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19 July 2018

In Defence of Noticing the Obvious – Editorial Note

"In his essay on nationalism, Orwell saw this vanguard cosmopolitanism (though he does not use the phrase) as 'the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil, and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests'."

Regular readers of this editorial introduction Darling! have become accustomed to (and some doubtless exasperated by) its fascination with the themes of patriotism, cosmopolitanism and democracy. My first response to any complaint of our selection of topics would be to deny we are monomaniacal or even trio-maniacal (if that is a term). As a magazine of culture and politics, we paint from a very broad palette. Most of every issue concerns such topics as the Art Nouveau splendours of Budapest or the life and music of Bartók or memoirs from those who fought in 1956. But there is no denying that we have covered the trio of topics above quite heavily in recent years. Our reason, not excuse, for doing so is that history has been throwing them in front of us, and it would have been eccentric not to have noticed them or to wonder why.

Supporting evidence for my view is that I was recently invited to speak at the Estoril Political Forum in Portugal, held by the Institute of Politics at the Catholic University of Lisbon, on nothing other than Patriotism, Cosmopolitanism and Democracy. The Estoril Political Forum is an annual event on the Euro-Atlantic political circuit of great and growing importance. It brings together distinguished public figures, academics, and commentators from different political traditions, many European nations and institutions (Hungary is represented by Péter Pázmány University), and both sides of the Atlantic. The audience for their lectures and discussions includes the final-year students at the Institute for whom it is a highly agreeable compulsory course. And the Forum’s academic Diaghilev, Professor Joao Espada, has a genius for deciding a year ago what everyone will want to discuss today.

He also chooses speakers people will want to hear – in particular, on this occasion, Professor William Galton, who combines political and academic life in the United States with a weekly column in the Wall Street Journal. His opening lecture, which I hope we can persuade Professor Galton to contribute to a later issue of the Review, discussed cosmopolitanism and patriotism (which I will treat here as a benevolent form of nationalism) both as political ideologies and forms of love. I picked up the latter idea – love of country versus love of mankind – and ran with it.

Consider love in general. It is, first of all, various. A mother’s love for her child is different from that of two lovers for each other, from the love of friends, from that of a scholar for an institution that shelters him or that of a soldier for his regiment, and from all the many other combinations of agape and eros. Love has many consequences. It can be a source of great happiness or deeply painful, fulfilling or frustrating, a spur to achievement, a motive for sacrifice, a bachelor’s momentary distraction, the ruin of an innocent (of either sex), and on and on. How we experience love is determined to some degree by what it is mixed with. If love is returned, thus mixed with love, it can lead to great and lasting happiness. If it is corrupted by familiarity, it can lead to boredom and indifference. That indifference will disappear, however, if a rival for the loved one’s attention appears. If love is mixed with jealousy, it can lead to murder.

Now, examine love of country in the light of these larger truths. Fairly obviously, patriotism and nationalism can be virtuous or vicious depending on the passion that accompanies it. The view that it leads inevitably to war, advanced by such luminaries as the EU Commissioner Margot Wallström, ignores this complicated reality and treats all nationalisms as if they were the racist or exclusivist type. As I have argued some years ago in the WSJ, a full spectrum of nationalisms runs as follows:

from Nazism which is totalitarian racial nationalism; to fascism which is authoritarian and aggressive; to ethnic nationalism which is exclusivist, treating minorities as second class citizens (if that); to civic nationalism which opens full citizenship to all born in the national territory in return for their loyalty to the nation and its institutions; and finally to patriotism which is that same national loyalty plus simple love of country – its scenery, its sights and sounds, its characteristic architecture, its songs and poems, its people, its wonderful familiarity.


Here, for instance, is perhaps the most famous critic of nationalism, George Orwell, returning by train through southern England to London from the Spanish Civil War, expressing what is perhaps the most famous tribute to a green English patriotism outside Shakespeare:


Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving schemes bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the country gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen – all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England…


So
it is obvious that although love of country can be distorted love mixed with jealousy or resentment, so to speak – it can also be elevated by generosity. Unspoiled, it can inspire great achievements and great sacrifices and it provides society with a glue of idealistic fellowship that helps us get through the bad times war, of course, but not only war. An Austrian economist, Paul Bareau, was impressed during the 1931 financial crisis by how ordinary British citizens queued up to write cheques to the government that would reduce the UK’s national debt. He stayed on to become the country’s leading financial journalist.

