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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Never-Ending Romance of Nationalism

I am so sick of the daily news that I could give up blogging and become an Xtreme stuntman . . . and except for the fact that pain hurts, I would do it.

But, really, the news? It seems dominated by absurd CNN reporting on MH370, an endless succession of false statistics from the White House (e.g., unemployment, Obamacare, gender pay inequality) and a host of trivial matters of no consequence (e.g., John Kerry's latest MidEast proposal). There is no real MSM coverage about the stagnant economy; Russia's drive for dominance in eastern Europe; China's drive for dominance in Asia; the Iranian drive for a nuclear weapon; the Syrian civil war which went from an imminent threat" to something relegated to the back pages; the involvement of a major San Francisco anti-gun Democrat in gun running; or the melt-down of the Argentine and Venezuelan regimes.

Anyhow, my mind was in a wandering mood, so I began reading up on the Scottish independence referendum due next September. People in Scotland will vote whether Scotland should become an independent nation. It is none of my business, and the British, especially those in Scotland, can tell me to get stuffed and go worry about Detroit and Obama. Since, however, this is a blog of opinion, opine I must, opine I will. Hate me if you must . . . . sniff, sniff . . .

Let me state my bias upfront. I am a huge admirer of England. If I had to pick the one country of greatest consequence to the modern history of mankind, it would be England. No other chunk of real estate in the world comes close to the contribution England has made to the development of the modern world and to our ideas of freedom, liberty, and democracy. It never ceases to amaze how this small country, possessed of relatively few natural resources and living with some of the worst weather in the world, has so influenced the globe's intellectual advancement, be it in science, engineering, exploration, philosophy, politics, literature, theater, or economics. It is a stunning achievement.

OK, back to today's topic. I won't get into the issues involved in the drive for and against Scottish independence. I will note, however, that some of my English friends would vote "yes," seeing it as a step in England's independence from Scotland. Suffice it to say that for some on either side of the border the three hundred-plus-year union of England and Scotland has not been a uniformly happy one. That's too bad. As an outsider and, as noted above, a long-time admirer of things British (pace warm beer, English toast racks, and Benny Hill) I have a nostalgia-tinged view of Albion. Scotland, homeland of the father of the US Navy, was part of that; British troops advancing under fire with bagpipes playing was a staple of my childhood movie-watching, and I would recreate it with my Airfix soldiers. I will get back to the nostalgia part in a second.

Independence? I can't see the big advantage, but that is not my call. I have seen proposals, for example, re whom an independent Scotland would consider Scottish, and those would seem to present problems. Lots of people who don't live in Scotland, and have not been born there could get citizenship if they have one Scottish grandparent or some other vague connection to Scotland. That would mean that if those folks got the vote, Scotland's elections could get decided in Canada, Australia, and the US--some Hollywood types, too, no less. Maybe I am out to lunch on that, I don't know.

I assume the Scots are practical sorts and will make their decision on independence in accord with what's best for them. English and Scots seem handling the matter in a very civilized, even civilised way. No car bombs; no assassinations; no riots; no massacres. Not something to sneeze at in today's world of violent extremists.

Back to what I really wanted to talk about: nostalgia and romance when discussing certain nationalisms. Ireland comes to mind immediately. As a student in the Boston area in the mid-1970s, I was acutely aware of Irish nationalism, and the support for the IRA that came from Boston. I remember going on Friday or Saturday nights to Irish pubs--they always seemed to have a James Joycean sort of name, "The Plough and Stars," "Finnegan's"--where at the last call, the bucket would get passed around for the "widows and orphans" in Northern Ireland. Woe to he who did not kick in a couple of bucks! There would then be some song about green Ireland, belted out with streaming tears by youngsters and fat middle aged men who had never been there, and who at the end of the evening would scream "Down with the British!" For them, it would always be 1916.

I found it weird and off-putting, but the fish and chips were good. In the end, all the death and destruction, some of it facilitated by those passed buckets in Boston, that rained down on Northern Ireland and spilled over to England, what was it all about? Did it bring about some good that was worth the price? Not in my calculus.

