Joseph R.


Joseph Stromberg's is on vacation. His column will return May 8.

April 17, 2000

Nationalism I: Austria, Nations, States, and Human Scale Revisited


A few weeks ago, I dealt with the overblown reaction to the electoral success of Austrian’s "far right." Since then, the watchdogs of Euro morality have taken up other subjects, but "sanctions" remain in place. Some Portuguese fellow who reigns over the EU’s central committee reportedly said lately that there were other things the EU must look after. Austria isn’t so much off the hook as on the backburner.


On February 14, 2000, I suggested that our Euro-cousins ought to get their several rights of exit clarified lest they awaken one day to peacekeeping (that is, war) being waged by the "good" upon the "bad," as decided by the actually existing socialists in Brussels. I was fairly serious. Now the immediate moment has passed, it might be helpful to tease out the main threads of the "case" against Austrian control of Austrian affairs made by our friends in the center and the center-left.

On February 6, Mr. Roger Cohen offered up what passes for historical perspective at the New York Times (see "Austria Throws Europe a Curve"). Reading him, I wondered if Austrians should have bothered resisting the Turks in the sieges of Vienna, since that resistance is one of the things behind their present bad attitude. Another is some fellow named Hitler. Please, don’t forget about that guy, even during the commercial breaks. Like Fats Waller, he may not get around much any more, but his spirit seems to be everywhere.

Cohen calls the two world wars "collective European suicide," which gave world power to the United States. He attributes "much of the European slaughter" to "permutations of nationalist or racist ideologies" (in World War One?). This slights the role of the modern, centralized state in creating the disaster. Even so, Mr. Cohen is not unfair. He observes that the Eurocrats’ line on Austria reflects their wish "to flex their muscles on the cheap and embarrass the right." Further: "officials who favor a federalist Europe perceived a unique chance to advance their cause through a new form of interference in a member state’s affairs." Finally, the Austrian Freedom Party threatens "the stifling 30-year dominance of the Social Democrats and their cronies…."


I do not think that Mr. Cohen was playing the devil’s advocate here. He was just chiding the Euro-politicos for not being as great-souled as they might be if they worked at the Times. He drops these interesting matters and urges upon us the pressing need for a new "pan-European identity, able to accommodate both Christianity and Islam." This important project – at once inevitable and virtuous – is threatened by European "far right" parties. Haider’s radical evil is shown, for example, by "his odious posters of fair and red-cheeked Austrian girls representing the essence of his country’s goodness." Odious! "The horror!" – as that shattered fellow keeps saying in Apocalypse Now.

A couple of observations might be made here. It is certain that our major left-leaning newspapers share a Secret Style Manual. Under "Stories about northwestern Europe," it would say: "Writers will sneer at hair and eye-color of local inhabitants. See also, pp. 6-7, ‘Race, Class, and Gender.’" Maybe not. I see this a lot in stories about Iceland (did they vote for Hitler [Hitler]?). This gets rather tiresome, as when earnest souls inform you that white people are "really pink." Thanks a heap. I’ll file that somewhere. Some people are so advanced that they not only feel bad about it all but also feel bad for those who don’t feel bad about it all, but should. Takes a burden off those of us who can’t get so enlightened.

One guesses that Mr. Cohen is being caustic about anything representing – for anyone – Austria’s goodness. He has already shown that Austria has no claim on any goodness whatsoever. Not even for yodeling? No, they gave us Hitler. Remember Hitler? I caught you forgetting for a second. Shame on you.


As to the main show, it would gladden my heart to see the working model of an identity "able to accommodate… Christianity and Islam." Medieval Spain is sometimes adduced as proof that Muslims in power are a tolerant lot (unlike Christians) – tolerant provided they were dominant. The 17th-century Viennese weren’t willing to try the experiment and I am told that English people get a little edgy in towns north of London as they decline to 50% of the local population. I remember watching odious Labour MPs from those boroughs say on the telly that, well, that Rushdie fellow has gone a bit too far and perhaps Her Majesty’s Government ought to broaden the blasphemy laws to ease the new voters’ pain. Some Tories chimed in.

But this is not the National Front Disco and I am only pointing out that sometimes people don’t "get along." But see the Secret Style Manual once more: "Writers will always ridicule natives’ fear of being swamped, especially where they are being swamped" (hypothetical p. 20). Whether or not mass immigration is always an unrelieved joy, a few decrees from Brussels or Washington, backed up with threats of force, will doubtless resolve things nicely. No problem. No, indeed. The problem is those who think Austria works better, as Austria, if it is mainly made up of Austrians. For the cheerleaders of "globalization," such concerns, wherever found, are contemptible and lead directly – on the hypothesis that we stand here on the edge of a very steep slippery slope soaked in lithium bearing grease – to fascism. And Hitler. He does get around a bit. He was a notable defender of particularism and local self-government. His main achievement, if I recollect rightly, was to restrict immigration.


Not to be outdone, Mr. Amita Etzioni, the high priest of communitarianism, weighed in with "Americans could teach Austrians about diversity" (excuse me while I regain my composure) in USA Today, February 14. Censure of Austria is "utterly inadequate," he writes. He concedes that mass immigration "is viewed, not without reason, as threatening Austria’s national character and identity" (my emphasis). But then who are these Austrians to have a say in such matters? They ain’t much, their sins are many, and as the Haider episode shows, they are prone to "[embrace] semifascist ideologies."

