Whether in the United States or anywhere else, critics of nationalism would be better advised to hone it for their own ends rather than shun it or pretend it will go away. Nationalism, or at least national feeling, isn’t new or manufactured; the idea is quite old and entirely natural. It’s based not on hatred, but on love—on our affection for home and our own people. It is caught up in culture, in the language, manners, and rituals that set off any given country from another. It represents a deep-seated force that can’t be effaced without government coercion, and even then has proved impossible to wipe out. Empires and totalitarian ideologies alike have failed to eradicate it.
Reihan Salam: The virtues of nationalism
States with a national basis have existed for a very long time. Ancient Egypt constituted a unified state, ruling an ethnically homogeneous people with a distinct culture, for thousands of years. The same was true of China, Korea, and Japan. The basic map of Europe had taken shape by the 12th century. “France, England, and Scotland, the three Scandinavian kingdoms, Aragon, Castile, Portugal, Sicily, Hungary, and Poland had all of them taken their places as units of Latin Christendom by 1150,” the historian Johan Huizinga wrote.
The context for Joan of Arc’s heroism was English kings’ long fixation on attempting to rule France. This precipitated the Hundred Years’ War, which, through bloodshed, famine, and plague, reduced the French population by about half. England’s King Henry V had won his famous victory at Agincourt in northern France in 1415. With his French allies (the Burgundians sided with him, the Armagnacs against), he held Paris and a swath of northern France and had forced the French to recognize his heirs as the rightful rulers of France.
Kathryn Harrison describes the story in the biography Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured. Born a few years before Agincourt, her country divided by civil war and under foreign occupation for 75 years, Joan followed the voices that told her to fight to restore to the throne Charles of Valois, the French heir who had been pushed aside by the English.
She sent a note to the English prior to the battle at Orléans that they should get out of France. If they refused, she assured them with wonderful temerity, “I am a captain of war, and wherever I find your men in France, I will force them to leave, whether they wish to or not. If they refuse to obey, I will have them all killed. I am sent by God, the King of Heaven, to chase you one and all from France.”
The English weren’t overly impressed by their young female interlocutor. She sent another warning in a message tied to an arrow and shot over to the English camp: “I am writing this to you for the third and final time; I will not write anything further.” The English troops yelled back, “News from the whore of the French Armagnacs.” Joan cried the tears of an insulted teenage girl—and soon enough got her revenge.