Basque nationalism also left me cold. Unlike Ireland and Scotland, the Basque region of Iberia did not have hundreds of years of history as an independent nation. As with any good nationalist movement, there was a lot of chicanery, fraud, and charlatanry: lots of made up history. Basque nationalism, much more so than Catalan or Gallego nationalism, always seemed to have an air of desperation, of time running out. The demographics, after all, were shifting against the Basques, as people from all over Spain moved into the region; the nationalists blatantly racist definition of who was a "real" Basque seemed rather repellent in a eugenics sort of way. They would refer to non-Basques as "coreanos," Koreans. I was also troubled by the fact that some of the most fanatic supporters of ETA, the Basque copy of the IRA, were from places such as Mexico, Cuba, and, alas, Idaho. As with the IRA, the ETA took up partnership with the PLO, as well as the Cuban, East German, and Soviet intel services. Basque nationalism was violent and racist, and founded on a romanticized notion of a Basque land that had never existed. The violence and bullying in the Basque areas succeeded in driving many people out of the region, and led to a fearful political ambiance which exists even to this day. It is the least democratic part of Spain; it is marked by a pronounced intolerance for the rest of Spain, a highly anti-Israeli and even anti-semitic political culture, whacky environmentalism in the extreme, and a strong support for the EU as the power broker rather than Madrid. None of that, however, can hide the fact that they have the best food in the world.

I have seen some other odd little nationalisms that turned into big disasters. The worst I have experienced was the Tamil-Sinhalese warfare in Sri Lanka. Both sides were insane, and fought an exceptionally bloody war aimed largely at non-combatants that in the end was about nothing except the war. That very nasty war eventually came to an end, and, again, one was left wondering what was it all about? Tamil nationalism received lots of support from Tamils in the UK, Canada, Australia, India, and the US; in other words from people who had no intention of living there, and who did not have to put up with the daily horrors of what their money bought.

One wonders about the Muslims in India and the creation of Pakistan (and later Bangladesh). Was all that blood and gore worth it? Are the Muslims who stayed in India living less well than those in Pakistan and Bangladesh? Doubt it very much or they would leave. It can be argued that Muslims in the subcontinent would have been better off staying in democratic India than living in authoritarian Pakistan.

Finished. No more. Just some thoughts. No real conclusion. Just wondering about the different types of nationalisms running fee in the world. Some good; some bad.

Must get back to the dogs.


  1. "It is none of my business, and the British, especially those in Scotland, can tell me to get stuffed and go worry about Detroit and Obama."

    No we would not. We are far too polite. Anyway, I am from England and do not get a say. In fact, Scottish people living in England or elsewhere will not get a say, but foreigners living in Scotland do ! Work that one out ?!?!?!

    England has never been asked if it wishes to remain part of the UK. I think that really tells you its own story.

    The other 'Home Nations' have, including Northern Ireland.

    The Scottish National Party (SNP) are a far-left political party that uses nationalism and the hatred of we Sassenach's, as they call us, to further their aims of an independent Scotland. Most English would only be too hapy for them to have it if they wish. They can even keep the oil !

    The SNP want be independent but, they also want to keep the Pound Sterling and membership of the EU. They have been told that they can't have either.

    I find the SNP's view of Nationalism and Independence quite false. No nation or political party can claim to be independent whilst being a member of that 'anti-nationalist' Supranational Government. This makes the whole claim of those like Scots and the Basques quite ridiculous. They want to be part of something that wants to do away with them and replace it with something else. Madness.

    The Scots will more than likely stay but, they will demand more powers just like Quebec does with Canada. This will encourage the N.Irish and the Welsh to demand more for themselves and leave the English as loser in this game. From this, English nationalism will begin to rise. And if ever England got the say to stay or go, which is unlikely, I think we would mot defiantly vote to leave. And that WILL be the end of the UK.

    1. Scotland had a great period of the "Scottish enlightenment" but that has nothing to do with the recent nonsense that is all leftist mumbo jumbo.

    2. "England has never been asked if it wishes to remain part of the UK. I think that really tells you its own story."
      That could be because England cobble together the UK, not Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland.

  2. Pakistan is an interesting example. Started off with Pakistan [the current backward cesspit] and East Pakistan [now Bangladesh]. I worked on a UN project in Dhaka and the Banglas were most adamant that they were not, never had been, nor ever wanted to be Pakistanis as they were a totally different mob despite their [very] common religion.
    In one sense Bangla independence went the way of so many of such movements in becoming ultra-parochial in so much as they took the teaching of English out of the school curriculum. Eventually it occurred to someone that nobody much outside Bangladesh spoke nor wanted to learn Bangla and certainly didn't want to do business in that language. English was re-introduced and is mandatory if you aspire to more than minor roles in the economy.
    There were several senior level locals involved in the project who had very poor English and who were well on the way to missing out on further elevation within their Government Service because they were products of the misguided nationalist school curriculum.
    If the Scots vote for independence they may find things have changed since the days of William Wallace and Robert Bruce. If they look just across the water they can see that Eire hasn't worked out all that well in the long run.

