Saturday, December 26, 2020

Frank Salter and the National Question


When did the interests of our elites begin to diverge from ours? (Wikicommons)


Kinship ties have historically been weak among Europeans north and west of a line running from Trieste to St. Petersburg. Within that area, and going back at least a millennium, almost everyone would be single for at least part of adulthood, with many staying single their entire lives. In addition, children usually left the nuclear family to form new households, and many individuals circulated among unrelated households, typically young people sent out as servants.


This marriage pattern is associated with an equally unusual behavioral pattern: stronger individualism; weaker loyalty to kin; and greater willingness to trust strangers. These tendencies have a psychological basis. Affective empathy is not expressed primarily within intimate relationships, as between a mother and her child. Instead, it is extended to everyone, unless that person is judged to be a moral outcaste. Morality itself is less situational and more universal—absolute rules that apply equally to everyone. Finally, the ability to internalize that kind of morality is stronger, as are the feelings of guilt you experience when breaking a rule—even if you are the sole witness to your misdeed.


Some say the "Western European Marriage Pattern" began with Western Christianity—what would become Roman Catholicism and, later, Protestantism. By forbidding cousin marriages and by framing morality in terms of universal rules, the Western Church laid the basis for a new civilization (Schulz et al. 2019). Others say this pattern goes farther back in time; the Western Church thus assimilated pre-existing social norms from its northwest European converts (Frost 2017; Frost 2020).


Whatever the cause, northwest Europeans possess a behavioral package that has helped them create larger social networks independently of kinship. One example is the market economy. Keep in mind the distinction between "market economy" and "markets." The latter are as old as history, and yet for most of history they were little more than marketplaces—pockets of economic activity limited in time and space, incapable of becoming the main organizing principle of society. That role was filled by kinship. Production of goods for a market was secondary to the reproduction of life for one’s family and kin group.


The market economy did not originate in the markets of Greece and Rome. It ultimately goes back to the North Sea communities of the seventh century. There, trade underwent a sustained expansion that would in time eclipse trade on the Mediterranean, eventually creating the current global economy (Callmer 2002, see also Barrett et al. 2004).  


Greer (2013a, 2013b) pinpoints the fourteenth century as the time when the North Sea economies began to outpace the rest of the world:


[...] the two exceptions are Netherlands and Great Britain. These North Sea economies experienced sustained GDP per capita growth for six straight centuries. The North Sea begins to diverge from the rest of Europe long before the 'West' begins its more famous split from 'the rest.'


[...] we can pin point the beginning of this 'little divergence' with greater detail. In 1348 Holland's GDP per capita was $876. England's was $777. In less than 60 years time Holland's jumps to $1,245 and England's to 1090. The North Sea's revolutionary divergence started at this time. (Greer 2013b; see also Greer 2013a and Hbd *chick 2013)


The rise of the West is usually attributed to things like the European conquest of the Americas, the invention of printing, the creation of modern financial institutions, the Atlantic slave trade, and the Protestant Reformation. Yet the West was already rising before any of that happened. The ultimate cause was behavioral: the West was better at exploiting the market concept because it could extend the sphere of high trust far beyond small groups of closely related individuals.


The rest is ... history. The market economy grew and grew and grew. Initially, its main vehicle was the nation-state; the nations of northwest Europe thus became fierce rivals for commercial dominance. Only later would the market economy be freed of that vehicle. When exactly? At the dawn of the twentieth century, when the elite of the British Empire became fully global in its ambitions? After the two world wars, which left the United States as the dominant power in the global market? During the 1980s, when offshoring of jobs got into full swing?


The liquidation of the nation-state was a process, not a point in time. Over the twentieth century our national elites went global and lost any loyalty they once had to the old working class of the West, eventually viewing it as an anachronism. After weighing the costs and benefits, they concluded it should be replaced with cheaper labor from other sources. The old working class has thus been caught in a vice. On the one hand, high-paying jobs are outsourced to low-wage countries; on the other hand, low-wage labor is insourced for those jobs that cannot be outsourced, typically in services and construction. The result? Non-elite individuals have seen their wages stagnate throughout the West, particularly in the United States. And the peoples of the West are being progressively replaced, even in their ancestral homelands.


