Among those who detest bureaucracy, there is a common criticism. Theodore Dalrymple indicts the British bureaucratic machine with these words:
“… Anthony Blair, with the cunning of the natural born swindler, seized his chance and created a loyal, corrupt, self-seeking nomenklatura class that remains extremely influential and easily able to outwit the blancmange-like David Cameron, who in any case so easily moulds himself to any shape going.”
The idea is simple enough. Bureaucracies represent the interests of the class from which they are drawn. Over time they ossify into a lobby for that class, at the expense of society at large. In Britain’s case, there’s a caste of people most attracted to Blairite ideology, who form the core of the public service. Their predominance explains why Britain is incapable of moving beyond a collection of stale centre-left notions, regardless of the stance of the government in power.
The analysis is a classic one. Aristotle (Politics, 4.1294a; 6.6.1320b18; 6.1.1316bb39-1317a10) and Polybius (Histories, 6.10.4-11; 6.12.4) both see the balancing of different social groups as vital for social justice. It’s not just that there are executive, judiciary and legislative branches of government. These must be staffed with the right combination of groups in order to properly represent the interests of society. If a single class monopolises an institution, the results are bad, regardless of other separations of powers.
But there’s a further perception which, I think, has escaped Dalrymple. Implicit in his criticism is the idea, conscious to him or not, that were British bureaucrats something other than a Blairite nomenklatura caste, that things would be better. That a bureaucracy can be balanced between social groups, just like a parliament, and all will be well.
The training of a bureaucrat necessarily excludes any political virtue. A bureaucrat is a cog in a political machine. His job is to maintain the state’s will despite any turmoil or emergency the country may face.
In this sense the bureaucrat isn’t dissimilar to a soldier. The conservative French philosopher Yves Simon analysed the nature of authority in 1962, sometimes using the army as a metaphor. Much of what he says can be translated over to bureaucracy. Any association of people has a common good and a common action which enables it. The common good of the army is defending the national interest against enemies, so its common action is armed campaign to defeat the enemy. To do this, it must have unanimity: every soldier must know what he’s supposed to do and how to do it.
Now, every soldier is a rational individual with his own opinions and ideas. In an ideal world, each soldier would immediately understand the why and wherefore of an order, and assent to it through reasoned argument. But the reality is that the circumstances of war are so confused, cloudy and ambiguous, that were the army to expect rational assent from every individual to every strategy, nothing would get done. There would always be a cause of doubt; always a valid motive for dissent from a plan. So, there must be a threshold where deliberation stops, and opinion becomes an order. At this point, the soldier substitutes the reasoning of a superior officer for his own. Not because he’s stupid or unable to reason, but because common action demands it.
In the military the stakes are very high: destruction, death, and annihilation. Therefore, the threshold where opinion becomes an order is low, in comparison to other organisations. In a government bureaucracy the stakes are high, if not quite so high: shortage of goods, mass hunger, economic paralysis. This is why, I contend, the bureaucrat isn’t that different from a soldier. The common action of bureaucracy is to keep the country running. Like with war, the task is loaded with ambiguity and unpredictability. So, the bureaucrat is required to frequently substitute the deliberations of superiors for his own.
But this means that an excess of bureaucracy in a country will have similar cultural effects to an excess of militarisation, but without any of the martial vigour. The training of a bureaucrat isn’t to think deeply; it’s to internalise the state’s ideology to keep the country running at all costs. A bureaucrat who thinks deeply is a liability because he’s someone who will constantly express doubts and interrupt the state’s ability to act or respond to problems. So, a society that’s dominated by bureaucrats at every level will be radically conformist, incapable of self-reflection, and unable to undertake serious reform.
The city of Sparta, because it was narrowly focused on warlike virtue, excluded all other virtues and went into decline (Aristotle, Politics, 2.1271b). Sparta made all citizens into soldiers, and so rendered them unable to act as independent rational agents in times of leisure. Once the battle was over, Spartans couldn’t think without orders to follow. Sparta stopped innovating and was outcompeted by her neighbours. Isn’t a bureaucratic state like Britain prey to a similar fate of death by ideological conformity? If the bureaucrat is the model citizen, and not the statesman, artist, philosopher, or craftsman, shall our society not also become a self-regulating idiocy?