    1. It hasn't? The Irish Republic is an affluent country with ninety years of uninterrupted parliamentary government. Their most notable problem is the implosion of the Irish Church and the attendant decadence, manifest here.


      Scotland would have nothing to lose. The place is already ruined in that respect.

  3. Must agree with your observations. As a "last" Czecho-Slovak (father was Czech, mother is Slovak, living still there...), I observed first hand the madness of extreme nationalism in the early 1990-ties. It ended well, mostly due to wisdom of the then czech leader(-ship) under Václav Klaus, but for several weeks it was touch-n-go, with "yugoslavian" solution beeing just unfolding few hundred km further south. The 80-year old state ended in two democratic republics and it's a GREAT SUCESS STORY.
    I live now in Nepal (yes, the bloody communists seem to follow me everywhere!), so I have my eye on the Subcontinent. And I came to the simmilar conclusion, maybe a bit harsher: there will be no peace on the Subcontinent, indeed the region and the world! - as long as Pakistan exists!!! It is an artificial entity, I compare it to DDR (commie East Germany for the historically-challenged): no past, miserable present and certainly no future!

  4. backofanenvelopeApril 9, 2014 at 5:00 AM

    I live in Cornwall and am an elderly Englishman of Anglo-Irish descent. My wife is Cornish. If we are asked, we both say we are English; we used to say British. However, there has been a sea change in England. As the UK government seems to think anyone can be British, we have decided we don't want to be. I have also noticed that the Cornish are going down the same line; if anyone can be English, then they are Cornish.

    As to the Scots; if they want to be independent, they should have campaigned for a UK-wide referendum. We would have just waved goodbye!

    My personal worry is that if they vote for independence, the UK government will agree a deal that copies that we have had with the Irish Republic. They get the rights without the obligations.

  5. I confess to mixed feelings on Scottish independence. The sentimental, and conservative (small 'c'), part of me would be saddened to see them go. The grim realist part of me would welcome it. As the UK has slipped back inexorably to its true status in the world (a minor player) I think it is time to reconsider our future. More and more I incline to the view that the future belongs to City-States rather than Nation-States. London is a truly great city and a terrific wealth creator. It can act as the centre of a geographically small England and the government of it without our Celtic hangers-on will be that much simpler - and cheaper! If we give up trying to act as America's deputy sheriff and do what Germany has done so successfully since WWII, that is, forego the 'glory' and just concentrate on commerce we could do very nicely. If the so-called 'great powers' go to war over this, that or the other, well, so be it, we wouldn't have had any influence anyway - so why waste time, money and effort trying?

    Oh dear, sorry, I seem to have meandered away from Scotland altogether!

    1. The French say they have a "Silicone Valley" but it is in the Thames Estuary.

    2. The City-State, yes!

      You've pointed out the future (actually a return to the past, pace Italy, but perhaps that's a benefit - e.g., Venice's latest efforts at secession). City-states have more integrity, - i.e., in the sense of boundaries & identity. See Gregory Copley's "UNCivilization".


      It's not a book about solutions. He points to the problems on the horizon (the biggest being the unprecedented mid-century global demographic collapse) and suggests that cities begin to make friends w/ their contiguous rural areas to secure food supplies and water.

      A city state answers the human need for belonging to something larger than the Self but is not so large that one gets swallowed into a massive Kafkaesque bureaucracy. The nation-state as a tenable enterprise worth sacrificing for was drowned in 20th century rivers of blood. To mix metaphors a bit (the subject invites this), current embodiments of nation-states are like grievously ill AIDS patients whose immune systems are so compromised that they're at risk for all the opportunistic diseases, including the bacteria that normally lie dormant in the healthy.

      Now, with cynical self-servers in charge in D.C., what sane person would want to volunteer to work in military, intel, or any other dangerous proposition on behalf of his country? It is obvious now that such people will be left to swing in the wind. We're lucky to even get their bodies back.

      One problem to be solved by each city-state: it's a magnet for the increasingly marginalized underclass, the mentally ill, and the just plain old "downwardly deviant" destructive mechanisms that Daniel Moynihan described so well. Thus, the infrastructures needed to serve and/or secure those vulnerables has yet to be designed.

