PATRIOTISM AND FREEDOM: A libertarian defence of national sovereignty

Patriotism and Freedom:
A Libertarian Defence of National Sovereignty (Political Notes No. 202)
By Philip Vander Elst

PDF Version of the Essay


Philip Vander Elst is a freelance writer, lecturer and C.S. Lewis scholar, and a former editor of Freedom Today.  After graduating from Oxford in 1973, with a degree in politics and philosophy, he spent more than 30 years in politics and journalism, serving in free market think-tanks and writing for British and American papers on both sides of the Atlantic. His many publications include: C.S. Lewis: a short introduction (Continuum, 2005), From atheism to Christianity: a personal journey (, 2011), The Principles of British Foreign Policy (Bruges Group 2008), and Power Against People: a Christian critique of the State (Institute of Economic Affairs web publication, 2008), Vindicated by History; Statism’s 19th century critics (Cobden Centre, 2012) and God and Liberty: a libertarian challenge to secular liberalism (, 2014).

Three quarters of a century ago, when Britain was fighting for her life and the freedom of Europe, no important body of opinion would have questioned the value of patriotism or the importance of preserving and cherishing our nationhood as a focus of resistance to Nazi totalitarianism. Pride in our heritage, our sense of connection with the past and with the achievements of our forebears, were not only second nature to millions of people in the Britain of 1940, but were widely shared throughout the English-speaking world and helped to mobilise opinion against Hitler. Men and women in the United States and the British Dominions drew strength and inspiration in these years of crisis from their common historical and cultural roots, and these were celebrated in literature and song, on the screen and printed page, from one end of the world to the other. Penguin Books, to cite a typical example, published two anthologies during this period – Portrait of England and Forever Freedom – which are a treasure trove of prose and verse celebrating our Island story. They sing the praises of our countryside and institutions, our traditions and people, in the words of Shakespeare and Milton, Emerson and Whittier, Burke and Jefferson, and countless others.

Today, however, such sentiments strike a jarring note and are generally ridiculed by so-called ‘liberal’ opinion as outdated, narrow-minded, and even (in the eyes of some) ‘racist’. We are told, instead, that the nation-state is an anachronism, and that truly enlightened people should embrace, as a long-term objective, the supranationalist vision of world government. In the meantime, it is argued, rather than clinging nostalgically to the idea of national sovereignty, the preservation of peace and international co-operation requires, in the case of Europe, continued progress towards the establishment of a single supranational European State. To quote the words of Philip Kerr (Lord Lothian), written in the 1930s and prominently displayed in the Visitor Centre of the European Parliament building in Brussels: “National sovereignty is the root cause of the most crying evils of our time and of the steady march of humanity back to tragic disaster and barbarism…The only final remedy for this supreme and catastrophic evil of our time is a federal union of the people.”

This paper accepts none of these assertions. It will argue, on the contrary, that the drive to abolish national sovereignty and create a European State, and the ideal of world government, represent a betrayal of the liberal internationalist tradition and are a serious threat to the long term survival of freedom and democracy. True internationalism does not, like the European Union, seek to create new structures of State power to rule over previously independent nations. Rather, it embodies and expresses a spirit of generous sympathy and co-operation between sovereign countries, based on mutual respect for each other’s traditions, institutions, and liberties. Far from requiring the destruction of patriotism, liberal internationalism recognises the vital role it plays in binding together and sustaining free societies. This paper will also argue that the widespread belief that nationalism is the “root cause” of war and “the most crying evils of our time,” is historically inaccurate, philosophically confused, and politically naïve. And finally, to counter the common charge that ‘Brexiters’ and other opponents of European integration are anti-European xenophobes, this paper will argue that contrary to decades of propaganda from the EU and its supporters, the true glory of Europe, and the secret of her creativity and dynamism as a civilisation, has lain in decentralisation and diversity rather than in size and empire.

The link between patriotism, nationhood, and internationalism

To begin to understand the libertarian internationalist case for patriotism and national sovereignty, travel back in time to a political meeting on an autumn day in late Victorian England. There, in a speech at Dartford, in Kent, on 2nd October 1886, Lord Randolph Churchill emphasised the liberating role Britain had played in European history since the 16th century:

“The sympathy of England with liberty, and with the freedom and independence of communities and nationalities,” he declared, “is of ancient origin, and has become the traditional direction of our foreign policy…It was mainly English effort which rescued Germany and the Netherlands from the despotism of King Philip II of Spain, and after him from that of Louis XIV of France. It was English effort which preserved the liberties of Europe from the desolating tyranny of Napoleon.” And, “In our own times,” he concluded, “our own nation has done much, either by direct intervention or by energetic moral support, to establish upon firm foundations the freedom of Italy and of Greece.”

Had he not subsequently died at such a tragically young age, Lord Randolph could have completed his 1886 summary of Britain’s liberating role in European history by noting that together with her allies, and under the leadership of his own son, she freed the European continent from the scourge of Nazism and Fascism in 1945.

Some years before that speech of Lord Randolph Churchill’s in Dartford, a similar note was struck by an older Victorian contemporary, J.R. Wreford (1800 – 1881), who wrote a famous poem containing these memorable lines:

“Lord, while for all mankind we pray,
Of every clime and coast,
O hear us for our native land,
The land we love the most…”

Here, then, we have two typical expressions of 19th century British patriotism – a speech and a poem – both of which testify eloquently to the fact that love for one’s own country in no way implies a lack of regard or sympathy for the cultures, institutions, patriotic loyalties or interests of other nations, just as our love for our families does not prevent us developing good relationships with our friends and neighbours, or indeed with strangers. That this should be the case ought not to surprise us, despite all the politically correct globalist and pro-EU propaganda about the supposedly ‘selfish’ and ‘bigoted’ nature of ‘nationalism’.

Whilst it is true that human sympathy and feelings of solidarity are naturally strongest when they reflect a sense of common interest and identity rooted in shared values and a common heritage, it does not mean that they remain confined within those limits. We first develop our sense of connection with others within those “little platoons” about which Edmund Burke, the father of British Conservatism, waxed so lyrical in the 18th century – that is, within our families, localities, and regions. But then, by a natural process of experience and discovery, we go on to perceive our links with a wider community and learn to identify with the country and nation whose language and culture plays such a key role in shaping our minds and lives. If, in addition, we have grown up in a liberal democracy like Britain, we also learn to identify with other societies which share our commitment to liberty and the rule of law – especially if, like Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the United States, they are linked to us historically as former colonies. Human sympathy, in other words, grows naturally out of a widening circle of association, and the very fact that we love our country and are proud of its achievements and traditions, helps us to appreciate the patriotic sensibilities and feelings of other nationalities, and can bring out the best in us rather than the worst.

Patriotism is a noble sentiment compatible with other loyalties

As British Conservative philosopher and statesman, Arthur Balfour (1848-1930), put it long ago in his 1913 lecture on ‘Nationality and Home Rule’:

 “The sentiment of nationality is one of a group of such sentiments for which there is unfortunately no common name. Loyalties to a country, a Party, a constitution, a national sovereign, a tribal chief, a church, a pact, a creed, are characteristic specimens of the class. They may be ill-directed; they often are. Nevertheless it is such loyalties that make human society possible; they do more, they make it noble. To them we owe it that a man will sacrifice ease, profit, life itself, for something which wholly transcends his merely personal interests. Therefore, whether mistaken or not, there is in them always a touch of greatness. But it has to be observed that the kind of loyalty we call patriotism, though it expresses a simple feeling, need have no exclusive application. It may embrace a great deal more than a man’s country or a man’s race. It may embrace a great deal less. And these various patriotisms need not be, and should not be, mutually exclusive.

It is therefore no coincidence, that this Scottish and British patriot should have felt a generous sympathy for the national aspirations of the Jews after centuries of suffering and exile. It is not strange that he should have lent his name to that famous declaration of 1917 (the ‘Balfour Declaration’) promising British support for the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.[i] Nor is it surprising, as that quote from Lord Randolph Churchill revealed, that patriotic 19th century liberal England openly defended and supported the emerging liberal and national movements in Italy, Greece and Belgium, as an earlier England had fought side by side with the Dutch against the imperial armies of Philip II of Spain in the latter half of the 16th century. It was patriotic empathy, a belief in liberty, and a sense of reverence and gratitude for her matchless heritage, which moved Byron (1788 -1824) to participate in Greece’s struggle for independence from the tyranny of the Ottoman Empire. That was the spirit which inspired such famous lines as these, from his poem, ‘The Isles of Greece’:

The mountains look on Marathon –
And Marathon looks on the sea;
And musing there an hour alone,
I dreamed that Greece might still be free;
For standing on the Persian’s grave,
I could not deem myself a slave.

