As I try to put my finger on what exactly it is that makes UKIP so repugnant to me, I am drawn to the conclusion that it is because UKIP is a radical party. It is characterised as conservative by its opponents, a sort of refuge for the right of the Tory Party, but I am not sure this analysis is right at all. Nigel Farage may have crafted a political image as a tweed-clad gent, and many of UKIP’s supporters are no doubt from the same stable as those who are on the right of the Conservative Party, but there is something much more insidious at the party’s heart. Nationalism and conservatism have never been easy bedfellows, even though, in the twentieth century, the two sometimes joined forces. This is why a lot of left-wing and liberal commentary on UKIP misses the mark: UKIP is a nationalist party, and therefore fundamentally radical.
Nationalism, of course, only came into existence at the end of the 18th century. ‘Vive la nation!’ shouted the French revolutionaries, against ‘Vive le roi!’ The assertion of the priority of national identity entailed the destruction of an older identity focussed on loyalty to the person of the monarch. Indeed, just by existing, the monarch was an enemy of the nation. We see a pre-echo of this in the execution of Charles I, who died because he embodied a focus of resistance to the idea of an English republic. We see a later manifestation in Hitler’s internment of the Bavarian royal family in Dachau. All nationalism rests on the organic fallacy: the reification of ‘the people’ as a thing in its own right (the same fallacy on which the rebels of 1776 based the Constitution of the United States). It has led to untold suffering, persecution and exploitation, and may perhaps be counted as one of the most harmful ideas of all time. The fundamental basis of monarchism is the repudiation of the organic fallacy, because monarchism existed long before nationalism ever did. ‘The people’ cannot be the foundation of a constitution, because ‘the people’ has no real existence. Only an actual human being, to whom the people are bound by bonds of love, loyalty and affection can truly secure the stability of the state.
Insofar as they are committed to Unionism, all of the major political parties in the UK are nationalist. But UKIP is especially so, because of its organic conception of the UK as an entity absolutely sovereign from Europe, and more importantly because it sees the identity of the UK in terms of its ‘people’. Immigration from the EU must be stopped, because these people cannot possibly be considered ‘British’; they are not British, because they lack the defining characteristics of Britishness; the ability to speak English, perhaps, or a white skin. Yet on another reading, by choosing to come to England, and by choosing to become part of and support English society, immigrants acquire the crucial characteristics of Englishness (a common loyalty and a desire to work for the common good) just by being here.
It is regrettable that in the mid-20th century, fear of Communism often led nationalists and conservatives to join forces. Franco’s union of the crypto-Fascist Falange and the traditionalist Carlists to form a single party in Spain is a case in point, as is the alliance of Horthy’s Hungary with Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The false polarity of Nazism and Communism eventually discredited conservative regimes that had nothing in common, ideologically, with nationalism. In the same way that the entire Conservative Party was tainted by the leadership of the profoundly un-Conservative Margaret Thatcher, so 20th century traditionalists and conservatives were understandably tainted by their association with radical nationalism as monarchy ceased to be a force with any strength in Europe.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, something like what we call ‘the state’ first emerged, but almost always it was centred upon the person of a monarch. The idea that the state is somehow coextensive with a population that speaks a particular language or shares a particular ethnic identity is a much newer one, that was sadly encouraged by the League of Nations after the First World War. New also is the idea that the sovereignty of a nation state is unqualified and absolute. The Holy Roman Empire is a case in point, where individual statelets could raise armies, make war, levy taxes and do virtually anything whilst still retaining an overarching loyalty to the Emperor. This was an arrangement that particularly offended the French revolutionaries and Napoleon, with their organic conception of the state, so they swept the Empire away. So called ‘Patriots’ in America were similarly offended by those who remained loyal to King George in the colonies, inconsistent as this was with their fundamentalist approach to sovereignty. As we enter a future in which the inviolability of national territories seems increasingly irrelevant, given global trade and a borderless world of information, I question whether the old ‘nationalist’ conception of an unqualified and absolute sovereignty remains tenable, realistic or desirable. That is why I support the European Union and the further integration of its constituent nations – not because I do not believe in sovereignty or the state, but because I am opposed to nationalism in all its forms as inherently antithetical to monarchism.