      Looking past the corruption and ennui, we can see how America's political class failed to engineer a system to address the myriad problems brought about by massive immigration. In fact, the PC drove those numbers up (see State's under-the-radar "refugee" program using faith-based orgs as a front) while failing to provide robustly for their assimilation. As in England, it was all about securing a permanently dependable voting class to ensure the facade of "democracy".

      That California idea of "six states" - whether or not it ever makes it to the referendum stage - is a harbinger of the coming city-state. Let's hope it arrives in time.

  6. I'm growing a bit cynical about nationalism myself.

    I have a lot of ties to Taiwan--namely my diplowife. Don't get me wrong, but I think that whether it calls itself the rump of Sun Zhongshan's Republic of China, Taiwan, Great Liuqiu, Dongning, or even Bob, Taiwan deserves international recognition. However, I've seen the Taiwanese nationalists (the Greens, Taiwan Independence crowd) inventing the myth that they're not really Chinese at all, but descend from Sinified indigenes--when they're grandfathers never called an Austronesian-speaker anything but "savage" (番子--hoan-a, fon-a in Hoklo and Hakka respectively).

  7. Well ... I was gonna say incoming! but it appears I'm beyond GMT.

  8. We will fight to the death for the right to be what we are not and never have been!
    Gallego? That's one I've not heard of!
    James the lessor

  9. It seems that man-kind can endure and survive war, tyranny, plague, famine and many other things. What man-kind can't seem to tolerate is peace and an absence of threat.

  10. Some thoughts

    Quebec has just thrown out the separatist government and (perhaps) put the independence question to bed for a generation.

    As I read the Scots there is a frustrated, and hyper-emotional desire for freedom from the yoke of Westminster, the same emotions that underpin the rising desire in England to be free of Brussels. Add to that (in the case of England) the pressure of culturally different immigrants (some of whom do not integrate and others of whom bring alien practices such as genital mutilation and sex-selectuve abortion) in a geographically, small and economically-stressed country and the emotions are easy to understand. All in, the situation in England, at least, is made worse by a near total despising of the political class as out-of-touch and decidedly corrupt and venal and likely to sell the country in their own interests.

    If Scotland votes for independence, it will go through a painful period of adjustment, perhaps lasting decades, but will probably emerge just fine as an independent micro-state, just as England would survive a divorce from the EU. There is simply too much talent and assets for it to be otherwise.

    If anyone should understand the yearning to control one's own destiny it is the USA!!


  11. The example of Quebec is relevant. After proposing the most extreme example of racism and xenophobia in ages (As a consequence of banning religious dress in public, a doctor at the Jewish General Hospital would be fired if he wore his Kippah at work!) the separatist PQ party finally showed its true colors. Voters sent the party packing as never before.

    But Quebec never had any intention of separating -- the threat was just a tactic to extract more cash and concession from the Rest of Canada. And quite successful it has been for a tiresome 40 years or more.

    Breaking up a democratic country will inevitably lead to racism, authoritarianism, dictatorship, and conflict with its neighbors.

  12. I did grow up in a nationalistic era of communistic Poland as a daughter of german Father and polish Mother...talk about racism!
    over the last few days I thought a lot about that exact issue (for various reason)
    and I would say there is nothing wrong with nationalistic sentiments on a healthy, reasonable level.
    I was thinking about my family, places I have lived compared with todays EU young generation.
    I actually feel sorry for them...they have no sense of belonging...if tomorrow UN troops would appear at the door they wouldn't know what is going on...
    it is communism in a "free and united" cloak.
    As EU countries they have no responsibility as such, they point fingers at each other while Brussels is robbing them at high noon.
    Germany is doing well because my generation is still alive...wait another 10 years and it is going to be all over.
    It would be also my opinion that Scotland want to be seperated from UK for the multiculturism and crime, enjoying fairly balanced employment and COL.
    Every country seem to be like a marriage:
    best left alone for only two people knowing their problems can resolve it.

  13. Speaking of romanticized notions of a non-existant homeland, just what are the Palestinians up to?

    1. "Palestinians" aka "disposable Arabs".

    2. Merk, you asked:
      James the Lessor

  14. One point you seem to have forgotten to mention is that, almost without exception, 'all' these 'Nationalist' movements are communist (certainly Marxist) movements.

    I spent a couple of happy years in 14 IC so on that front (IRA) I know from whereof I speak. Similarly you may wish to check the backgrounds of the 'leaders' of the SNP, ETA, PLO, etc. (hint: they aren't libertarians).

    So, on that front, the SNP's wish to join 'the great collective' is, at least, consistent and its tactics (average English people being attacked at random, a mass exodus of property owners, businesses, and investment out of the country, …) are almost … expected, no? (Most of these 'nationalist' movements are in fact closest internationalists).