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Destabilisation, not Conquest: Russia’s Real StrategyBy Jake Scott — 5 months ago
As the crisis in the Ukraine drags itself on, it’s become quite clear that the Russian strategy from the start has not been conquest or even necessarily annexation, but a destabilisation campaign.
As I wrote earlier this year, Russia’s style of warfare is intended to displace populations and destroy civilian centres. Alongside this, Russia has claimed and supported the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, almost definitely to create a buffer region between Ukraine and Russia. Regardless, when I wrote that the next refugee crisis was brewing in the Ukraine, I actually underestimated the figures: I suggested that, of the roughly 30 million people in Ukraine who hate Putin, perhaps 1% (300,000) might leave; in reality, the figure is as much as ten times that.
Refugee crises are challenges, and almost always met badly. But, this was what Russia was counting on: by displacing so many people (intentionally – again, due to their style of warfare), forced to move into relatively benign nations, such as Poland, Hungary and (much less likely) Belarus, Russia has laid the foundations for a refugee crisis in Central and Western Europe. It is not necessarily the policies of the receiving countries that will make this a crisis, but the simple numbers – already over four million people have left Ukraine, most of them women and children.
Europe struggled to accommodate one million of the six and a half million Syrian refugees, but even the majority of these numbers arrived in Europe across a period of years, not weeks. This is the worst refugee crisis in Europe in living memory; and unfortunately, the vast majority of refugees are not going to be returning to the country they knew. If the pictures coming out of Ukraine are anything to go by, the level of urban destruction is consistent with both the style of warfare Russia executes, and that of the Second World War. As horrible as it may sound, there is every possibility the refugees will not have a home to return to.
And this goes deeper than a physical home; there may not be a recognisable ‘Ukraine’ at the end of this. It is absurd to think, despite the general consensus amongst the Western media, that Ukraine was without its problems before this war began, and many of them were over far-right groups active in the Azov region, such as the Azov Battalion. The prevalence of ultra-nationalist, and even active Nazis in some cases, in the Ukraine is something the West has sought to paper-over, and Putin has sought to exacerbate, but the honest truth is that this is a real and enduring problem for Ukrainian politicians. Some even compared the defensive war that Ukraine is fighting to the final days of the Third Reich and the Allied bombing campaign.
This has been going on for longer than we might want to admit. In 2018, the Kievan “National Militia” attacked local government meetings in order to strong-arm them into policies they favoured; in 2019, the Azov Battalion and other far-right groups (Dnipro-1 Battallion as well) carried out pogroms on minorities; and the ultra-nationalist party Svoboda – which has 15,000 members and has a parliamentary presence in the Verkohvna Rada – is regularly accused of neo-Nazi sympathies, not to mention the fact that Belitsky, leader of the Azovs, is a deputy in Ukraine’s parliament.
Russia’s campaign has made these internal divisions public knowledge; it is spurious to pretend that Russia’s ‘de-Nazification’ claims are accurate to the situation, but it cannot be ignored that there is a major presence of National Socialists in the Ukraine.
Why will Russia’s ‘special military campaign’ make this situation worse? Put simply, the immediate (and, it must be said, necessary) arming of civilians in order to fight the Russian invasion will have long, long term consequences. Whenever this war ends – which may be longer than we want to imagine – Ukraine will be facing the problem of what to do with a well-armed, combat-experienced, pissed off population. When the United States armed the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it was seen as a necessary use of paramilitary forces to resist (again) Russian aggression. Now, Afghanistan is a mess of guerilla groups, Islamist fundamentalists and radical separatists. This whole situation was made worse by the
This problem extends to normal politics as well; Volodymyr Zelensky has dismantled the free press, claimed a conspiracy exists to oust him, and has outlawed the existence of eleven pro-Russian political parties, one of which had 10% of the Ukrainian parliament.
