This morning I read a lecture from a Catholic-American artist, speaking of art and culture in the context of the overall health of mankind. Naturally, he finds the current neo-Babelism of the globalists to be something troubling, but what’s interesting is he takes a step back in the conflict between nationalism and globalism and finds something more important, and something eternal:
“As much as I lament that these knots and spirals would not be found in a church nowadays except as an expression of Irishness, I lament more that a church nowadays is likely to contain no artwork at all. We are living in a time comparable to the iconoclastic crises; contempt for tradition and sacred art is encountered at all levels of the Church.
Moreover, contemporary secular society is decidedly antitraditional. Those who mass-produce and peddle its culture profit by arousing the desire for novelty; things that are made to endure or to live with can only be sold once. Its music and art exist primarily as electronic simulacra. These can be sent across the world within seconds; bound to no particular place, they go to every nation and move them toward sameness. I do not know if such things can properly be called culture; I do not know if they can even properly be called things. A similar movement toward a postnational world is made in political and economic matters. The rules of national sovereignty are reduced to legal fictions, just as the marks of cultural identity are overwritten or erased.
Unsurprisingly, this provokes a reaction. All over the world, people are concerned to protect their self-determination and cultural identity from foreign influences, from invasive ways that are not theirs. That is to say, that are not theirs as Frenchmen or Englishmen or Germans or Americans. In such a time, when nationalism provides the motive to preserve tradition, and postnationalism the motive to destroy it, it seems that anyone who is a traditionalist in matters of religion or culture or art should and must be a nationalist as well.
The curious thing, however, is that in the history of Christianity, nationalism is not an especially traditional idea. A distinction between nations certainly is as ancient as the Tower of Babel, where the language of the whole earth was confounded: and from thence the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all countries. But the idea that nationhood be the foremost way for a man to understand his identity, his place in history and in the world, began in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The choice presented between nationalism and postnationalism is a false dilemma; there is older way, and that is what is actually expressed in works of art such as the Lindisfarne Gospels and Chartres Cathedral. It is the idea of Christendom: that a man should understand his place in history and in the world not foremost as a member of a particular nation, but rather as a member of the universal Church. This is the way that once was maintained by the Church, and that naturally would be yet, were it not for the failure of its institutional authorities to stand fast, and hold to the traditions they have learned. Perhaps artists can take up the task, if churchmen will not, of reviving this magnanimous idea.
This idea of Christendom does not destroy the particular genii of nations, but neither does it provoke them to battle against each other. It rather establishes principles by which they may together praise the same God. Moreover, it establishes principles by which the Christian tradition may withstand foreign influences; not by barring them entry, but by converting them to its same sacred end, by staking upon whatever is true or good or beautiful in them a legitimate claim. “
He is right that our identities must first and foremost be our eternal citizenship, that of the Kingdom of Heaven, and also that we should remember the context of our lives and purpose in these end times. What’s great about our heavenly citizenships, is that we may carry dual citizenships with our Earthly nations. Christ in his time on this Earth gave his ministry to one people, the people of Israel, though his focus was on the eternal birth of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Likewise he urged his followers not to be at odds with Rome, within the bounds Paul created most of his ministry.
I don’t think this is implying nationalism is wrong by any means, and I think it’s important tool to fight the neo-Babelists, but we do have to remember our priorities lay beyond it.