By Barry Rubin
All groups aware of having been left behind by the progress of others develop an inferiority complex. They have two main alternatives:
–Learn from others, make changes in their thinking and society, and seek dramatic progress as the best way to achieve a national renaissance, or
–Decide their real problem is due to external oppression and that what is needed is not internal reform but waging battle, killing people, expanding their territory, and achieving total victory.
Part of this process, however, inevitably sees part of each group’s elite, if possible, to transfer allegiance to the stronger civilization, while another part seeks to lead its own people.
The turn toward progress often happens when the group—as with the Japanese and Germans in 1945—conclude that they cannot win militarily. Those who tell the group to continue fighting, sacrificing, and dying in a way that postpones having a better life eternally into the future–rather than progressing through science, education, and productivity– are doing them a disservice. In the modern era, radical ideologies often promote that disservice.
Showing the universality of this situation, consider Scotland. The Scots supported the deposed Stuart dynasty and invaded England in 1745 in the name of a reactionary religious ideology, one might call it Catholicism, intended to rule and revolutionize the Protestant-ruled United Kingdom. After some initial military successes they were forced to retreat and suffered a devastating defeat at Culloden Moor in 1746. It was the last act in what might called two centuries of Catholic holy war against Protestant England. In those days, if you like, think of Spain as Iran as the leader in this effort.
After its victory, the British crown then unleashed a terrible repression on parts of Scotland to make sure that such a rebellion never recurred, including the expulsion of thousands of Scots from their farms. The Scots could have vowed revenge and unleashed decades of terrorism and warfare that would have worsened their situation. Instead, Scotland decided to adapt English ways and made rapid intellectual and material progress.
James Boswell was a Scot, six years old at the time of that battle, from an aristocratic background who preferred to succeed on the London literary scene rather than run his family’s huge estates and be a successful lawyer in Scotland. Among other things, as a case of displaced exercising of nationalist sentiments–e couldn’t and wouldn’t use for his own people–he took up the cause of Corsican rebels against the corrupt rule of Naples. (Although Boswell didn’t live long enough to realize it, the son of the movement’s secretary was the father of a baby named Napoleon Bonaparte.)
So Boswell pursued assimilation for himself while supporting another nationalist cause rather than his own, a case of displacement and alienation quite common today (especially among assimilated Jews). There was real anti-Scottish feeling—though not quite Scotophobia—in England at the time, especially so soon after the Scottish invasion of 1745 that tried to conquer England. But the United Kingdom—the name itself is significant—while certainly not multicultural was in the course of imposing a single culture also permitting pluralism for sub-communities in the eighteenth century. There was even a trend toward tolerating Catholics, though this would not happen fully until the next century.
When Boswell first met the great English writer and intellectual Samuel Johnson, the writing of whose biography would make Boswell famous, Johnson sneered, saying that a Scotsman could not help being from Scotland. Later, when they became friends, Johnson “complemented” him by saying, “Sir, I will do you the justice to say that you are the most un-scotified of your countrymen.”
Boswell, one of his own biographers wrote, was horrified by the reputation of Scots for being loud, crude, and telling too many jokes:
“He had an abiding contempt for `Scotch jocularity,’ familiarity, and crudeness….He was so embarrassed by the accent and bearing of his countrymen whenever he encountered them in London that he would shun them.”
Boswell even “converted” from the Scottish national religion, Presbyterianism, to the Church of England, viewing his own Church of Scotland with horror. He took speech lessons to lose his Scottish accent. At times, though, he at times declared pride in being Scottish and praised the brave Highland character.
The Scottish Enlightenment of the earlier 1700s had produced great philosophical work—a major influence on the American Revolution—and literature. In the next generation, the Scots would become fabulously successful as engineers and architects of industrialization and machine technology.
Thus, over time, British culture, society, and technology, was built up without benefit of official Political Correctness, Multiculturalism, guilt trips, jihads, or quotas. In contemporary times, Scottish identity has revived, fueled by oil, and is flourishing without violence, hatred, or a thirst for revenge. Probably the only example of rampant bigotry on this front in recent times is the fact that in the film about Scottish national hero William Wallace he was played by crazed hater Mel Gibson.
Any of this starting to sound familiar? Am I being too subtle? Do people really think that everything has been invented in the last twenty years? Of course, drawing parallels in history must be done with the greatest care and willingness to point to exceptions. Yet it is useful to see some of the common patterns that have occurred in the life of nations and religions.
Boswell’s story and that of Scotland is complex but it shows that the ambiguity of situation and choices faced by societies, ethnic groups, religions, and individuals is nothing new. There is indeed nothing new under the sun, including people’s difficulty in realizing that fact.