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August 25, 2002

God, country and family (part II)

What is a nation? Today many think of a nation as a generic term for a state. But few spoke of the Soviet nation. What about the Yugoslav nation? The nation of the United Kingdom? Something is off with using the term on these states. On the other hand, the German nation, the Japanese nation or the English nation. These roll off the tongue with ease and little dissonance. The reason is clear. Yugoslavia was a collection of nations, ethnic groups molded into one unstable polity [1]. Similarly, the Soviet Union was cobbled together from the inheritance of the Russian Empire, it was a cosmopolitan state held together by its ruling elite. On the other hand, aside from small ethnic minorities (Sorbs), Germany has been the homeland of the German volk and Japan the state that expressed the political desires of the descendents of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.

Or is it that simple? Berlin in the time of Frederick the Great had a strong Huguenot flavor on account of the expulsion of Protestants from France a few generations past [2]. The Ainu (Jomon)contribution to the Japanese genetic heritage is not inconsequential-and the Korean (Yayoi) antecedents of the Japanese aristocracy are historically established figures [3]. Nations and peoples were not created from the dust of the earth fully-formed like Athena from the mind of Zeus. Many strands of ancestry and history contribute to their formation and they are never finished products [4]. What is the prime determinant of nationhood? Some use race as the primary indicator, others use religion and still others shared history and values [5]. I think we must distinguish between contingent and non-contingent variables. One's race is determined by biology and is not molded by a host of others factors that make a nation what it is. To some extent religion can also be seen as something that is an independent variable (this is highly debatable, but the basics of a religious belief are generally a few axioms that have been formulated at some
point in the past and agreed upon, whether through revelation or as an organic outgrowth of tribal spirituality). Values or history on the other hand are a culmination and synthesis of the non-contingent variables. For instance, what if Africans and northern Europeans were phenotypically identical, while the people of the Mediterranean were distinct from the former? This change in race would have had far reaching consequences for history, perhaps not on the immediate level of battles and births but more so on the intellectual scaffolding that advanced states use to justify their actions and folkways.

But even the non-contingent factors are to some extent fuzzy. If you go to Stormfront.org, the white racialist super-site and into some of their forums, one of the most active threads is always who exactly should be a member of the
white racialist movement. There are roughly speaking narrow-church and broad-church camps. The former tend to emphasize the Anglo-Celtic (i.e. northwest European) nature of their movement. The latter include at least all Europeans, from swarthy Sicilians to Asiatic looking Russians, but will even include Aryan non-European Caucasoids [6]. There are anguished posts from those of 7/8 Anglo-Celtic southern origin that have a Cherokee great-grandmother asking if they are pure enough to be part of the movement [7]. This obsession with quotients of ancestry ironically mimics Latin America in my opinion, a comparison that I suspect many of the protagonists in the online debates would find repugnant.

Let us look to history. What was the criteria for membership of a nation in antiquity? The line between nation and tribe is fuzzy, and a tribe is often a vertical expression of family and clan. Despite their fractious nature, the ancient Greeks, the Hellenes, were clearly aware of their nationality. They banded together to protect their freedom from the menace of Persia (well, some of them, others did side with the Persians). What made one Greek? It was not a specific phenotype, for the physical appearance of many of the heroes of old were rather diverse, likely reflecting their people (Sun-blackened Herakles, red-haired Achilles and golden-haired Helen). One could point to the common Greek gods, but many religious scholars believe that only Zeus is classically Indo-European. Dionysios and Artemis were likely Asiatic imports (like Christianity, more on this in a later post). Many of the other gods might or might not be Indo-European-some of the Goddesses were certainly Minoan or Pelasgian (or more likely composites, and each god often had different faces, for instance, Athena Potnia). In addition, the Greeks were happy to find cognates among peoples they encountered, for example, Zeus-Ammon. But only Greeks were allowed to participate in the Olympic games, or were they? The early Macedonian king Alexander (not the well known one) established the Hellenic authenticity of his people and persuaded the Greeks to allow them to participate in the Olympics. But it seems certain that though the Macedonians became Hellenized they were originally a collection of rag-tag tribes of uncertain origin, likely Greek, Illyrian and Thracian-under the aegis of a warlord who later become a king. One could be born Greek, or one could become Greek over the generations (from what I know the Greek city-states were more stingy with doling out citizenship than the later Romans were, though the Macedonian conquest of Greece proper ended the debate whether the former were Hellenes). Language and a set of values that tended to exalt the polis as the prime unit of organization epitomized the classical Greeks. To be Greek was the intersection of language, custom, folkways, faith and race. None of these were set in stone and inflexible. Today to be Greek means to be an Orthodox Christian, not a pagan. And how many of today's Greeks actually are descended from Hellenized Slavs [8]? (and how many Turks are descended from Islamicized Greeks?)