Not only, then, is it absurd on a theoretical level to regard patriotism and loyalty to the nation-state as the chief cause of hatred and conflict between peoples and countries, but it is also historically illiterate. With the exception of tribal conflicts within primitive communities and continents, more wars have been caused by religious and ideological divisions and by the dynastic ambitions of powerful monarchs and princes than by the forces of popular nationalism. The wars of the Middle Ages in Europe, for instance, were usually either family quarrels between contending monarchs related to each other by blood or marriage, or struggles for power between these monarchs and their rebellious barons, or between the Pope, representing the Church, and the Holy Roman Emperor or some other secular ruler. Later on, the earthquake of the Reformation ushered in a century and a half of bloody religious strife between Catholics and Protestants, whilst Central Europe and the Balkans were the scene of a recurring conflict between Islam and Christianity, echoing in its fierce intensity the costly battles in Palestine between Christian and Saracen during the early Crusades.

It is therefore not only untrue to portray nationalism as the inevitable or principal source of division and armed conflict in the world; it is also unfair, since some wars have actually been provoked by attempts to suppress rather than advance the cause of national self-determination. As one modern historian and critic of European integration, Dr Alan Sked, has pointed out:

“…nationalism has many advantages: it reconciles classes; smoothes over regional differences; and gives ordinary people a sense of community, pride and history. European nationalists are themselves seeking precisely those benefits from ‘The European Ideal’. It is therefore ironic that they should blame nation-state nationalists exclusively for war. For a strict account of modern European history would show that it was largely the refusal of supranational, dynastic states – the Ottoman, Habsburg and Napoleonic empires – to allow for national self-determination which brought about wars. Likewise, in the twentieth century, it was the Kaiser’s bid for world power…and Hitler’s racial mumbo-jumbo which led to world conflict. In short, it has been the apparent redundancy of the nation-state and the yearning for continental power-bases which in previous centuries has more than once led to the negation of ‘European Civilisation’.[ii]

Tyranny, not nationalism, common factor behind most wars

Here we come to the real heart of the matter, which is that the chief cause of hatred and war is not the existence of national diversity and sovereignty, but what the Bible describes as ‘fallen’ (or in secular language, imperfect) human nature. “Out of the heart come evil thoughts”, said Jesus in the New Testament (Matthew 15:19), so when flawed human nature is tempted and corrupted by excessive concentrations of power, the inevitable results are as disastrous for international relations as they are inimical to peace and freedom within individual countries. What this suggests, then, is that the true lesson of history, as Dr Sked’s analysis implies, is that it has been the appetite for power and dominion of tyrannical rulers and oligarchies, which has been the common factor behind so many wars. Furthermore, the bloodiest of these conflicts have been those where that predatory desire for power has been reinforced by intolerant and aggressive ideologies that have had nothing to do with patriotism or nationalism in the ordinary sense.

The millions who died, for instance, in the great European and world conflagrations of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and in those of our own more recent and terrible 20th century, were the victims of revolutionary Jacobinism, Bonapartism, National Socialism and Communism – of movements and ideologies which transcended ordinary national loyalties and appealed instead, or as much, to race, class, hero-worship, or utopianism. Consequently, the second great lesson they teach us is precisely the opposite one to that drawn by European federalists and other advocates of supranationalism and world government. Far from being the key to opening the Pandora Box of war, national sovereignty and loyalty to the nation-state is one of the essential pillars of a free and peaceful international order, since it represents an institutional structure and a focus of sentiment which is decentralised, and therefore an effective obstacle to the construction of transnational totalitarian power blocs and ideologies. Moreover, by inculcating a love of country in the hearts of men and women, patriotism and a sense of shared nationhood helps to motivate people to defend their inherited rights and freedoms, and so mobilises powerful emotional forces against actual and potential oppression. What else saved Britain in 1940, motivated the Resistance movements in Nazi occupied Europe, and eventually defeated Hitler? What else motivated the people of Poland to resist Soviet and Communist tyranny when their country lay imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain during those long and dark years between 1945 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989?

Whilst it may be understandable that many sincere advocates of the European ideal of ‘ever closer union’ fail to see the link between patriotism and freedom, and pride themselves on what they believe to be their superior motivation and knowledge of history, it is nonetheless ironic that they seem unaware of the degree to which their supranationalist vision of a European State disregards the insights of one of the greatest of all European political philosophers.

More than two hundred years ago, that great figure of the French Enlightenment, Montesquieu (1689 – 1755), drew attention to the way in which, unlike Asia, the geography and topography of Europe erected natural barriers to despotism because they favoured the physical dispersal of nations, and therefore the decentralisation of power. As he put it in his famous treatise, De l’Ésprit Des Lois:

 “In Asia they have always had great empires: in Europe these could never subsist. Asia has larger plains; it is cut into much more extensive divisions by mountains and seas…in Europe, the natural division forms many nations of moderate extent, in which the ruling by laws is not incompatible with the maintenance of the state…It is this which has formed a genius for liberty, that renders every part extremely difficult to be subdued and subjected by a foreign power.”

It is hard to imagine, reading those words, that Montesquieu would have failed to welcome Britain’s historic 2016 Referendum vote to leave the European Union, with its encouragement to other European citizens to resist the illiberal goal of ever closer European integration.

Sovereignty, liberty and the problem of mass immigration

The connection between national sovereignty and liberty is highly relevant to the perennially vexed and controversial issue of immigration. Politically correct ‘liberals’  always imply that the desire to restrict immigration is morally suspect or reprehensible because it supposedly stems from a xenophobic dislike of foreigners, and is therefore bigoted and racist. Even when political pressures force them to acknowledge people’s legitimate concerns about the impact of mass uncontrolled immigration on schools, hospitals, housing and transport, they do so reluctantly, always wanting to change the subject to the need for more government action to create jobs and improve public services. Yet whilst it is obviously important to combat racists and welcome the positive contributions made by so many immigrants to our economies and societies, there is a strong and principled moral and libertarian case for acknowledging the right of individual countries to control their borders and the flow of migrants seeking to cross them.

In the first place, it should be obvious that a country’s right to control its borders and restrict immigration is an essential component of its national sovereignty. If it is not allowed to determine who is or is not permitted to cross its frontiers and settle within them, or become one of its citizens, it cannot maintain its distinctive national character or preserve its political independence. Consequently, if we value an international system in which political power is decentralised, we should recognise that mass uncontrolled migration threatens its institutional and cultural foundations, and should therefore be curbed.

A second and related argument is that liberal democracies cannot preserve their sovereignty, cultural unity, political institutions, and liberties, if they open their doors to too many migrants whose cultural affiliations, beliefs and values are fundamentally at variance with those of a free society. This truth is particularly relevant to the vexed and politically sensitive question of mass migration from the Muslim world, especially within the context of the global rise and spread of radical militant Islam.

As the annual reports of international human rights monitoring organisations like Freedom House (based in New York) regularly reveal, most of the Islamic world is blighted by religious intolerance, sectarian violence, and political tyranny. Despite some welcome progress in some countries in recent years, women remain largely second-class citizens, freedom of thought and speech is non-existent or heavily restricted, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities are generally trampled under foot. Some two million Christians, for example, have been driven out of their Middle East homelands over the past 20 years [iii]. But the greatest victims of all, of Muslim violence and intolerance, have been and continue to be other Muslims. According to a 2007 study by American Harvard-trained scholar and Middle East expert, Daniel Pipes, and Professor Gunnar Heinsohn of the University of Bremen (where he heads the Raphael-Lemkin Institute for Comparative Genocide Research), “some 11,000,000 Muslims have been violently killed since 1948, of which 35,000, or 0.3%, died during the sixty years of fighting Israel, or just 1 out of every 315 Muslim fatalities. In contrast, over 90% of the 11 million who perished were killed by fellow Muslims. [iv]

To highlight these facts, and the difficulties they pose for European countries struggling to control immigration from the Muslim world, is not to indulge in Islamophobia or to deny the fact that most Muslims currently living and working in western countries live at peace with their neighbours and contribute to our societies. It is simply to draw attention to what is nevertheless a genuine political and cultural problem widely acknowledged by liberal Muslims and human rights activists.

