peace rather than conflict but, since many of the states were bureaucratic constructs and the democracy forcibly implanted, Europe descended into war as Authoritarian and Totalitarian forces took over. Thus Nationalism and Liberalism became in conflict as adherents of the former increasingly rejected the latter as an obstacle to the ‘greater unity of the people’ whilst they in turn saw them as a threat to the ‘people’s freedom of choice.’ The ‘excesses’ of so-called Nationalists ultimately led to the pendulum swinging towards Liberalism and a suspicion of nation-states in general (at least in Europe). What then is the natural order of their relationship?
Both philosophies appeal to different aspects of Man. Nationalism is an emotion, a belief in a group loyalty that may require a sacrifice for the greater whole. In its basic sense it is the reason why we pay taxes the benefits of which we may not receive in return. Some theorists would say this is a ‘social contract’ i.e. we pay for peace of mind. We sacrifice our freedom of action towards laws and enforcement because it suits us e.g. a protection against the strong or the criminal. A Nationalist would say that it is our duty to make that sacrifice, being also a product of past and future generations i.e. we owe it to our families not just as a selfish choice. A National Liberal would say that an individuals family, community and nation require a proportionate form of sacrifice i.e. that which doesn’t also take away his individuality or liberty. In all senses the Nation represents Man’s heart. It is an emotional feeling that justifies sacrifice and duty. Mazzini says that it has a call upon the duties of man.
Liberalism on the other hand appeals to the intellect. We are born as individuals and we seek a way of life that allows us to enjoy its’ fruits. How we organise ourselves, how we interact with others is dictated by our mind e.g. we should be able to choose our form of governance whilst still maintaining at ‘arms-length’ the designs of the state. This freedom to choose is essential as is the freedom to limit the control that a state exercises upon our lives. Liberalism, or more properly Liberty, is represented by our head for we choose to be free. A National Liberal would say that liberty (from an omnipotent state) is crucial to Man’s well-being. Mazzini says that it is one of the rights of man.
The early revolts of the 19th century illustrate the differences of Man’s Dual nature (Heard or Heart). Such revolts were either Liberal or Nationalist in their nature (unlike the more National-Liberal revolts in 1848). Although mainly inspired by political liberalism (the head) the only successful revolt (in Portugal) was that inspired by nationalist impulses (the heart). Reaction in Europe was too powerful to be overthrown so whilst the masses might shout for liberty they would not fight (and inevitably die) for it. Where inspired by the heart i.e. nationalism they will do so even when the cause seems, in practical terms, lost.
A necessary balance of ‘Head & Heart’
Thus a vital Nationalism and Liberalism within society can be seen as a perquisite for a healthy people as a vital head and heart is for a healthy body. A National Liberal thus seeks to harness and maintain a balance between the needs of the nation and the individual as a doctor would between the needs of head and heart. One cannot be complete without the other.
Date: November 2, 2010