≡ Menu

Bryan Caplan Writes to Nationalism

Here, in full, is my colleague Bryan Caplan’s open letter to Nationalism – a letter whose every sentiment I share:

Dear Nationalism,

We’ve grown up together.  In a sense, you and I have been together our whole lives.  In a deeper sense, though, we’ve never been together.  I’ve tried to let you down easy a hundred times.  But subtlety doesn’t work on you, Nationalism.  I don’t want to hurt you.  But Nationalism, you’re constantly hurting me.  The only way to protect myself, I’m afraid, is to tell you how I feel, loud and clear.

I know that I was born inside “your” national borders.  But I don’t love you, Nationalism.  I don’t even like you.  I don’t want “patriotic solidarity” with you.  I want you to leave me alone.  Stop acting like you own me.  Stop calling me.  I don’t want to be with you.  The mere fact that I haven’t fled the country doesn’t turn my “No” into a “Yes.”

Do you know what you’re like, Nationalism?  You’re like medieval Religion.  In the bad old days, authorities assigned people a religion – and effectively forbade them quit.  Sometimes quitting was itself a crime.  In other cases, Religion expelled its exes from the country.  The common theme: Religion didn’t take no for an answer.

In hindsight, the past abusiveness of Religion is plain.  But you’re no better, Nationalism.  Violation is a way of life for you.  You’re as unwilling to take no for an answer as the intolerant Religion of yesteryear.

Nationalism, I know you’re itching to lecture me about how you’re better than all the other Nationalisms out there.  That may be true, but it’s no excuse for the way you treat me.  Stop talking like you own the house I live in, the air I breath, or me.  You don’t.  You never did.  Frankly, Nationalism, you make my flesh crawl.

Am I cruel?  No crueler than I have to be to make my wishes known.  There are plenty of fish in the sea, Nationalism.  Lots of them love you already.  Go have patriotic solidarity with them.  Just leave me out of it.  Goodbye.

Well and truly said, Bryan.

One way to distinguish most libertarians and many classical liberals from conservatives is to note that conservatives (in the U.S.) often talk of “saving America.”  Libertarians and classical liberals do not typically talk this way.

I don’t care about America as such.  I care about freedom and human flourishing.  If America is a useful set of institutions to make humans more free than they would otherwise be, then I am all for “saving” it – but only because America is then a means to the end of a freer and more prosperous human civilization.  If America is not a useful set of institutions to make humans more free than otherwise, then I am, at best, indifferent to it.  If America is a set of institutions that makes humans less free than they would otherwise be, then I oppose it.

There is the question of what, exactly, is the “it” to which I refer above as “America.”  Using blogger’s license, it’s a question that I’ll not here explore, except to say that I emphatically reject the notion that the U.S. Government is synonymous with America.  I reject also the superstition that that particular political institution – Uncle Sam – is a faithful representative of that multitudinous and extraordinarily complex and diverse group of individuals commonly called “the American people.”  Indeed, I go further and reject even the possibility that such a group of people can possibly ever have anything reasonably called “a representative” or an agent or agency that carries out its ‘will.’  (Groups of people have no ‘will.’  It is mistaken anthropomorphism to imagine otherwise.)

I feel no, I owe no, and I will never give any allegiance to any nation or any government as such.  My allegiance is to whatever peoples and institutions promote human freedom, flourishing, and peace.  (And I hardly need to add that nationalism and governments have a damn poor record on this front.)