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These all are manifestations of what is commonly called the identity crisis of the West, but might better be termed the West’s struggle with the sacred. By “sacred”, I mean that which endures beyond our lifetime and beyond the lifetime of our children, the enduring characteristics that make us unique and will continue to distinguish us from the other peoples of the world, and which cannot be violated without destroying our sense of who we are. The sacred is what a country’s soldiers are willing to die to protect; unless there is something for which we are willing to die, we will find nothing for which we are willing to live.

Tradition surely is part of this, but not every part of our tradition is sacred to us: we find within tradition elements that have prevailed through the ages and which we expect to prevail, if our present existence is to have a purpose, beyond our lifetimes. These elements of tradition cannot exist except through a nation: contrary to Hillary Clinton, it takes not a village but a nation to embody the language, customs and ethos that found our identity. The invariant feature of the various expressions of nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic is an attempt to recapture the past in order to envision a future. “Identity” as a concept is meaningless except as it is rooted in the past and pointed toward the future. Who we are at the moment depends on where we came from and where we expect to go. Our present, as Augustine argued in Confessions XI, is a composite of memory and anticipation.

Augustine (in City of God XXIV) famously took issue with Cicero’s definition of a res publica as an association founded on common interest, arguing instead that it was founded on a common love. It might be more accurate to say that it is founded on a common sense of the sacred, for the sacred embodies not only love but also awe and fear, specifically the fear that by violating the elements of tradition that define us we will lose ourselves.

The New Nationalism arose in opposition to the prevailing social philosophy of modern liberalism, namely the assertion that every individual should invent his identity. Existence precedes essence, in Jean-Paul Sartre’s cartoonish existentialism, which for him meant that we can invent our own essence. Many septic currents converged to create what we might term the postmodern notion of identity: Rousseau’s New Man, Nietzsche’s nihilism, Heidegger’s historicism, Ibsen’s assault on bourgeois society, Freud’s conjuring of the unconscious, and of course Sartre. Everything, including the most fundamental determinant of nature, namely gender, has now become a social construct; tradition has become a black museum of past instances of racism, misogyny and colonialism; and self-invention has become the universal and exclusive sacrament of a new secular religion. We mean many things by the term globalism, but the psychic content of globalisation is to leave not one stone of our past atop another so that the ground may be cleared for the arbitrary assertion of individual identity. In the United States, this has been enshrined in law, in Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion to sweep away barriers to same-sex marriage. According to Kennedy, “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach, a liberty that includes certain specific rights that allow persons, within a lawful realm, to define and express their identity.”
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Pan Cogito
December 10th, 2017
4:12 AM
@Alan Vainman Do not dispense the f-word before trying the perfect fit it makes for you. You no more understand Trump than you do, it appears, the greater mysteries of life. God--and you may translate it as "the Energy of the Universe," the Great Wheel of Karma or whatever--often chooses a broken vessel to carry the most precious nectar. Maybe Spengler would consent to write an essay titled "The music and the men," illuminating for fool vainmen what shits the vessels we know as Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner and Chopin were and why their music attained the highest degree of luminosity.

Surak
December 5th, 2017
10:12 PM
Anonymous: America is indeed experiencing a wave of fascism, but it is not at the hands of the nationalists. It is at the hands of ANTIFA, BLM, and university students, faculty, and staff beating to a pulp, or attempting to murder, those people who believe that nations are allowed to have borders. What name would you apply to the belief system that commanded the decapitation of a British policeman, and the systematic rape of a continent's women? AnonymousHegelman: Most of the world's sacred systems prohibit murder. Only one religion's scripture commands the murder of all non-believers.

Rick Groves
December 5th, 2017
3:12 PM
In America, enlightenment values used to be held sacred. This was the key differentiating point about America. It was not based on arbitrary lines on a map nor wrongly held ideas about the superiority of one's own tribe. It was an idea of a polity held together by the commitment to liberty and justice. Cultural practices evolve by their nature. That's what they are and what they do. Holding cultures sacred is misguided and destined to create conflict as that inevitable evolution pushes forward. The path forward is not through embracing the arbitrary and superficial and trying to entrench and protect it. It is finding core, deep values that benefit all peoples and following those ideas where they lead us.

AnonymousHegelman
December 5th, 2017
9:12 AM
When people talk of the sacred, they usually mean murder. All of us have a sense of the sacred. We just differ as to what precisely.

Anonymous
December 5th, 2017
4:12 AM
there is no such thing as a new nationalism, as there is no such thing as an illiberal democracy. There is a good, old fascism.

Matt
December 4th, 2017
9:12 PM
Anglo-American identity is built on the individualism of Appalachia and the pragmatism of Colonial Virginia as much as the Utopianism of the Puritans.

Warren Bonesteel
December 4th, 2017
4:12 PM
A great start...but... imposing your own belief system upon a movement comprised of several billion people, from a wide variety of ancient and modern cultures and sub-cultures, who hold a wide variety of religious and spiritual beliefs? That supposition is unfounded. Instead of religion, try 'freedom' and 'personal liberty'. I think you'll find a better fit, with that premise.

Marvin J. Greenberg
December 4th, 2017
8:12 AM
I greatly appreciate the way Goldman takes the usually superficial level of political discussion to a much deeper level, as he does in this essay emphasizing the vital importance of the sacred.

Surak
December 4th, 2017
2:12 AM
Alan Vanneman, America will not go gently into that bad night of sharia. Enjoy Europe, while its women are not yet required to wear burqas!

Alan Vanneman
December 1st, 2017
3:12 PM
"occasionally vulgar"? Don't you mean "constantly vulgar and utterly meretricious"? What fools these mortals be.

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