The coronavirus has only made the alignment between nationalism and a certain sector of the financial elite that much clearer. There are audible sighs of irritation that the nation-state—so long a faithful partner in subduing labor unrest and bailing out one strategic corporate bankruptcy after another—now has to be mobilized to keep consumers and some workers alive. In the face of the virus, national elites have not so much mobilized narratives of the nation as indulged a series of nationalist tantrums.
During the summer, I kept asking myself if I should just go home and be a journalist there, in service of the people. That is not to say in service of my “nation,” since Hong Kong is not recognized as a nation, and never has been.
Here’s the irony: a growing number of conservatives realize that it will require the assistance of the state to correct many of the problems that have been created by the state—problems caused by the progressive bias against the local, parochial and particular. A further irony is that a national conservatism, targeted toward the aim of “conserving” families, neighborhoods, communities, regions, if it is successful, will actually make our identification with the nation less important, and certainly will make our reliance and focus upon Washington, D.C. less all-encompassing.
But while a feeling of responsibility to humanity may be morally sound in itself, is it actually responsible? Not just Burke with his little platoon but a long line of liberal philosophers stretching back to David Hume have argued that, in practice, the great majority of human beings feel the strongest real commitment to those closest to them, and this sense weakens the further it is extended.
The passport, certainly, cannot settle the seemingly simple question: Where do I come from? Maybe it is Syria and Palestine; maybe neither. Sometimes I identify with what a German immigration officer accidentally stamped on my documents and future German passport, “ungeklärt”—undefined.