    A vague hobby of mine (when I, rarely, have the time) was to track which 'populist' movements were/are fronted by former members of the 'Cold War' anti-war/CND/communist types. It's 'enlightening' to see how many 'Green', 'Environmental', 'Diversity', 'Womens/Gay rights' and 'Nationalist' campaigners are escapees from the Gulag – or more correctly, have decided to undermine 'the system' (line their pockets) in another way.

    As British (born in Wales of English parents, with Scots and Irish grandparents, and unlike most having both the cànanan Goidhealach and teangacha Gaelacha), and more importantly raised in 'The Borders', I shall refrain from commenting on both Eire and Scotland’s 'spongeing' , whining and hypocrisy since my language may become, somewhat, too intemperate for this civilised blog.

    1. Able....aw go ahead, as we are not THAT civilized here. In Gaelic if you don't mind though.

    2. Whitewall

      Ah! I'm assuming, from reading between the lines, that you're not actually interested in a discussion of economic, political, geographical and social factors … just in Gaelic?

      All the Goidelic and Brittonic languages have a ….. er, poetic turn of phrase and, I have 'almost' always found, can be used in …. erm, 'diplomatic' situations without upset as long as a suitably 'contemplative/philosophical' or 'up-beat' tone of voice is used.

      Both Tá tú glan as do mheabhair and Go hIfreann leat get regular use but I wouldn't type most words I use since they would upset my Grandma (especially since I only learned them from listening to her).

      Still, I 'did' say 'almost' always. Muttering “Cailleach. Diúl mo bhod” to a senior female bureaucrats sarcastic suggestion re. operational budget restrictions, or “mynd i ffwcio chi eich hun” to a new CO – the former who was apparently from Castlebar (Mayo) and latter whose wife was from Aberystwyth, didn't turn out as being as diplomatic as I'd hoped at the time.

      Personally I find the Slavic languages best for a good 'open' insult/swear whilst the tonal Tai-Kadia best for 'stealth' insults ;-)

    3. Ah Able,
      Such a beautiful language, I can only assume the female bureaucrats flew away in ecstasy !
      James the Lessor

    4. Able, Good point re the nature of these nationalist movements. I should have stressed more the point you raise; I did mention in passing that ETA, IRA and PLO were all supported by the Sov Bloc intel services. I was always amazed when I met ETA and IRA supporters how they could on and on about Spain's or England anti-nationalities policies but remained silent or went into defense re the USSR's policies towards its own nationalities.

    5. Yep. We memorized Kevin Barry in school, in Texas. Great sad poem. However, if the "patriots" hanged in 1916 had been victorious, there'd have been a lot more dead bodies piled up. And, while I met a great many truly reasonable, and just plain NICE people in the Republic, I also met a few IRA types, They were, generally, followers, and stupid, especially when drunk, which was most of the time. Ethnically, people need to understand that, as you walk down a street in Dublin or Limerick or Dingle, you see faces that appear transplanted directly from Texas. For my brother and me, it was like a family reunion, with all the good and awful things that term implies. But, as for these wretched movements, commies, every one of them. Violent losers are drawn to violent causes, and we can thank God when they lose.

      Damned good to hear from you Able.1000 Monadale.

    6. Able..You are right about the Gaelic! Just reading your uses above gave my keyboard and screen a headache. I will, however, use a few of your expressions from Gaelic on an opponent of mine on a local political blog. I can get those words past the screener

      My greatest exposure to the language has come from many of the books and DVDs of a favorite British writer, the late Edith Pargeter aka Ellis Peters. Her heritage and her use of words and phrases always intrigues me. She also had a great love for the Czech language and I assume she was familiar with your Slavic language too.

    7. Able--When you mention Tai-Kadai languages, you wouldn't perchance know Thai, would you? I go to the 2-2 level when I was with State, which wasn't enough to get all the insults. A few years later, when I was teaching in Taiwan again, I found I could still converse somewhat with the Overseas Chinese Students and Guest workers, but I knew I'd deteriorated a lot.

      Chinese is another thing. I can spew a load of insults in Mandarin, and even a few in Hakka!

      Still, it's not my favorite use of a language.

    8. Kepha

      I've spent a bit of time in Thailand, yes, mainly out east in Yasathon and its surrounds socially (I even considered retiring there) – lots of time at both Lopburi and Sattahip professionally ;-) (หน่วยบัญชาการสงครามพิเศษ).