So, when the dust settles, Ukraine will have to contend with the reality of neo-Nazis with modern arms such as NLAWS, displaced and angry civilians with access to combat weaponry, and a gutting of as much as 10% of its population that is abroad with no home to return to.
Putin does not need to take Ukraine, or even necessarily enforce the independence of Luhansk and Donetsk. Instead, in many ways, he has done what he really needed to do; destabilise the West’s big player on its border, and likely the rest of Europe for a long time.
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The Conservatives Used to be the Party of Government and Ideas – Now They No Longer Are | Henry GeorgeBy Henry George — 5 months ago
We are being treated to a clapping seal show presented as the Conservative leadership contest. The only candidate likely to alter Britain’s course into the iceberg of national decline and total senescence was Kemi Badenoch, so of course the MPs ejected her from the contest before the final three. For a moment it looked like it would come down to a face-off between Penny “Tory Blair” Mordaunt and Rishi “Green Card” Sunak, but instead we get Sunak vs Liz “Thatcher LARP” Truss. And of course, we are now witnessing the virus of zombie Thatcherism having colonised the brains of our prospective new prime minister. Each desperately tries to out-Thatcher the other, displaying the degeneration of the Conservative mindscape into a derivative pile of philosophical junk. It used to be that the Tories actually had ideas about how to govern and how to use the state to do this. Not anymore.
Let’s survey the devastation of British national life. Inflation is at 9%, the highest for forty years. Energy prices are already a disaster, and are set to become truly catastrophic in the autumn and next winter. Productivity, bumping along for decades like a sea slug on the ocean floor, is falling into the Mariana Trench. Our levels of private debt are rocketing into the stratosphere. Our public debt is in orbit after the Covid-19 spend binge. Poverty rates are climbing and set to go even higher. The consequences in learning loss from Covid school closures for hundreds of thousands of children is an absolute disaster. A million immigrants settled here last year. Five million people have simply dropped out of the workforce and now subsist on benefits. Thousands of children have been abused, trafficked, raped, and even killed by grooming gangs. We lag behind other European nations for going back into the office. Quality of service from companies in the private sector and public services in the state sector has thudded face-first into the earth as a result. Our sainted health service is performing the worst it ever has, and is a black-hole of funding. The organs of the state have ceased to function: passport and driving licences are apparently a luxury rather than a necessity, while the main goal seems to be implementing ever more diversity and gender quotas. Our state capacity is therefore that of a poor south European country without the compensation of a pleasant climate.
And what is the answer presented to all of this? Why, tax cuts of course! This isn’t the sum total of either finalists’ policy proposals, but these are the prescriptions to our economic and social dis-ease that are being touted most vociferously by Liz Truss, the likely winner. And why would they not be? It’s always an attractive piece of political casuistry to tell people you’ll take less of their money one way while they’ll go on losing it in so many other ways. Given the British tax burden is the highest it’s been since the Second World War, this route to party popularity must seem like too good a golden road to electoral survival to miss. Never mind that the economic rationale for cutting taxes isn’t … completely watertight. It’s a sign of our political disconnect from economic reality that Sunak’s arguments against cutting all the taxes all the time has gone down like a lead-lined lifejacket with his prospective party voters. No, we must all hail our saviour Truss for her faith in the Laffer curve, an economic truism worked out on the back of a napkin and further distorted by politics towards the simplistic formula tax cuts always = higher tax revenue. Never mind that the ideology she adheres to represents the dissolution of social ties and the proletarianization of the middle class. Truss is a revolutionary in the mould of her hero Cromwell, a man who committed regicide. Yay, conservatism!
This tax-cut obsession underpins a religious vision where the small state is the worldly heaven towards which we must sacrifice and strain our sinews, an eternal truth applicable to all times and circumstances. The goal is to further liberate the individual from all bonds and constraints, enabling them to achieve this worldview’s highest good of maximum autonomy, never mind the social and cultural dissolution and chaos that it unleashes. Of course, since Thatcher’s time Conservatism as a party phenomenon has been seen as economically liberal, with nods towards some sort of cultural conservatism. This always amounts to little more than a rhetorical sleight-of-hand to distract from the economic preferences of the party elite, who themselves find the social conservatism of their members and those voters in the Red Wall embarrassing and morally retrograde. The Conservative vision of political-economy, culture and society is as impoverished as those it rules without governing are fast becoming.
