Rudolf Rocker

State Nationalism




These are selected passages from Chapter 13 and 15 of Nationalism and Culture. The theme of state nationalism is dealt by Rocker with profound insights that unmask the idiocies manufactured by the state, with which we were imbued from an early age. To get rid of those idiocies is the task of each of us in order to became intelligent human beings instead of remaining moronic national state-subjects.



From Chapter 13 (Nationalism and Culture)

All nationalism is reactionary in its nature, for it strives to enforce on the separate parts of the great human family a definite character according to a preconceived idea. In this respect, too, it shows the interrelationship of nationalistic ideology with the creed of every revealed religion. Nationalism creates artificial separations and partitions within that organic unity which finds its expression in the genus Man, while at the same time it strives for a fictitious unity sprung only from a wish-concept; and its advocates would like to tune all members of a definite human group to one note in order to distinguish it from other groups still more obviously. In this respect, so-called "cultural nationalism" does not differ at all from political nationalism, for whose political purposes as a rule it serves as a fig-leaf. The two cannot be spiritually separated; they merely represent two different aspects of the same endeavour.

Cultural nationalism appears in its purest form when people are subjected to a foreign rule, and for this reason cannot pursue their own plans for political power. In this event, "national thought" prefers to busy itself with the culture-building activities of the people and tries to keep the national consciousness alive by recollections of vanished glory and past greatness. Such comparisons between a past which has already become legend and a slavish present make the people doubly sensitive to the injustice suffered; for nothing affects the spirit of man more powerfully than tradition. But if such groups of people succeed sooner or later in shaking off the foreign yoke and themselves appear as a national power, then the cultural phase of their effort steps only too definitely into the background, giving place to the sober reality of their political objectives. In the recent history of the various national organisms in Europe created after the war are found telling witnesses for this.

In Germany, also, the national strivings both before and after the "wars of liberation" were strongly influenced by romanticism, whose advocates tried to make the traditions of a vanished age live again among the people and to make the past appear to them in a glorified light. When, later, the last hopes which the German patriots had rested on liberation from the foreign yoke had burst like over-blown bubbles, their spirits sought refuge in the moonlit magic night and the fairy world of dreamy longing conjured up for them by romanticism, in order to forget the gray reality of life and its shameful disappointments.

In culture-nationalism, as a rule, two distinct sentiments merge, which really have nothing in common: for home sentiment is not patriotism, is not love of the state, not love which has its roots in the abstract idea of the nation. It needs no laboured explanation to prove that the spot of land on which a man has spent the years of his youth is deeply intergrown with his profoundest feeling. The impressions of childhood and early youth which are the most permanent and have the most lasting effect upon his soul. Home is, so to speak, man's outer garment; he is most intimately acquainted with its every fold and seam. This home sentiment brings in later years some yearning after a past long buried under ruins; and it is this which enables the romantic to look so deeply within.

With so-called "national consciousness" this home sentiment has no relationship; although both are often thrown into the same pot and, after the manner of counterfeiters, given out as of the same value. In fact, true home sentiment is destroyed at its birth by "national consciousness," which always strives to regulate and force into a prescribed form every impression man receives from the inexhaustible variety of the homeland. This is the unavoidable result of those mechanical efforts at unification which are in reality only the aspirations of the nationalistic states.

The attempt to replace man's natural attachment to the home by a dutiful love of the state - a structure which owes its creation to all sorts of accidents and in which, with brutal force, elements have been welded together that have no necessary connection - is one of the most grotesque phenomena of our time. The so-called "national consciousness" is nothing but a belief propagated by considerations of political power which have replaced the religious fanaticism of past centuries and have today come to be the greatest obstacle to cultural development. The love of home has nothing in common with the veneration of an abstract patriotic concept. Love of home knows no "will to power"; it is free from that hollow and dangerous attitude of superiority to the neighbour which is one of the strongest characteristics of every kind of nationalism. Love of home does not engage in practical politics nor does it seek in any way to support the state. It is purely an inner feeling as freely manifested as man's enjoyment of nature, of which home is a part. When thus viewed, the home feeling compares with the governmentally ordered love of the nation as does a natural growth with an artificial substitute.



From Chapter 15 (Nationalism and Culture)

Modern nationalism, which has found its fullest expression in Italian fascism and German National Socialism, is the mortal enemy of every liberal thought. The complete elimination of all libertarian thought is for its advocates the first preliminary to the "awakening of the nation," whereby in Germany, most strangely, liberalism and Marxism are thrown into one pot - a fact which, however, need no longer surprise us when we know how violently the heralds of the Third Reich deal with facts, ideas and persons. That Marxism, like democracy and nationalism, proceeds in its fundamental ideas from a collective concept, namely from the class, and for this very reason can have no relationship with liberalism, does not trouble its pious Hitlerite opponents of today in the least.