In March 2007, for example, a brave group of Muslim writers and intellectuals came together at a ‘Secular Muslim Summit’ in St. Petersburg, Florida, USA, and issued a freedom manifesto called The St. Petersburg Declaration. This declared amongst other things that: “We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called ‘Islamophobia’ in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights…We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid structures of orthodoxy…” [v] In a similar vein, the liberal Muslim Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society declares in its mission statement that “We believe that Islamic society has been held back by an unwillingness to subject its beliefs, laws and practices to critical examination, by a lack of respect for the rights of the individual, and by an unwillingness to tolerate alternative viewpoints or to engage in constructive dialogue.” [vi]

Against this background, is it really ‘racist’ or illiberal for western governments to seek to limit the entry into their countries of large waves of migrants which, because of the places and cultures so many of them come from, will inevitably include a potentially growing minority of Muslims who advocate sharia law, do not recognise freedom of conscience or speech, treat women as inferior beings, and feel no loyalty or attachment to their non-Muslim host communities? Even if one ignores the growing threat of Islamist terrorism, and the ease with which its practitioners and supporters can now enter Europe in the guise of economic migrants or asylum seekers, are not existing and settled Muslim immigrant communities as threatened by the rise of radical Islam as the rest of us – especially young liberated Muslim women seeking higher education and a choice of husband and career?

The link between national sovereignty and personal freedom

The libertarian case for national sovereignty concludes, finally, with the observation that since peace, harmony and wealth creation primarily depend on the voluntary co-operation and enterprise of private individuals, organisations, and businesses, that is, on all the myriad relationships, activities, and institutions of civil society outside the State, a peaceful and harmonious world requires that the coercive power of government be kept to a minimum, and maximum scope be given to personal initiative, effort and creativity. That may seem a utopian dream given the frailty of human nature and the prevalence of so many false ideas and ideologies, but such a world is more likely to become a reality (at least in part) if its existing free societies retain (or regain) their sovereignty and independence, trading freely with each other and co-operating, on an inter-governmental basis, in defensive alliances and the pursuit of common solutions to regional and global problems. In such an international environment of competing tax systems, centres of power, and legal jurisdictions, connected to each other by free trade and travel, and all the panoply of modern communications, private individuals and independent institutions will always have more room to breathe, and greater freedom of action, than if they are imprisoned within a world of monopolistic supranational regional power blocs, or worst of all, some monopolistic system of global government.

The single most important historical fact about the 20th century is that more people, 170 million of them, died in internal repression under tyrannical rulers and governments, than in all its wars combined.[vii] Bearing this in mind, no true friend of liberty should have any hesitation in opposing the misguided idealism of those who believe that abolishing national sovereignty will lead to a better world.


[i] Readers who may question the moral legitimacy of the Balfour Declaration and Zionism in general, should read my web paper, In Defence of Israel: key facts about the Arab-Israeli conflict (32 pp), available at

[ii] Dr Alan Sked, Good Europeans?  (London: the Bruges Group, Occasional Paper 4, November 1989).

[iii] For more details see: op cit, In Defence of Israel, p.26.

[iv] For full details go to

[v] To read the full text of the Declaration go to

[vi] Ibid for further details.

[vii] For fuller details, see: R.J. Rummel, Death by Government (Transaction Publishers, USA, 1996), and The Black Book of Communism (Harvard University Press, USA, 1999).  

ISBN: 1856376745
ISBN 13: 9781856376747

© 2016: Libertarian Alliance; Philip Vander Elst

The views expressed in this publication are those of its author, and not necessarily those of the Libertarian Alliance, its Committee, Advisory Council or subscribers.


22 thoughts on “PATRIOTISM AND FREEDOM: A libertarian defence of national sovereignty

  1. [quote]”The millions who died, for instance, in the great European and world conflagrations of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and in those of our own more recent and terrible 20th century, were the victims of revolutionary Jacobinism, Bonapartism, National Socialism and Communism – of movements and ideologies which transcended ordinary national loyalties and appealed instead, or as much, to race, class, hero-worship, or utopianism. Consequently, the second great lesson they teach us is precisely the opposite one to that drawn by European federalists and other advocates of supranationalism and world government. Far from being the key to opening the Pandora Box of war, national sovereignty and loyalty to the nation-state is one of the essential pillars of a free and peaceful international order, since it represents an institutional structure and a focus of sentiment which is decentralised, and therefore an effective obstacle to the construction of transnational totalitarian power blocs and ideologies. Moreover, by inculcating a love of country in the hearts of men and women, patriotism and a sense of shared nationhood helps to motivate people to defend their inherited rights and freedoms, and so mobilises powerful emotional forces against actual and potential oppression. What else saved Britain in 1940, motivated the Resistance movements in Nazi occupied Europe, and eventually defeated Hitler? What else motivated the people of Poland to resist Soviet and Communist tyranny when their country lay imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain during those long and dark years between 1945 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989?”[unquote]

    I have some sympathy for this view, but I am not completely convinced. I think you paint a rosy picture of the national concept and its facility for promoting peace and order, and it’s in the example of Nazi Germany that I think the argument fails – but not for the reasons you might think. I think it’s appropriate that I address this through the Nazi example, since you appear to have adopted completely the conventional wisdom that Nazism and Fascism were “evil”. I am not at all sure that this is true, and I do know that Britain was not “saved” in 1940.

    (i). Hitler was an ethno-nationalist, not a racial nationalist. Although there was an element of Nordicism or Pan-Aryanism in the Nazi project, Hitler’s motivation was the greater good of Germany and any aggression the Nazis had was in pursuit of what they believed to be the national interests of Germany.

    (ii). There was little or no nationalist justification for Britain’s meddling in continental affairs during the late 1930s or our entry into a continental war – but even if there was, that would also undermine your argument, since the question would then be why Britain considered it necessary to wage war outwith its territory, when there was no threat to its own existence (see (iii) below).

    (iii). Nazi Germany was not a threat to the territorial integrity of Britain. The Nazis were never serious about invading Britain as their ambitions were eastward. Hitler was very explicit in this regard, making it clear that he wanted a compromise or alliance with Britain. Why didn’t Britain pursue this?

    (iv). Britain was the aggressive party in Europe, not Nazi Germany. Hitler did not violate the Munich Agreement. This immediately becomes apparent to anybody who bothers to read the Agreement itself, which I suspect very few people have. At best, Britain was reluctantly pushed into fighting Germany by groups within the country that wanted a war as it served their own agenda(s). At worst, Britain pursued war for its own perceived national interests. The truth is probably a combination of these.

    • Various points worth making:

      1. Britain had no legitimate foreign policy interest in stopping Hitler. I agree. By 1939, we were in charge of a crumbling world empire, and just about up to holding it together. Germany and Japan were objectively allies in the process, as they were enemies of the Soviet Union – our main competitor along with the United States. Therefore, whatever moved Hitler close to the Soviet border was good for Britain.

      2. Britain was the aggressor in 1939. I don’t wholly agree. That guarantee to Poland was insane in terms of British interests and incapable of being performed. However, it was given, and a rational German leader should have taken it into account. Time was on Hitler’s side. The Poles were terrified of Soviet Russia. Germany was their only potential ally. All Hitler had to do was send the right ambassador to Warsaw to spend a little money and make a few polite noises. Sooner or later, the Polish Government would have caved in. Instead of that, Hitler thought he could get away with invading and partitioning the country. In my view, he was a reckless gambler who mishandled Germany’s entirely reasonable complaints about the post-War settlement in the East and ended by destroying his country. If AH had been a rational actor, he’d have died in his bed c1955 and there would still be statues of him all over Germany, and 50 million people wouldn’t have died before their proper time.

      • My points above were in the context of the original post. I find Philip Vander Elst’s arguments attractive, but I think there are too many counterpoints for it to hold water.

        But that might be because I hold to a National Socialist perspective, whereas Vander Elst probably regards Nationalism in its proper form as obstinately concerned with the affairs of a people within their own borders. I don’t consider this realistic. National Socialism is simply the healthy acknowledgement and expression of Man’s Nature. Vander Elst wishes to straight-jacket it in an ethically conscious imagined community that, we must assume, will no selfish self-interest to pursue beyond its own eternal static borders. Thus the real debate here is between materialism (National Socialism) and romanticism/idealism (Nationalism).

        I struggle with this folksy notion of Hitler as some kind of Monster. If you deny he was a ‘rational actor’, then you imply that he proceeded with his thoughts from emotions rather than facts and logic and that this presented some kind of special or exceptional debility that would explain his ultimate failure, but in this regard Hitler would be no different from any other person put in the same position. None of us are rational actors. As far as I can tell, the only sensible thing we can do is assess the quality of actions and the outcomes. In that regard, Hitler’s record is of course mixed, as you rightly point out.

