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The Weimar Mentality of Jonah Goldberg

For the record, John Lukacs has many great observations about the differences between patriotism and nationalism. The difference, to me and I believe to him, is that nationalism is rooted in the mystic concept of a nation—most famously in blood and soil—while patriotism is rooted in adherence to a creed or doctrine. A patriot in the Weimar Republic was considered a traitor by most nationalists, for example. ~Jonah "Lie For a Just Cause" Goldberg, The Corner

As already noted yesterday and earlier today, Goldberg doesn't know his Lukacs very well. But what struck me this morning as I thought a little more on this bizarre quote is this strange example about the Weimar Republic at the end. There were both ideological nationalists and ordinary German patriots who regarded people in the SDP Weimar governments as traitors, but this was tied up with both nationalist and patriotic resentment against acquiescence to various provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Resentment against the Ruhr occupation, reparations and the guilt clause, to which successive Weimar governments felt obliged to submit, fed the impression that the government of the Reich (as Germany was still constitutionally termed in the Weimar period) was not defending the people or interests of Germany. A patriot could be legitimately outraged at all these foreign impositions without therefore embracing an aggressive or revanchist nationalism. In some circumstances nationalists might regard patriots as traitors, but the Weimar example is the perfect case where this did not happen. Nationalists did not necessarily resent the Weimar Republic, whose institutional structures the Nazis maintained even after taking power, but did resent the policies of the government when it was ruled by other factions. Where Goldberg goes terribly wrong in this example is in the assumption that one's positive attitude towards the government is a measure of one's patriotism. Nothing could be more misleading or dangerous. It recalls Clinton's line that you cannot love your country and hate your government--but, of course, you can do this, and in some cases to be a real patriot you must.

A key difference in the modern period between a patriot and a nationalist lies in his response to the state: the patriot is willing to see that the interests of his country and his government may diverge and conflict, in which case his loyalty belongs to his country and causes him to work against his government, whereas for most nationalists the state is an embodiment of the nation and a force for integrating the nation, which means that to be a nationalist is often to be a government loyalist virtually no matter what it does. Today both major parties are dominated by this sort of nationalism, and as Prof. Lukacs has observed often over the past several years, and again in Democracy and Populism, the GOP has enjoyed ongoing success because it has remained the more nationalist of the two major parties. (In that light, the GOP commitment to Big Government conservatism, the warfare state and an aggressive chauvinism is not so much a departure from form as a revelation of its true form.) We are, of course, still awaiting the rise of a patriotic Front Porch Party.

Daniel Larison | June 20, 2006



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