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By nature, Belgium, with its ports, rivers, fertile soil, and coal, is one of the richest places on Earth, as it has been for most of the last 900 years. As a state, however, it’s a failed 19th Century experiment in multiculturalism. The founding of the Kingdom of Belgium in the 1830s was popular with the Great Powers as a convenient neutral buffer zone between the great linguistic zones of Western Europe (Germanic and Romance) and/or a convenient place for Great  Powers to fight battles without messing up their own countries. And combining Catholics who spoke Flemish and Catholics who spoke French seemed to make sense.
Over time, religion became less salient, leaving language as the great divide. It’s natural to sympathize with other people with whom you converse more than with other people with whom you can’t as readily interchange thoughts. It’s also easier to monitor them to make sure they aren’t cheating you.

The rise of NATO and the European Union has made the sheer size of a country ever less important for warfare or trade. So, states increasingly exist in Europe today less as part of a great game to accumulate the most military-industrial might to conquer other states, but mostly as affirmations of nationhood and as a means to redistribute wealth, both to interests and to the pockets of the leaders of interests. 

In the past, both the aristocrats and the leading coal and iron regions of Belgium were French-speaking, so they had most of the money. Over time, however, the Flemish have become more productive, and resent having the wealth they earn taxed away and, net, given to Walloons. Both sides rightfully resent the corrupt rake-off by politicians, which is unusually high for northern Europe. My guess is that Belgium is not only unsurprisingly more corrupt than the Netherlands to the north but also more corrupt than France to the south, although I haven’t looked into this for years.
Mixed ethnicity democracies tend to be crooked for what might be called the Lee Kwan Yew-FDR reason: You can’t afford to vote out a corrupt SOB of your own group because while he might be an SOB, he’s your SOB and — at an admittedly high cost — he protects you against the other guys’ SOBs.
Belgium has been haltingly devolving toward a decentralized Switzerland model, but it might make more sense to just split the country into two countries along language lines with perhaps Brussels becoming the Vatican City of the EU.
But there’s tremendous resistance to this sensible solution among the Euro-elites. The NYT says, reflecting the unthinking elite consensus: 
“Europe as a whole may be busy papering over its differences, burying cultural disparities and centuries of feuding. But not Belgium. It seems headed the other way.”
In reality, the splitting up of Belgium would be a triumph for the European Union, showing that countries don’t need to be big in Europe anymore to avoid being trampled on the battlefield or isolated economically, and can now afford to reduce themselves to sizes more congenial to honest, effective self-rule and national affirmations. But, that’s too sophisticated of an idea for Euro-elites. They’ve been trumpeting themselves for 60 years as “burying cultural disparities and centuries of feuding,” so they feel they can’t afford to let Belgium, the proto-EU, break up, not matter how much better it would be for good government.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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One of the endless problems of nationalism is finding low friction borders for nations. Oceans clearly work the best, but what else can be used?

At first glance, rivers look like they’d make good borders because they are line-shaped and they are moderately defensible in case of war. In reality, though, navigable rivers typically run through the heart of a nation (the Nile, the Mississippi, the Thames, the Volga, the Yellow, the Ganges, etc.). Indeed, nations are most likely to rise up along both banks of a mighty river.

Mountain ranges, such as the Pyrenees dividing France and Spain, seem more promising. They are military defensible and they reduce cultural and economic interchange, so the people living in the flat lands on either side of a big range tend to see themselves as different peoples.

The problem tends to be, however, that few mountain ranges are uninhabited. The mountaineers generally are often ornery folk who don’t like being shoved around by flatlanders, and they live on both sides of the border. The Pashtuns who live on both sides of the Khyber Pass are the classic example. What could be a more logical place to draw the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan than the rugged mountains pierced by the famously narrow Khyber Pass? Yet, that logical border seems nonsensical to the millions of Pashtuns who live in the region and pay no attention to that line.

Similarly, the ridgeline of the Greater Caucasus mountains makes a perfectly sensible border between Russia and Georgia, except to the Ossetian-speaking peoples who live in those mountains, both north and south of the border.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Pierre Manent: Facing The National Question In France

By Steve Sailer

The French have so assiduously cultivated their knack for glib philosophizing that most Americans less credulous than professors of English literature have lost all interest in French intellectual life. They sense that the French are more interested in expounding novelties than truths.

This state of affairs is doubly unfortunate. That handful of contemporary French thinkers who are immune to the Parisian infatuation with fashion and fads are heirs to a grand tradition, including Montesquieu and Tocqueville. Moreover, the French language may be more conducive to lucid rationality than any other tongue.

Finally, as irritating as French arrogance can be, it’s often rooted in a genuine and admirable national pride, a patriotism seldom found in other European countries in the 21st Century.

Among the most acute and sagacious French political philosophers of our era is Pierre Manent. He began his career as the assistant to Raymond Aron, the liberal intellectual who served during the 1960s as the tribune of common sense in a France in love with insane ideologies—epitomized by Aron’s École nationale d’administration classmate and life-long rival, the pro-Communist existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Over the last decade, Manent has turned from the study of the great thinkers of the past to grappling with new problems—above all the European grandees’ attempt to suffocate national self-rule within the bureaucratic European Union.

Manent’s forthcoming work from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute is a short (103 pp) and highly readable book entitled Democracy Without Nations: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, translated by Paul Seaton. It’s of particular interest to readers and to anyone concerned with the National Question—whether the nation-state can survive as the political expression of a particular people.

Elite opposition to nations, and thus to self-government, is not confined merely to Europe. On September 11, 2001, the Melbourne Age reported on former President Bill Clinton’s speech to an Australian confab:

“‘[Clinton]Australia and he took a position on it,’” said Tom Hogan, president of Vignette Corporation, host of the exclusive forum. ‘The president believes the world will be a better place if all borders are eliminated—from a trade perspective, from the viewpoint of economic development and in welcoming [the free movement of]cultures and countries,’ Mr. Hogan said. Mr. Clinton … said he supported the ultimate wisdom of a borderless world for people and for trade.”["Open borders to all:" Clinton, By Garry Barker, Melbourne Age, September 11, 2001]

Manent’s reaction to 9/11 was similar to that of—we cited a once-famous poem by Rudyard Kipling:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return.”

Manent writes:

“In my view, the most deeply troubling information conveyed by the event … was this: present-day humanity is marked by much more profound, much more intractable separations than we had thought. … Before that fateful day we spoke so glibly of ‘differences’ … [which] could only be light and superficial, easy to combine, easy to welcome and accommodate in a reconciled humanity whose dazzling appearance would be enlivened by these differences. This was such an aesthetic vision—a tourist’s view of human things!”

The contrast between Manent’s French clarity and the intentionally opaque and woozy ideas rationalizing the growing dominance of the EU can be striking. He continues:

“Today, all of us—at least in Europe—are moved and even carried away by … a passion for resemblance. It is no longer simply a matter of recognizing and respecting the humanity of each human being. We are required to see the other as the same as ourselves. And if we cannot stop ourselves from perceiving what is different about him, we reproach ourselves for doing so, as if it were a sin.” [MORE]

Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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