      I speak a bit better than I read, and both 'way' better than I write.

      Many Thai insults are subtle or even inexplicable (Kwai?) to we westerners but some knowledge of the most common is 'really' necessary, no? I was 'lucky'(?) enough to get a crash course in the worst from listening to the NCO's as I'm sure you can imagine. Oh and Isaan Thai is even worse, but being Farang Kii Nok what do I know?

      As you say though, it's 'use it or lose it'.

    9. Even I know that "Khwai" is water buffalo ;-), which isn't inexplicable as an insult at all, and that Isaan Thai is basically Lao. Unfortunately for me, I've lost a lot.

      Your fellow Farang Ba


    10. Kepha

      One of the benefits of living in multicultural Britain (when I'm rarely there) is that there is literally always someone just round the corner who speaks every language on earth.

      You think I'm kidding? When I’m home in the small regional city I live in I have friends who speak all the expected European languages as well as Thai, Vietnamese, Hindi, Urdu, Pashto, Bengali, Azeri, Khmer, Arabic, Nepali, ….. all of whom genuinely jump at the chance to speak it with an interested 'foreigner' (even if only to laugh at my accent/pronunciation).

      It can't be hard for you to find a local there who'll enjoy letting you practice 普通话, 吴语 or 粤 even if only informally, 'in passing'?

  15. On this overall topic, I'm looking for recommendations for a good, realistic book on what went on during the Yugoslavia breakup - Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo etc?

    When it was going on I got my news from NPR. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if you don't listen to NPR you are uninformed. If you do listen to NPR, you are misinformed.

    Actually, I was both - I couldn't understand what really went down.

    Again, book recommendations please fellow commentators! Thanks

    1. You might try this from a few years ago, it is from a prejudiced view point but maybe worth a read. It is multiple parts :

      The Dismantling of Yugoslavia (Part I)

      A Study in Inhumanitarian Intervention (and a Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse)

      Edward S. Herman and David Peterson

    2. I still think there is nothing better than "Black Lamb and Grey Falcon" to explain Yugoslavia and what happened to them.

    3. Though hardly the major focus of his book, Bobbitt has some interesting bit on the Yugoslav breakup in The Shield of Achilles. Interestingly (and perhaps unjustly, given how poorly Iraq turned out in the long run) his observations make me hate Baker and Scowcroft less than I was wanting to do.

    4. I'm deep into Kaplan's "Revenge of Geography" which touches on the Balkans in the larger issue of the World-Island and border lands.

      Not too bad but still a bit liberal world-view.

  16. "I am huge admirer of England. If I had to pick the one country of greatest consequence to the modern history of mankind, it would have to be England. No other chunk of real estate in the world comes close to the contribution England has made to the development of the modern world and to the development of our ideas of freedom and democracy."

    Beg to differ with you there D.Mad....I still can't go past the contribution that Ancient/Medievil and to an extent modern Greece (WWII delay to the Nazi offensive into the Soviet Union) Greece made to western civilisation. If not more than England at least close to it.

    Just my opinion.

    1. Greece is certainly in the running but Greece had a Golden Age, made its contributions, and then became an irrelevance in the world. The British, the English especially, have been chugging along with ideas and inventions through good times and bad and transforming the world either through their efforts or those of their creations, e.g., the USA.

    2. Good discussion Dip and Mr. T.

      I tip my hat to the Greeks for the language that regenerated the world through the Old and New Testaments (the Septuagint version in Greek was THE Old Testament for the early church in the Mediterranean World). Greek rather than Latin was the real lingua franca of the Roman world.

      Having lived in Chinese-speaking Asia, I note artistic motifs from Graeco-Buddhist Bactria influencing the fine arts of China, Korea, Japan, Viet Nam, and Taiwan. So even here, the Greeks cast a shadow that reached lands Alexander the Great never saw.

      Many a modern Greek, including, I guess, the selfsame Ionnis Metaxas who delivered that famous "ochi!" to Mussolini, sees the "golden age" not in Athens, but in "tin polin" (The City, i.e., Constantinople) which was for centuries the bulwark against Islam. And I think, contra Gibbon and Voltaire, those conservative modern Greeks, rather than Byron's illegitimate children, have a valid point.

      But the nation that had the highest, best, and most important contribution to civilization has to be Israel.

      As a Christian, I represent the real ancient, international Jewish conspiracy to put the world under the rule of a Jewish king (Jesus the Messiah).