That modern nationalism in its extreme fanaticism for the state has no use for liberal ideas is readily understandable. Less clear is the assertion of its leaders that the modern state is thoroughly infected with liberal ideas and has for this reason lost its former political significance. The fact is that the political development of the last hundred and fifty years was not along the lines that liberalism had hoped for. The idea of reducing the functions of the state as much as possible and of limiting its sphere to a minimum has not been realised. The state's field of activity was not laid fallow; on the contrary, it was mightily extended and multiplied, and the so-called "liberal parties," which gradually got deeper and deeper into the current of democracy, have contributed abundantly to this end. In reality the state has not become liberalised but only democratised. Its influence on the personal life of man has not been reduced; on the contrary it has steadily grown. There was a time when one could hold the opinion that the "sovereignty of the nation" was quite different from the sovereignty of the hereditary monarch and that, therefore, the power of the state would be awakened. While democracy was still fighting for recognition, such an opinion might have had a certain justification. But that time is long past; nothing has so confirmed the internal and external security of the state as the religious belief in the sovereignty of the nation, confirmed and sanctioned by the universal franchise. That this is also a religious concept of political nature is undeniable. Even Clemenceau when, innerly lonely and embittered, he reached the end of his career, expressed himself in this wise: "The popular vote is a toy of which one soon tires; but one must not say this aloud, for the people must have a religion. Sad it is. . . . Sad but true." [1]

Liberalism was the outcry of the human personality against the all-levelling endeavours of absolute rule, and later against the extreme centralism and blind belief in the state of Jacobinism and its various democratic offshoots. In this sense it was still conceived by Mill, Buckle and Spencer. Even Mussolini, now the bitterest enemy of liberalism, was not so long ago one of the most passionate advocates of liberal ideas; he wrote:

The state, with its monstrous terrific machine, gives us a feeling of suffocation. The state was endurable for the individual as long as it was content to be soldier and policeman; today the state is everything, banker, usurer, gambling den proprietor, shipowner, procurer, insurance agent, postman, railroader, entrepreneur, teacher, professor, tobacco merchant, and countless other things in addition to its former functions of policeman, judge, jailer, and tax collector. The state, this Moloch of frightful countenance, receives everything, does everything, knows everything, and ruins everything. Every state function is a misfortune. State art is a misfortune, state ownership of shipping, state victualizing - the litany could be extended indefinitely.... If men had but a faint idea of the abyss toward which they are moving the number of suicides would increase, for we are approaching a complete destruction of human personality. The state is that frightful machine which swallows living men and spews them out again as dead ciphers. Human life has now no secrets, no intimacy, neither in material affairs nor in spiritual; all corners are smelled into, all movements measured; everyone is locked into his cell and numbered, just as in a prison. [2]

This was written a few years before the "March on Rome"; the new revelation therefore, came quite quickly to Mussolini, as so many others; in fact the so-called "state concept of fascism" put in an appearance only after Il Duce had attained power. Until then the fascist movement glittered in all the colours of the rainbow as, not so long ago, did National Socialism in Germany. It really had no definite character. Its ideology was a motley mixture of intellectual elements from all sorts of sources. What gave it power was the brutality of its methods. Its reckless violence could have no regard for the opinions of others just because it had none of its own. What the state still lacked of being a perfect prison the fascist dictatorship has given it in abundance. Mussolini's liberal clamour stopped immediately as soon as the dictator had the state power in Italy firmly in his hands. Viewing Mussolini's rapid change of opinion about the meaning of the state one involuntarily remembers the expression of the youthful Marx: "No man fights against freedom; at the most he fights against the freedom of others. Every kind of freedom has, therefore, always existed; sometimes as special privilege, at other times as general right."

Mussolini has in fact made of freedom a privilege for himself, and to do this has brought about the most brutal suppression of all others; for freedom which tries to replace man's responsibility towards his fellow men by the senseless dictum of authority is sheer wilfulness and a denial of all justice and all humanity. But even despotism needs to justify itself to the people whom it violates. To meet this necessity the state concept of fascism was born.

