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THE GREEK-ROMAN INVENTION OF CIVIC IDENTITY VERSUS THE CURRENT DEMOTION OF EUROPEAN ETHNICITY

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  • The University of New Brunswick, Saint John
THE GREEK-ROMAN INVENTION OF
CIVIC IDENTITY VERSUS THE CURRENT
DEMOTION OF EUROPEAN ETHNICITY
RICARDO DUCHESNE
__________________________________________
OBJECTIVES FRAMING THIS ESSAY
The invention of a civic identity attached to a city-state was the first
magisterial contribution of the Greeks to Western civilization—without
which their other accomplishments would have been impossible. Broad-
ly speaking, a citizen in a Greek city-state was an adult male resident
with a free status, able to vote, hold public office, and own property. Cit-
izenship was a new form of identity introduced in Greece in the seventh
century BC, developing in varying ways in different cities in the course
of the next centuries. It was intended as a challenge to traditional tribal
identities, in order to bring unity of purpose among city residents, a
general will to action to communities that had long been naturally di-
vided along class and kinship lines. But, contrary to the prevailing inter-
pretation, the Greeks did not practice, or originate, a form of citizenship
politics “regardless of nationality or race.” The reason this interpretation
is popular today is that it fits the goal of delinking Western nations from
a shared ethnic identity, as well as promoting the notion that Western
nations were always meant to be cosmopolitan places with a welcome
mat for humanity based on shared liberal values.1
The Romans are said to have continued this principle of civic identity
“regardless of nationality and race,” but on a much larger scale, beyond
the city of Rome, across the Italian peninsula, after the so-called Social
War (91–88 BC), when all free residents of Italy were granted citizen-
ship, and across the Empire, when the entire free population of the Em-
pire was granted citizenship in AD 212. The Romans are also said to
have invented legal practices and institutions based on highly rational-
ized concepts applicable to all peoples of the Empire regardless of
1 Going back to ancient times, Derek Heater writes: “For two and a half millennia
numerous Western political thinkers have believed that a world state or world citizen-
ship or both were desirable and possible.” See World Citizenship and Government: Cos-
mopolitan Ideas in the History of Western Political Thought (New York: St. Martin’s Press,
1996), ix.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
38
creedal orientations and ethnic particularities. According to Philippe
Nemo, for example, the Romans formulated “an increasingly abstract
legal vocabulary,” consisting of “words and formulas without reference
to the religions or institutions of specific ethnic groups”; laws were not
validated by reference to some sacred source; “myth and custom were
no longer perceived as the origin of the law.”2 Rather, laws were based
on judicial reasoning alone, and only those laws that were ultimately in
agreement with the natural order of things, with one eternal and un-
changeable natural law, of universal application, common to all humans,
were “true.”
One objective of this essay is to argue that, while it is true that the
Greeks invented a new form of political identity associated with sepa-
rate city-states, and the Romans eventually extended this form of civic
identity across the Empire, both the Greeks and Romans retained a
strong sense of being a people with shared bloodlines as well as shared
culture, language, mythology, ancestors, and traditional texts. This essay
will maintain that the civic form of identity was a novel and necessary
feature in the history of Western civilization, which should be praised,
but without losing sight of the concrete reality that this new identity was
constructed along strong ethnic lines. We must avoid projecting to the
past our current understanding of civic membership “irrespective of
race.” This current interpretation of civic identity occurred much later in
Western history with new origins and new social characteristics best
traceable to the post-World War II era. Envisioning the history of West-
ern civilization as the progressive unfolding of a civilization for the en-
tire human species misses many discontinuous epochs of the West. The
idea that we can find the seeds of our current cultural Marxist regime in
the ancient past as an epoch already nurturing institutions and values
that would eventually give recognition to the “deepest aspirations of
humans across the world,” and encourage Europeans to forego their
particular heritages and ethnic identities, is wrong.
Connected to this, another objective of this essay is to challenge the
acceptance by not a few European New Right (ENR) thinkers of this lib-
eral account of the West. The ENR is correct to reject the current Western
project of creating a common humanity based on universal principles,
but it is mistaken in identifying most of the West’s intellectual history
with this project, and in viewing the uniquely Western emphasis on the
2 Philippe Nemo, What Is the West?, trans. Kenneth Casler (Pittsburgh, PA: Duques-
ne University Press, 2004), 19–22.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 39
individual’s capacity for free and rational argumentation as inherently
abstract, multiracial, and multicultural.
Since I identify with the ENR, let me contextualize further my disa-
greements with the ENR, or with some of the authors associated with
this group. Much of what the ENR deems to be inherently loathsome
about Western civilization—egalitarianism, obsession with economic
growth, a linear view of history, cultural arrogance, globalism—it
blames on deep-seated tendencies within the Western tradition. The
works of ENR intellectuals, such as Pierre Krebs’s Fighting for the Essence,
Alain de Benoist’s Beyond Human Rights, Tomislav Sunic’s Homo Ameri-
canus, and Alexander Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory (though not
Guillaume Faye’s Why We Fight) tend to view the history of the West in a
negative light, particularly the entire experience of the West as a Chris-
tian civilization.3
These tendencies are fully crystallized in Dugin’s The Fourth Political
Theory to the point that he identifies American neoconservatism and lib-
eralism with Western civilization as such, relying on Frankfurt School
thinkers, Boasian anthropology, and postmodernists (Michel Foucault,
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jean Baudrillard) to paint a picture of the West as
the sickest, most destructive civilization in human history. Everything
awful about the world—consumerism, environmental despoliation, plu-
tocratic manipulation, erosion of ethnic and traditional differences—is
explained by him as a direct product of the metaphysical orientation of
the West. Dugin writes:
In order to adequately understand the essence of liberalism, we
must recognize that it is not accidental, that its appearance in the
political and economic ideologies is based on fundamental pro-
cesses, proceeding in all Western civilization. Liberalism is not on-
ly a part of that history, but its purest and most refined expression,
its result.4
3 Pierre Krebs, Fighting for the Essence: Western Ethnosuicide or European Renaissance?,
trans. Alexander Jacob (London: Arktos, 2012); Alain de Benoist, Beyond Human Rights:
Defending Freedoms, trans. Alexander Jacob (London: Arktos, 2011); Tomislav Sunic,
Homo Americanus: Child of the Postmodern Age (Charleston, SC: BookSurge, 2007); Alex-
ander Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory, trans. Mark Sleboda and Michael Millerman
(London: Arktos, 2012); Guillaume Faye, Why We Fight: Manifesto of the European Re-
sistance, trans. Michael O’Meara (London: Arktos, 2011).
4 Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory, 140.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
40
It is as if the West was from the beginning oriented towards our pre-
sent-day pro-immigration regimen, driven by a rationalist logic dedicat-
ed to the reduction of cultural qualities to measurable quantities, by an
individualizing logic that seeks to free all individuals from any collec-
tive identities, and by a progressive view of history that ranks cultures
in terms of how close they approximate the liberal-democratic aims of a
West envisioned as the master culture. There can be no denying that
these characteristics came out of the West. The question is whether we
can attribute them to the West per se from its origins or through much of
its history.
Christianity, more than any other factor, is blamed for the main mal-
adies facing the world today. Alain de Benoist writes in Beyond Human
Rights that “Christian universalism”—the proclamation of the “moral
unity of mankind” according to which all humans belong to a universal
community—“contains the seeds of all later developments of the idea of
fundamental equality.”5 He traces the modern idea that all humans are
born with the same natural rights to the Christian idea that each human
being is the equal possessor of a soul that is spiritually transcendent and
independent of any racial or cultural identity. He then connects the
modern concept of natural rights to the effort of current human rights
advocates to create a world order based on universally agreed upon
values. De Benoist also attributes to Christianity a fanatical millennial-
ism characterized by continuous moral crusades to remake the world in
its own image.