Well, so what? Yes, they created the concept of the market economy, but that concept no longer belongs exclusively to them and no longer requires their existence. So why should they continue to exist?


That question has two answers. First, the market economy isn't just a concept. It is also certain ways of being and doing. As northwest Europeans dwindle away and eventually disappear, there will be a shift toward behaviors and mindsets that prevail elsewhere. People will become less trusting of each other, and less sure about what they pay for. Transactions will have to be checked and double-checked, and many will no longer be worth the bother. To keep the market economy from collapsing, governments will become increasingly authoritarian and adopt Orwellian levels of surveillance. Like China, but not as nice.


The second answer is existential. It's the answer that explains every living thing on this planet. We were. We are. We will be. Existence is not justified by argument. It is justified by an act of will.



Frank Salter and the National Question


Frank Salter is an Australian political scientist who is probably best known for his book On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethnicity and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration (2003). In a recent speech, he has argued for a new balance between the market economy and our need for kinship. This balance would be provided by “national liberalism,” as defined by the nineteenth-century thinker John Stuart Mill:


Where the sentiment of nationality exists in any force, there is a prima facie case for uniting all the members of the nationality under the same government, and a government to themselves apart [...] One hardly knows what any division of the human race should be free to do if not to determine with which of the various collective bodies they choose to associate themselves.


This twinning of nationalism with liberalism was common during the nineteenth century. Liberals saw the nation-state as a means to emancipate the individual from the confines of local and regional identities. France was the go-to model. Originally, its people mostly spoke various regional languages; only a minority could speak French. Even the laws differed from one part of the country to the other. After the Revolution, a uniform language was imposed through the schools, and the laws too were made uniform. Individuals could now freely circulate and express themselves within a much larger territory. There were also economic benefits: economies of scale, labor mobility, and a more rational distribution of the factors of production.


That logic, however, didn't stop with the nation-state. It eventually led to globalism. We like to see globalism as a healthy reaction to the sins of nationalism, particularly the two world wars, yet nationalism was already morphing into globalism before 1914. Look at John Stuart Mill's country. In the early nineteenth century it was, arguably, a nation-state. Most people under British rule were of British origin and shared the same language, culture, and life-ways. When the century came to an end, all of that had changed: the British were now a minority within a vast multinational empire. The country no longer served its people as a vehicle for their survival. It now served an increasingly globalist elite.


As Frank Salter points out, nationalism can be diverted into post-national channels. Modern techniques of propaganda can create an artificial feeling of kinship that serves elite interests:


... investment in ethnic kin carries risks due to reliance on culture, which is more prone to error than the instinct-laden bonds of family. In his book, Imagined Communities, the Marxist historian Benedict Anderson argued convincingly that national communities are perceived indirectly through cultural channels, such as stories, books, films, press reports, memorials, and so on. The same goes for events that are perceived to enhance or threaten the nation. The sense of fellowship can be extended through cultural devices to elicit bonding with hypothetical kin. Likewise, the realm of antagonisms, of distrust, hatred and combat, can be hugely inflated in scope and intensity in the ethnocentric mind. (Salter 2020)


The risks are obvious. The national elite may pursue its self-interest to the detriment of the nation it supposedly serves. Instead of using its cultural dominance to promote common national aims, it may manipulate the nation’s culture to further its own post-national and supra-national ambitions.





Barrett, J.H., Locker, A.M. and Roberts, C.M. (2004). Dark Age Economics revisited: The English fish bone evidence AD 600-1600. Antiquity 78 (301): 618-636.


Callmer, J. (2002). North-European trading centres and the early medieval craftsman. Craftsmen at Åhus, North-Eastern Scania, Sweden ca. AD 750-850+, UppSkrastudier 6 (Acta Archaeologica Lundensia Ser. in 8, no. 39), 133-158.


Frost, P. (2017). The Hajnal line and gene-culture coevolution in northwest Europe. Advances in Anthropology 7: 154-174.  


Frost, P. (2020). The large society problem in Northwest Europe and East Asia. Advances in Anthropology 10(3): 214-134.   