Out of Ideas
What makes this all the worse is that when J.S. Mill epitomised the smug, self-congratulatory liberal style by calling the Conservatives “the stupidest party,” this was not actually true. But now the leadership candidates’ vague gestures at imitation Thatcherism looks set to prove Mill right. And yet it wasn’t always like this, and does not have to be like this. E.H.H. Green, in his magisterial historical survey, Ideologies of Conservatism, demonstrates that while the Conservative party may indeed not be as philosophical in a formal sense as the left, to say that Conservatives have always been an intellectually barren party is simply wrong.
As Green writes, “Study of Conservative intra-party debate throughout the party’s history, and especially over the course of the ‘Conservative century’, reveals that the controversy over Conservative ideas in the last quarter of the twentieth century was not unique in terms of either its nature or intensity.” The Conservatives at the century’s beginning debated tariff reform, social reform, land reform, industrial and agricultural productivity, Ireland and Empire.
Intra-party debate continued up through the 20th century, carried out in books, public and private party pamphlets and papers, speeches, articles and newspaper columns, as well as two book clubs, along with the Ashridge college of political philosophy. As Green rightly argues, “it may be that the Conservatives produce fewer ‘great texts’ (although they produce and refer to more than is frequently assumed), but if one sets aside the formal, ‘canonical’ notion of the forms of expression of political thought and examines speeches, policymaking discussions, exchanges of views and opinions in correspondence, and the construction of and response to legislation, the Conservatives’ engagement with ideas is clear, rich, varied, and extensive. Politics is about argument, and arguments are about ideas.”
This intellectual ferment was driven both by an innate interest in ideas shown by significant minority, and in reaction to changing events which demanded empirical observation and adaptation. This stemmed from a sense that to govern a great nation was a weighty and serious matter, fraught with danger and risk, one’s greatness not to be taken for granted or put at risk for ideological whim or purity. Leaders of the party actually thought things through in some depth. Even Prime Ministers engaged with the questions of the day with a depth that is incomprehensible in our time. Harold Macmillan wrote books on political-economy that reduce many such contemporary efforts to toilet paper status.
Thatcherism came from the more liberal side of the Conservative tent, but as Green wrote, it grew out of a scene rich in debate and discussion and had intellectual firepower behind it, whether one agrees with the substance or not. The network of thinktanks discussed in Richard Cockett’s book Thinking the Unthinkable communicated ideas from liberal thinkers like Hayek and developed policies from them. One can see these organisations as following in the wake of earlier arguments and institutions, seeing them as an example of what could be achieved and what to achieve it for. Now the Conservatives either serve up stale neoliberal centrism or cosplay Thatcherism.
As Aris Roussinos recently argued, the cramped vision that the Conservative party now offers is far from the full picture, and does not have to be. A series of Conservative ministers and Prime Ministers gave a more expansive view of what constitutes the Conservative vision of the state, political-economy and their relation to society (which does exist and in which we live). As Roussinos writes, figures like Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, R.A. “Rab” Butler and others argued affirmatively for the use of the state to set the course for economic action, and against unbridled, brutal laissez-faire capitalism. A strong state was not, in their view, inimical to the Conservative tradition, and was in fact integral to insuring the social, political and economic conditions that enabled the good life for families and communities.
This attempt to chart a “middle way” between the Scylla and Charybdis of totalising socialism and atomising laissez-faire capitalism is one that sits well within the Conservative tradition, among whose political ancestors we can include the true One Nation philosophy that grew out of Benjamin Disraeli. His main effort was to reconcile and unite the “Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws . . . . THE RICH AND THE POOR.”
As I’ve written before, Disraeli rightly saw that what at the time was called “Manchester Liberalism,” of economic upheaval under the guise of prosperity and social turmoil presented as progress was inimical to social stability and the good life. Disraeli saw and put into words as no-one else could that “The great body of the people of this country are Conservative. I use the word in its purest and loftiest sense. I mean that the people of England, and especially the working classes of England, are proud of belonging to a great country, and wish to maintain its greatness.”