        It seems to me that people cling to the “Hitler was crazy” idea because they can’t accept the reality that true nationalism is basically Darwinism. They prefer the Scrutonian proposition of nationalism as the highest ethic. Thus, Hitler can’t have been pursuing a national ethic – and I would agree, he wasn’t, and I suspect Hitler himself, on due reflection, would probably agree too. Hitler was a militant reactionary, not a soft conservative liberal like Roger Scruton is. He had no time for the formation of an abstract national ethic beyond simply the advancement and progression of the German and Aryan folk.

        But Hitler not rational? If Hitler wasn’t a ‘rational actor’, how did he manage all this:

        served bravely as an Army messenger, earning an Iron Cross;
        led a tiny political party with only a handful of members to national (and international) power in the space of 15 years;
        formed the government of Europe’s largest country;
        built an Army that would conquer an entire continent, with territories from the Arctic to the Sahara, from the Atlantic to the heart of Russia.

        I think the idea of Hitler as a Crazy Man also emanates from his anti-Semitism and reflects a belief that anybody who is anti-Semitic is not rational. This of course ignores the ample evidence that great thinkers throughout history, including Jesus, both Johns in the Bible and no less a luminary than the founder of Christianity, St. Paul, were all anti-Semites, as were a number of key figures in British history.

        Hitler was also known to rant and rave, but then, he did have a lot to worry about, running a country and everything, so perhaps this is understandable.

        I don’t necessarily want to get bogged-down in an argument about Hitler and the Nazis, but I admit to having some bias towards Hitler: I think he was a great man. However I am not a Hitler-worshipper, and I am British after all, and I had grandfathers (and one grandmother) who actively served in the war, one of whom suffered greatly and spent the rest of his life as a drunk living out of bus shelters. Therefore I would have reason to dislike Hitler and Germans if I wanted to, but I don’t because I prefer to look at facts. I regard some of the words used by the author in the essay like ‘dictatorship’ and ‘totalitarianism’ as nothing more than buzz words. What is ‘totalitarianism’? What is meant by a ‘dictator’ or ‘dictatorship’? These words just mean nothing. They are journalistic terms for people and regimes that aren’t liked.

        I disagree with your assessment in the matter of Poland, but only because I believe a fair assessment of the facts favours Hitler. That is not the case with all assessments of Hitler. He made two key strategic blunders, in my view – failure to make peace with Britain or America, or both; and delaying the invasion of the Soviet Union (my view is that the problem wasn’t that Germany invaded the USSR at all, but that they did not do so with due haste). There is also the open question of Nazi complicity in atrocities in eastern Europe, and the extent to which the German High Command ordered these (as opposed to simply not doing enough about them or ignoring them as incidences of war). It is perhaps worth noting, briefly, that in Hitler’s Germany, native Germans were prosecuted in the criminal courts for insulting Jews (in a similar manner to the Garron Helm prosecution) and German officers were brought before court martials for mistreatment of Jewish internees.

        In the matter of Poland, I side firmly with Germany/Hitler. The German claim for access to the Danzig corridor and its East Prussian ethnic enclave was entirely legitimate and well-founded. Britain and France’s guarantee to Poland was a clear ruse to make a rational settlement harder to achieve. It was Britain, among others, that provoked what became known as the Second World War – and it only became known by that moniker due to British involvement. The ‘among others’ includes, ironically, Poland herself – in the matter of Czechoslavakia – a rather dirty and inconvenient historical fact that is forgotten in favour of falsities.

        None of which is to say Hitler was a good man or a bad man – he was just a man who did good and bad things, just like you and I. He put his trousers (or lederhosen) on one leg at a time, just like we do. He wasn’t the Devil. To portray him as such – which is the undercurrent of almost-all comment on Hitler – is not very informative, in my view. Why not just say you don’t like him and have done with it?

        • The point I am making is not that Hitler’s foreign policy objectives were in any sense irrational, but that he pursued them in a reckless manner. In August 1939, he had a straight choice:

          1. Invade Poland and certainly start a war with Britain that Germany could not win and might not be able to settle by compromise, and that would eventually mean fighting the United States;

          2. Tell his generals to wait another two years, and give serious thought to bringing the Poles into his harem.

          The second would almost certainly have succeeded. The second obviously led to disaster.

          It doesn’t matter how reasonable Germany’s claim may have been to union with Austria or to the Sudentenland, or how well his generals smashed up France, and would have got to Moscow but for the weather. Hitler had a choice in August 1939. Goering knew what was happening. Hitler chose war. On even the most national socialist assumptions, he is to be condemned.

          • I don’t agree that Hitler is to be condemned, but I suppose that is an ideological/philosophical difference between us,

            I will however focus on this question – was Hitler rational? You used the term ‘rational actor’ as if it should be considered a counterpoise to Hitler’s personal qualities, but I think the ‘Crazy Man’ hypothesis is just a metonymy used by people who dislike Hitler. Hitler may have been demonstrably reckless at times, but that does not mean he was irrational, and in a fair assessment of his qualities, incidences of his recklessness would have to be weighed against instances when he was successful in pursuing his goals. He was reckless and foolish during the Munich Putsch, but he learned the necessary lessons from this and became successful. You can be reckless in the sense of not thinking things through, and you can also be reckless in the sense of taking risks that aren’t really necessary. I think the recklessness you’re thinking of falls into the second category. Hitler had big ambitions and pursuing them necessarily involves significant risk-taking beyond the scope of what most ordinary people can grasp.

            I do understand the point you are making: that in assessing Hitler’s rationality we have to consider the hand he was dealt and try to avoid falling into the trap of ex post facto justifications. However the background to the Polish matter is relevant in assessing whether Hitler acted rationally as this influenced his choices. Your understanding may be simplified and based on the popular idea of Poland as a victim, but this was not the case. In addition to Germany’s rightful claims against Poland, the Poles were also pressuring the French into a war against Germany and Poland was also the aggressive party in the dissolution of Czechoslavakia.

            For its part, Germany had been carved-up and humiliated, and was now recovering its international standing and prestige. It is a statement of the obvious, but bears repeating, that Germany’s competitors had an interest in ganging-up and frustrating Hitler’s revanchist ambitions. You are suggesting Hitler should have exercised greater forbearance in circumstances when it could be argued that Germany had exercised forbearance enough already. We also have to take into account the standing threat from the Soviet Union and the reality that eastern Europe was (and remains even to this day) the battleground between the two great European land powers. Germany’s interest was in creating an anti-Soviet alliance, and I agree, bringing Poland into the fold was the best option, but Poland had committed itself to the side opposing Germany through the guarantee from Britain and France. This made an agreement with Poland near-impossible. Did Germany not have the right to defend itself? The actions of Britain and France frustrated Germany’s earnest efforts for a peaceful accommodation with Poland, thus the real options facing Hitler were not as you present. It was a case of either waiting for Poland to be overrun by the Soviets, or invade Poland – Hitler did the latter (ironically under a secret agreement with the Soviets).

            But if we accept your summary of the choices Hitler had, your option 1 of potentially provoking a war with Britain and France was high risk, but even there, Hitler was making a rational calculation. Even if we agree it wasn’t necessary for Germany to invade Poland, Hitler probably believed that neither Britain nor France were ready or willing to wage a continental war – a huge and forbidding undertaking for countries that were not prepared for it, whereas Germany had geared herself up for an aggressively nationalistic foreign policy for years and under Hitler was a self-confident nation.

            In any case, it was Britain and France’s choice to start the war, so we can play the same game with them and ask whether Chamberlain and Lebrun were rational. They had options, which included a peaceful settlement with Germany. We can also ask why Britain started a continental war at all, meddling in matters that had nothing to do with it, and destroying its own international position in the process? Was that rational?

            • The question is not whether Hitler was a good or a bad man, but whether he acted, on the knowledge reasonably available, to advance Germany’s interests by invading Poland.

              Whether or not Britain was ready for war – and it turned out that we were up to it – the guarantee was a declaration of war that he could take up when he wished. There was no doubt that, having issued the guarantee, we would go to war. Bismarck would have stood the generals down and waited and waited. As said, time was on his side. All he had to do was wait for the Poles to become more scared of Russia than of Germany. That, I believe, is what Goering wanted.

              Regardless of why Britain issued the guarantee, Hitler had complete freedom of action, and he chose war. Big mistake.