Greer, T. (2013a). The Rise of the West: Asking the Right Questions. July 7, The Scholar's Stage  


Greer, T. (2013b). Another look at the 'Rise of the West' - but with better numbers. November 20, The Scholar's Stage   


Hbd *chick (2013). Going Dutch, November 29


Salter, F. (2020).  Sir Henry Parkes's liberal-ethnic nationalism. Sydney Trads, December 18  


Schulz, J.F., D. Bahrami-Rad, J.P. Beauchamp, and J. Henrich. (2019). The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation. Science 366(707): 1-12.



Anonymous said...


1. Doubt that the European working class cum dispossessed non-elite middle class will passively let themselves be 'replaced' - endless ghettos or banlieus seems more likely.

2. Be good to hear more about the behavioural-genetic cline across the classes which by definition spans the whole of the bell curve.

3. Frank Salter's identification of ethnic nation state and Darwinian genetic interest doesn't really fly, does it?

No-one else is writing stuff like this, Peter. It's invaluable.

Peter Frost said...

Unless a society has periodic revolutions, its elite will have interests that increasingly diverge from those of everyone else, and this is especially true for liberal societies where the restraints on individual behavior are weaker.

In Quebec, the elite is only a generation removed from everyone else, and it's easier to appeal to them on the basis of common interest. But in English Canada, and even more so in the U.S. the elite lives in another world, literally.

Altitude Zero said...

As appealing as ruling (or "enlightening") far-off people may be to both the Left and Right, it is an impulse that must be resisted by all who love their countries. Always and everywhere, from Athens to London, Empire is the destruction of the Nation.

As for Salter, I'm not sure about his theories not holding water. Group selection is dismissed by most geneticists, but there is a large, vocal minority that believe in it, and they seem to be able to hold their own in debates with the majority. Salter almost certainly over-simplifies, but he has some points in his favor.

Anonymous said...

The point of the nation-state is to wage war against other nation-states. Liberating people from local identities and allegiances allows them to be incorporated and homogenized into mass economies and armies that can be brought to bear against other nation-states. Liberal propaganda from the mass media about "emancipation" served this purpose and cause of the nation-state.

The decline of inter-state warfare has led to the erosion of the nation-state and consequently of nationalism itself. The rise of credible prospects of major inter-state warfare and elite havens such as DC, NYC, LA, London being under siege and targeted by other nation-states would cause elites to push nationalism again.

Salter views the nation-state as an organic, bottom up biological entity. Moreover, his genetic interest formulas and calculations purport to show that people do/should behave in a nationalist fashion. So state level war and conflict are ultimately secondary in his view.

One of the main debates regarding Salter's work is whether it is positive or normative. Are the genetic interest formulas and calculations descriptions of how organisms behave, or a prescription for how they should behave. Salter seems to incline towards biological reductionism and to be quite racially conscious, and thus does not really see a difference between positive and normative here.

Sean said...

Shareholder value started about 1985 with corporate raiding. Then pension funds started insisting on the maximum value being squeezed out by managers. So it was Fordism and retirement benefits that prevented a correction of predatory capitalism such as happened in the Thirties. There was also the entry of China into the world labour market, which was really a side effect of the USSR's perceived gains in the Cold War, the big index funds are totally counting on Chinese growth.
Anon Jan 3

The point of the nation-state is to wage war against other nation-states. Occidental nations are pretty modern and sophisticated solutions to the problem of nullifying the danger of being controlled and threatened. To survive, hew to the larger and larger groups culminating in the nation state. A bit like DNA constructing lumbering wetware machines to reproduce themselves.

Salter views the nation-state as an organic, bottom up biological entity.
DS Wilson views all humanity on this planet as such. Peter Singer would include animals. I think it is fair enough to say that the nation state's survival indicates a nation state is the most effective repository of allegiance. By holding each other and domestic warlords in check nation states produce peace better that multi ethnic empires. Unlike war, immigration is not a problem that the nation state is adapted to. The pandemic may offer an opportunity for new cultural adaptations. European efforts to control disease throughout history has more than a little to do with the huge population growth in the Third World.