      As for Britain, I am also something of a Brittanophile and agree that the world owes much to that island. But Britain is great because reformers, Puritans, and Evangelicals led the British to read, honor, and internalize the Old and New Testaments. Ditto for the USA, which began as a Puritan experiment. And for the record, I am "Anglo-Saxon" mostly through osmosis rather than ancestry.

      As for limited government and political compact, the whole idea grew out of a Reformation-era theological tiff over how to read First Samuel 8--is it a warning of what the "king like the nations round about" would do, or a charter of royal license? A galaxy of Reformed ("Calvinists" to the theologically uninitiated) writers took the former tack, including the Scots Covenanters and English Puritan Parliament-men of the 1630's (and they had a lot of continental forbears, too). Their line extended down even to our own Rev. Dr. John Witherspoon, who signed the Declaration of Independence for my natal state of Noo Joysey.

      The idea of the ordinary person learning to read originally served the Jewish "book religion", even before the coming of Christ. I've lived in countries where the whole idea of female literacy was introduced by missionaries who would today be castigated as "fundamentalist patriarchs".

      And as for the best in the classical tradition, I believe that it was the Christianization of the late Roman world that saved that tradition, not Islam. If the Greek Church Fathers sometimes seem Platonic, it was largely because they, like Socrates and his pupil, were Greeks who realized that there had to be a bigger and better God than those of the Greek pantheon. If we were taught that Islam "saved the Classical heritage", we were not told that an important link in the chain of translation was Syriac--of a Christianized people whose Peshitto version of the Old Testament, at least in the Pentateuch, reads a lot like the Masoretic text, suggesting that Syriac Christianity may have been initiated by a Messianic Jewish movement.

      Further, what did the Abrahamic faiths conclude after rediscovering Aristotle? Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas concluded that there can be no ultimate disagreement between revelation and reason; 'Ibn Roshd ended up bifurcating them.

      And what of the so-called enlightenment? I daresay that after being put through the wringer by those who most loudly claim to be its conervators, our culture has become more and more a sink of ignorance about its own past.

      So, Uncle Kepha casts his vote for Israel.

    3. Great response Kepha, much appreciate your insight and wealth of knowledge. Although I confess I feel more like an intellectual pigmy after reading your response.

      While I agree with Diplomad's sentiminets about Greece having a Golden Age then becoming irrelevant, I still believe the act of preserving western ideals from the sharia hordes by the Byzanitine empire empowred the transfer of such ideals to the western world to build upon and improve.

      While it can be argued wether the Byzanitine empire was Greek or not I still believe there is a suitable link between Ancient Greece and Byzanitium to justify the continuity.

      In saying so I am an unabashed admirer of the U.S. consitution (and the U.S. for that matter) particularly its ideals of limited governement and the checks and balances it provides to limit abuse of power and foster human creativity. I believe it is the single most important documenet that lays the groundwork for modern western civilisation.

      It almost breaks my heart to see how this great nation is going through a self desturction program by twice electing a chap who's single talent lies in reading off the teleprompter.

      So for me its Greece and the U.S. taking into account the significnace of both input to human civilisation and the act of defending and preserving such ideals.

    4. Nice to meet you, MrT, and thanks to Dip for hosting this blog!

      Well, I have to admit that I'm also a patriotic American, but having read a lot of history (I am a history teacher by profession), and being a somewhat educated believer, I guess my own beloved country has inherited a lot from a lot of the world.

      As for American self-destruction under the O, I am as much as a whiner and moaner as anyone here.

    5. Feeling is mutual Kepha....

      Have to admit though I am Australian who is an Americaphile (if that is a word).

      Like the Diplomad who can critique Scotland and expect a "what about Obama", after my "O" rant I accept criticism about our previous primeminsters (Gillard and Rudd) and profusely apologies for unleashing them to the international community.

      I rebuke any Australian on this blog that would counter my argument by "we dealt with them so why should't the rest of the world".

    6. Can't really comment in detail because im at work. But the United Provinces should not be missed as well. They contributed in all areas to modern history and enjoyed a slow but wealthy decline

  17. Wow! We have the best readers in the world. All great comments.

  18. The most interesting thing about the break up of Yugoslavia was how quickly the whole thing fell to bits revealing the underlying nations, states, tribes whatever.

  19. I am a Half Scot, educated there (same school as Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles) but now living in southern England. I love Scotland but find the Scots generally dreich. The author PG Wodehouse got it right when be said " it is not difficult to tell the difference between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance".

  20. The advantage of nationalism is that it not only lets birds of a feather flock together.
    They actually breed without government surveillance.

