Why Macron Is Wrong About Trump and Nationalism

November 15, 2018

by John M. Howting


“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism; nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” said French President Emmanuel Macron last Sunday. He continued, “By saying we put ourselves first and the others don’t matter, we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential: its moral values.”

This reminds me of an exchange between Enoch Powell and Margaret Thatcher. At a meeting of the Conservative Philosophy Group in London in the 1980s, the anti-war advocate Edward Norman presented a defense of British nuclear armament. His main point was that a nuclear Britain would be a safer Britain. At the close of the presentation, Prime Minister Thatcher and Powell exchanged words:

Mrs. Thatcher said (in effect) that Norman had shown that the Bomb was necessary for the defense of our (British) values. Powell: ‘No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.’ Thatcher (it was just before the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands): ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.’ ‘No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.’ Mrs. Thatcher looked utterly baffled. She had just been presented with the difference between Toryism and American Republicanism. [Emphases added]

In light of this, Macron seems backwards to me. It is as though he is saying that one first crafts a theory of a nation and then binds himself to a nation. As Richard Weaver wrote in Ideas have Consequences: “Sentiment is anterior to reason”. I would add: and, not the other way around. The patriot is born to a nation and develops an initial sentiment to his nation. The nationalist works backwards: first developing a theory of his nation and then admiring his nation for that theory. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy:

Mere jingo self-contentment is commonest among those who have some pedantic reason for their patriotism. The worst jingoes do not love England, but a theory of EnglandIf we love England for being an empire, we may overrate the success with which we rule the Hindoos. But if we love it only for being a nation, we can face all events: for it would be a nation even if the Hindoos ruled us. [Emphases added]

To President Macron, France is only worth saving if it embodies certain values. Once his country abandons these values, it is no longer worth saving, for it is no longer his country. The patriot has a different mentality. To quote English patriot Enoch Powell once more: “It is never too late to save your country.”

When Macron labels Trump a “nationalist,” he is incorrect. For that matter, when Trump labels himself a nationalist, he is also incorrect. Nationalistic ire motivates Emmanuel Macron while patriotic love motivates Donald Trump. And, when the French president invokes “what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great and what is essential,” he should think of those things for which men will honor and fight.

God did not command, “honor all fathers and mothers,” but “honor thy father and mother.” God understands human nature (after all, he created it). He knows what is truly essential to any nation, and he knows the things for which men will fight. Men will not fight for all fathers and mothers. But, nearly all will fight for their father and mother. This is universal, more universal than the “universal rights of man.”

Speaking of which, no man will fight for the “universal rights of man” or similar abstractions. As Chesterton famously said, “The soldier fights not because he hates what is in-front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Soldiers will fight for those things they leave behind in order to defend: their father, their fatherland, and their faith. Patriotic love motivates the soldier. Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay perfectly expressed the sentiment:

Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the gate:
“To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds
For the ashes of his fathers
And the temples of his gods,


John M. Howting III is a Catholic traditionalist from Southeast Michigan with a strong interest in the English Catholic literary revival. Follow him on twitter @howtingmi.

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