Rachel Wolf, in arguing that what is being offered now by the leadership candidates is the polar opposite of what won the party its 80-seat majority, echoes Disraeli when he declared that “The Tory party is only in its proper position when it represents popular principles. Then it is truly irresistible”. Disraeli saw rightly saw liberalism as a liquefier of social solidarity, “composed purely of wealth and toil, based on a spirit of rapacious covetousness.” As he wrote in his wonderfully scathing way, “Liberal opinions are the opinions of those who would be free from a certain dependence and duty which are deemed necessary for the general or popular welfare. Liberal opinions are very convenient opinions for the rich and powerful.” For Disraeli, the point of governing, and why Conservatism must actually govern through the state, was to “secure the social welfare of the PEOPLE.”
The Edwardian Bridge
Between Disraeli’s vision and that of Macmillan and his generation is a Conservatism of the early 20th century that arguably links the two. Green traces the development of a British Conservatism inflected by the Idealist school of philosophy espoused by T.H. Green at Balliol. The Historical school of economists grew from this scene. The group “first came to prominence in Britain in the 1880s, and from that point on developed a sustained critique of Classical economics and what it saw as its vulgarized derivatives, Manchesterism [laissez-faire liberalism] and Socialism.” The Historical school was against free trade and for protection where needed, saw nations, unions, trusts and groups in general as more important for political-economy than the isolated, supposedly rational individual of Smith and Ricardo, and supported state intervention to create the conditions for economic prosperity through industrial productivity and thereby ease social discontent and prevent unrest.
Conservative figures like Alfred Milner, Leopold Amery, J.W. Hills, and Arthur Steel-Maitland also came from this milieu, influencing more in the party. All were in favour of using the state for social and economic reform for the common good. Through the minor figure Arthur Boutwood, E.H.H. Green argues that these Conservatives saw the individual as an ethical being whose aim was the realisation of his potential, with self-realisation the sum of life. [HG2] The role of the individual and nation were inseparable: individual self-realisation was only possible through society, as citizens of the nation into which we are born, and which provides our social, cultural, political and economic context. The potential of the individual citizen and the nation were seen as realised by each other. Citizenship was “freedom for duty,” and therefore commitment to the common good.
As Green writes, “Boutwood argued that true freedom could only come through co-operative acts that were born out of a recognition and realization of mutual needs and goals.” According to Green, Boutwood saw the relationship between the individual and the nation as one where the individual and nation had a duty to each other, and if the nation “’be not effectually and equitably serviceable, it should be made so’.” The state was to enable this, and “to achieve its ‘moral conception’ by … ‘work that sustains and fosters [the nation’s] life, that builds up its people into serviceable manhood’”, to create the conditions for individual, communal and national opportunity. In other words, to govern, and to reform where needed for the reciprocal common good.
Boutwood was, again, a minor figure, but one whose writing encapsulated a view of society and political economy that galvanised many more significant men of the time, including eminent aristocratic party members and the Historical economists. The need for politicians and economists to lay the ground for individual and national prosperity and stability was best expressed by H.S. Fox when he wrote “’The State may become social reformer without becoming Socialist, but if the State does not become social reformer it will inevitably become Socialist’.” We face similar circumstances today, and it was because of this that the Historical school and more Conservatives than one would think were in favour of social reforms including pensions and workers rights and protections. As Green writes, ‘By 1914 [the Unionist Social Reform Committee] had proposed an extension of old-age pension rights, argued for minimum wages in certain trades, sponsored several schemes for working-class housing, and was close to presenting a blueprint for a national health service.”
The central aim of this kind of Conservatism, “was to provide the basis for a socially and politically integrative strategy that could overcome tensions and divisions within Britain.” To achieve this required cultivating national unity, “which in turn required acknowledging that the nation was … an organic entity. It was here that a positive role for the State was essential, in that the State was to ensure that no particular section of society was to be systematically undervalued or over-privileged. In practical terms this meant … social reform in the domestic sphere to alleviate the privations of the poorer classes, but carried through without recourse to class-divisive rhetoric or actions.”
