Tribalism, Nationalism, and Imperialism

Today I present to my readers yet another terrifying troika: the theory of the tribe, the nation, and the imperium. However, it is my intention to present a fairly simple thesis, at least as compared with what will eventually follow. Consider this to be a kind of prolegomenon if you will, with which the reader might better appreciate the remainder of Metternichian Theory to come. If what I have to say comes across as patronising or unnecessary to anyone, then they must accept my sincerest apologies.

I am going to make a distinction between three nouns: tribe, nation, imperium; and three ‘-isms’: tribalism, nationalism and imperialism, the purpose of this being to lay the groundwork for a proper application of a classical imperialist mindset. The nouns which I mention appear on the face of things to be nothing more than historical facts: tribes existed, nations existed, and imperia existed, and whilst the question of whether or not the second of the three still exist (at least in the West) is a matter which is up for debate, tribes and imperia (in their natural forms, anyway) cannot be considered to formally exist anymore. In order to demonstrate a classical distinction between the three nouns, I shall use two historical examples: Israel, and perhaps the more obvious choice, Rome. To conclude, I shall identify what is perceived to be the problems with each of the nouns’ respective ‘-isms’, and present a preliminary case for redefinition.

Tribe: a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader. The Oxford English dictionary’s definition of “tribe” demonstrates a dual influence: one from what we might call the “classical” theory of the tribe, and one from the Roman model of tribus, traditional familial tribes bound (at least in theory) by blood, but politically serving no purpose besides indicating a certain precedence of honour. Let us set aside the Roman system for a moment. Consider instead the Jewish patriarch Abraham wandering the desert with his family. Some Biblical scholars consider the story of Abraham to have derived from similar sources to the Greek Iliad, in an oral tradition concerning the founding ‘mythology’ of Near Eastern peoples. Abraham might be considered an ancient tribal leader, who worshipped some primitive form of the deity which later Jews also revered. Abraham’s tribe split apart in a kind of early dispute concerning partible inheritance, with Ishmael’s expulsion leading to the creation of the first Arab tribes, whilst the sons of Isaac represent the patriarchs of the first tribes of what would become Israel, with (at least a perceived) common heritage, but separate dialects and geographical locations. For whilst tribes, at least insofar as we popularly perceive them, are by nature usually nomadic, they are generally confined to a certain location, which, upon the expansion of the tribe itself, becomes permanent. Consider God’s instruction to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-2:

Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.

In this, we see the idea of a nation being created from a fairly primitive origin. Indeed, it is not until quite some time after the sons of Abraham have passed on that the Nation of Israel itself actually takes shape. What is perhaps most relevant here, is the idea that from various tribes, association into a nation is inevitable, or, since in the Bible it is intimately connected to the work of God, we might also say, such association is natural. The choice of Abraham as the patriarch figure of this “unification,” only serves to reinforce the idea of the leadership of such a nation being a quasi-kingly ideal.

Nation: a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular territory. Once again the Oxford dictionary helps us here. The nation is effectively characterised as a large tribe, or as a group of tribes which set aside the minor dialectical and regional differences which they may have in order to embrace a set of characteristics which are considered common enough to all to warrant similarity. The study of early Hebrew and Syriac languages popularly spoken in ancient Palestine indicate a series of minor dialects of an early Semitic language, the Biblical variant of which that we have representing an attempt by redactors to formalise a usage of Hebrew common to all for religious and political usage. If we look at the extensive set of rules and regulations set out in the Covenant of Exodus (vid. Ex. 20-23), we might be forgiven for seeing the sheer number of stipulations as more akin to a legal constitution than a set of religious practices. Indeed, this is precisely what the so-called “Book of the Covenant” would appear to be: a constitution for a new nation. Whilst very clearly theocratic in composition, the appointment of a prophet as the de facto leader of the Israelites is soon augmented in the Book of Samuel by the need for a king to rule concurrently with the priesthood. We see a similar phenomenon in Rome. A loose association of tribes on each of the Seven Hills is united by natural association, and bound by the kingship of a strongman. The Romans, of course, threw out their king, but needing some sort of binding institution to prevent civil war between the traditional tribes of the Romans, institutions such as the Senate and the annual consulship were developed. Phenomena such as the Twelve Tables can be seen as the Roman equivalent of the Israelites’ ‘binding’ of their unique system of government with an essentially infallible constitutional document. We see therefore how an association of tribes may organise its own rules and constitutional development.

Imperium: absolute power, i.e. that which (to a certain degree) is necessary to be held by the governor of an Empire: an extensive group of states or countries ruled over by a single monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state. So an empire (or as we, by extension, have termed it, imperium) is a collection of nations, in a similar fashion to the nation being a collection of tribe. There is one major difference, however, which is that within the imperium, unlike tribes within in the nation, the constituent nations are not necessarily expected to make their own culture subservient to the common culture, or at least to the culture of the one(s) who exercise imperium, the imperator. Consider this diagram:

Model of the Imperium
Figure: Model showing the nature of nations within an imperium 

If the reader will forgive the rather crude representation which I have devised, he will see that, whilst the imperium contains the nations which are a part of it, it does not penetrate them in the same way that the nation penetrates the tribe. Israel is a prime example of a nation which has been subsumed within several imperia over its lifetime. The Roman imperium began as a series of clients and protectorates of the Roman nation, dependent on Rome for matters of foreign policy, but otherwise essentially “autocephalous” to appropriate the ecclesiastical term. An equally good example would be Achaemenid Persia. The curious nature of such empires tends to be that, over time, nations within empires often come to be governed by representatives of the emperor’s nation, such as in the Roman proconsular system. Even still the cultural makeup of empires, whilst free to the concept of exchange (itself a natural part of internal trade), tended to remain regionally homogeneous. Hence, whilst the language of say, France, is distinctly Romance, the ethnic makeup of the French people has been judged to be for the most part derived from the ancient Celtic tribes of the region, with a healthy mix of Frankish (Germanic) blood for good measure. The southern French tend to be of either Italic or Greek origin (again, in keeping with ancient ethnic realities).

