For many years Geert Wilders has been an eye-catching figure in Dutch politics, but it is only this year that his Party of Freedom stands a real chance of winning big in the forthcoming Parliamentary elections.
The biggest problem with Wilders is not Wilders himself, but the total distortion of his politics by the mainstream media. He’s been called everything from a conservative to an ultra-conservative, to a far-right leader, but this is certainly not the case. Wilders is none of those things.
Geert Wilders is a liberal who believes in the liberal ideology of civic nationalism. He believes in it more thoroughly than almost any politician in Holland. To understand why Wilders represents a brand of civil nationalist liberalism, which is distinct from globalist post-modern liberalism and different from conservatism, one must examine what true conservatism is and what it looks like.
Compared with liberalism, socialism, and communism, conservatism demands previous little from the ordinary person. Beyond loyalty to the state, established religion (if there is one), military, existing social order and other state institutions, conservatism doesn’t typically care about one’s behavior so long as it is legal and not subversive.
Take Russia for example. Tsarist Russia had always been a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional state. Modern Russia is no different. In modern Russia, so long as one is loyal to the Russian state, honours one’s duties as s citizen (military service for example), respects the historic position of the Russian Orthodox Church and is literate in the Russian language, one is allowed to maintain one’s private, local and regional life as one wishes.
Chechens, for example, are allowed to celebrate Muslim holy feasts with public holidays, Armenians in Russia are allowed to speak Armenian to their family and comrades, Jewish rabbis are allowed to conduct holy days among their community and these are just a few examples of the successful multi-ethnic and multi-faith society that has grown in Russia over centuries.
With a few exceptions, it is only through conservativism that multi-cultural societies can function. This is because there are but a handful of simple loyalties one must render the state and a handful of institutions one must respect in return for one’s local and personal customs to be respected.
It is also true that multiculturalism can only work when it happens organically, again with precious few exceptions. This typically happens as a young state expands over time to incorporate a variety of peoples into a common class of subjects or citizens.
By contrast, I have little faith that the rapid immigration of a variety of alien cultures can ever truly live in peaceful coexistence with the host culture in small states. This is why multiculturalism, as typically understood in the 21st century, is a uniquely European problem.
Rather than large multi-ethnic states like Russia, the Austrian Empire or China which grew over time and incorporated many various and distinct groups of people, small states like Holland have experienced the trend of mass immigration over a period of decades, rather than centuries.
Apart from political leaders, it is no one’s fault that there are problems, not the new arrivals and not those who have ancient Dutch heritage. It is simply a fact of human nature that successive generations of politicians either ignored or had no understanding of.
Wilders is correct to point out these problems but his solution is not a conservative one. A conservative solution to the problems Wilders points out would be to require all Dutch residents to maintain a loyalty to the Dutch Monarch, laws and respect the primacy of the majoritarian religious confession. This is last part is difficult as today, those without a religious faith are more common in the Netherlands than those with one.
With Holland not being a socialist country with state atheism, there is difficulty in establishing where one’s religion relates to loyalty to the state under the conservative definition.
The solution Wilders presents is a liberal ideal called ‘civic nationalism’. This is contrasted with the statism of conservative countries like pre-1917 Russia and its modern outgrowth in today’s Russian Federation. It also contrasts with the ethnic nationalism that came to prominence in Europe during the revolutions of 1848, where the idea of nationhood was thought to be predicated on a group of individuals with the same ethnic identity.
Civic nationalism, by contrast, demands a common loyalty not only to the state but to a set of ideals/an ideology. Typically these ideals are defined in constitutional documents or other important pieces of legislation. The three most apparent examples of such a state are post-1923 Turkey, post-1905 France, and the United States.
In 1905 France passed the Laïcité laws which defined the Third French Republic as a state where secular values defined the public forum. Additionally, modern France’s civic nationalism owes much to the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen as well as the Jules Ferry laws of the early 1880s which secularized state education.
Likewise, Ataturk’s Turkish Republic of 1923, defined Turkishness on an adherence to modern secular values as personally defined by Ataturk. It came to be known as Kemalism.
In both cases, there was opposition to this civic nationalism by conservative forces. In France, many objected to the removal of Roman Catholicism from the civic sphere and in Turkey, many saw Ataturk’s civic nationalism as an attack on a traditionally Islamic society. Indeed, President Erdogan is a leader of this backlash against Ataturk’s civic nationalism and has been resoundingly more successful than any previous anti-Kemalist leaders.
The United States is slightly different. Unlike France and Turkey whose contemporary leaders rejected prior conservative trends to forge a modern civic nationalism in old states, the US was founded as a nation of exiles (mostly self-imposed) which welcomed immigrants.
In order to make such a country functional, early US leaders invented Americanism which became the civic national ideal. For a long time, it was broadly successful, until recent decades when the post-modern liberal left introduced the European concept of multi-culturalism to the US and called it ‘identity politics’.
It must be said that for many decades the ideal of Americanism was not available to colored individuals who prior to 1865 were held no in the southern states. Post-slavery discriminatory policies in parts of the US continued to make America’s civic nationalism incomplete until at least the 1960s.
America though achieved broad success in her civic nationalism as a nation of immigrants, partly owing to her geographical vastness. So long as one was loyal to American values, one could have a local community that remained fairly isolated from others. It is why certain regions of America to this day are more Hispanic in character, Germanic in character, West Slavic in character, Italian in character or Chinese in character.
Here one must also mention Nasser’s idea of Arab Nationalism as well as the Arabism implicit in Ba’athism. Here one has a syncretic melting pot of ancient trends in which Arab lands were united under a common sovereign, with the modern ideals of the mixed market/command economy all combined with a tolerance for many varieties of moderate Islam in a broadly secular state.
Interestingly, Syria’s relationship with its Kurdish population is based on civic nationalism. The fact that some Syrian citizens with Kurdish backgrounds now want autonomy based on ethnic nationalism, is demonstrative of the limits of civic nationalism in certain instances. Overall, though, Ba’athist Syria has been a far better multi-cultural success story than The Netherlands or anywhere else in western Europe.
Geert Wilders wants to impose a liberal civic nationalism in the Netherlands which combines radical modern secularism with a vague adherence to the notion that western secularism is somehow an outgrowth of what he calls Judeo-Christian heritage. Historically, I find the idea that secularism has anything to do with the Old or New Testaments to be totally false, but many civic nationalist liberals share Wilders’s views.
Because of this Wilders has no time for the localized traditions of multi-cultural existence which transpired in the Russian, Ottoman, Austrian and Chinese Empires. Instead, he wants people to confirm their loyalty to his version of Dutch civic nationalism or to return to the lands where their cultures and faiths are indigenous if they are unable to do so.
In a country which in many ways is the birthplace of the classical liberalism of which civic nationalist liberalism is an outgrowth, it is little wonder that Wilders is so popular in The Netherlands. One can compare him in many ways to the late Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated in 2002 for having similar views to Wilders.
Politicians like Wilders or Fortuyn would never fare well in conservative Russia for example as Russia’s conservative brand of historic multi-culturalism is anathema to the radical ideology inherent in Wilders’s program.
I’ll conclude by saying that this piece is neither pro nor anti-Wilders. It is simply a point of clarification in an age of fake news, fake history, fake reality and fake lexicon.