Joseph’s post at the Imaginative Conservative
tries to make sense of the chaotic situation in Europe. I don’t know what it’s like for those who live there, but from this distance, it looks almost shocking for those of us who are old enough to remember that once upon a time, there was England, France, Germany, et al. No more. These are not “countries” now in the sense that we used to understand the term “country.” They are more like administrative provinces. One travels from one country to another in much the same way an American travels from Georgia to South Carolina. We will understand Europe better if we think of it as the United States of Europe, regardless of what it’s called.
Historically, a country loses its sovereignty by conquest. But what happened in post-war Europe is different. For the English, after centuries of blindness, they looked at their German enemy and finally recognized their own imperialism and nationalism. They never recovered from the shock and set about dismantling their empire and beginning this slow national suicide. Yet in the evil stew of nationalism, racism, religious intolerance, and imperialism, there always survives a small, struggling element of genuine love of homeland, and those who have this love are suffering.
Here, an American of southern heritage can sympathize. We too have a great evil in our past, and we have paid a very dear price for it. But some of us still love our homeland, though we know we shouldn’t…and though we know the futility of defending that love, for defense, as we know well, is useless, and only leads to more condemnation. It is required of us that we despise our heritage, that we despise our ancestors. We are required to self-hate by law.
This isn’t bitterness. That would be nostalgic, at best; more likely, it is comic, as befits the humiliation of a defeated people. Actually, it’s simply resignation. I have no more desire to fly a Confederate flag, now contraband, than an American one. Great heroes, men and women and children, have died trying to protect what both of those flags (or any others, for that matter) represented to them—not a country, never that obscure abstraction, but the earth, the trees, the sky and the soil, the rivers that flowed through the land of their birth. It is an irrational love, as all real love is. But history is written, we know, by the conquerors in rational terms, and the truth of a defeated people dies with them as they are mutated and transformed by conquest into whatever their conquerors need them to be. I’m an American.
An English acquaintance told me with pride several years ago: “I’m not ‘English.’ I’m European.” I heard recently that she has written a celebratory piece about London’s new Islamic mayor, elected not on his merit, but because he’s Islamic. How like the way America celebrated the election of a black president, not on his merit, but because he’s black. There are Americans who truly believe that this election proved they weren’t racists. I’m sure the English journalist believes that this London election proves something similar. The irony in both cases is downright pungent. But that old satanic double-faced mirror of projection is always in play, and people will always tell themselves what they want to hear. We watch history at work in Europe now with the detachment of a distance not of space, but of time. It all seems so old, so predictable. History is “the long defeat,” said Tolkien. Verily.