    1. On the other hand, there are a lot of us who straddle different cultures or ethnicities. My own family is, frankly, "American Mongreloid". Hence, when nationalism gets a little too strident, I feel a bit uncomfortable. I guess I wouldn't be too comfy in a country defined by too Voelkisch a definition of nationality.

  21. Great commentary above. A few notes on Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Golden Ages. When Themistocles gave his speech in Athens for war against the Persians, it is said that one of his most persuasive arguments was the threat that the Persians were going to make everyone wear pants, causing a great uproar. The Byzantines considered themselves the true "Romans Empire" right down to the end, albeit with a Greek accent and Orthodoxy.
    It has seemed to me that when nations, religions, or let's just say peoples start to build big buildings of cut and polished stone it's good sign they are at an end of their intellectual, moral, ethical, philosophical vigor.
    James the Lessor

  22. "If we were taught that Islam "saved the Classical heritage", we were not told that an important link in the chain of translation was Syriac-"

    Very important. The "Age of Translation," often attributed to Harun al Rashid and his son, was the product of Greek "converts" to Islam who did the actual translations.

    In Istanbul a few years ago, a guide pointed out that the large panels of calligraphy that were being taken down as Hagia Sophia was being restored as a museum, were mounted on layers of clay and straw that had been used by the workmen who constructed them to protect the Christian mosaics that were being covered. It seems that those "Muslim" workmen anticipated the reconquest of Constantinople.

    I haven't been back recently and wonder if Erdogan is reversing the process in Hagia Sophia.

  23. I have to refute the 'warm beer' reference Bob, the Brits use the same TempRite beer pumping equipment that we do Down Under. This I have seen for myself in various English pubs when I worked over there in the late 90s. They just don't serve it as icy cold as we do. To be sure 'real ales' and some Bitters are unchilled but in the main the idea of 'warm beer' is an urban myth.

  24. Okay, I've mentioned "Spengler" (David P. Goldman) before. Hat tip him.

    The Never-Ending Romance of Nationalism ends when your nation goes extinct. Which is going to happen this century like never before. Wikipedia says "The general consensus is that there are between 6000[2] and 7000 languages currently spoken, and that between 50-90% of those will have become extinct by the year 2100.[1]"

    This casts a new light on national self-interest. What is the national self-interest of a dying nation? (What is the personal self-interest of a dying man?)

    Say you have 10,000. The only way to get 100,000 you need for life-saving surgery is to bet it against odds of 100-1. It is rational to do so.

    A pre-modern society in contact with a modern society see its fertility plunge, even worse than the modern society. So the pre-modern must conquer or die, whatever the odds.

    Exercise: Does the slogan "deterrence works" apply to a nuclear Iran?

    [1] Austin, Peter K; Sallabank, Julia (2011). "Introduction" in Austin, Peter K; Sallabank, Julia. Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. Cambridge University Press.
    [2] Moseley, Christopher, ed. (2010). Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edition. Paris: UNESCO Publishing.

    Yeah, I know, UNESCO. But still, a lot of languages are going extinct.

  25. I don't know. As similar as Scotland and England seem the cultural differences become and more apparent the further one goes from Edinburgh. Much of nationalism in areas forced into a larger polity is simply a desire to retain some sort of cultural identity that they can relate to. Ireland, Wales and Scotland had a separate historical and cultural identity long before England decided it was entitled to bring them under the English banner. The Basque maintained a unique cultural identity until the late 19th century. We all have desire to belong. Nationalism is the political voice of a desire to belong to have a cultural identity even, even if it is a romantic notion.

  26. Must disagree with some contentions. The Basque Country has it's own (absolutely unique) language, though the majority there prefer Castillan Spanish. It was at one time fairly thoroughly Catholic in that culturally fissured society. It is also nearly the most affluent component of Spain. It has a metropolis of a size that would (in an American context) routinely support a university hospital complex (over an above the less capital intensive components of the common research university). It would certainly be justified in seeking the most thorough local autonomy, leaving only the military, the diplomatic corps, the intelligence services, the central bank, the mint, the customs and border inspectorate, and the financial inspectorate to the central government. Similar observations apply to Catalonia / Valencia, bar that the larger population of the latter renders it a better candidate for its own bourse and thus full sovereignty.

    Re Scotland: it's an English speaking country which came to be appended to England in the course of a dynastic union. It has it's local particularism, but it is not truly a distinct society. It does have a larger population than Basque Country and, in Glasgow, a more sophisticated key city.