“In Him, we live, move, and have our being.” ~ Acts 17:28
Nationalism must have its roots in sound philosophy or else it will never present itself as a viable political option in a post-Christian world. And if the philosophy is to be sound, it must be Christian.
There’s a sense in which Romantic Nationalism, if it turns out to be a true accounting of the world, provides for its own downfall by creating a society that presupposes itself with little self-reflection. So, with a measure of caution, I’ll consider the roots of a possible Christian conception of Romantic Nationalism.
The development of man into a society of men is important when considering ideal social orders. So it’s best to begin a discussion of Romantic Nationalism by looking at man and his proper context.
What does it mean for man to have a context?
Without getting into the details of linguistic philosophy, it can simply be admitted at this point, that a word only has meaning when it’s used in a certain context. Consider the word “dog”. De-contextualized, it’s nonsensical. The word has no meaning in and of itself.
“Dog” could be a man’s name.
“Dog” could be a word that describes our four-legged, furry companion.
“Dog” could be a nonsense word used to fill space in a song: “doggitta dog, a dang a dang dang”.
Until we place the word into a meaningful relationship with other words (to form a sentence), it cannot be defined.
In a very real way, the same is true of man. In order to become self-conscious of his own identity, a man must see himself in a particular context. Without context, man will be unable to recognize himself or distinguish between himself and everything else in his experience.
What is man’s context?
The most basic context for man is his physical existence in a world that has been created by an all-sovereign God. It’s important to look to orthodox Protestant theology at this point, specifically as it has found voice in Christian theologian Cornelius Van Til.
Van Til’s accounting of God’s trinitarian nature, and God’s personal Covenant relationship with creation, provides the theological framework in which to view “nature” as man’s context. God is man’s ultimate, metaphysical environment. Every thing man experiences — every “fact” he knows — is what it is, because God has created it so.
But within this metaphysical relationship (between God and man), man is placed into the created realm as an actor, with will, abilities, honor and the capacity to love and feel. God created man with the ability to interact with and change parts of the created realm. Man is to observe and interpret creation in the same way God observes and interprets it (at least, to the extent he’s able to imitate God). Van Til referred to this as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”
In this creation, there are rivers, streams, continents, and land features of all types. There are also other animals and other men. Man, by virtue of being created along side these other things, is automatically in a God-ordained relationship with them — similar to a word being written into a sentence.
Eventually, families and nations arose from the first two humans. They migrated to different parts of the world. This act of migration placed each of the families in different places within creation.
Here, societies were born; complex social relationships and interactions between groups of humans.
As we can see from this brief examination, man, by virtue of his creation, is automatically placed into a particular context consisting of social and economic relationships. The Christian cannot allow ideas of “de-contextualized man” to have any merit, else he’s positing a man that can define himself, without being placed into a proper context by God.
Consider what the great Southern thinker and politician John C. Calhoun says on the matter:
“It is, indeed, difficult to explain how an opinion so destitute of all sound reason, ever could have been so extensively entertained …. I refer to the assertion, that all men are equal in the state of nature; meaning, by a state of nature, a state of individuality, supposed to have existed prior to the social and political state; and in which men lived apart and independent of each other. If such a state ever did exist, all men would have been, indeed, free and equal in it; that is, free to do as they pleased, and exempt from the authority or control of others–as by supposition, it existed anterior to society and government. But such a state is purely hypothetical. It never did, nor can exist; as it is inconsistent with the preservation and perpetuation of the race. It is, therefore, a great misnomer to call it “the state of nature.” Instead of being the natural state of man, it is, of all conceivable states, the most opposed to his nature–most repugnant to his feelings, and most incompatible with his wants. His natural state is, the social and political — the one for which his Creator made him, and the only one in which he can preserve and perfect his race.”
Where I’ve been using the word “context”, Calhoun speaks of “natural states.” He would refer to “de-contextualized man” as a man in the “state of nature” which, as we’ve seen, is only possible hypothetically. It cannot ever be a possibility since man can never escape the context in which he’s been placed by the almighty.
Calhoun concludes this way:
“As, then, there never was such a state as the, so called, state of nature, and never can be, it follows, that men, instead of being born in it, are born in the social and political state; and of course, instead of being born free and equal, are born subject, not only to parental authority, but to the laws and institutions of the country where born and under whose protection they draw their first breath.” ~ Disquisition on Government.
These concluding remarks are important because they show that a man, being necessarily in a context, is necessarily defined by his place and role in a social-order.
It is not true as Rousseau says, “man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.” He implies that man is born completely free from all binding “contexts” but as life progresses, is violently imprisoned by them. This thinking is at base of all Existentialist philosophy and informs the thinking of trans-humanists, alchemists, and mad-scientists who wish to destroy all context in the world, since context implies that man is defined by forces beyond himself. *THEY* want to determine which context they will be placed in, and thus, become the author of their own lives.
The same thinking informs the radical egalitarians who wish to see all racial contexts destroyed as well. Race, sex, religion, nationality, ethnicity, family and any division among men, are all “contexts” that God has created — created for us to prosper in.
What does a proper social context look like?
As Christian Romantic Nationalists, we must support a social order that cherishes and nourishes these Godly contexts so that man can become fully man, and define Himself in a Godly way. In this sense, we are applying Van Til’s maxim of “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” to society at large.
Our European ancestors had the greatest of these societies, where Godly contexts were formally respected. Sir. Walter Scott’s novel “Quentin Durward” is peppered with wonderful illustrations. Consider the following passage:
“I blame not thee, Jacqueline, and thou art too young to be — what it is pity to think thou must be one day — a false and treacherous thing, like the rest of thy giddy sex. No man ever lived to man’s estate but he had the opportunity to know you all. Here is a Scottish cavalier will tell you the same.
Jacqueline looked for an instant on the young stranger, as if to obey Maitre Pierre, but the glance, momentary as it was, appeared to Durward a pathetic appeal to him for support and sympathy; and with the promptitude dictated by the feelings of youth, and the romantic veneration for the female sex inspired by his education, he answered, hastily: “That he would throw down his gage to any antagonist, of equal rank and equal age, who should presume to say such a countenance as that which he now looked upon could be animated by other than the purest and the truest mind.”
Notice at first, that Durward’s chivalry was taught to him in his youth!
Not only was he taught to respect and defend the female sex, he was taught it formally. Formal respect for these sorts of social conventions (social “contexts”) permeate Durward’s adventure. Durward’s culture and society respected social contexts so much, that Durward even followed a certain protocol with whom he would or would not duel.
Just in this passage alone, we see that Durward was very self-conscious about who he was, his position concerning the lady, and his station in regards to who he would and would not fight.
Contrast that with the modern American male of Durward’s age who, upon seeing a woman insulted, if he didn’t laugh along with the other, would have no clear sense of duty or responsibility.
When man is de-contextualized, he loses himself.