Sometimes nations are destroyed by imperia. Take Israel. If an imperium relies upon the concept of absolute power for its existence, then an existential threat to its authority must be taken seriously. The ancient Israelites’ reluctance to pay their taxes to Caesar, coupled with a religious faith which imbued the concept of moral (if not practical) superiority, made national martyrdom in the face of overwhelming odds far superior to submission in 70 AD. So much for dissent. Yet, the fate of ancient Israel allows us to draw something important from history: absolute power, whilst it may be accommodating to difference, cannot be accommodating to the idea that one nation is superior to the others within the imperium, certainly not the imperator‘s nation. And now, we see why we are coming onto the detailed reasons why our philosophy significantly diverges from that of those who we oppose.

“Weren’t the Romans xenophobic though? That’s why the empire worked, surely?” Such is the lilting refrain of the ethnonationalist. It is indeed true that the Roman culture demonstrated some muscle-flexing, and when your nation has become the centre of an organised empire covering the known world, that is not surprising. But the praxis of empire is very different to the private sense of superiority which “the average Roman” (itself a terrible, cringe-worthy historical usage) may or may not have held. In reality, whilst the Roman emperor was very much the ‘Head of the Church’ as far as politics went, he was also an arbiter between the provinces. The emperor Marcus Philippus is suspected to even have been an Arab! By the latter stages of the empire, the bloodline of certain emperors and major families had become so diluted that it would difficult to characterise the traditional epitomes of “Rome” as being Roman at all, at least in any “pure” sense.  So the Roman people cannot have been too worried about the Romanità, to use Machiavelli’s term, of their emperors, as compared with genuinely important things, such as the maintenance of social order—the breakdown of which (partly stoked by mass-migratory invasions) was the principal factor in the demise of Rome.

So we have seen that the imperium is a natural answer to the confederation of nations and tribes. But does this make us “imperialists”? In one sense, yes it does, but in order for us to become imperialists, we must first eschew the liberal usage of the “-ism”. I am naturally suspicious of -isms; they tend to be invented with the pretense of describing a natural phenomenon, when in fact they represent nothing more than the artificial desires of an ideological movement (ahem, liberalism). The modern left is vociferously anti-nationalist and anti-imperialist, or at least, it is paradoxically opposed to the liberal conceptions of these ideas. Nationalism, tempered in the fires of 1789-1848, connected the “interests of the nation” to political policy. The nation, rather than being treated as an organic entity, became a democratic excuse to exercise the tyranny of a (most likely) non-existent majority. Now that the aims and values of ’89 have triumphed, there is no need for nationalism any more, hence the left’s hatred of it, but it was never a particularly useful idea anyway. Imperialism on the other hand, as the left understands it, is equally liberal: being merely the other side of the national liberal coin. Liberal imperialism, essentially a racialist and Godless ideology seeking to remake the world in accordance with a Nietzschean “will to power” or “x-culture’s burden to improve y-culture”, only serves the same aims of liberal teleology: a march towards increased personal autonomy and the abolition of the moral point of reference. Under the system of the classical imperium, where a certain submission to power, and the healthy competition of nations for influence upon that power keeps order in balance, such a teleology is not merely undesirable, but incompatible with the imperial system.

It is for these reasons that I also remain sceptical of attempts to revive tribalism. To turn the natural development of human peoples into a kind of politically normative telos appears rather too similar to the liberal -isms described above. I could be incorrect, but it seems fairly certain, from what I have described, that the imperium is vastly superior as a system which allows for the interests of all nations to be treated with a degree of sound justice.

In short: imperialism must be redefined. It is not the supremacy of one over the other, but the agreement of many to be have an arbiter of their security. To quote Moldbug, who seemed to be unknowingly paraphrasing Hobbes:

The basic idea of formalism is just that the main problem in human affairs is violence. The goal is to design a way for humans to interact, on a planet of remarkably limited size, without violence.

Especially organized violence. Next to organized human-on-human violence, a good formalist believes, all other problems – Poverty, Global Warming, Moral Decay, etc, etc, etc – are basically insignificant. Perhaps once we get rid of violence we can worry a little about Moral Decay, but given that organized violence killed a couple of hundred million people in the last century, whereas Moral Decay gave us “American Idol,” I think the priorities are pretty clear.

The key is to look at this not as a moral problem, but as an engineering problem. Any solution that solves the problem is acceptable. Any solution that does not solve the problem is not acceptable.

And if we think we know that liberal nationalism can only lead to endless foreign war, interventionism, and undue centralisation, why, then a naturally decentralised group of nations, with a universally-respected absolute arbiter would appear to be a perfect solution to the problem of nationalist violence.



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