              His second mistake was to invade Russia as a conqueror instead of as a liberator. This was in direct contradiction of the military advice. Though he changed his policy later, he had by then done the impossible of making Stalin seem the better alternative to the Russian people. Big mistake.

              It’s one thing to insist that Germany had reasonable foreign policy objects in the East, and that Britain had no interest in frustrating these. It’s another to regard Hitler as other than a gambler. There were at least two occasions when he could have done other than he did and spare everyone a world of trouble. On both occasions, he acted like a maniac.

              • Of course I accept many of your points – we all know that Hitler had serious faults and made many mistakes – but I must enter two important caveats:

                Britain was not ready for war. The record shows that the British were soundly defeated at Dunkirk. The Battle of Britain myth allows us to believe otherwise: that we defeated Hitler. In reality, it was the other way round: we lost to the Nazis militarily. We were finished, and during debates in the House of Commons at the time, it was openly acknowledged that the future of the country hung in the balance. What stopped the Nazis invading was: (i). the English Channel; and (ii). Hitler didn’t want to invade anyway. What followed was a U.S. invasion of Britain in all but name, to the point where we even handed over our gold to the Americans (gold bullion was literally shipped across the Atlantic in containers). Had that not happened, I’m pretty sure that the outcome of the War would have rested on the USSR, and I think Hitler would have prevailed. This, in my view, would have been the best outcome for European civilisation in the long-run. In other words, I think it would have been better if we had crawled away and accepted defeated. Had we done so, the Germans would have left us alone.
                I accept that Hitler made mistakes and that he had certain personality quirks and flaws that contributed to bad decision-making, but again, that just shows he was human. My argument is with your ‘Crazy Man’ thesis, which takes things a step further and asks us to believe not only that he was innately irrational in the same way that you and I and any other individual might be, but that he was Irrational with a capital ‘I’, in a way that was exceptional compared to the rest of us – like he was a candidate for the nut house. I am asked to believe that a modern industrial state was being run by a maniacal loner from provincial Austria who, as well as being a failed arts student, son of an obscure customs official, and only having one testicle (let’s not forget that), was also off his gourd. And yet no-one intervened?

                Sorry, I’m not buying it. Crazy men don’t run countries, but there is a widespread belief that they often do and that dysfunctional societies are run by isolated crazy men – Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Charles Taylor, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong, and so on. Even figures such as Henry VIII and Cromwell have come in for this treatment, maligned as crazed egomaniacs. It’s what I call the Hitler Syndrome – a belief that through the demonisation of a prominent individual’s character, societal dysfunction can be explained, and military intervention by the ‘Good Side’ can be justified.

                • I’m not saying that Hitler was “crazy.” I am also ignoring any moral element to his objectives. All I am doing is to judge him as a competent statesman.

                  It should have been obvious in 1939 that the Polish guarantee was taken seriously in London; and that a British declaration of war would be followed by American entry; and that, regardless of what might happen on the Western Front, Britain could not be invaded or defeated, and would be a thorn in Germany’s side.

                  In August 1939, Hitler was winning. He had overturned most of the Versailles Settlement. He had the solid support of his people and the best armed forces in Europe. He had no enemies capable of invading Germany. There were reasonable doubts whether the French were up to repeating their Great War performance. Russia was a military nullity in the absence of British and American support. Britain had pressing difficulties in the Middle East and the Far East and in India; and large sections of the British ruling class were looking for an excuse to de-escalate hostility to Germany. All Hitler had to do was to wait for Poland to drop into his mouth. If he then chose to start his crusade in Western Russia, it would have been with full Polish and East European cooperation. It might also have been with tacit British and even American support.

                  Instead, he made a deal with Stalin that strengthened the Soviet regime’s domestic and foreign position, and triggered a war with Britain that could not be won, regardless of what it might cost us. I ask again – would Bismarck have done this? Would Goering? Would anyone who wasn’t puffed up with superstitious belief in his personal destiny?

                  In June 1941, Hitler was in a position that could not be sustained in the long term. Britain was a ruthless and an effective enemy. We were building a vast military effort that outclassed anything Hitler could have managed. We were putting together a network of military and economic alliances to contain Germany. America was already half into the War.

                  Invading Russia made some strategic sense. But the invasion had to be quick, and it had to involve co-opting the Russian people. It had to be seen as a war of liberation. Do this – take out Western Russia – and the British might eventually lapse into another Phony War that would be followed, in due course, by a negotiated peace. The isolationists in America would be able to ask the war party who was to do the fighting against Germany, and where.

                  Instead, he launched a war of atrocity. The Russian villagers came out with their priests to welcome the invaders, and were told that the collective farms would be kept going, and that they were to be coolies in a German empire of settlement and exploitation. He ignored Molotov’s suggestion that both sides should adhere to the Geneva Convention, and oversaw the death by starvation and disease of millions of Russian prisoners of war. He made the Russian people choose Stalin over himself. Only when it was too late did he allow his subordinates to try building an anti-Soviet coalition in the conquered territories.

                  If Hitler had shrugged in March 1939, and told his generals to prepare for a German-Polish attack on Russia after 1942, he might have beaten Russia. Or he might have delayed his crusade indefinitely while building up German hegemony in Eastern Europe. Whatever the case, his revolution would, by 1950, have been irreversible in Germany, and his obituaries would have called him the greatest German leader in history. If the British guarantee to Poland was inadvisable, the choice to trigger it was entirely Hitler’s.

                  As said, I make absolutely no comment on whether Hitler was a bad man. All I do is to judge him by pragmatic standards. In full knowledge of the outcome – or at least of the probable risks – he chose war in September 1939. I suggest that even national socialists should regard him as a disaster.

                  • The dispassionate element to this discussion, insofar as it examines Hitler’s tactical and diplomatic shortcomings or otherwise is interesting.

                    This isn’t something I myself have considered much over the years, as I’m not greatly interested in war tactics. Until recently I was a somewhat inflexible and ideological libertarian and have always seen Hitler as bad and therefore worthy of waging war against. Largely following the consequences of the demise of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi however, that is no longer my invariable world view.

                    I would be interested to read a considered and objective assessment of the pros (if there are any), and cons of the Nazis point of view or whether there would have been any positive side to their succeeding in whatever it was they were trying to achieve. By that, I don’t mean a contrived account advanced by Holocaust deniers and clandestine Nazi sympathisers.

                    I would also be interested to read an assessment as to how much of the decision making was solely dependent on Hitler’s own whims. Most of what I’ve read over the years tends to refer to the Nazis as if they were a one man band, at least insofar as absolute authority was vested in Hitler. Might there not have been other centres of influence in the Nazi and German State apparatus when decisions were made?

                    If not, it doesn’t say much for Germany. It’s true that Germany had not, at the time, acquired much of a democratic culture. But what we call ‘democracy’ is not the only route via which government by some form of ‘consent’ is arrived at. In England for example, even Medieval Kings had to give some thought to what rivals, supporters, and those in between, had to say.

                    • [quote]”I would be interested to read a considered and objective assessment of the pros (if there are any), and cons of the Nazis point of view or whether there would have been any positive side to their succeeding in whatever it was they were trying to achieve. By that, I don’t mean a contrived account advanced by Holocaust deniers and clandestine Nazi sympathisers.”[unquote]

                      One problem was the Nazi reliance on a fascistic/authoritarian model of National Socialism in power. This, I think, contributed to Germany’s defeat, and even if the Nazis had prevailed, would have probably led to the collapse of the Nazi state in due time – just as the Soviet Union eventually collapsed due to a failure during the 1950s/60s to expand Stalin’s modernisation into the political and social sphere.

                      A possible explanation is that the Germans are authoritarian by nature, and thus National Socialism, as Germany’s sonderweg or folkway, reflected this. This is of course a simplification, and maybe unfair, but I think there is some truth in it. Germany has its famous Ordnung culture, which is pervasive. Anybody who has met or known Germans knows they have a certain way about them. There is also the legal concept of Rechtsstaat, which inverts our genuinely libertarian tradition of a free People and makes the citizen a subject of the state.

                      An English version of National Socialism would fundamentally differ because England is a liberal society. It would be something more along the lines of a liberal Tory government or a left-wing Labour government, but with racial immigration policies.

                      A more positive take on National Socialism would begin by pointing out that the ultimate goal was quite libertarian in nature. This is quite irony, given what I have said above about the supposed German national character, but the Nazis had a vision for the German people as Herrenvolk (literal translation: Gentlemanly People) – a noble-spirited, independent, self-reliant people living in a state of bucolic freedom. That is what was meant by “master race” – i.e. the Germans would become masters of their own destiny.