So were the Greeks a proposition nation? No. Greeks were not required to sign a contract which stipulated with propositions they were to agree upon to be recognized as a Hellene. They did not pledge allegiance or read about the history of their nation in public schools. Arete was a natural part of being a Hellene. The propositions that typify being of a nation tend to emerge out of the non-contingent variables. They are simply explications of forces of history and culture that shaped a certain collection of people. In general, these people represent a certain race, but there is always movement between populations and so the boundaries are fuzzy. Grand concepts like the chasm between black and white did not exist because in general neighboring folk were not that different phenotypically, though they noted points of distinction if they existed [9]. Even people that live along the edges of a sharp racial cline are not absolutists about blood. The Ahom kings of Assam were of Sino-Tibetan origin, and yet they became Hindu kings who fought the Muslim (and Caucasoid) Moguls in defense of Indo-Aryan caste and creed [10].

Today we have a very different situation than anything that occurred in the days of old. In the United States, a Christian white northwest European core is attempting to assimilate into its political culture people of radically different origins. Some share points of similarity. For instance, Latin Americans tend to be of Christian religion. They are often of partial European extraction (some all, some none). Some Asians on the other hand are totally alien, of different religion and race. And yet they often assimilate well to the culture in this country as compared to mestizo laborers of Roman Catholic faith from northern Mexico. Nevertheless, the historical precedent has been that nations absorb and cross-fertilize with affinal people. So for example, the German or Celtic identity of the ancient Belgae (hence Belgium) is in doubt, because they seem to have been a mixed collection of tribes. German Franks and Visigoths settled in France, while later French Protestants settled Germany. Persians settled in India and Chinese in Thailand.

The fewer intersections there are, the more problematic assimilation and absorption should be. For instance, the Chinese of Indonesia have had a far more difficult time assimilating than the Chinese of Thailand. The Thais are closer racially and religiously than the Javanese and other Indonesian ethnic groups are to the Han. The core nation also plays a part in terms of their receptivity. Today's Japanese seem rather unreceptive to newcomers, as the Korean minority attests to, yet historically the Yayoi culture was formed by immigrant Koreans and stimulated by multiple migrations (first agriculturists, and then later a Korean aristocracy that had been influenced by Chinese governance and Indian Buddhism filtered through China).

What are the implications for America's sense of self? It is a no brainer that the current lack of emphasis on a common national culture is problematic. But could we return to a policy that was based on preference for Europeans as before the 1965 act? I doubt it. It seems too much a breaking with progress toward equality before the law. But, as the example of Hindu and non-religious Indian
and Chinese programmers shows, alien groups can coexist with the dominant culture even if the points of intersection are minimal. Education seems to be a neutral way to judge a prospective immigrant. Who would object if we turned down an immigrant from Pakistan who received a degree from a madrassa while we accept one with one from the University of Islamabad (my father has a masters degree from there actually)? High educational attainment indicates that one should be able to procure a modicum of wealth. Many of the jobs require an amount of socialization and collaboration that allows one to make friendships outside racial and ethnic bounds. This may later lead to marriage and ties of blood. This is a far cry from those working in low-wage jobs that tend to be narrow and restrictive in the amount of interaction that might occur. In fact some service sector jobs in California have become caste-like in their preference for Spanish speakers.