There is a Conservative view of the state that runs through the true One Nation tradition descended from Disraeli, which underlay the worldview and policies of Edwardian Conservatism, Macmillan’s post-war Conservatism, and was buried by Thatcherism. We obviously can’t, nor should we, replicate exactly these kinds of Conservatism for today. But we must reignite the intellectual fire that galvanised Conservatism up to Thatcher’s time, and look again at the approach of the figures above towards the use of the state in service to our political, social, economic, and national life. The country is facing a range of problems that could very well prove disastrous or even catastrophic. These will not be solved or ameliorated by pursuing small-state dogma, but by the Conservatives learning to govern again. Whether that can be done remains to be seen.
Post Views: 218
What the reaction to the Ukraine conflict reveals about national identityBy Lee Marshall — 5 months ago
A country is first and foremost its people.
Despite my best efforts I cannot remember where I came across that phrase, nor will I be so brazen to claim it as my own. Nonetheless, it has always struck me as being axiomatic, and current events in Eastern Europe have given me reason to reflect on it further.
The West, including our own country, has since the end of World War II (and in some circles even before then) eschewed notions of national identity and even the concept of the nation itself. Borders are seen by many as a physical expression of violent exclusion and “othering” of fellow human beings, who should be given immediate and untrammelled access to any society they wish; free at any point to up and leave for another.
Politicians, organisations and members of the public alike, particularly those on the Left, are quick to espouse the idea that migration and asylum are human rights, which sit above the rights and privileges that attach to existing citizens.
A cursory glance through the Guardian’s migration articles tells you everything you need to know about how the Left views borders and the right to self-determination in 99% of cases involving the West. They unceasingly extol the supposed virtues of multiculturalism and appear to truly believe in the idea of open borders, with scant regard to the existing people of a nation.
Yet on one matter, the notions of inviolable borders, the nation, its people and the right to self-determination have come flooding back into consciousness and are being defended vociferously by those who otherwise have spent the last 80 years denigrating them and holding in contempt those who seek to re-establish them as common sense norms.
What is it about the ensuing conflict between Russia and Ukraine that has stoked the fires of righteous indignation in defence of a nation presently undergoing a hostile invasion by another?
Surely the mounting death toll plays its part in this reaction. But I am not convinced that is all.
What we are witnessing, it seems to me, is on some level a tacit realisation and acknowledgement that there is after all such a thing as a nation state, a specified people attached to and belonging in that nation state, and the right of that people to remain distinct, separate, independent and free to maintain their own homeland. It is tacit, not because those who express dismay at the current situation do so silently, but because they do not openly admit the source of their opposition to Putin’s aggression.
Back in July 2021, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin wrote an article, published on the Kremlin’s official website – On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians – in which he outlines the common bonds that ultimately make Russians, Ukrainians and indeed Belarusians one and the same people.
“Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus” he writes, “bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith…[which] still largely determines our affinity today.”
Of the constituent republics of the now defunct USSR, he says “Of course, inside the USSR, borders between republics were never seen as state borders; they were nominal within a single country.”
Mr Putin argues that “some part of a people in the process of its development…can become aware of itself as a separate nation” who should be treated “with respect.” He even goes as far as to suggest that those people should be welcome to establish a state of their own, but only after a satisfactory answer has been proffered to the question “But on what terms?”
It is clear that he does not truly believe the Ukrainians (or Belarusians for that matter) are as distinct from Russians as they like to believe. This he confirms later, essentially repealing his earlier platitudes, when he writes “But the fact is that the situation in Ukraine today is completely different because it involves a forced change of identity.” In other words, whilst some people undergo a change in identity and should be allowed to go their own way, this is not the case in Ukraine who have had such a change imposed upon them; a change it appears Mr Putin feels is incumbent upon him to help them resist.
Leaving aside the moral questions surrounding Mr Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and whether he is justified in his view of the Ukrainians being fundamentally Russian, let us explore the principles he is applying.