                      [quote]”I would also be interested to read an assessment as to how much of the decision making was solely dependent on Hitler’s own whims. Most of what I’ve read over the years tends to refer to the Nazis as if they were a one man band, at least insofar as absolute authority was vested in Hitler. Might there not have been other centres of influence in the Nazi and German State apparatus when decisions were made?”[unquote]

                      Hitler was not really a dictator. The reason it is thought he was is due to a misunderstanding of the Führerprinzip, which was simply a belief in a traditional society based on tiers of reasoned authority. We don’t say that Elizabeth II is a dictator, even though she does in theory have quite considerable powers that would look dictatorial, if used. The Führerprinzip meant that in Germany all power emanated from Hitler, just as in Britain all power emanates from the Crown. Hitler was Germany’s Crown. It doesn’t mean that Hitler took all major decisions (and he didn’t).

                      I accept that Hitler has become a metonymy for the Nazis, but that is only because of this undue focus on one man at the expense of the wider ideas, which are quite valid. That being said, Hitler was, in my view, a great man and I don’t hold him responsible for Germany’s failure to the extent that Dr. Gabb does.

                      [quote]”If not, it doesn’t say much for Germany. It’s true that Germany had not, at the time, acquired much of a democratic culture. But what we call ‘democracy’ is not the only route via which government by some form of ‘consent’ is arrived at. In England for example, even Medieval Kings had to give some thought to what rivals, supporters, and those in between, had to say.”[unquote]

                      Hitler was scornful of mass democracy, which he regarded as a bourgeois construct – and I think he was right.

                      The Nazis shared the traditional paeleo-libertarian view that liberty is what is important, not democracy – which is the view of most reactionaries. They aimed to create a society based on self-government – so ‘democracy’ doesn’t come into it. In doing so, the Nazis privileged the Nordic race, and the wider European white race – the British and Scandinavians would be left alone to do what they wanted, the Slavs would mostly be culturally Germanised, the southern Europeans would be ignored, and the Germans would be the spearhead ethic group of this New Order in central and eastern Europe. Hitler believed the northern European races in particular were the only race capable of living as Herrenvolk.

                  • Dr. Gabb,

                    I think you make your case very persuasively, and I must concede many of your points and I also accept I do not have your intellect.

                    My comments originally were of course a response to the article. I will defend Hitler, but he has become a modern Nero who is maligned without thought. At least your critique is thoughtful, and I don’t want to get us diverted into a discussion just on this one subject, which is vast in its own right but not pertinent to libertarianism.

        • You said “I think the idea of Hitler as a Crazy Man also emanates from his anti-Semitism and reflects a belief that anybody who is anti-Semitic is not rational.”
          Just a few brief points as I have to dash out;
          1) There is a difference between ideological anti-semitism and merely disliking Jews. My view is that the former is irrational whereas the latter is not. I am told there were 36 attorneys in the Berlin telephone directory in the 1930’s; 35 of them were Jewish. It is not unreasonable that this would provoke resentment. All races and all nationalities have characteristics both likeable and less likeable. My late father-in-law, a former SS member, disliked Jews on the perfectly arguable grounds that they ‘always work their way up to the top & leave others to do all the work’.
          2) Hitler’s and the Nazis’ anti-semitism and other ideologies certainly drove them to irrational acts; Einstein had to be wrong because he was Jewish, so some Aryan scientist came up with the ‘World Ice Theory’ which postulated that all those twinkling little stars up there were in fact chunks of ice. Ditto Mendelssohn’s inspired music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream had to be replaced by some Aryan stodge. Until 1931, the language of science was German. Once the Nazis attained power, the world centre of science switched to the United States. That doesn’t sound like a consequence of having a rational government. ‘A woman’s place was in the home’ so the Nazis resisted putting women in the workplace until it could no longer be resisted. Together with the Jews, Slavs were also sub-human, so Hitler thought he could just walk into Russia and flatten them all with one hand tied behind his back. Oh, and the Aryans had originally hailed from Atlantis. Etc. Etc.
          3) Having said all that, I believe Hitler’s achievements were astonishing beyond words. I believe he was motivated by nothing more than profound love of his country and of the German/Aryan people, and his actions were driven by the profound injustice of the Versailles Treaty. I believe he was misguided rather than evil. If it weren’t for the later atrocities which were driven by hubris combined with his ideological hatred of Jews and Slavs, he would be admired all over Europe to this day.
          4) I am mindful that it was Britain who declared war on Germany and not vice versa. Germany, on the other hand, declared war on the United States.

          • Well I don’t hate or dislike Jews. I would fall in the category of ideological anti-Semite, but I don’t agree that this some kind of crazed, irrational position. For instance, you can make an argument against Jewish influence based on political and economic power, without reference to racial issues – which is precisely what the Strasserites (i.e. left-wing Nazis) did. That is analogous to the argument today against ‘white privilege’ – which, understood properly, is not primarily a racial position. There are also racial and ethnic arguments – see for instance the work of Kevin Macdonald. Whatever you might think of Macdonald’s books and writings, I doubt you could say he is crazy or irrational.
            I think you’re cherry-picking. I am sure it’s true there were irrational Germans, and some of them were even Nazis, but this is just a selective argument. In point-of-fact, the World Ice Theory was rejected by Hitler and it is also the case that the Nazi regime retained talented Jews in its military and scientific establishments. It is true that there was ideological criticism of Einstein, but science today is also politically-influenced by liberalism – even the hard sciences are infected – so the Nazis were not exceptional in this regard.

            In the matter of Einstein specifically, a closer examination of the matter reveals that relativity was accepted, it was just an argument over the finer points as well as Einstein’s merits as a scientist and thinker (which, to be fair, is up for debate – Einstein has been trashed by scientists and historians of all political hues). Given the Nazi commitment to a technological society, it would not make sense to reject relativity altogether, and the Nazis manifestly did not do so.

            You state:

            [quote]”Once the Nazis attained power, the world centre of science switched to the United States. That doesn’t sound like a consequence of having a rational government.”[unquote]

            This is not true. For one thing, Germany remained the centre of science and engineering in a number of fields – especially aerospace and rocketry. Where do you think NASA got its rocket engineers after the War?

            [quote]”A woman’s place was in the home’ so the Nazis resisted putting women in the workplace until it could no longer be resisted.”[unquote]

            So what? I think a woman’s place is in the home too. Lots of people do – especially women.

            [quote]”Together with the Jews, Slavs were also sub-human, so Hitler thought he could just walk into Russia and flatten them all with one hand tied behind his back. Oh, and the Aryans had originally hailed from Atlantis. Etc. Etc.”[unquote]

            Again, this is simply not true. Hitler did not regard the Jews or the Slavs as sub-human. The reason you think this is because of a difficulty with translation of the German word ‘Untermensch’. The word has two literal meanings – subhuman and Under Man – but conventional dictionaries only focus on the first and, crucially, miss out the last. In the context of National Socialist philosophy, the word means ‘inferior’ people, not ‘sub-human’. The difference between the two words is like night and day, but it seems that in discussions about the eeeeviiiil Naaaartzees, all scholarly integrity and honesty gets thrown out the window. This semantics is not just idle pedantry. If you accept that Untermensch means ‘subhuman’, then you are fuelling the misconception of National Socialism as an exterminationist philosophy and the Third Reich as an immoral state; whereas, if you accept that Untermensch means Under Man, then the Nazi position starts to looks more reasoned within the context of what was understood about racial differences at that time.

            The ordinary meaning of the word ‘sub-human’ is something less than human, which is generally not what the Nazis believed about Jews, and certainly not what they believed about Slavs. As for ‘inferior’, that can have different meanings and nuances depending on the context. Nazis normally used the word in the sense of Under Man, which roughly means ‘inferior’ – which is the only way in which the word could contextually make sense anyway.

            As far as I can recall (it’s been a while now since I read the German edition), Hitler never used the word ‘Untermensch’ in Mein Kampf. He did use it occasionally in speeches and discussions that have been recorded, but the references are very context heavy and need to be understood in light of where Hitler was when he said it and why he said it. For instance, in a beer hall speech, we can imagine Hitler saying something like: “These Bolshevik subhumans need to be wiped out” – in fact, I think he did once say something very much like that about the Bolsheviks at the time of the Spanish Civil War, but that’s a political speech and needs to be understood as such. It doesn’t mean Hitler thought that Bolsheviks were literally subhuman. It’s just rhetoric from a talented orator, and reflects its time, when most politicians had to speak publicly to mass audiences full of real people and relied on luridly vivid allusion.