In the end, the hard-core racialists will be disappointed by any solution, because a slow but inexorable dilution of the northwest European ruling core will occur over time (white racialists have noted ominously the de-Nordicization of Bretty Crocker's face!). But that does not imply a diminution in the cultural influence of this group. Groups like the Magyars and the Finnish tribes were
genetically absorbed by their more numerous neighbors, yet they preserved their language and traditions in the face of this (also the Turks of Anatolia). The Arabs imposed their language on their Aramaic and Greek speaking subjects. Language does not a nation make, Jamaicans certainly are not English. But what if half of the ancestors of Jamaicans were British? I suspect that they would be far more English in their outlook than they are today (they might still speak with funny accent). Peter Brimelow in Alien Nation points out that Canada's use of a multiple factor point-system tends to mean that more Asians and Europeans get into the country than Latin Americans (the latter are favored by a family-reunification biased system). This is a good place to start. The university education system as it is today tends to reinforce western values rather than non-western ones (OK, I mean outside the context of America!). True, Harry Lee became Lee Kwan Hew and transformed himself into a proponent of "Asian values." But if Harry Lee had become a politician in England I suspect he would have been far more loyal to his Anglophilic Baba roots. Despite what those who push forward the idea of India being part of the Anglosphere wish to have us believe, I am starting to think that the fact that India's English speaking elite rule over a population that is most certainly non-Western is having an impact on them through diffusion [11]. But the United States is not a non-Western nation. Not yet. Keep hope alive.


Notes
[1] Yugoslavia was a coalition between very similar peoples. The Croats and Serbs are for all practical purposes one race separated by historical coincidence, the permanent partition of the late Roman Empire after Theodosius the Great into western and eastern halves through his sons. Byzantium quickly lost control of the farther reaches of Illyria (Venice was originally a Byzantine dependency) and the Croats (and of course the Slovenes) came under western influence. The Serbs on the other hand were closer to the Byzantine seat of power so they looked east for inspiration (and glory). And so it came to be that the south Slav tribes of Illyria became two nations. The Muslim Bosnians are also Slavs (I have read that their dialect of Serbo-Croat is closer to the latter). The non-Slavic minorities-Albanians, Turks and Gypsies (who tend to speak Serb in the former Yugoslavia) were not part of the political nation. The fact that Yugoslavia remained intact for almost the whole of the 20th century is a testament to the unstable equilibrium than can be maintained with some will.

[2] Names that start with de in South Africa are the legacy of the Huguenot colonists. I read once that the ancestors of the Afrikaners were about 1/4 Dutch, 1/4 French and 1/2 German (and yes, 5% non-white, whether Khoisan, Bantu or Asian). Though French and Dutch surnames remain, somehow the German one's disappeared. I suspect that the closeness of German and Dutch contributed to this, as the northern Germans that flocked to the Cape Colony were rather similar to the Protestants from the United Provinces in language, religion and physique. On the other hand, the French-speaking settlers were set off from their Germanic neighbors and resisted assimilation. On the issue of Germany, much of the Ostmark was settled after the assimilation of west Slavic and Baltic peoples (Wends and Prussians).

[3] See Bryan Syke's Seven Daughters of Eve.

[4] Not that I deny that nations can achieve an equilibrium state of relative stability. To be Han or Chinese changed greatly between 0 CE and 1000 CE as the Yangtze region and the southern coasts were Sinicized. From that point on though the pace of Sincization seems to have slowed as the boundaries of the Chinese nation had been set (i.e.; China proper). Note that genetically the Han of the north resemble the Koreans and Japanese, not the Han of the south (who resemble the Thai and Vietnamese) [See Cavalli-Sforza's work on this]. But despite the fuzzines of what a nation is, Cavalli-Sfroza notes that there is a rather high level of correlation between language and race (comparing linguistic distance with genetic distance).