At the meeting in Berlin of the International Hegel Congress in 1931, Giovanni Gentile, the state-philosopher of fascist Italy, developed his conception of the nature of the state, culminating in the idea of the so-called "totalitarian state." Gentile hailed Hegel as the first and real founder of the state concept, and compared his state theory with the concept of the state as based on natural right and mutual agreement. The state, he maintained, is in the light of the latter concept merely the limit with which the natural and immediate freedom of the individual must be content if anything like a communal life is to be made possible. According to this doctrine the state is only a means for the improvement of man's condition, which in its natural origin is not maintainable - is, therefore, something negative, a virtue born of necessity. Hegel overthrew this centuries-old doctrine. He was the first to regard the state as the highest form of the objective intellect. He was the first to understand that only in the state can truly ethical self-consciousness be realised. But Gentile was not content with this endorsement of Hegel's state concept; he tried even to excel it. He criticised Hegel because, while he regarded the state as the highest form of the objective intellect, he still placed over the objective intellect the sphere of the absolute intellect; so that art, religion, philosophy, which according to Hegel belong to the latter intellectual realm, were in a certain conflict with the state. The modern state theory, Gentile held, should so work out these conflicts that the values of art, religion and philosophy would also be the property of the state. Only then could the state be regarded as the highest form of the human intellect, being founded not on separateness, but on the common, the eternal, will and the highest form of generality. [3]

The purpose of the fascist state-philosopher is quite clear. If for Hegel the state was "God on earth," then Gentile would like to raise it to the position of the eternal and only God, who will endure no other gods above him, or even beside him, and absolutely dominates every field of human thought and human activity. This is the last word of a trend of political thought which in its abstract extreme loses sight of everything human and has concern for the individual only in so far as he serves as a sacrifice to be thrown into the glowing arms of the insatiable Moloch. Modern nationalism is only will-toward-the-state-at-any-price and complete absorption of man in the higher ends of power. It is of the utmost significance that modern nationalism does not spring from love towards one's own country or one's own people. On the contrary, it has its roots in the ambitious plans of a minority lusting for dictatorship and determined to impose upon the people a certain form of the state, even though this be entirely contrary to the will of the majority. Blind belief in the magic power of a national dictatorship is to replace for man the love of home and the feeling of the spiritual culture of his time; love of fellow man is to be crushed by "the greatness of the state," for which individuals are to serve as fodder.

Here is the distinction between the nationalism of a past age, which found its representatives in men like Mazzini and Garibaldi, and the definitely counterrevolutionary tendencies of modern fascism which today raises its head ever more threateningly. In his famous manifesto of June 6, 1862, Mazzini opposed the government of Victor Emmanuel, accusing it of treason and counterrevolutionary efforts against the unity of Italy, thus clearly making a distinction between the nation and Italian unity. His slogan, "God and the People!" - whatever one may think of it - was meant to inform the world that the ideas he followed emanated from the people and were endorsed by them. Undoubtedly Mazzini's doctrine contained the germ of a new form of human slavery, but he acted in good faith and could not foresee the historic development of his work for national democracy. How honestly he was devoted to this is most clearly shown by the difference between him and Cavour, who fully realised the significance of the national unification movement and therefore on principle opposed the "political romanticism" of Mazzini. Mazzini, Cavour said, forgot the state in his constant affirmation of freedom.

It is certain that the patriots of that time regarded the state and the nationalistic aims of the people as quite different things. This attitude doubtless sprang from an erroneous interpretation of historical facts, but it is just this erroneous conclusion which brings these men of "Young Europe" humanly closer to us, for no one will doubt their sincere love of the people. Modern nationalism is wholly lacking in such love, and though its representatives utter the word ever so frequently one always perceives its false ring and realises that there is no genuine feeling in it. The nationalism of today swears only by the state and brands its own fellow-folk as traitors to their country if they resist the political aims of the national dictatorship or even merely refuse to endorse its plans.

The influence of the liberal ideas of the last century had at least brought it about that even the conservative elements in society were convinced that the state existed for the citizens. Fascism, however, announces with brutal frankness that the purpose of the individual consists in being useful to the state. "Everything for the state, nothing outside of the state, nothing against the state!" as Mussolini has expressed it. This is the last word of a nationalist metaphysics which in the fascist movements of the present has assumed a frightfully concrete form. While this has always been the hidden meaning of all nationalist theories, it has now become their clearly expressed aim. That they have so definitely outlined this aim is the only merit of its present representatives, who in Italy, and even more in Germany, are so dearly loved and so freely supported by the owners of the capitalistic economic system because they have been so subservient to the new monopoly capitalism and have with all their power furthered its plans for the erection of a system of industrial serfdom.




[1] Jean Martet, Clémenceau Speaks, Berlin, 1930, p. 151

[2] Popolo d’Italia, Aprile 6, 1920

[3] We are following the reports of the Congress in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, evening edition of October 21, 1931


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