I’m suffering from shyster fatigue and so I need a break. Which explains this post, something of a departure from my recent offerings.
Though it’s a topic I’ve meant to tackle for a while, but kept putting off as information about the plague of crooks and shysters preying on Wales kept coming in. But now, I feel the time has come to set out my stall in that global flea market of political theorising.
Where to start? Well, I suppose a good place would be with attempting definitions of the two types of nationalism mentioned in the title. Though I’ve found too many differing definitions to quote them all here, or to even link with them, and it’s quite obvious that all definitions are coloured by the political disposition of the person giving the definition.
So why should I be different?
Ethnic nationalism is the belief in a community held together by a shared culture and past (real or imagined). It need not be – as its detractors want us to believe – ‘blood and soil’ nationalism.
It’s fair to say that most nationalisms in the world are ethnic in nature. Though some conflate or link with religion, others with language and all manner of factors. Examples of ethno-nationalism abound, from Finland to the Fertile Crescent, and from Japan to Italy.
For a start, the Finns would not have sought independence from Russia if enough of them had not agreed, ‘We are Finns, not Russians, and the only way to retain our identity in the face of a programme of Russification is to become independent’.
If we look to Ireland we see that the indigenous Irish have always wanted independence from England, while those who have opposed them in the Anglo-Norman period, the Ascendancy era, and today in the north, regard themselves as British, and different, because their ancestors came from Britain.
When the Baltic States went for independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union the Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians were opposed by the ethnic Russians living in those countries because they, quite naturally, wished to remain part of Russia. Just another form of ethnic nationalism.
Across the Middle East the Kurds, having given up on everybody who ever betrayed them (a long list), are more certain than ever that they must defend themselves, and that the surest guarantee of their future security is an independent Kurdistan.
These – the Finns, the Irish, the Balts (and the Estonians), the Kurds – are the nationalisms with which I identify. National groups that threaten no one but those who would seek to deny them their identity and/or their independence.
This I choose to describe as defensive nationalism.
Of course, when ethnic nationalism is present in larger nations it takes different forms. For if you are convinced that you belong to the herrenvolk, that your ruler is divine and infallible, or that God is an Englishman, then this gives you carte blanche to treat those outside your group with contempt.
This can reasonably be termed aggressive nationalism because it almost always leads to colonialism, and/or war, and oppression underpinned or justified by concepts of superiority and inferiority.
One of the great mysteries of politics is how imperialist powers challenged by defensive nationalism affect to believe that they are confronted by an evil. It’s strange to hear this slander mouthed by practitioners and defenders of aggressive nationalism.
Equally bizarre is hearing the left traduce defensive nationalism with casual use of slurs like ‘racist’ and ‘fascist’. Often done in the hope of silencing, or becoming the sole acceptable voice for, a national movement. As we see today in Wales.
My understanding is that civic nationalism’s unique selling point is that it’s more ‘inclusive’. Though, personally, I find this questionable, as I shall try to explain.
From my reading and my experience of politics civic nationalism seems to come in two forms. First we have the type promoted in ‘new’ countries, those that have attracted immigrants from a wide variety of backgrounds and origins.
I’m thinking here of the USA, Australia, Brasil and many other states that came into existence following their ‘discovery’ by Europeans in the great age of exploration that followed the Turks taking Constantinople in 1453.
And while we can all be inspired by the US Declaration of Independence the fact remains that these ‘new’ civic societies were built on the dispossession, sometimes enslavement, and often attempted genocide, of indigenous populations.
Throw into the mix the importation of African slaves and civic nationalism begins to look little more than an expedient for blending together immigrants from various backgrounds – as long as they’re white and Christian – into a new kind of ethnicity.
The alternative type of civic nationalism seems to be that practised by established (usually) European states that might previously have been guided – or even been brought into existence – by ethnic nationalism.
The example I shall focus on, a major country famous for its aggressive secularism, is France. Since the abolition of the monarchy and the introduction of the First Republic in 1792 France has been viewed by many as a good example of the state built upon principles of civic nationalism. And yet . . .
Whether as a republic or a monarchy, 19th century France enthusiastically joined the scramble for colonial possessions and was England’s only real rival. While internally, republican values and the promotion of the French language were little more than assaults on minority identities within the state such as Breton, Corsican, Basque, Occitan, Flemish and Alsatian.
More recently, Muslim and other immigrants to France have been condemned for not fully embracing the principles of the Republic – and thereby not ‘integrating’ – due to their religious observances. (A criticism often used to mask other objections.)
In other words, ‘Everyone can be equal, and share in the benefits of the French state, as long as they speak French, abandon all other identities and ostentatious displays of faith and are, preferably, white’. Which is little more than the pursuit of monoculturalism. Almost ethnic nationalism by another name.
While a sense of identity can often lead to the creation of a state, it could be argued that a state can also create a sense of nationhood. For many civic nationalisms create a polity wherein the population is urged to conform to a set of norms which result in a new national identity, a people shaped not by history or by culture but by structures created by man.