Clearly, the Austrians in question are wrong. They shall just have to get a new identity, or at least a new conception of identity. Their new identity will be so broad and friendly and diverse as to make the word needless. Whether the new post-Austrian "Austria" will be, in any sense, Austria, is the last thing which should concern anyone, including Austrians. Take it from Uncle, who presides over the happy multicultural homeland we all think of as….. America. America? Well, the New America, where waves of immigrants now guided to their inevitable triumph by left-wing zealots will forever extinguish the Bad Old America, chiefly remembered for slavery, genocide, religious bigotry (Christianity), strikebreakers, uptight WASPs, Latin classes, and environmental destruction.

The post-American America stands as the model for the post-European Europe. Certainly, everything will be just fine once all peoples start "accepting the democratic way and tolerating others." And you thought communitarianism had something to do with actual communities! And can it be an accident – as the Trots say – that the very same issue of USA Today has, as a feature story, a lengthy plaint about the Confederate flag flying over the capitol of South Carolina? Someone identified by name and picture – so we can’t miss the point of her not being from around there – "doesn’t understand the Confederate flag’s presence underneath the state and U.S. flags." I don’t understand it, either. Why is the U..S. flag on the state capitol? It’s not a federal building.

But I wander afield. Why not submit all old controversies to juries of newcomers who know less than nothing about them? Why not let the furthest-removed outsiders possible decide whether Serbs ought to be irrationally attached to the scene of some old battle? Come to think, we just did something like that. How about a well-paid committee, banged together at Ellis Island, and charged with determining if white Southerners, too, are badly in need of a new identity? We can afford it. There’s a budget surplus! Al Gore can help: he long ago got above his raisin', even if he hasn’t accommodated Christianity and Islam so much as ecological pantheism and Buddhism.


Probably there is no cobbled-together, big-state-sponsored new identity which can "accommodate" all major differences. There might, however, be political arrangements which could minimize problems stemming from such differences. In Europe, liberals decided fairly early that centralized nation-states could secure individual liberty, free markets, religious freedom, and so forth. With the French Revolution, federalism became suspect because local jurisdictions, after all, seemed the bastions of reaction. In America, liberal republicans had to take federalism as an existing structural fact. The outcome was not perfect, but I would put it up against Euro-liberalism any day.

Out of the clash between liberalism and the old regime in Europe, large territorial states founded by monarchs were partly "reformed" – that is, centralized and strengthened. Some scholars see this as a fatal shortcut by which liberalism undermined its own future. Once socialists and nationalists arrived to dispute control of these strengthened states, the sad course of 20th-century history was pretty much set. Oh, by the way, liberalism’s original goals were not very well secured.

As one weighs the role of the centralized state in this century’s disasters, federalist doubts creep in. The modern liberals, the socialists, the communists, and the real fascists (wherever they are) don’t wish to follow that lead. They want to steer those great-big modern states. When ethnic or religious tensions raise their head, a state controlled by high-toned moderns who disdain ethnicity and religion, will wish to impose "solutions" on the fanatics and bigots, and down the road, re-educate their children to worship the "neutral" but very big and bureaucratic state.

One disadvantage of this is that there is not much room for freedom in these big "problem-solving" states. That they actually cause many of the problems while solving none is also worth looking into. Once these big jurisdictions decide on war against the weak or, even worse, against one another, their sheer destructive power puts civilization itself in jeopardy for decades at a time.


A different line of attack can be derived from American liberal and federal republicanism. Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises addressed these issues in a rather American way, long before reaching these shores. In Liberalism (1927[1996]), he sought to rebuild, not society, but liberalism, which had strayed far from its beginnings. As one who grew up in the last years of the multi-ethnic Austrian Empire, he was keenly aware of the problems that NATO and Uncle now propose to fix from the outside with bribery and bombing. Mises argues that adoption of a strict laissez faire economic policy would diffuse the national question as it existed in central and southern Europe. It would not matter who the administrative personnel were in a genuinely limited state – Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, whatever. The only other approach would be to pursue consistently the idea of self-determination down "to every territory large enough to form an independent administrative unit" – in principle, down to the level of the individual, were that feasible (Liberalism, pp. 108-121).

Note that the two approaches are mutually compatible. Indeed, micro-states would feel more quickly the economic losses of protectionism and learn to shun it. Unfortunately, neither approach is on offer these days and radical decentralization, with or without laissez faire will sound quite "utopian." How to get there from here remains to be seen. But the main alternative – endless lectures or bombings from Brussels or Washington – hardly bears examining as a future worth having. After this last century, Mises’ extreme decentralization and free trade would be promising if they held out nothing more than a drastic reduction in the casualty figures. People would then at least be alive to test the other parts of the program.

Does this resolve the problems of "identity" and immigration? Maybe not. But it does suggest directions in which they can be defused and de-fanged. Even better, these directions run exactly opposite to those favored by the New York Times, and that good, gray paper is an important heuristic device in these things. At two tons an issue on Sunday, its only other use has something to do with fish.

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Joseph R. Stromberg has been writing for libertarian publications since 1973, including The Individualist, Reason, the Journal of Libertarian Studies, Libertarian Review, and the Agorist Quarterly, and is completing a set of essays on America's wars. He is a part-time lecturer in History at the college level. You can read his recent essay, "The Cold War," on the Ludwig von Mises Institute Website. His column, "The Old Cause," appears each Monday on

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