What Putin is suggesting here is that the Russians and Ukrainians, though occupying separate, autonomous territories, comprise the same people, united by a common ancestry, language and heritage. In other words, the lineage of Ancient Rus endures, despite some fragmentation here and there along with the establishment of states independent from one another.
Such a set-up has historical precedent. The Ancient Greek City States were seen as being inhabited by fundamentally the same people – Greeks – yet each with their own independent territories, the citizens of which took on an identity derived therefrom whilst simultaneously maintaining their overarching Greek identity. One could be a Spartan and a Greek, or an Athenian and a Greek. Either way, one was still a Greek.
This shines light on something quite interesting in terms of the conception of a people. For, and I have long been aware of this, one’s citizenship merely denotes one’s rights and status within a state, not one’s membership of a people.
In other words, membership of a people, whilst it could be enshrined in law (and I think there are good arguments it should be – this appears to have been the impetus behind the idea of the nation state to being with, now weakened by lax immigration policy and the doctrine of multiculturalism), ultimately pre-exists that law and the citizenship that might formalise it. As Sir Roger Scruton wrote: “Nations emerged as forms of pre-political order that contain within themselves the principles that would legitimise sovereign government.”
This idea of pre-existence is quite clear in Putin’s understanding of the underlying indivisibility of Russians and Ukrainians. Yes, they occupy different states and maintain distinct citizenship. But, crucially, just like the Greeks, they share an overarching identity and membership otherwise not indicated by co-habitation of the same land.
No doubt millions of Ukrainians would reject this view point. Yet, in doing so, they too would be applying the same principle – namely that their being Ukrainian pre-exists the Ukrainian state. In fact they could reasonably argue, in contradistinction to Putin’s claims, that it is this very pre-existence which endows the Ukrainian state with its right to exist separately from Russia. Their very sense of themselves as a nation acts as the motivation behind their dogged defence of their national territory.
When it is said that a people have the right to self-determination, as many are now saying of the Ukrainians, which “people” do they mean? I think they can only reasonably point to a people who would in the absence of a state to call their own continue to be extant and identifiable.
If, for example, the state of Ukraine underwent a sea-change in its population such that the members of Ukrainian society, Ukrainian citizens, were largely Germans or Somalis or indeed a farrago of peoples of widely varying languages, cultures, customs, religions and historical descent/heritage, they would be Ukrainian in name only, solely by virtue of their citizenship. Assuming those who we presently know and recognise to be Ukrainian people occupy another region of the world, would they not continue to be Ukrainian notwithstanding that the territory of Ukraine would have been abandoned?
In fact it is quite obvious that Ukrainians are considered a people in their own right by the intention of the International Court of Justice to investigate claims of genocide as a result of the conflict.
According to Article II of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide is defined as specified acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.”
I would submit that an awareness of a pre-existing membership of a particular and identifiable people has long been found in those of us who believe in nation states and borders. But I would also argue that that same awareness can be found in those on the Left who are denouncing the Russian invasion. For if Ukrainians are not a people in their own right, why should they have self-determination? If, as Putin holds, they are Russians, does it make sense to say that they are entitled to that determination? It would be tantamount to asserting that Russians are entitled to self-determination from Russians. Applying that logic, there should be no opposition to Surrey declaring a bona fide independence from the rest of England.
If those crying out in defence of Ukraine do not see a people that pre-exists its nation state, but rather a people identified only by the continued existence of that state, they nonetheless do acknowledge that Ukrainians are a distinct and separate people albeit merely by virtue of citizenship, irrespective of background.
Let us assume for a moment that is the correct view. This does not change the fact that Ukrainians, even by admission of the Left, have the right to decide for themselves their own future. Such a freedom must surely be unfettered, meaning that any and all decisions that could affect them within their borders should be within their exercise of control.
I think the notion of a people based on pre-existence to a state, though manifested and formalised by the creation of a state – a homeland – is the better one, without which the nation state is less well-grounded and defensible. Another reason is that if a people are identified by the existence of the state they occupy, what happens if that state ceases to exist?