I’m sure that at this point many of you reading this will have recalled the failed examples of communist states, built upon ideological foundations, guaranteeing freedoms for all, yet brutally enforcing conformity in attempts to create model citizens. And even though socialism claims to be blind to racial and cultural differences China’s treatment of Uighurs and Tibetans betrays the truth, as did earlier oppression of minorities within the USSR.
Defenders of civic nationalism might argue that in the ideal state built on principles of civic nationalism everyone would be free to follow any religion or no religion, speak any language they choose, and generally do their own thing. Which might sound attractive but would never be tolerated in the real world because it is a recipe for fragmentation and disunity.
My conclusion is that civic nationalism seeks – and will often enforce – conformity more rigorously than a state built upon the foundations of ethnic nationalism if only because the latter has a head-start.
FOCUSING ON WALES
That’s enough examples from around the world, or from history, and it’s certainly enough theorising; this piece is fundamentally about Wales, about independence and how we achieve it.
A future independent Wales built upon the principles of civic nationalism is now espoused by Plaid Cymru, and this can be attributed partly to Plaid Cymru’s move to the left, and partly Plaid Cymru’s refusal to confront the colonisation strategy of recent decades that has seen Welsh people becoming a minority in many parts of the country.
While this colonisation was taking place Plaid Cymru remained silent, even condemned those who spoke out. For example, I recall Dafydd Elis Thomas, when leader of the party, likening poet R S Thomas to Jean-Marie Le Pen for speaking out on colonisation.
Having done nothing to oppose this social engineering I suppose it could be argued that Plaid Cymru has little alternative but to now promote civic nationalism.
But my real objections to civic nationalism as espoused by Plaid Cymru and others on the left is that it treats Wales as a geographical expression, nothing more.
This leftist element – wearing its ‘environmentalist’ wig – also encourages the kind of colonialist arrogance that demands Welsh land, and Welsh public funding, so that people like Rebecca Wrigley, of the Summit to Sea project, can settle here and do their own thing.
Or listen to Natalie Buttriss of the Woodland Trust give her support to this colonialist land-grab.
The age of imperialism may be over for most of the world but twenty-first century Wales has a whole new class of district officers and memsahibs. With these upper-class invaders receiving support from the bruvvers and sissters of Labour and Plaid Cymru.
But my fundamental concern with civic nationalism is that it denies the existence of a Welsh nation. In this regard it is little better than the civic nationalisms of ‘new’ countries that marginalise or totally exclude their indigenous populations.
I am a Welshman, pure and simple, and I belong to the Welsh nation. Wales is my homeland. And for many reasons I want independence.
Others promoting independence and using civic nationalism as the bait argue that independence is a logical step from devolution, but why do we have devolution? It’s because in September 1997 enough people voted, out of pride in being Welsh, to set up an assembly.
Check the results. The areas that voted Yes were those areas where most people identify as Welsh. This applied to the Valleys and Swansea Bay as well as to the Welsh-speaking west.
Come to that, why do we even have Wales? Wales is not a natural unit like Ireland and Scotland, or even Brittany. The answer is that the idea of Wales was kept alive by people who believed themselves to be Welsh.
Which is why two thousand years or more of history, and a national identity, cannot be rejected because a few leftists mistakenly think that concepts of nationhood are dangerous or passé.
I am a Welshman, and my nation is open to new members. It always has been. Throughout the ages we have welcomed people prepared to identify with us and ready to take our side. I look at Neil McEvoy and I see a better Welshman than many in the party trying to destroy him.
There is nothing narrow or exclusive in my sense of nationhood, but I object to being colonised and exploited. And I will never accept that someone has an equal claim to Wales simply because they were able to outbid locals for a house.
And are we supposed to welcome the crooks and shysters I write about? The memsahibs advocating clearances? Assorted BritNats? Or Jacques Protic and legions of anti-Welsh bigots? Get real!
There may be no written test for Welshness . . . but we can all recognise someone who’d pass, and someone who’d fail.
I know my history, and I’ve been roughing it on the fringes of the nationalist movement since the time of Tryweryn. When younger I used to run on pure emotion, but in recent decades, as I’ve come to better appreciate how the system operates, it’s given me even more reasons to want independence.
Those who don’t regard themselves as Welsh, or fail to understand the true ugliness of the present system, will need to be won over by arguing that it would be in the interests of everyone living here if Wales was independent. Here’s where civic nationalism can play its role.
But at the end of the day, as with the devolution referendum of 1997, and the extra powers referendum of 2011, the bedrock support will need to come from the Welsh-identifying element in the population.
Which means that taking Welsh people for granted, or worse, alienating them by promoting a route to independence that ignores Welsh nationhood, can only damage the chances of independence.
What is also damaging is putting the cart before the horse by trying to lay down the rules for an independent Wales without any consultation and before the objective is realised. This will alienate more people than will be enthused.
We must give as many people as possible reason to believe that their concerns and aspirations can be met with independence. And decide on the kind of new Wales we want after independence is achieved.
This broadest possible appeal is the only way to maximise support, and to achieve independence.
♦ end ♦