On the other hand, ENR thinkers tend to view Greek and Roman val-
ues as fundamentally different from and unconnected to later modern
developments in the West. The problems with this interpretation of the
West begin with the assumption that Christianity was uninfluenced by
the rational universalism of ancient Greek philosophy. The problems
continue with the complete absence of a contextual appreciation of the
way Christianity developed into a universal Church by drawing on, and
actually making use of, the worldly reality of the Pax Romana. St. Augus-
tine conceived his vision of the unity of mankind and the idea of a uni-
versal social bond inside the Roman Empire. He could not have done so
outside this actual territorial unity. Christianity did consecrate the vision
of the unity of mankind, but this development was not inherent to the
New Testament; it took place centuries after within the cultural matrix
of Greco-Roman civilization. It is the case, moreover, that the Christian
5 De Benoist, Beyond Human Rights, 29.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 41
understanding of the “unity of mankind” could not have been about ra-
cial unity since Europeans began to study in a scientific manner relation-
ships between biology, environment, and culture, as well as propose a
new science of human taxonomy, the first people to do so, in the eight-
eenth century, during the Enlightenment, as I hope to show in future es-
says.6
I will also address in the future, starting with this essay’s appreciation
of the Greek and Roman invention of civic identity, the ways in which
rationalism and universalism are inherent features of the West since an-
cient Greek times, and, in this vein, point to the inescapable relation be-
tween the West’s unique creativity and expansionary dynamism and its
rationalism and individualism, which is not to say that these isms are
unconnected to later developments leading to the current malaise. The
German sociologist Max Weber was correct in detecting in Western civi-
lization a “specific and peculiar rationalism” from ancient Greek times
on. The West fostered ideas and values with universalistic ambitions,
rationalizing in the course of time all spheres of life, unlike any other
civilization, cultivating a methodology for the study of nature, which all
cultures in the world, however, have come to imitate irrespective of their
ethnic and religious identities. But the West’s universalizing logos goes
beyond modern science and the formal rationalism Weber had in mind,
for it was characterized by other attributes we have come to identify as
Faustian and which are not ultimately rational in origin, but are uniquely
European and intrinsically connected to the superlative achievements of
the West. It would be wrong to say that this Faustian energy is inherent-
ly human, since it has been peculiarly exhibited by Europeans only
through their history, traceable to their prehistoric Indo-European life-
style on the Pontic steppes, even though it involves a rationalizing (and
in this respect, universalizing) logos that has sought to extend itself
across the world right into outer space.7
6 Nicholas Hudson, “From ‘Nation’ to ‘Race’: The Origin of Racial Classification in
Eighteenth-Century Thought,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 29, no. 3 (Spring 1996): 247–
64; Guido Abbattista and Rolando Minuti, “The Problem of Human Diversity in the
European Cultural Experience of the Eighteenth Century: An Introduction,” Cromohs,
no. 8 (2003): 1–4, URL: http://www.cromohs.unifi.it/8_2003/abbamindiv.html
7 Ricardo Duchesne, “Oswald Spengler and the Faustian Soul of the West,” The Oc-
cidental Quarterly 14, no. 4 (Winter 2014–15): 1–22. To be clear, and in fairness to de Be-
noist, he is not wrong in attributing to the West a powerful natural rights orientation,
with roots in Christianity’s emphasis on the dignity of singular individuals, theorized
in the modern era in the writings of Grotius, Pufendorf, Locke, Kant, and in the con-
temporary writings of John Rawls, wherein individuals are said to have inherent rights
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
42
The cultural Marxist versions of universalism, egalitarianism, and in-
dividualism dominating the West today have a connection to the West-
ern past, but these connections are incredibly complex and need to be
assessed in full awareness of the discontinuous character of this civiliza-
tion, its many novelties, epochal breakthroughs, original departures, and
the recent workings of hostile elites and hostile ideologies driven by
agendas that cannot be directly attributed to thinkers or intellectual cur-
rents of the past, but which are best understood as recent phenomena,
belonging to the modern era, possibly the “radical Enlightenment,” or
even as recently as the post-World War II period.8 I will argue here, in a
in abstraction from any socio-historical context. He is right in mounting a critique of
this natural rights tradition by relying on another Western lineage which includes
Burke, de Maistre, James Harrington, and contemporary communitarians like Charles
Taylor, all of whom in different ways emphasize “membership in a political communi-
ty, without which talk about the freedom of individuals would be devoid of actual so-
cial supports and meaning. My disagreement is that de Benoist, as far as I know, or any
other ENR thinker, has yet to give account of the ways in which European communi-
ties were fundamentally different from standard traditional communities in the non-
Western world, precisely because they valued the freedom and rationality of individu-
als, attributes which involve a distancing between the reasoning self and his communi-
ty, for a free rational agent is a being who is able to differentiate himself from his sur-
rounding, and thereby rely on his reason, which does not mean, as Hegel taught us,
that the reasoning individual is a singular self who dictates what is right, universally,
in isolation from the community, since this thinking self was socially created by a very
particular community, which supports him and participates with other individuals in
the evaluation of his arguments.
8 Kevin MacDonald’s assessment of the relationship between the ideals of the En-
lightenment, or Western individualism generally, and the current policies of mass im-
migration, is superior to anything I have read from the ENR. I strongly recommend his
thorough review essay titled “Eric P. Kaufmann’s The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America,”
published in The Occidental Observer (July 29, 2009)
(http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/articles/MacDonald-Kaufmann.html). Mac-
Donald criticizes Kaufmann’s argument that Anglo-Americans simply took the “ideals
of the Enlightenment to their logical conclusion” in giving up their ethnic hegemony
and opening the United States to Third World immigration after 1965. MacDonald, of
course, is well known for emphasizing “the Jewish role in the decline of Anglo-
America,” but what many underestimate about MacDonald’s thesis is his subtle appre-
ciation of the ways American WASPs long combined a strong sense of ethnic identifica-
tion with a tendency, in his words, “toward individualism and all of its implications:
individual rights against the state, representative government, moral universalism, and
science.” He knows too well “the strong strands of American culture that have facili-
tated” mass immigration, and how Anglo-American individualism, with its “relative
lack of ethnocentrism,” facilitated more radical notions of individualism in the 1960s
that were completely opposed to any notion of America as an Anglo-European nation.
But he does not thereby condemn the individualism of America’s original WASP cul-
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 43
preliminary way, that our current conception of civic citizenship, sepa-
rate from any form of ethno-nationalism identified in purely negative
terms as xenophobic and violent, is a phenomenon that should be traced
back, theoretically speaking, to the writings, during the twentieth centu-
ry, of Hans Kohn, Karl Deutsch, Ernest Gellner, and Eric Hobsbawm.
THE GREEK INVENTION OF POLITICS
We should praise the ancient Greeks for being the first historical peo-
ple to invent the abstract concept of citizenship, a civic identity not de-
pendent on birth, wealth, or tribal kinship, but based on laws common
to all citizens. The Greeks were the first Westerners to be politically self-
conscious in separating the principles of state organization and political
discourse from those of kinship organization, religious affairs, and the
interests of kings or particular aristocratic elites. The concept of citizen-
ship transcended any one class but referred equally to all the free mem-
bers of a city-state. This does not mean the Greeks promoted a concept
of civic identity “regardless of their lineage and ethnic origin.”