How convincing, on the other hand, is cosmopolitanism as a form of love? It seems me to suffer from a great and perhaps invincible disability. In what sense can one love the world? One can love life – and the theologians tell us that we should do so, though prudently. One can love mankind, of course, but since men are so many and various, such a love would have to be spread extremely thin. And if we are honest, we will admit that other parts of the world have customs and practices which the most tolerant among us find distasteful or alarming. So a love of mankind would surely be a somewhat theoretical and even arid love. Of course, if the world were to be invaded by hostile aliens, we might then develop a kind of earth patriotism in its defence. Our differences might then shrink to very little. After photographs of the earth taken from space were published, there was an attempt to promote a collective affection for Our Blue Heaven. It never really caught on, except as an argument for environmental responsibility, and it is easy to guess why. When we assert our cosmopolitan love, we are expressing an affection for a polity that does not exist or does not yet exist.

The nation for which a cosmopolitan feels patriotism is Utopia (that is, no place) in both senses of the word. And the problem with Utopia is that it lacks most of the things that bring patriotism down to earth and restrain its potential vices: no voters, no constitution, no courts, no critical media, no interest groups, no method of throwing the Utopian rascals out. And in such an environment of total freedom, in which the planner can draw up new blueprints for a better society without fear of contradiction, the kind of politics that will almost always be practiced is what has become known as “vanguard politics”, elitism of an “avantgarde”. That cannot be a democratic politics even if it has some of the trappings of democracy. And it can pursue anti-democratic policies to its heart’s content.

So patriotism will always be a better friend and ally to democracy than even the most virtuous and restrained cosmopolitanism. In his essay on nationalism, Orwell saw this vanguard cosmopolitanism (though he does not use the phrase) as “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil, and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests”. He points out that “the devotee of some such transferred nationalism, such as a Stalinist or a pan-Europeanist, is able to be much “more nationalistic, more vulgar, more silly, more malignant, more dishonest than he could ever be of his native country or of any unit of which he had a real knowledge [i.m.]”. In particular, I would add, when that unit is the whole of humanity.

Our contributors to this issue deal with all three jostling grand concepts in sober but brilliant reflections on their current and recent interactions. György Schöpflin delineates clearly the ways, both subtle and blatant, in which the legal and political cosmopolitanism of Brussels has intruded on the democratic practices and liberal freedoms of nation states. Nicholas T. Parsons reviews and confirms the conclusions of a best-selling book by Douglas Murray that uncontrolled migration flows in time of war and revolution will likely overwhelm the life and identity of a people as well as the democracy of its state. Gyula Kodolányi revives the memory of dissident Hungarian writer Géza Páskándi who emerged from years in a brutal Romanian prison camp to mock the ruling ideas as well as the rulers who kept him there in plays that together make a serial dramatised documentary of the Absurd. In a lecture originally delivered in honour of the late Robert Conquest in Budapest on the hundredth anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution, Robert Service, Emeritus Professor of Russian history at Oxford, makes the same point as the satirical dramatist in a more straightforward yet equally indignant way. Pointing out that Conquest could hardly be denied high recognition for scholarship that made Stalin’s “Great Terror” an internationally recognisable phrase, Service quietly laments that he was nonetheless a “controversial” figure because he went on to argue that such a brutal, oppressive and retrograde system should be resisted and, if possible, overthrown – which happened in part because statesmen whom he influenced set out deliberately to engineer the overthrowing. Professor Service adds to the indictment of Lenin’s vanguard Communism that the only real innovation that this progressive philosophy gave to the world was a Hungarian one: the Rubik Cube. It is not a bad metaphor for the difficulty of getting out of a system that was a maze without exits.

All that said, no Hungarian needs lessons in patriotism from a foreigner. Hungary is one of the few countries in which even cosmopolitan citizens sing the national anthem with real enthusiasm. Gordon McKechnie’s fine review of a new book on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travels in the 1930s through Hungary as a hopeful guest in one noble house after another, by Michael O’Sullivan (no relation but a good friend and guide) is another telling of the truth that Hungary is one of those few countries that can make patriots even of foreigners.

In addition to these variations around the themes of patriotism, cosmopolitanism and democracy, you can also read about the anti-corruption measures of the Hungarian government (István Fodor), the tragic fate of a Hungarian American and her husband in Soviet Ukraine (Mary Halász), and possible scenarios for the future of the European Union.

Before I usher you onto the rest of the Review, however, let me end with a reminder that both Páskándi and Robert Conquest agree that mockery of tyrants and oppressors is not the worst way of upsetting them. Two of Páskándi’s plays (The Line and A Moment of Sincerity) are published in this issue. And though Conquest’s principal literary reputation rests securely on poems, novels, criticism and journalism as well as major historical works, he did not disdain the humble limerick. Indeed, he embraced it warmly as a demotic vehicle for truths more serious historians too often denied:

There was a grand Marxist called Lenin
Who did one or two million men in
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That Marxist called Stalin did ten in





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