National Character – Ending the Denialism

The idea of national character is nowadays deemed suspect, politically incorrect, old-fashioned, and unmentionable. We live in a time of national character denialism.

EU-elites, for instance, have long inhabited a bubble of national character denialism. Gideon Rachman, Financial Times world affairs columnist:

The bigger problem remains, however, the gap in trust and political cultures between northern and southern Europe. Back before the crisis, when things were going well, it was considered politically incorrect, even xenophobic, to suggest that standards of probity in public life vary widely across Europe and that this is a problem for an organisation dedicated to “ever closer union”.

(H/t The Monkey Cage)

It ought not to be deemed xenophobic to say that national character differs substantially between the Nordic and the Mediterranean parts of Europe. In the Med: low trust, low work ethic, low social capital, low levels of altruistic punishment of cheaters. In the Nord: high trust, high work ethic, high social capital, high levels of altruistic punishment of cheaters.

The euro-elite’s inability to appreciate differences in national character due to political correctness is one of the main things that has gotten the EU into its present mess. Deny national character at your peril.

For a long time national character denialism has been assisted by substituting such terms as national identity or national culture. The assumption was that it is All Culture, or All Identity, All the Way Down. But the idea of national character implies, as does the idea individual character or personality, something that it Part Culture and Part Nature, Both Acquired and Inherited. That sleight-of-hand move from character to identity/culture needs to be reversed if the denialism is to end.

It is time to end the denialism about national character and to rehabilitate this key notion. It is also time to ponder the wisdom of attempting to weld together countries with quite different national characters into a single Union.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “National Character – Ending the Denialism

  1. Interesting post. Made even more interesting by the book I am reading at the moment – Nisbett’s The Geography of Thought: How Westerners and Asians Think Differently. Nisbett’s main case is that there are central differences between Easterners and Westerners not just at the cultural level, but at the cognitive one. Really he is not talking about “Westerners” as we think of him – the majority of the studies he cites are from the Anglosphere. Interestingly, the few studies he cites with a wider subject base do not suggest all Westerners are the same. Anglosphere folks, Scandinavians, and Dutchmen tend to score together, French, German, and Mediterranean folk score in the middle, and the East Asians take the opposite end.

    Consider it scientific hypothesis-test of national character at the cognitive level. I recommend the book.

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