This separation of politics from other social spheres came with the
creation of city-states across the ancient Greek world sometime between
1200 and 650 BC, and their subsequent development, in varying political
ways, in the centuries thereafter. The city-state or polis was a new type
of community dedicated to the promotion of a general will to action
among diverse kin groups and classes based on a set of laws, statuses,
offices, and institutions (nomos) applying equally to an otherwise social-
ly diverse group. It is believed that by the sixth century BC the polis had
“proved itself as a successful institution . . . exportable throughout the
[Greek] Mediterranean . . . in Italy [and] the coast of Asia Minor.”9
Much has been written about what led the Greeks to group them-
selves into city-states; Charles Freeman reasons that it likely came out of
necessity, the need to form more cohesive communities in a landscape
populated by many hostile neighbors. Bruce Thornton thinks that it
emerged “through the growth of a new class of men: those of the ‘mid-
dle,’ neither aristocratic big men nor serfs dependent on the powerful
ture, not even its universalism and rationalism, aware that these cultural currents have
been the driving forces behind America’s economic and scientific dynamic. Equally
important, he carefully shows that Americans, for all their individualism, were quite
explicit in their ethnic attachments through their history until radically novel notions
about the meaning of individualism and universalism began to spread in the 1960s.
9 Charles Freeman, The Greek Achievement: The Foundation of the Western World (New
York: Penguin Books, 1999), 90.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
44
landlords.” He has in mind small independent farmers associated with a
new style of hoplite or armored infantry fighting. These men nurtured a
new way of thinking and form of rule that
protected their agrarian interests, ensured equality among land-
holding citizens, fostered justice, and avoided the dangers of class
alliances and feuds, as well as the concentration of power and
wealth in the hands of an aristocratic elite or one man.10
Thornton’s interpretation of the social origins of the polis comes from
his excellent book, Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civiliza-
tion. In a chapter titled “The Birth of Political Man,” he surveys the writ-
ings of ancient Greeks who voiced this new consciousness of moderation
and justice between the extremes of wealth and poverty, particularly in
opposition to the excessive wealth and unrestrained militaristic behavior
of power-hungry aristocrats prone to disrupt the unity of city-states by
pursuing the interests of their own clan. He cites Solon, the great Athe-
nian statesman of the early sixth century:
I have made laws for the good man and the bad [i.e. noble and
commoner] alike,/and shaped a rule to suit each case, and set it
down.11
Solon sought to overcome the endless, divisive squabbling of clannish
aristocratic men in the name of harmony, the “middle,” good order,
avoidance of extremes, hubris, and the insatiable desire for more honors
and wealth on the part of tyrannical rich men. He aimed to promote the
general (universal) good of the community. To this end, debt slavery
was abolished and those who had been sold abroad were allowed to re-
turn as free men. The intention was to support a free, self-sufficient
peasantry against the greed of big landowners. To weaken the particu-
laristic, family-oriented division of the city into aristocratic clans, Solon
divided the population into four administrative classes according to the
amount of produce yielded by their landholdings. The most powerful
political offices were reserved for the wealthiest class, “but this was an
aristocracy of wealth rather than one of birth and the old aristocratic
10 Bruce Thornton, Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization (San Fran-
cisco: Encounter Books, 2000), 111.
11 Ibid., 113; bracketing in text.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 45
clans now had no privileges other than as a result of their wealth.”12
Other offices were open to the second and third classes, and there was
a right of appeal against the decisions of the high officeholders. Solon is
also said to have created a Council of Four Hundred with members cho-
sen from each tribe, creating thereby a form of political rule and unity
above clannish norms and interests. Solon discouraged the use of family
funerals as a means for aristocrats to parade or display their clan’s pow-
er, encouraging instead public commemoration of the city’s dead. Final-
ly, and most important of all, he provided an all-embracing code dealing
with the laws of the state, criminal law, family relationships, and com-
mercial activity. The citizens of Athens were to be governed in common
by this code of laws rather than ruled by the arbitrary tribal whims of
particular aristocrats.
Although in Uniqueness of Western Civilization (hereafter Uniqueness) I
barely wrote about the polis, and was uninformed generally about eth-
nic issues, I criticized Thornton (and Victor Davis Hanson) for overstat-
ing the importance of middling farmers in the origins of citizenship, or,
ignoring the ultimate origins of this idea in the aristocratic individual-
ism of Mycenaeans and prehistoric Indo-Europeans with their council of
peers where open discussion with kings was customary.13 The further
democratization of Solon’s reforms by Cleisthenes and Pericles later on
should not detract us from the lasting aristocratic spirit of the Greeks. As
Freeman observes, using the work of Pauline Schmitt-Pantel, the com-
munity spirit of the city-states was
fostered as a result of the traditional aristocratic values being
adopted by the citizens of the polis as a whole. The duty of defense
passes from the warrior-hero to the hoplite. The aristocratic feast,
hitherto reserved for those of wealth and good birth, becomes a
city feast in which all citizens participate after a communal sacri-
fice and are eligible for equal shares. . . . Another feature of aristo-
cratic Greece, the idealization of the naked male body. The kouroi
[the standing naked males in marble] have to be seen as a state-
ment and it seems to be one concerned with the preservation of
aristocratic values. . . . This is a representation of arete, excellence,
physical beauty allied to nobility of spirit.14
12 Freeman, The Greek Achievement, 105.
13 Ricardo Duchesne, The Uniqueness of Western Civilization (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 341–
418, passim.
14 Ibid., 94.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
46
This is just a glimpse of the aristocratic spirit that permeated Greek
life—in the Olympic competitions, the philosophical contests in Plato’s
dialogues, the rapid succession of original thinkers breaking new
ground against the aura of their teachers, the theater festivals where
writers competed for the adulation of the audience and for prizes, etc.,
as I examined in Uniqueness. But what I want to emphasize here is the
immense novelty of the Greek invention of citizenship, a novelty under-
going much depreciation in current ENR circles where the “tribal or
blood” commonalities of the pre-rational Homeric Greeks are idealized
rather than the intellectual achievements.
For Aristotle, the highest good of all humans could be realized only
inside a polis, a “community of families and aggregations of families in
well-being, for the sake of a perfect and self-fulfilling life.”15 Without the
creation of the polis, the Greeks would have failed to transcend the bar-
baric world of contesting tribal families. As Nietzsche also understood,
the Greeks achieved their “civility” by re-channeling the destructive
feuding and blood lust of their barbarian past and placing their strife
under certain common rules within city-states.16 Everything we have
come to identify with the greatness of the ancient Greeks—their inven-
tion of the literary forms of tragedy and comedy,17 their invention of
dramatic theater in which they explored deep psychological and cultural
conflicts,18 their invention of prose writing,19 their discovery of the
mind,20 their invention of logic,21 and much more—was made possible
due to the prior invention of a political order based on rule by laws
equally and universally applicable to all citizens. This point is barely, if
at all, stressed in discussions of the Greek Miracle.
Scholars have long recognized that the Greek “invention of politics”
was unprecedented and of crucial significance to the subsequent devel-
opment of a political discourse in the West in which politics would cease
15 As cited in Thornton, Greek Ways, 124.
16 Friedrich Nietzsche, “Homer on Competition,” in On the Genealogy of Morality, ed.
Keith Ansell-Pearson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
17 Alfred J. Church, Stories from the Greek Comedians: Aristophanes, Philemon, Diphilus,
Menander, Apollodorus (London: Seeley and Co., 1893).
18 Philip Freund, The Birth of Theatre (London: Peter Owen, 2003).
19 Simon Goldhill, The Invention of Prose (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2006).
20 Bruno Snell, The Discovery of the Mind: The Greek Origins of European Thought, trans.
T. G. Rosenmeyer (Oxford: Blackwell, 1953).
21 Dov M. Gabbay, ed., Handbook of the History of Logic, 11 vols. (Amsterdam: Else-
vier, 2004–2012).