            In the matter of Jews, Hitler was a racial anti-Semite who regarded Jews as the enemy of European civilisation. Hitler therefore wanted Jews removed from Germany’s sphere of influence. Hitler took Jews to be part of the Untermensch – i.e. inferior peoples – not in any intellectual or commercial sense (he acknowledged their cleverness and perspicacity), but in the sense that they did not share the Aryan capacity for nobility and independence and so could not become Herrenvolk, as Germans could. The question of the Slavs was more complicated. Hitler’s objection to them was more cultural than racial. He did not regard them as Untermensch, rather, he regarded them as peoples who would need to be Germanised, which is exactly what the Nazis set out to do when occupying Slavic territories.

            [quote]”Oh, and the Aryans had originally hailed from Atlantis. Etc. Etc.”[unquote]

            Oh, and Jesus died on the Cross at Golgotha and then came back to life. Etc. Etc. And God made the Earth in six days and took a rest on the seventh.

            All civilisations need myths that on closer examination look silly to the rationalist mind, but the myths normally reflect some deeper truth. As a strong atheist, even I must acknowledge the deeper moral, ethical and existential truths of Christianity and other religions. As with the Jesus myth, there is more to the Atlantis stuff than meets the eye. It’s a metaphor for a more rationalist position.

            Our present society wants us to believe that all human beings are interrelated and came out of Africa. I must concede, it does seem like a plausible theory, and intuitively it also makes sense that we are all genetically related to one another, so I for one have no particular difficulty believing it. Equally we could come up with alternative explanations – the Atlantis theory, for instance, which had it been accepted, would now be regarded as ‘common-sense’ and intuitively cognisant. All science is socio-politically framed because our observations start from individual and social priorities. We could decide that white people are descended from an ice people who were seeded by aliens, and who is to say that in some convoluted way this does not arise from a kernelled truth?

            The question here is the extent of Hitler’s and the German state’s responsibility for the actions and omissions of German bureaucrats, soldiers and officers. This, again, also links back to the causes of the war and the way it was fought. It’s too vast a subject for discussion here.

            • Unfortunately, for some reason my paragraph numbering has been deleted from my reply by the WordPress software, but it should be reasonably clear which paragraphs relate to which enumerated responses of Huge Miller.

              I wish this site had an editing feature for comments.

    • I have sympathy for much of what Mr Rogers has to say. But I’m not at all sure that this completely justifies describing Britain as the aggressor. It’s not certain that Nazi Germany would have refrained from invading Britain and in any event merely refraining from invading Britain does not justify describing Nazi Germany as non threatening.

      For centuries, Britain had striven to maintain some sort of balance of power in Europe to prevent it coming under threat of foreign domination. Britain’s interests as a trading nation could be easily damaged without it actually being invaded and occupied. But that brings me back to my point in my own reply below. If these Nation States did not exist or if they at least confined themselves to defending their own sovereign territory, few of these difficulties would arise.

      Whatever the ins and outs of whether or not the Munich agreement was breached, Nazi Germany was plainly set upon dominating, at the very least, the Central and Eastern Europe. On it’s own that might not matter to Britain. But was too much of a risk to hope that Germany, even if it did not actually invade and occupy Britain, would not, in due course set itself upon dominating the entire continent and severely hamper Britain’s interests. No one should imagine that either Norway or the UK would now have any rights to North Sea Oil or fishing if Nazi Germany was in total control of the European Continent.

      I concede that’s as much a matter of judgement as anything else. But few could reasonably argue that what we have today is not a better deal for Britain than having a National Socialist Superstate occupying the continent even if we were not formally incorporated into it. Ultimately the best way of avoiding the Second World War would have been for Nazi Germany to have refrained from invading Poland. By then, it had more than enough of the territory it could legitimately aspire to for its own security. That however is the nature of States which are militaristic dictatorships. They are never satisfied. Saddam Hussein would still be in power with tacit American acquiescence had he not invaded Kuwait.

      • [quote]”But few could reasonably argue that what we have today is not a better deal for Britain than having a National Socialist Superstate occupying the continent even if we were not formally incorporated into it.”[unquote]

        I’m afraid I will have to disagree with you. Anyway, if we’re going to be particular about this, the Nazis were not interested in conquering western Continental Europe or Britain and had they won the War, France, Denmark and the Benelux countries would have formed National Socialist governments of their own – which is an outcome I would have preferred. In the case of Britain, even if the Nazi had invaded or occupied or dominated us in some way, I doubt things would have changed very much. The Nazi interest was in neutralising us as a threat, not in conquering and ‘Germanising’ us. I have to repeat what I said previously: Hitler had no designs whatsoever on Britain or even its empire. He simply had no interest in invading this country – other than purely as a last resort for dry strategic reasons. The same applies to France – the Nazi occupation of France was primarily defensive, and this was reflected in the civilised conduct of German soldiers and officers in France.

        The relationship between Britain and Nazi Germany would have probably been something like that between Britain and the United States of the latter 20th. century, though it’s difficult to say what the dynamics of it would have been and who would have been in the dominant position. Britain might have relied on support from the USA as a compensator, and the USA might in turn have complicated the position by pursuing international ambitions of its own. Maybe the Germans would have then schemed to rid Britain of its empire, prompting a third world war? Or maybe they would have supported the British Empire on the condition that we left them to dominate the Continent (which was the deal with Britain that Hitler wanted – probably a lot would depend on how long Hitler lived for and his replacement).

        What I do know is that in the real timeline, the future of Europe is now in the balance. That would not have been the case had the Nazis won the War, and I struggle to see why anybody could consider what we have now a “better deal”.

        • I agree with much of that. We lost the war, of that there is little doubt. We lost it because what we fought to prevent has happened, and our enemies have become stronger and dominant – and I don’t mean Germany. We have been invaded, and invaded by those who ultimately will treat us far worse than Adolf Hitler’s Germany would have done.

  2. I have long felt that if Adolf Hitler had been run over by a bus in, say, 1935 or 36, we would have statues of him all over Europe commemorating him as Germany’s greatest leader.

  3. Mr Vander Elst makes a good case in favour of the Nation State, and one with which I, for the most part at least, agree. But Mr Vander Elst’s case is not an ideologically libertarian one. The Nation State is is still ‘The State’, and as such, is a potent constraint upon liberty. In some respects the Nation State is the worst of all threats, because people easily come to identify with it, and accept its authority without question. That’s one of the real threats posed by ‘patriotism’. People are easily persuaded by means of political and social pressure, along with their own sometimes admirable sense of ‘patriotism’ and ‘nationalism’, to put the interests of their ‘nation’ above the freedoms of the individuals who comprise it. It usually ends up amounting to no more than ‘national corporatism ‘.

    It’s undoubtedly correct that the Nation State, patriotism, and the sense of Nationhood, which grows from common historical roots, are by far the best defence against a serious external aggressor such as the Nazis. But the Nazi threat itself, assuming it was indeed a threat, came from another Nation State. The Nazis would have presented no threat at all to the UK had they not had the apparatus and resources of Germany to rely upon, and they would not have come to power at all, had it not been for the aspirations and ambitions of that same Nation State.

    The State is always a threat to liberty. But some States are a more serious threat than others. It’s delusional and dangerous to rely on federal international superstates, as a remedy for this threat. The EU has shown us that not only do we lose liberty, we lose democracy as well, and a nasty type of nationalism can emerge from it. But the only real nod to libertarianism in Mr Vander Elst’s paper is his assertion that these federal superstates represent a threat to the ‘freedoms and democracy’ we currently enjoy. I agree. But I don’t agree that the Nation State is not itself a threat to freedom. The Nation State is just one of the choices available for organising society, and given the dangerous world in which we live where other states exist, it has, for the reason Mr Vander Elst describes, proven to be the best and most practicable choice. But there has still been a definite price paid in terms of loss of liberty.

    Anglo Saxon, and before that, celtic Britain, were much more recognisable to a libertarian as free societies than the new Nation State which, following the advance of ‘Normanisation’ under Edward the Confessor, the conquest of 1066, and the later rise of the Plantagenets which England became. By the time Henry VIII was at his peak of power, England was to all intents and purposes a Stalinist tyranny. What we have today is its less tyrannical successor, with some ‘democracy’ tacked on. But democracy is not liberty. All the ‘Glorious Revolution’ did was replaced the sovereignty of the King with the Sovereignty of Parliament. Whether that advanced the cause of liberty of the individual is a moot point. The ‘liberty’ of Parliament is not the same as the ‘liberty’ of the individual.

