One other thing that was fascinating about Robert Weissberg’s “Alien Rule” article was this passage:

“Just travel to Afghanistan and witness American military commanders’ efforts to enlist tribal elders with promises of roads, clean water, dental clinics, and all else that America can freely provide. Many of these elders probably privately prefer abject poverty to foreign occupation since it would be their poverty, run by their people, according to their sensibilities.”  

Now, I could be wrong, but in context this seems to be implying that his view of Obama is much the same. Even if Obama’s administration brought about huge improvements in our quality of life, even if it increased our national wealth, Weissberg would nonetheless object to it, preferring his own “American” way of doing things to Obama’s so-called “foreign” way. (Though, as I explained, there is nothing foreign about it. It’s just not nationalism.)

And it’s hardly a surprising concept. Nationalism and Wealth are not always in alliance with one another. Wealth has a way of destroying traditions and institutions, especially if it grows rapidly. The wealth-generating process of “Creative Destruction” that Schumpeter spoke of is in many ways a threat to the very symbols and traditions which a proud Nationalist holds dear.

When I was a Libertarian, I was forced frequently to grapple with a very similar issue, and indeed I suspect it will very soon confront Rand Paul as well. The issue is: can economic incentives (in the libertarian case, of a free-market) bring about an end to the practice of discrimination based on things like race, gender, etc?

Theoretically, no profit-seeker would engage in discrimination when hiring. He would simply want to get the best person for the job, regardless of race, gender, or the rest. Yet, this clearly does not happen. Some of this can be chalked up, as Jonah Goldberg observed, to the fact that the market itself is interfered with to maintain discriminatory practices. But this fact alone is disturbing; for it means that politicians–and presumably their constituents–were willing to forgo economic well-being in order to keep these discriminatory practices alive.

This is not, I must stress, a veiled attempt to call Weissberg a racist. He says his dislike for Obama is not based on racial grounds, and I take him at his word. Rather, it is merely an attempt to show that adherence to old customs may trump economic advantage for a long period of time. Nor do I wish to imply that all traditions are bad, as racism was, or that upsetting tradition for economic gain is always “good”. After all, who but an Objectivist would hail as “noble” someone who valued money over his own country?

No, my point is simply that Weissberg, and his audience, believe deeply in certain American values. And these values, while they may hold among them Capitalism, and free markets, and through them, promoting the general economic welfare, are not merely these things; but rather a whole collection of traditions, of institutions, of symbols which are of high importance to them. And if forced to choose between mere material Wealth and maintaining their National pride, they will undoubtedly choose the latter.

 (Couldn’t resist posting this, but you don’t have to watch it to understand the post)

The Gunslinger linked to this piece by Robert Weissberg in American Thinker, and I’ve been trying to write about it for a while now. I encourage you to read it all, but here’s the basic point:

 “After auditioning countless political terms, I finally realized that the Obama administration and its congressional collaborators almost resemble a foreign occupying force, a coterie of politically and culturally non-indigenous leaders whose rule contravenes local values rooted in our national tradition. It is as if the United States has been occupied by a foreign power, and this transcends policy objections. It is not about Obama’s birthplace. It is not about race, either; millions of white Americans have had black mayors and black governors, and this unease about out-of-synch values never surfaced.

The term I settled on is “alien rule” — based on outsider values, regardless of policy benefits — that generates agitation.” 

It would be easy to dismiss this as racism, despite the author’s denials. And perhaps he really is a racist, I don’t know. But let’s take him at his word and suppose that he isn’t. What is it he senses from Obama that seems to him so foreign?

In his article, he lists numerous supposedly non-native things Obama has done, such as various appointments, his association with Bill Ayers (which isn’t much), his bowing to foreign leaders, his acknowledgments–Weissberg calls them apologies–for various things that America has done in the past, etc. 

But he is wrong. These things are not un-American; rather, they are merely the behavior of one who does not believe in American exceptionalism–at least not deeply. A simpler way of putting this is to say that Obama has a distinct lack of nationalistic feeling.

Now, let me make it clear that this does not (necessarily) mean Obama is lacking in patriotism. The distinction is a subtle one, and I find I cannot improve upon George Orwell’s description of the difference:  “Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation…”

Orwell, who was no nationalist, was a tad harsh in his language, but he spoke to a core truth. Nationalism is a feeling not merely of pride in one’s country, but rather a desire for–and it sounds worse than I mean it to–conquest, perhaps even for empire. And nationalism places far higher importance upon symbols and traditions than does the kind of pacifically patriotic cosmopolitanism that Obama embodies. To the nationalist, a bow to a foreign leader, or the failure to wear a flag pin, is of great significance, yet to the non-nationalist these things hold no meaning.

To this extent, Weissberg is correct in his assessment that Obama is not like “us”, if we take “us” to be the largely nationalist readers of the American Thinker. But this does not mean he is foreign. On the contrary; the philosophy of Obama’s is one that is common here, especially in the cities. This particular feeling of patriotic love of one’s own country, but lack of a desire to export it, is not foreign. It is merely the typical attitude of the cosmopolitan intellectual.

(Because this attitude is so common in the cities, it is no surprise that the nationalists have such low regard for them. When Sarah Palin spoke of “pro-America” parts of the country, it was to the nationalistic, rural areas that she was alluding, as opposed to the cosmopolitanism of the cities.)

And here we begin to see the true nature of the divide between right and left, Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal. All these titles are merely masks for the divide between nationalism and cosmopolitanism. That is the difference.

If one had to sum up what Weissberg sees in Obama in a single word, it would be not “foreign”, nor “alien”; but rather “internationalist”.