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 47
to be the purview of divine kinship “cloaked in the secrecy of the royal
palace.” The Greeks are known to have “discovered politics” itself22
their belief that any citizen could deliberate rationally about political
matters in a democratic manner. By the time of Pericles (495–429 BC),
one of the main instruments of the government was its Assembly, which
was open to rich and poor alike, and in which the most important issues
of Athens were debated and motions approved or rejected. The business
of the Assembly was determined by a Council of Five Hundred made up
of fifty selected from each of the ten Greek tribes representative of all the
males over the age of eighteen who were free residents of Athens and
whose parents were Athenian, which amounted to about 1 out of 10 of
all the residents. The Greeks also invented politics in opening most of
the offices of the state and functions of public life to the majority of citi-
zens.
Many aristocratic thinkers distrusted the abilities of most men to use
their rational capacities properly, and questioned the notion that men
were essentially rational creatures, but what is unique to the Greeks is
the realization that politics should include contested debates by citizens
rather than be monopolized by clannish aristocrats lacking an apprecia-
tion of the wider interests of the community. They sought unity among
the citizen residents, and, to this end, they invented the idea of citizen-
ship capable of deliberating on political matters.
ANCIENT GREEKS WERE NEITHER NEOCONS NOR MARXISTS
Certain influential accounts of the polis recognize the undeniable fact
that most residents were excluded from politics, but they also want us to
believe, in the words of Philippe Nemo, a liberal right-wing French-
Jewish philosopher, that the Greeks developed “a form of citizenship in
which individuals were abstracted from any other form of ethnic line-
age.” These words are taken from his What is the West? (2006), cited
above. Nemo claims that the West nurtured such universal values as
democracy, freedom, critical reason, science, and open markets.
There is no denying the West was different in seeking rational foun-
dations for its beliefs and that Western history can be interpreted as a
movement whereby reason expressed freely sought to establish itself as
the sovereign authority of what can be accepted as valid by removing all
reference to extra-rational notions, customs, and sacred sources. But
Greek citizenship did not espouse an “abstract idea of the human per-
22 Christian Maier, The Greek Discovery of Politics, trans. David McLintock (Cam-
bridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
48
son” “regardless of ethnic identity.”23 There was a more abstract idea of
the members of the city-state, and the Greeks overall also developed a
sense of membership as a free people ruled by laws in contrast to the
Persians, but they did not develop an idea of citizenship without a
strong sense of being a people with an ethnic identity. By ethnic identity
I mean shared blood ties, tribal kinship, and shared culture, language,
mythology, and traditional texts.24
Bruce Thornton, an American neoconservative caught up in the fren-
zy that “we” are in a global war against Islam and that the West stands
for universal rights, expresses a view similar to Nemo in the following:
Today, this idea [of citizenship], expanded to include all humanity,
regardless of sex or country or race, lies at the heart of all attempts
to create a just and free society.25
Thornton is not saying that the Greeks already developed the idea of
citizenship divorced from any emphasis on sexual and ethnic differ-
ences. He is, nevertheless, drawing a direct teleological line between an-
cient Greek citizenship and the current idea that the United States is a
nation in which the civic bonds are solely based on abstract rights and
allegiance to a state open in principle to any human without reference to
religion, birthplace, and race. Nemo is implying the same. They are
promoting the proposition that ancient Greece developed ideals of free-
dom and democracy for “humanity.” Thornton regularly uses phrases
about “our common humanity” and the “equality of all men” in relation
to the Greeks.26
23 Nemo, What is the West?, 9, 12.
24 I prefer the term blood or kin ties rather than race, since ethnicity captures specif-
ic cultural and kin group particularities within races, and, besides, the ancients did not
yet have a well-defined biological understanding of the concept of race. It was only in
the Enlightenment period that Europeans began to investigate the physiognomy and
taxonomy of race. Of course, with our growing understanding of the genetics of racial
groupings and our ability to trace racial groups genetically across geographical land-
scapes and through historical time, we can utilize this knowledge to understand better
the racial movements of past peoples.
25 Thornton, Greek Ways, 132.
26 J. G. A. Pocock offers a more accurate picture of the Greek concept of citizenship
in his essay, “The Ideal of Citizenship Since Classical Times,” Queen’s Quarterly 99, no.
1 (Spring 1992): 35–55. He describes the meaning of Greek citizenship as follows: “The
classical account of citizenship as an Athenian ‘ideal’ is to be found in Aristotle’s Poli-
tics. . . . In this great work we are told that the citizen is one who both rules and is
ruled; . . . Citizens join each other in making decisions where each decider respects the
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 49
Cornelius Castoriadis, internationally known for his garrulous book,
The Imaginary Institution of Society (1977), pushes this argument further,
ascribing to the ancient Greeks the main tenets of cultural Marxism on
the questions of nationality and sexual identity. He writes that the Greek
concept of nomos—that one can create laws and alter those laws in the
course of time—amounted “to explicitly putting into question the estab-
lished institution of society.” “Nothing” was “sacred” or “natural” for
the Greeks, he says; it was all about nomos, conventions and socially con-
structed identities.27 He loves the term “radical imaginary,” which
points to a very subjectivist assessment of what humans can do in ar-
ranging institutions. The Greeks apparently taught us that we can abol-
ish natural differences between the sexes and races, and create a global
community based on new significations of what is real and true irrespec-
tive of tradition and natural orderings. But in truth the Greeks never set
up a polar opposition between nomos and nature (or physis) but, in vary-
ing ways, believed that human conventions were best when they reflect-
ed and sought to perfect, by bringing to fruition, what was potentially
already in human nature. Greeks did exhibit a lofty appreciation of the
human capacity to pursue ideals and to seek to perfect human nature
through deliberate training—traits that were completely contrary to the
despotic and fossilized conventions prevailing in the neighboring cul-
tures. But this ideal was not a free-for-all form of individualism, driven
by fanciful imaginations without a sense of hierarchy and nobility; nor
was it outside the Homeric tradition exalting excellence and self-
mastery.
There is now sufficient historical scholarship showing that the ancient
Greeks saw themselves as members of a single ethnos. This scholarship
authority of the others, and all join in obeying the decisions they have made.” But Po-
cock then adds:
This account of human equality excludes the greater part of the human species
from access to it. Equality, it says, is something of which only very few are capa-
ble. . . . For Aristotle the prerequisites are not ours; the citizen must be a male of
known genealogy, a patriarch, a warrior, and the master of the labor of others.
Now, while it is true that male citizenship in Athens was eventually extended to
every free male resident of the city regardless of social station, and Pocock is aware of
this, it is also the case, as Pocock goes on to say, that the prerequisites Aristotle had in
mind “persisted in Western culture for two millennia.”