None of this is to diminish the role that territory plays in the identity of a people. On the contrary, and as alluded to above, that role is of paramount importance.
The occupation of territory, together with the establishment of institutions endowed with a sense of identity and which reflect the culture of its people, is a direct manifestation of that pre-existing status that subsists in the absence of a law that enshrines and protects it.
Scruton put it thus: “National loyalty marginalises loyalties of family, tribe and faith… [placing] before the citizen’s eyes…a country…defined by a territory, and by the history, culture and law that have made that territory ours.” He goes on to say that “Nationality is composed of land, together with the narrative of its possession.”
As such, the nation state of a people – their homeland – becomes as much a part of their identity as their cultural practices. The loss of that homeland does not to my mind destroy them as a people but it is certainly a gross offence against their identity which serves to alienate them from themselves, even if not completely.
In this way, and as now brought to our attention in the most alarming of ways, borders matter. But more than that: the reaction to the invasion of Ukraine proves to us we already knew that, including those who ceaselessly advocate for the right of all and sundry to enter a Western country as if it were more their right to do so than our right to preserve our sense of who we are by exercising full control over our borders.
Russia might be invading Ukraine with tanks; the United Kingdom has been invaded by other means – unwanted mass immigration which has encouraged millions to arrive with their own cultures and sense of who they are in distinction to us who were already here and whose sense of ourselves is intimately bound up in our own homeland, its institutions and its history – now all under assault for being less than perfect and not reflective (rightly so) of peoples whose cultures and identities evolved thousands of miles from our shores.
It is time we recognised that if, as I would agree, Ukraine has a right to exist for the benefit of Ukrainians, detached from Russia and free to determine its own future, we in the West and in particular Great Britain, have that right also. We, too, are a people. Our state, our kingdom, might be the result of a unification of the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish peoples, but each of us retains our own unique character and, importantly, homeland. Although there is some agitation to dissolve the union in Scotland (and in some parts of England), the preservation thereof derives from continuing mutual agreement without impinging on that uniqueness.
The same cannot be said for the results of mass immigration and multiculturalism which, whilst allowing newcomers to preserve their identities, serves to undermine ours whose is expressed in the country we have for a thousand years called home, but is now threatened with having to accommodate increasingly vast differences while losing the benefit of a retreat to somewhere recognisably ours such as was available to Englishmen and Scotsmen alike prior to 1945.
Any student of history can point to numerous examples of the inherent difficulties in establishing territorial dominion over multitudinous peoples who differ so widely in matters of culture and identity that open conflict eventually bursts out and engulfs the region. The situation as we face it in Great Britain, brought about by absurd notions of cultural relativity, is unsustainable.
The circumstances in which Ukraine now finds itself are objectively much more urgent and dire and, admittedly, have come about in a different manner: but the intended outcome is the same. Putin is, after all, making an attempt to reabsorb the Ukrainian people into a Greater Russian family, thereby extinguishing their identity. He will fail to do this absolutely, but if he succeeds in establishing dominion over the territory that otherwise acts as a significant expression of who they are, their identity will be materially reduced.
Such a loss would not necessarily mean a displacement of the Ukrainians to other lands, but the incursion of other peoples’ customs and laws, however similar Putin might hold Ukrainians and Russians to be. In this way, the expression of the Ukrainian people via a country and institutions that becomes less recognisable to them will serve to alienate them and prevent them from self-realisation and determination.
The Left knows this. They know that borders provide a delineation between “us” and “them” – this is of course why they hate borders. Yet in the case of Ukraine that same knowledge prompts them to defend, at least in word if not deed, the rights of the Ukrainian people to maintain a homeland for themselves.
If Putin does manage to subdue Ukraine in the immediate term, the longer term will be much more difficult. The Ukrainian people’s conception of themselves – a conception that pre-exists their own nation state – will likely prompt them to persevere in re-establishing it.
A country is first and foremost its people. But we in the West would do well to remember that if a people lose entitlement and independent jurisdiction over their homeland, whilst they might continue to endure in some form or other, their destiny will no longer be in their hands.
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