    The mainland part of the United Kingdom is not even a ‘Nation’. Great Britain consists of three ‘Nations’. In that sense the United Kingdom is itself a centralised internationalist superstate. Despite the fact that it entered into the deal voluntarily Scotland has never fully reconciled itself to the arrangement. England only really accepts the deal itself because England is overwhelmingly the predominant part of the superstate, so sees itself and Great Britain as one and the same. Even that illusion is starting to unravel. When for example England suspects that Scotland might get the whip hand, such as when voters thought the SNP might obtain the balance of power in the 2015 General Election, some of England (and Wales’) UKIP, Lib Dem and even a few Labour voters, voted tactically for the Tories to stop it.

    And when England was pushed into a Union with EU states within the Bureaucratic EU, England rebelled, and Wales with its close ties with England rebelled with it. Scotland however didn’t. Scots saw the EU as no more a threat to its nationhood than it imagines England to be, and perhaps even saw the EU as counterbalance to English hegemony.

    I am disappointed to read a libertarian writer describe a ‘country’s right to control is borders’ as being in some way a celebration of the nations ‘liberty’. Control of borders might well be a necessary evil, and I support it. But border control is clearly an (albeit necessary), violation of the liberty of the individual. Without Nation States, we would, as until not many thousands of years ago were, be free to go anywhere. Neither is it correct to deny a culturally racist or xenophobic element to migration concerns. This is not merely about numbers and access to public services. No one bothers about significant population movements within the British Isles, which have over the years had similar effects upon population distribution.

    I doubt whether if some terrible fate befell the White people of Zimbabwe, or New Zealand somehow became uninhabitable, people here or in Australia, would be unable to contemplate accommodating them as migrants. Furthermore the strongest opposition to migration into the UK comes from the regions which have received the fewest, or sometimes virtually no migrants. The real clue however is in Mr Vander Elst’s assertion that failure to control migration threatens the country’s ‘distinctive national character’. That is a deeply ‘non libertarian’ remark and amounts to
    advocating state sponsored cultural protectionism.

    Again Mr Vander Elst goes on to refer to ‘free societies ‘regaining ‘their’ sovereignty to trade freely with each other’ and their ‘governments co-operating on an inter governmental basis’. I agree that all of that is desirable. But that is not the extent of any libertarian’s definition of ‘liberty’. We libertarians mean by ‘liberty’ the freedom of all individuals to trade and associate with one another, to do pretty much whatever we like and go wherever we like’. We don’t see ourselves merely as cogs in a National State, any more than we see ourselves as subjects of any international superstate. We are not focussed on ‘societies’ regaining sovereignty. We are focussed on us as individuals regaining as much of our sovereignty as is possible within the practical constraints necessary to keep an orderly society.

    As long as there are other Nation States in the world capable of threatening our individual liberties then we should probably continue to have our own. But it would be best of we had no Nation States at all, and just had communities and nations. All states are artificial constructs of some sort or another, which is why nearly all of them, were originally forged in blood, often by the brute force of one capable, authoritarian, leader, and his immediate successors.

    One interesting footnote in all of this is the curious case of Wales. I am Welsh and live in Wales. Welsh people plainly perceive themselves as a ‘Nation’. In many ways Wales is more distinctive from England than Scotland and England are from one another. We have our own reasonably widely spoken language, which pervades the day to day existence even of those who do not speak it. But everyone is proud of the language, and remember for life the Welsh hymns they learn at Primary School, even though many can’t understand a word, and have intention of learning.

    Wales has however never been a Nation State. It is merely the part of Great Britain which is neither England nor Scotland. It’s only really a ‘Nation’, because every man and his dog everywhere else claims to be part of some ‘Nation’ or other. What Wales really is a ‘community of communities’ unencumbered by the burdens of Nationhood. This is quite a rare and happy status to enjoy in the world. The early aspiration of one or two leaders to make Wales into a Nation State were snuffed out early in its history, in a way that Scotland’s was not. And common sense led the people to conclude that there was no point in resisting any further. Owing to lack of any effective resistance or threat from Wales and its’ total dominance over it, England left Wales largely unmolested. So Wales doesn’t harbour the bitter enmities against England that Scotland and Ireland do. Wales has never had the unfulfilled aspirations to be a Sovereign State in the way that Scotland has. Even most Welsh Nationalists don’t realistically aspire to Welsh Independence. They are, for the most part more concerned for a fair deal for the Welsh language. Welsh people are more suspicious of the towns and people located twenty miles away, than they are of London and the English.

    The point I make, is that Wales is an example of a quite distinctive Nation which is not a State. Whereas the United Kingdom is a successful State which is nevertheless not a Nation. And the fact that Wales never became a State has served it well. It is happy to carry on as it is as long as England doesn’t abuse it. With only one or two thoughtless exceptions in the past, England has refrained from doing so, and as a bonus dishes out vast sums of money in subsidies which owing to the disparity in size, England barely notices, and even if did would be happy to carry on paying. How long England will tolerate doing the same favour for the Scots is another matter.

    The Welsh, unlike the Scots are duly grateful, and know which side their bread is buttered on. Wales’ Devolved Parliament has the biggest UKIP Representation in any elected Assembly in the UK. My own Assembly Member is none other than Neil Hamilton who is,also (apparently), Welsh, and much to the fury of our majority Labour, Lib Dem and Welsh Nationalist politicians here, we voted in near exactly the same proportions as England to Leave the EU.

    There is endless migration from England into Wales and Welsh people move out in search of better paid work. But the strong confident character and culture of Wales never changes fundamentally. The English migrants fall over themselves to fit in, are queuing up for Welsh Language School places for the children. So the point is you don’t have to be a State to be a ‘Nation’. It’s ‘the State’ part of ‘Nation State’ that’s the problem, and the idea of ‘Nationality’ derives directly from the notion of the ‘Nation State’.

    As the wonderful Ronald Reagan observed, ‘Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem’. For ‘Government’, read ‘State’. Ronnie never followed this through to its logical conclusion. The aspiration implied in his words is un-achievable. But it’s a great one to aspire to, and some good comes from attempting to attain it.

    • Neil,

      I’ll focus here on one aspect of what you say: the distinction between patriotism and nationalism. The distinction, when it is made, always seems arbitrary and tends to be whatever the writer thinks it should be, according to his own thoughts and prejudices.

      I may as well say, “Patriots ride donkeys and nationalists ride horses”, for what good it would do. Or “Nationalists go to the pub on Fridays and patriots can be seen there on a Saturday”.

      How about this – “Patriots like Smarties and Nationalists like Mars bars”. Does that help?

      It’s the classic fallacy of arguing from a self-invented definition, which often is not a definition at all, but a description. The signal work in the field was written by Orwell: ‘Notes on Nationalism’. That essay alone has launched a thousand ships of misconceptions and misunderstandings – and that’s just among the few who have bothered to actually read it. It’s another one of those works that lots of people like to selectively quote from but have not read.

      Orwell starts the essay by admitting that his essay is not about nationalism at all, which is a very odd way to begin. He then invents his own definitions (or rather, descriptions) of nationalism and patriotism respectively, before telling us why nationalism is so awful, except most of his examples are not nationalism. An important indicator of the weakness of the essay is that Orwell doesn’t bother to examine the nature of patriotism, so that the reader finishes the essay none the wiser about the author was banging on about. His definition:

      [quote]”By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.”[unquote]

      What qualifies this as a definition of patriotism exclusively? It could just as easily be a definition of nationalism. Orwell exhibits no evidence of learning. He just pulls his definitions out of thin air, like a drunk stood at a bar.

      Also, I have to laugh at the shameless hypocrisy contained in these passages:

      [quote]”The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”[unquote]

      [quote]”In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.”[unquote]

      Anybody who has read the essay will detect the irony. This was a man who had spent the War as a ‘nationalist’ (according to his own definition), helping to justify to the ‘plebs’ a conflict that Britain needlessly started. Why did the muddle-head think that it was worth all the lies and the slaughter? Of course – because ‘we’ were fighting the Naaarrrtzees, i.e. people that Orwell decided he didn’t like, hence in Orwell’s mind, lies and mass slaughter were perfectly acceptable.

      I am prepared to accept that patriotism and nationalism are different things, but they are not opposites and in practice they overlap considerably.

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