27 See his essay “Power, Politics, Autonomy,” in Cultural-Political Interventions in the
Unfinished Project of Enlightenment, ed. Axel Honneth, Thomas MacCarthy, Claus Offe,
and Albrecht Wellmer (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
50
is well articulated by Azar Gat in his recent book, Nations: The Long His-
tory and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism (2013). I will ex-
amine the paradoxical tendencies of this book below; for now it is worth
noting that Gat endorses a strong definition of ethnicity based on kin-
relatedness or blood relations, combined with a shared sense of cultural
ancestry, though he then vitiates this definition altogether by adding
that ethnicities are always changing and that Western states are immi-
grant ethnic states. Nevertheless, what he says about ancient Greeks is
valuable:
In historical times they had a strong sense of being a single ethnos,
which shared blood ties, language, a pantheon, mythology, tradi-
tional texts (Homer and Hesiod), cultic centers (Delphi) and, not
least, the Olympic Games. All the others, non-Greeks, were barbar-
ians.28
This strong ethnos united all the Greeks despite their inter-Greek ri-
valries. Herodotus, at the time of their struggles with the Persians, re-
ferred to their sense of common cause, their pan-Hellenism, as the “kin-
ship of all Greeks in blood and speech, and the shrines of gods and the
sacrifices that we have in common, and the likeness of our way of life.”29
At the same time, continues Gat, the Greeks were conscious of their
division into four major dialects (each with their own subdivisions): Ion-
ic, Doric, Aeolic, and Arcadian, each with its own sense of kinship, with
a legacy of similar tribal names, shared by various city-states in each
group. The city-states in turn constituted another level of ethnic identifi-
cation, and it was at this level, I would add, that a sense of civic identity
was added in order to produce a kin-civic identity. The history of Greek
city-states, their rivalries and struggles with barbarians, is incomprehen-
sible without an appreciation of both their wider sense of Greekness and
their narrower, more tribal, sense of kinship, and kin-civic cities.
THE INTELLECTUAL ORIGINS OF CIVIC NATIONALISM VERSUS THE REALITY
OF ETHNICITY
Before moving on to the Romans, I would like to offer some thoughts
on the ideological atmosphere leading to the prohibition in Western so-
cial science of a biologically inclusive definition of ethnicity. First, the
28 Azar Gat, Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nation-
alism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 73.
29 Cited by Gat, Nations, 74.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 51
idea that the Greeks were postulating a civic notion of the state, and the
consequent demonization of ethnic nationalism in the West, cannot be
divorced from the very successful theoretical effort of Hans Kohn, Karl
Deutsch, Ernest Gellner, and Eric Hobsbawm to discredit any notion
that Western nations were rooted in primordial ethnic identities.30 None
of these writers denied that people in the pre-modern era had a sense of
communal kin affinities and shared culture within their respective tribes
or localities. Their focus was on the ideology or the discourse of nation-
alism which grew rapidly in the late eighteenth century in Western Eu-
rope and then intensified throughout Central and Eastern Europe in the
next two centuries. This nationalist discourse claimed that the nation-
states of Europe were rooted in ancestral territories, national traditions,
and national peoples. Kohn, Deutsch, Gellner, and Hobsbawm rejected
this claim, arguing that the nation-state, with its corresponding ideology
of nationalism, was a product of the modern era; the peoples of Europe
that came to be identified with particular nation-states, Italians in Italy,
Germans in Germany, Hungarians in Hungary, and so on, had never
been conscious of themselves as nationalities belonging to a clearly de-
marcated territory.31 Their sense of nationalism was a “state of mind,” in
the words of Kohn, or an “invented tradition,” in the words of
Hobsbawm, produced in the modern era through mass propaganda, or
through the “invention” of public ceremonies, the “invention” of na-
tional histories, official languages, and a whole host of national institu-
tions, designed by political elites interested in forging powerful territo-
30 Azar Gat, who is an Israeli, writes: “It is probably not a coincidence that the pio-
neering modernist theorists—Kohn, Deutsch, Gellner, Hobsbawm—were all Jewish
immigrant refugees from central Europe. . . . All of them experienced changing identi-
ties and excruciating questions of self-identity at the time of the most extreme, violent
and unsettling nationalistic eruptions. It was only natural that they reacted against all
this” (Gat, Nations, 16–17).
31 I am grouping the ideas of these authors under a common theme, but readers
should be aware that they differ in other respects, such as the dating of the origins of
modern states, the reasons for their creation, the roles of particular elites, and their own
ideological inclinations. For key works on civic nationalism as well as excellent evalua-
tions of the main proponents, see Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in Its Ori-
gins and Background (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2005 [1944]); Ken Wolf, “Hans
Kohn’s Liberal Nationalism: The Historian as Prophet,” Journal of the History of Ideas 37,
no. 4 (October–December 1976): 651–72; Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 1983); Brendan O’Leary, “On the Nature of Nationalism:
An Appraisal of Ernest Gellner’s Writings on Nationalism,” British Journal of Political
Science 27, no. 2 (April 1997): 191–222; Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since
1780: Programme, Myth, Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
52
rial states among previously scattered and loosely related rural commu-
nities lacking a sense of national-ethnic identity.
The claim that European nations had been founded on the basis of
strong ethnic cores was thus rejected. The peoples of Europe, or the
peoples who came to be associated with the respective nation-states of
Europe, never had a clearly defined sense of ethnic and national identi-
ty. Nationalism was a superstructural phenomenon, an ideological
weapon employed by political elites seeking to create powerful states
with mass appeal, a national infrastructure, official languages, central-
ized taxation, national currency and laws; this occurred through the
modern era, culminating in the nineteenth century. The exhortations of
nationalists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries about the kin-
ethnic roots of their nations were mere rhetorical ploys to convince the
masses to support elite efforts at extending their power nationally over
an otherwise disparate, never ethnically conscious, population consist-
ing of multiple dialects, ancestries, and local loyalties.
With the experience of the world wars of the twentieth century, both
within liberalism and Marxism, this critique of nationalism turned into a
concerted critique of ethnic nationalism, which came to be associated
with German militarism in World War I and with fascism thereafter.
While Marxists, such as Hobsbawm, advocated working-class interna-
tionalism, liberal theorists such as Kohn, Deutsch, and Gellner formulat-
ed a strictly civic form of nationalism, while discrediting ethnic national-
ism as both an artificial construct and as the source, in the words of
Hobsbawm, of “demotic xenophobia and chauvinism” with no basis in
reality.
Obviously, there were other intellectual currents percolating through
the West, Frankfurt School ideas, civil rights in the United State, femi-
nism, postmodernism, and, not to be underestimated, the pressure from
corporate capitalists for cheap immigrant labor and consumer demand,
coinciding and reinforcing each other in a grand effort to produce a to-
tally new form of Western identity against the perceived dominance of
European identity. Much has been written about these developments,
but the writings of the progenitors of liberal or civic nationalism have
been neglected. This subject deserves far more attention than I am offer-
ing here. Suffice it to say here that in Western countries civic nationalism
has become the only accepted form of national identity. The meaning of
civic nationalism is neatly captured in the first sentence of the Wikipedia
entry:
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 53
Civic nationalism is a kind of nationalism identified by political
philosophers who believe in a non-xenophobic form of nationalism
compatible with values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and indi-
vidual rights.
According to Hans Kohn,32 Western nation-states were civic from
their beginning in the late eighteenth century. “Illiberal ethnic national-
ism” was a phenomenon of Eastern Europe, Russia, and areas that
adopted Fascism—places that focused on the ethnic character of the
people rather than on individual rights. Civic nationalism came out of
places where a strong middle class involved in commercial enterprise,
with a tradition in natural rights, had developed; the members of this
class were individualistic and inclined to envision modern states as vol-
untary associations of individual wills. This was a progressive class, or
so argued Kohn, in wanting a form of citizenship based on laws origi-
nating out of the free reasoning of individuals; this class did not like
states that sought to impose a culture, an ethnicity, and a tradition on its
members. Ethnic nationalism, by contrast, come out of cultures lacking a
middle class, driven by regressive classes suspicious of individual free-
doms, and preferring states that impose on their people an irrational
sense of ethnic collective identity inspired by emotions rather than by
factual historical realities.33
Academics, such as the ones I have mentioned above, would go on to
examine earlier periods in Western history searching for the origins of
those liberal values they deemed to be compatible with a non-
32 Azar Gat thinks that “all modernist writings [on nationalism] can be regarded as
footnotes to Hans Kohn’s seminal work” (Gat, Nations, 8). The foundational book of
this modernist tradition is Hans Kohn’s The Idea of Nationalism (New Brunswick, NJ:
Transaction, 2005 [1944]). But it is the Marxist Hobsbawm who is read and seen as the
originator of these ideas in academia.