[5] Islamic fundamentalists want to recreate the Islamic Caliphate, a cross-racial and cross-linguistic religious nation. Israel is a Jewish nation, which can be expressed either ethnically or religiously. One of the most interesting stories in this vein I've heard was that of a Chinese girl adopted by American Jewish diplomats in Hong Kong. Later the couple became very religious and moved to Israel. They settled in a religious area of Jerusalem. The little Chinese girl ended up being the mother of nearly a dozen little haredi children! She took care of the house while her husband studied the Talmud. This story I got from a orthodox Jewish friend of mine and she used it to express the racial tolerance of her kind, so long as the person was frum.

[6] Many of the broad-church racialists admire the Indian caste system and lament the racial mixture that has allowed their racial brethren to degenerate into becoming Mud People. They have allies from these non-European Caucasoids who post on occasion, Indian Brahmins expressing how much contempt they have for black Dravidians and mongrel brown Indians all around them (mysteriously none of these individuals post pictures so everyone can confirm that they are pure Aryans). There are also Iranians and Turks making a case for the whiteness of their people (and predictably the Turks often claim that the Indo-European Kurds are Mud People while the Persians tend to assert that Arabs are swarthy colored folk beneath contempt). It is amusing in the least. One man pointed to the online personals on an Iranian-American website to show how many blonde Persians there were. I think the old method of slapping someone in the face to see if it leaves reddish mark would serve
better (the problem with the claims of Turks and Persians is that many claim that they look too much like Jews. Ah, the horrors!)

[7] Just as Native Americans accept someone that is 1/4 of their blood as a full tribal member, this seems to be the rough point of exclusion for membership in the white racialist movement. 1/8 is probably dilute enough in the eyes of most racialists. There are members of the Klan that also members of the Cherokee tribe.

[8] From the end of the reign of Justinian the Great, when the Avars began to threaten Byzantium, to the reign of Basil the Bulgar Slayer over four hundred years later, much of Greece proper was the domain of Slavic tribes, the Skalveni. True, cities like Salonika remained redoubts of Hellenic culture, but the center of Greek civilization at this time was Constantinople in Thrace and the Anatolian littoral. Then again, the center of the English speaking world is not England-no offense Peter....

[9] You look at a bust of Caesar, and he seems to be a stereotypical Italian from his facial features (my high school health teacher looked exactly like Caesar, and he really stood out in a town generally populated by people of Scottish and Scandinavian ancestry). But the alabaster marble leaves out the fact that he was fair-skinned and blonde. There were many blonde leaders in ancient Rome (Sulla and Magnus Pompey were blondish, though more toward a ruddy shade)-but it was a trait that was more generally associated with the Celts and Germans (I believe the Greeks had term-Keltoi Gold that had a double meaning). Many Roman women wore blonde wigs that were made with hair from northern European slaves.

[10] The racial cline in northeast India is one of the sharpest in the world. There is a certain elevation above which Indian agricultural practices fail and so the heights are inhabited by people from Tibet and Burma. Physically the difference is noticeable. On the other hand, I do know of Bengalis who exhibit clear Asiatic features-sometimes almost fully. They are still accepted as Bengali. On the other hand, one reason Kashmir is Muslim today is that a
Bhotia (Tibetan) conqueror of that region was not allowed to convert to Saivite Hinduism by the Brahmins on racial grounds. The Muslims of course accepted him and he began the transformation of the Vale of Kashmir into a redoubt of Islam. Sometimes I think the Hindus have only themselves to blame for South Asian Islam!

[11] The BJP's thugishness and aversion toward innocent western imports like Valentine's Day today is more reminiscent of Islamic intolerance than Hindu latitudinarianism. As education and wealth trickle down through the classes, the empowered Hindu masse are now projecting their own chauvinism into the political process (actually, the Hindu middle classes). This is not always a good thing, and Indian cultural self-delusion resembles Islamic fantasy far more than I feel comfortable with. Myths of Aryan supremacy and Vedic literalism are waxing, rather than pluralism and restraint. I suspect the gods of their forefathers shudder....

Posted by razib at 12:26 PM