In Defence of Ethnonationalism
by Victor Van Brandt
Joel Davis recently uploaded a video to YouTube in which he set out his case for ethnonationalism. A few years ago, when I had a blog on another platform, I tried to formulate my own defence of ethnonationalism. Now that Joel has brought the ethical foundations of nationalism back to the fore, I felt that it was time for me to reprise my old blog post (with some revisions). There is a great deal of overlap with Joel’s case, but hopefully having a defence in written form will be of use.
The Meaning of “Nation”
Before we can outline a defence of ethnonationalism, we must first define what a nation is, and what precisely ethnonationalism entails. From ancient times, a nation was considered to consist of a group of people sharing common descent, with a common language and traditions. (Think of the “Nation of Israel” described in the Bible, which was essentially an ethnoreligious group.) This can be seen from the very root of the word “nation”: “natio”, which comes from Latin, meaning “birth, origin; breed, stock, kind, species; race of people, tribe.” Later we find the Old French word “nacion”, which means “birth, rank; descendants, relatives; country, homeland”. Of particular importance is the word “birth” here. Some countries are referred to as “fatherland” or “motherland”, (Germany, Russia) which suggests that the people there, at least historically, considered themselves to be born of that country as they would be from parents, and that they had a bond with others born of that country which is something like a familial bond. The nation, on this account, is like a very large family. It is only fairly recently in human history that it has been believed that nationhood consists in acquiring legal recognition by a particular state. We reject this state-based conception of nationhood, and say that the people are logically and temporally prior to the state, especially in its current form, and that therefore one cannot define the nation by reference to the state. Nonetheless, in the modern era it is essential to have a state if a nation is to secure its interests.
Having thusly defined the nation, we may now state that nationalism is the belief that each nation ought to have its own territory and state administration, which it may use to secure and advance its interests and pursue its distinct path of development. Accordingly, ethnonationalism is not necessarily supremacist, and indeed supremacy may be seen as quite different in character from the sort of ideology we are promoting here.
What may be said in defence of this creed? I have identified four arguments that can be used to support ethnonationalism: the argument from particularism, the pragmatic argument, the argument from fairness, and the argument from diversity. We will outline each of these in turn.
The Argument from Particularism
It is common for people to say that they put their own family first, and few people would object to this sentiment. Yet many of the same people are apt to deny the moral legitimacy of putting one’s own nation or people first. Ethnocentrism, that is, a tendency to prefer one’s own ethnic group, is a well-known phenomenon in anthropology. We cannot simply deny that this exists. One sees that in nature, animals keep to their own kind. They move together in groups based on their shared characteristics and look after their own group. Humans are in physical terms really just a very intelligent species of primate, and the same basic principles and laws apply to them as to every other animal.
We contend that a nation is an extended kinship group, a very extended family. If one grants that preference for one’s family and pursuit of its interests is acceptable, then preference for one’s nation and its interests is also acceptable. This is because both are instances of particularism−the privileging of one section of the human species over others. Since the mode through which the group operates to secure its interests on the national level is the state, then we must grant the right of a nation to use a state to look after its interests. A critic might reply that it is all well and good if individuals wish to associate with their own kind voluntarily on an individual level; but sentiment like this has no place in politics. I would reply that sentiment has no less of a rightful place in politics than it does in private life. Nationalism in general involves a love of one’s own country and culture. This is the case presumably even for civic nationalists. This is viewed by many as legitimate. So why do they suddenly decide that love of one’s ancestral group has no place in politics? It is simply an arbitrary red line for them to have created. Therefore, if we are to be consistent, we must either reject the particularism of the family (which few would be willing to do) or we must embrace ethnonationalism as a morally legitimate position.
The Pragmatic Argument
One argument for ethnonationalism is simply practical in nature: ethnonationalism works. Numerous studies have shown that the more ethnically diverse societies get, the more unstable society becomes, and the higher crime rises, controlling for other factors. Many multi-ethnic states are plagued by civil wars or constant low-level conflict. Tatu Vanhanen has extensively documented the relationship between intra-state conflict and multi-ethnicism. It seems clear from the data that, other things remaining constant, an ethnically homogeneous society will be more stable and successful than an ethnically diverse one. Consequently, if we value social cohesion, low crime and a number of other goods, we should support ethnonationalism as a means to that end.
The Argument from Fairness
Anyone who moves in our circles cannot have failed to notice that many people will deplore ethnonationalism when it is proposed by European-descended peoples, but they will applaud ethnonationalism when it is proposed by other groups e.g., Israelis, Palestinians, etc. Indeed, in the latter case, it is said that the peoples concerned are fighting for “justice” or (and this is a good one), they just want to ensure that their people and traditions survive. As consistent ethnonationalists, we cannot object to this idea on principle. Other peoples are perfectly entitled to look after their own interests in their own states. However, this courtesy must be extended to Europeans as well. To think otherwise is inconsistent.
The opponents of ethnonationalism often speak of the need for greater “diversity”. They seem to be blind to the fact that the only way in which the diversity within humanity can be preserved is through the maintenance of states for the different groups. For an ethnicity to continue, it must have a stable breeding population of sufficient size consisting of individuals from that ethnicity. Such a population can only be assured of survival if it can control a territory with clear borders, which allow it to prevent/restrict the entry of other groups into its territory. Otherwise it will be potentially subject to annihilation through mixture, genocide or other factors.
Great efforts are expended to preserve the existence of different species of bird, some of which are less distinct from each other than the various human groups are, and which are distinguishable only by experts; and yet this preservationist instinct is not extended to man, or at any rate not to peoples of European descent. If we apply the preservationist instinct to all animals, including man, then we must set aside territories for the different peoples so that their existence can be preserved. Once again, we come to the conclusion that ethnonationalism is necessary.
The foregoing arguments have, I think, established that ethnonationalism is a morally legitimate creed, and is essential for the preservation of many human goods. Of these, the most important is the argument from particularism, given that it gets right to the heart of ethnonationalism in a way that the other arguments do not. Certain other arguments−notably biblical arguments−can be made, but I leave that work to others who are better qualified in that area.
 H. B. Isherwood noted in his 1978 booklet “Race and Politics: The Myth of Racial Equality” that even as late as 1939 the Concise Oxford Dictionary defined a nation as “A distinct race or people having common descent, language, history, etc.”
 Dutton, E. (2019) Race Differences in Ethnocentrism. London: Arktos.
 Morris, D. (1983) The Naked Ape. New York: Dell Publishing.
 Greg Johnson outlined a version of this argument in one of his recent books. See his book White Identity Politics (2020).
 Anon (2019) Biological Ethnocentrism: The Negative Impact of Racial and Ethnic Diversity Upon Societies and Individuals. Available at: https://ia902903.us.archive.org/16/items/100studiesonthenegativeimpactracialdiversity/100%20studies%20on%20the%20negative%20impact%20racial%20diversity.pdf [Accessed 25/05/2022].
 Tatu Vanhanen (2012) Ethnic Conflicts: Their Biological Roots in Ethnic Nepotism. London: Ulster Institute for Social Research.
 It is easy to see why this should be so. The greater the differences are between people within a territory, the harder it is to maintain trust and a sense of kinship which are essential for maintaining an orderly society. If people do not share a common origin, do not look the same, believe the same things, or conceive of themselves in the same way, they have nothing in common, and will come to see their interests as conflicting.