33 Kohn thus wrote: “Nationalism in Germany did not find its justification in a ra-
tional societal conception; it found it in the ‘natural’ fact of a community, held together,
not by the will of its members nor by any obligations of contract, but by traditional ties
of kinship and status. German nationalism substituted for the legal and rational con-
cept of ‘citizenship’ the infinitely vaguer concept of ‘folk,’ which, first discovered by
the German humanists, was later fully developed by Herder and the German romanti-
cists. It lent itself more easily to the embroideries of imagination and the excitations of
emotion. Its roots seemed to reach into the dark soil of primitive times and to have
grown through thousands of hidden channels of unconscious development, not in the
bright light of rational political ends, but in the mysterious womb of the people,
deemed to be so much nearer to the forces of nature” (Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism,
331).
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
54
xenophobic (non-ethnic) form of nationalism. Consequently, as histori-
ans began to examine the origins of civic nationalism, they were inclined
to emphasize those traits in the past that pointed in a liberal direction,
seeing in ancient Greece the initial sources of civic identity, tracing its
evolution into ever more civic and cosmopolitan forms of citizenship,
and interpreting this movement as a “progression” over and against
tribally and ethnically oriented forms of identity and nationalism.34
In the aftermath of World War II up until about the 1970s, the term
“ethnicity” continued to be used in reference to different national
groups and minorities, but only in a strictly cultural way divorced from
all references to biological or racial traits. Every textbook in the social
sciences in the 1950s and after came to endorse this culturalist definition.
Combined with this definition, academics added an instrumental
and/or functionalist definition, according to which ethnic identification
was either a superstructural phenomenon behind which stood the real
interests of ruling classes consolidating their power, or it reflected the
functional requirements of a national system of education, administra-
tion, war-making, and overall modernization—the ideology of the man-
agerial elite. Here is what Jonathan M. Hall says about this in a book ad-
dressing Greek ethnicity:
In the wake of the Second World War and more particularly the
Holocaust the motives for treating ethnic identity as a valid area of
34 Although Derek Heater’s book, World Citizenship and Government: Cosmopolitan
Ideas in the History of Western Political Thought, cited earlier, is concerned with the de-
velopment of cosmopolitanism in the West rather than civic nationalism per se, there is
much to be learned from his account about the Western progression, in his estimation,
from ethnic tribal commitments to a commitment for the human race across the planet.
He traces civic citizenship to the Greeks but thinks they did not go far enough as evi-
dent in their prejudices against “Barbarians,” though ideas of “human oneness” were
already brewing among them. He covers many Western figures pointing in the direc-
tion of cosmopolitan citizenship, such as the Stoic contribution to natural law and tol-
erance of all peoples in the name of world citizenship; Dante and the medieval ideal of
a world monarchy; Erasmus and the denunciation of the artificiality of territorial state
sovereignty, observing that by the seventeenth century “modern political cosmopolitan
ideas were emerging, secular in intellectual tone, (often) federal in institutional plan,
and freed from the obsession with the Roman Empire” (59). Then he writes about the
Enlightenment’s faith in human rationality, popular sovereignty, and the possibility
that “all national differences will fade into insignificance with the realisation that ‘we
have the same objective: the preservation of natural rights’” (81), culminating in the
UN Human Rights conventions about being a member of the community of the human
race and having a sense of responsibility for the condition of the planet.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 55
research were discredited. The subject of ancient Greek ethnicity
was no exception, and scholars either practised a studied circum-
spection in this regard or else attempted to recast the ethnic groups
of antiquity in a more sanitised role by substituting lexical terms
such as “linguistic groups” or “cultural groups.”
The anthropological response to the crisis of scholarship occa-
sioned by the Second World War was the “instrumentalist” ap-
proach to ethnicity which proclaimed that ethnic identity was a
guise adopted by interest groups to conceal aims that were more
properly political or economic.35
Hall then notes that this cultural-instrumental approach also came to
be seen as inadequate in not being able to account for numerous post-
World War II national liberation movements across the world that were
self-consciously identifying themselves along bloodlines and viciously
fighting for their “ancestral territories.” What Hall leaves out, and
should be kept in mind as we read this next passage, is that social scien-
tists were starting to view ethno-kin identities in the non-Western world
as progressive, not as fixed identities but as “negotiable” identities, in
reference to “oppressed minorities” and without reference to genetic
traits.
Yet the ethnic resurgences of the 1970s and 1980s presented a clear
challenge to the validity of the instrumentalist approach; this
prompted a renewed anthropological interest in the subject of eth-
nic identity . . . Current research tends to grant at least an intersub-
jective reality to ethnic identity, though it differs from pre-war
scholarship on a number of important points. Firstly, it stresses
that the ethnic group is not a biological group but a social group,
distinguished from other collectivities by its subscription to a puta-
tive myth of shared descent and kinship and by its association with
a “primordial” territory. Secondly, it rejects the nineteenth-century
view of ethnic groups as static, monolithic categories with imper-
meable boundaries for a less restrictive model which recognises the
dynamic, negotiable and situationally constructed nature of ethnic-
ity. Finally, it questions the notion that ethnic identity is primarily
constituted by either genetic traits, language, religion or even
35 Jonathan M. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1997), 1–2.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
56
common cultural forms. While all of these attributes may act as
important symbols of ethnic identity, they really only serve to bol-
ster an identity that is ultimately constructed through written and
spoken discourse.36
Clearly, this passage acknowledges that “a putative myth of shared
descent and kinship” and “primordial territory” may play a role in the
self-identification of groups, but then proposes that ethnicity is never
static but rather is dynamic and “situationally constructed.” In the end,
this ideology proposes that it is “ultimately constructed” through dis-
courses. This is actually the state of the research on ethnicity today—a
postmodernist mishmash seemingly playing multiple sides yet “ulti-
mately” defining ethnicity in discursive terms very similar to Hans
Kohn’s “state of mind” definition, while avoiding any substantive bio-
logical references. Hall does not reveal the political considerations un-
derlying this renewed emphasis on ethnic kinship. He assumes it has
been a purely academic affair performed by university professors pursu-
ing the truth. He ignores the growing voices both for the ethnic authen-
ticity of non-European minorities and for the inauthenticity of the civic
character of western European nations. Just as the ethnic identities of
non-Europeans were being heralded as liberating and progressive, the
notion that Western nations were civic since the eighteenth century, or
earlier, was increasingly subject to criticism due to their “discriminato-
ry” treatment of minorities inside their borders, their imperial designs,
and their “White only” immigration policies, which pointed to the pres-
ence of ethnic discrimination and thus the reality of ethnicity.37
Of course, this is not quite how the revival of interest in ethnicity was
interpreted by its proponents. Moreover, there is no denying that the
idea that Western nations were grounded in civic values alone just
36 Ibid., 2.
37 The civic/ethnic dichotomy was subject to much criticism, including the notion
that Western European nations were tolerant liberal nations in contrast to Eastern Eu-
ropean nations, and non-European nations generally; see Taras Kuzio, “The Myth of
the Civic State: A Critical Survey of Hans Kohn’s Framework for Understanding Na-
tionalism,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 25, no. 1 (2002): 20–39; Stephen Shulman, “Chal-
lenging the Civic/Ethnic and West/East Dichotomies in the Study of Nationalism,”
Comparative Political Studies 35, no. 5 (2002): 554–85. Among multiple publications on
Europe’s lack of liberalism, see Europe’s New Racism? Causes, Manifestations, and Solu-
tions, ed. The Evens Foundation (New York: Berghahn Books, 2002). On Canada’s
“White racist state,” see Sunera Thobani, Exalted Subjects: Studies in the Making of Race
and Nation in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 57
seemed out of touch with reality, regardless of one’s political intentions.
The leading critic of the concept of civic nationalism was Anthony D.
Smith, starting with his book, The Ethnic Origins of Nations,38 and multi-
ple publications since. His main contention was that modern nations
were not created ex nihilo on the basis of civic values alone or because
the ruling elites wanted to augment their authority through modern in-
frastructures; rather, nation-states were created on the basis of pre-
existing ancestral ties and sense of historical continuity. A sense of na-
tionhood predated the modern era and could be traced as far back as an-
cient times and throughout the world. The nations of Europe were not
mere “inventions” or functional requirements of modernity,39 but were
factually rooted in the past, in common myths of descent, a shared histo-
ry, and a distinctive cultural tradition. While the rise of modern industry
and modern bureaucracies allowed for the materialization of nation-
states in Europe, these nations were primordially based on a population
with a collective sense of kinship.
Smith’s work was undoubtedly fruitful in challenging the notion that
Western nations were inherently civic. Yet, for all this, Smith’s concept
of ethnicity was more about the importance of past communities, a
roughly defined territory, a language, artistic styles, myths and symbols,
and states of mind, than about emphasizing any form of identity along
bloodlines—actual common lineage and consanguinity. To be sure, an
ethnic group cannot be categorized as a race, but his concept of ethnicity
followed the mandated social science prohibition against the inclusion of
biological referents, physical characteristics, skin color, body shape, and
other features that have a racial dimension. Ethnicity was defined by
Smith in terms of cultural traits and past historical memories.
Meanwhile, as Smith was busy writing historical works, and without
his full awareness, an avalanche of ethnically oriented programs, hun-
dreds of conferences, and thousands of academics were eagerly affirm-
ing the value of ethnicity, but only in relation to “oppressed” groups.
Writing about this would require a separate paper. Perhaps the best way
38 Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (London: Blackwell Publishers,
1986).
39 The view that nationalism was necessitated by modernization, that nation-states
were created in order to facilitate industrialization and raise the general level of educa-
tion required for the functioning of a modern culture is best articulated by Ernest
Gellner. Anthony D. Smith effectively criticizes this view in “Memory and Modernity:
Reflections on Ernest Gellner’s Theory of Nationalism,” Nations and Nationalism 2, no. 3
(November 1996): 371–83.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
58
to sum up our current obsession with ethnicity is to look at the mission
statements of Ethnic Studies programs or departments. These are very
vocal in claiming that race is a reality of the West that cannot be ignored
because racism has been and continues to be one of the “most powerful
social and cultural forces in American society and in modernity at
large.”40 European culture cannot be defined in civic terms for the rea-
son that Europeans have viewed themselves in racial terms and are re-
sponsible for “racializing”41 Africans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and
Natives.
The current divide between the Left and Right can be framed as a di-
vide between multiculturalists who value the ethnic identities of non-
Europeans and think it is necessary for these “minorities” to affirm
themselves along racial lines as a way of fighting the “racialization” of
Whites (who should not be allowed to identify themselves along blood-
lines since they, and only they, are inherently racist), and assimilation-
ists who emphasize the West’s contribution to the development of a civ-
ic identity which abolishes all references to race and ethnicity and which
speaks in the name of humanity. The writers I have examined here, who
trace the roots of civic identity back to ancient Greece, are assimilation-
ists, roughly speaking; even Castoriadis in his “Eurocentric” preoccupa-
tion with the contribution of the Greeks to the imaginative possibilities
of humans to create societies unlimited by nature and traditions. The at-
titude of the multiculturalists toward the West is one of outright hostili-
ty, though there are some, such as Charles Taylor, who praise the West
for progressively becoming more multicultural, and believe that the
practice of civic identity was a movement leading to a political identity
that is both liberal and multicultural.42 What is common to both these
sides is their complete identification of any affirmation of European eth-
nicity with xenophobia and fascism. Smith’s strictly historical investiga-
tion of the ethnic background of nations is tolerated. Progressives who
call Western nations racist and celebrate the ethnic affirmation of non-
40 These words are taken from the Department of Ethnic Studies at Berkeley Univer-
sity, “What is Ethnic Studies?”
http://ethnicstudies.berkeley.edu/ethnicstudies.php
41 ‘Racializing’ or ‘racialized’ is a common term used by academics to justify the
identification of non-Whites in racial terms while denying that races exist and that
Whites constitute a race; non-Whites can be categorized in racial terms because Whites
racialized them, and until Whites cease to do so they can be identified as races with
their own interests and racially oriented politics.
42 Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” in Multiculturalism, ed. Amy Gut-
mann (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992).
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 59
Europeans are welcomed with open arms.
AZAR GATS POLITICALLY CORRECT SOCIOBIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
There is one current writer cited earlier, Azar Gat, Professor of Politi-
cal Science at Tel Aviv University, who does appear to be offering a
strong biological conception of ethnicity, in his book Nations: The Long
History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism. This book is
said to be written from a “sociobiological perspective.” The opening
chapters and the conclusion state that nations “are rooted in primordial
human sentiments of kin-culture affinity, solidarity, and mutual cooper-
ation, evolutionarily engraved in human nature.”43 Agreeing with
“much” of what Smith says, he still finds wanting his lack of emphasis
on human nature, evolutionary theory, and unwillingness to break away
from a culture-oriented perspective. He writes that ethnicity is “by far
the most important factor” in national identity and that through history
nations “overwhelmingly correlate with and relate to shared kin-culture
traits.”44 Welcoming the application of evolutionary theory to explain
human behavior, he writes:
Its [sociobiology’s] relevance to our subject can be summarized as
follows: people tend to prefer closer kin, who share more genes
with them, to more remote kin or “strangers.” As a propensity this
is not necessarily conscious.45
But it soon becomes apparent that Gat (despite his correct recognition
that humans have strong genetic dispositions and that preference for
one’s kin is an evolutionary selected behavior, rather than an “irration-
al” “epiphenomenon of something else”) is not willing to recognize, or
even say anything about the rational ethnic dispositions of Europeans,
but actually takes it as given that Europeans inhabit nations dedicated to
the creation of new immigrant ethnic identities under the umbrella of a
common culture that cannot but be defined in civic terms. Gat is quite
effective in documenting the importance of kin-ethnic attachments and
common culture for pre-modern states, including empires, as well as for
the origins of modern European states and non-European states. This is
why the summary I offered above of Greek ethnic identity relied on his
work, and I will rely on it again (below) in regards to the Romans.
43 Gat, Nations, 380.
44 Ibid., 24.
45 Ibid., 27.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
60
Yet, when it comes to the current Western nations experiencing mass
immigration, it never occurs to Gat to consider the ancestral attachments
and kin-relatedness of the peoples who have inhabited these lands the
longest and who have transformed them into modern nations. He simp-
ly accepts without question the experience of mass immigration as if it
were a natural occurrence consistent with the ethnic histories of Western
nations. He proposes a new definition of ethnicity to deal with the reali-
ty of mass immigration, which is inconsistent with his sociobiological
perspective. Indeed, he proposes an immigrant definition of ethnicity,
by indicating that, while his definition of ethnicity is not restricted to
culture, it views ethnicity as “an ongoing process” not exclusive to one
ethnicity but capable of explaining the formation of “immigrant states”
and how such states “habitually integrate new comers into a broad cul-
tural and kin community.”46
There is no space here to go over some of the things he says about
Spain, France, Britain, and Canada. Highlighting what he says about the
United States and Europe generally should suffice to illustrate his rather
civic-oriented and ultimately multiculturalist approach when it comes to
current European ethnic identity. Although Gat insists that American
nationhood is not founded on liberal propositions alone, and that “there
exists a very distinct American culture, widely shared by the large ma-
jority of Americans, and characterized by a common American-English
language and all-pervasive folkways. . . . [which] has been powerfully
shaped from the twentieth century on by the media and entertainment
industry, most notably the press, Hollywood, and television,”47 with a
strong Anglo-Protestant lineage, he acquiesces to a cultural definition of
America in viewing American ethnicity as a changing reality, not only
with respect to diverse European immigrants, but with respect to post-
1965 immigration policies, which he sees as a natural continuation of
earlier trends. My point is not to deny that American ethnicity is chang-
ing, but to ask why he refuses say a word about “the deep human pref-
erences toward one’s own48 that European Americans may feel in the
face of mass immigration since 1965 from non-European nations. Or, if
he thinks European Americans are satisfied with Mexican immigration,
why is that the case, and does it mean, therefore, that American nation-
ality is indeed strictly cultural? Or, could it be that Gat is unaware of the
wider political and intellectual realities shaping the way Americans
46 Ibid., 20.
47 Ibid., 271.
48 Ibid., 386; italics in text.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 61
think about ethnicity; and that European peoples, and only European
peoples, are prohibited from affirming their ethnicity in the face of a sys-
tem of mass immigration imposed across the Western world, and that
social scientists such as Gat have been incentivized to go along with the
program, unless they are willing to risk their careers?
Gat’s effort to argue that America is a nation with an immigrant iden-
tity carries weight when one considers the pre-1965 immigration period,
which, after difficult racial tensions resulting from the high levels of
immigration from diverse European nations in the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, became a nation with a high degree of unity and a
common culture by the 1950s, except for its non-European inhabitants,
Africans and Native Americans. But he does not consider whether this
immigrant identity was successfully nurtured due to the compatible
ethno-European heritages of most immigrants. Instead, he takes it as
given that America’s post-1965 immigration patterns are the same as be-
fore, writing that “the Latino immigration is not fundamentally different
from earlier waves of immigration in its gradual American accultura-
tion.”49 While he is aware of challenges to this argument, he thinks he
can emphasize America’s ethnic immigrant identity simply by appealing
to the common usage of the English language, ignoring how common
Spanish is becoming in many localities across the United States and how
Whites exhibit implicit patterns of racial separation in their choice of res-
idential areas to raise their families and educate their children, notwith-
standing their explicit claims about the benefits of diversity.
Having painted the United States as a nation with a uniquely immi-
grant ethnicity, he seems at a loss trying to account for the importance of
ethnic identities in current European nations and Canada. “The phe-
nomenon of mass immigration has transformed the map of identities in
Western countries in recent decades.”50 How and why are current Euro-
peans allowing their millennial ethnic identities to be radically diluted if
ethnic nationalism is truly, in the words of Gat, “one of the strongest
forces in history”? How did they overcome their genetic predisposition
to have a preference for their own, and why is Gat taking mass non-
White immigration to America as if it were a natural process or some-
how part and parcel of Europe’s national identity without even asking
such a question? An honest sociobiological approach would have re-
quired asking such questions, but Gat only provides cultural Marxist
49 Ibid., 276.
50 Ibid., 349.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
62
proposals to the effect that “not a few immigrants and their descendants
are in fact integrating, culturally and socially, well enough for them to
be described as ‘joining the nation.’”51 But how are the original ethnic
nationalities of Europe integrating with the new immigrants? If ethnic
identity is so important, why are Europeans expected to accept, in his
words, a “weakening connection”52 between their nation-state and their
ethno-cultural heritage? In the end, Gat has no choice but to shift his
take on ethnic identity in the direction of the liberal values Hans Kohn
equated with Western nationalism; more than this, he has no choice but
to endorse a liberal multicultural definition of Western identity.
Gat thinks a good indication in Europe of a common national culture
is the recent “retreat” from multiculturalism which “has led to a
reemphasizing in many Western countries of the official connection be-
tween (majority) culture and polity,”53 but he never brings up any
shared aims among immigrants, a majority culture, and the state. To re-
peat, the one factor he can muster in the name of a common immigrant
culture is the fact that immigrants are learning the language of the im-
migrant nations. How about patriotic attachments to past European
symbols, folk songs, legendary historical figures, food—shared traits can
be categorized in ethnic-kin terms? Not a word. Instead we get the usual
attitude that things must be working since there is no civil war, immi-
grants are trying to be successful economically and to educate their chil-
dren. The only common culture that seems to be tying together Western
immigration is cultural Marxism, an ideology imposed from above,
without democratic consent, by bureaucratic elites convinced that diver-
sity is an improvement and that Europeans are racist unless they inter-
breed with millions of non-Whites. He regularly cites Will Kymlicka,
calling him “the chief theorist of liberal multiculturalism” in a sympa-
thetic manner, without ever bringing to attention Kymlicka’s open call
for an end to any intrinsic links between the nation-states of Europe and
any form of ethnicity that can be called “European.” Is it not quite re-
vealing that the same author who writes a book dedicated to a sociobio-
logical approach on the ethnic roots of nations ends up sympathizing
with the foremost advocate of an end to all deep links between the states
of the West and their ancestral ethnicities?54
51 Ibid.
52 Ibid., 350.
53 Ibid.
54 See my essay, “Will Kymlicka and the Disappearing Dominion,” The Quarterly
Review (April 22, 2014) (http://www.quarterly-review.org/will-kymlicka-and-the-
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 63
ROMAN LEGAL RATIONALISM
The claim that the Roman Empire was a legally sanctioned multiracial
state is another common trope used by cultural Marxists to create an im-
age of the West as a civilization long working itself toward the creation
of a universal race-mixed humanity. The majority of scholars agree that
Rome’s greatest contribution to Western civilization was the develop-
ment of a formal-rational type of legal order characterized by the logical
consistency of its laws, the precise classification of its different types of
law, the precise definition of its terms, and its method of arriving at the
formulation of specific rules wherein questions were posed, various an-
swers from jurists were collected, and consistent solutions were offered.
It was a legal order committed to legal decisions based on fairness and
equity for all citizens.
The early Romans, before the Republic was established in 509 BC,
lived according to laws established through centuries of custom, much
disappearing-dominion/). Keep in mind that ethnicity includes cultural traits, and that
Kymlicka is a multiculturalist calling as well for a break of any links between Western
states and European cultural traditions in the name of liberal democratic values viewed
as human values, with special collective rights for non-Europeans to compensate for
the discriminatory habits of Europeans. This call to eliminate all links with not only
kin-related European aspects but also European culture has been intensifying in our
universities, with claims that it amounts to a form of “cultural racism” to expect immi-
grants to learn the histories, folkways, and cultural norms of European peoples. See
Arash Abizadeh, “Does Liberal Democracy Presuppose a Cultural Nation? Four Ar-
guments,” American Political Science Review 96, no. 3 (September 2002): 495–509.
As if this were not enough, the last two decades has witnessed a mushrooming lit-
erature insisting Europeans must endorse a broader sense of cosmopolitan identity
over the notion that a citizen has to be someone residing within a particular civic na-
tion. All humans have rights and none should be excluded from the democratic rights
afforded to citizens. Immigrant residents should have the same rights as the citizens of
any European nation. Insane as this idea may seem, it is an academic industry backed
by numerous lucrative grants and conferences headed by jet set luminaries such as
Seyla Behabib (a Turkish-American holding the prestigious title of “Eugene Meyer Pro-
fessor of Political Science and Philosophy” at Yale University), Gerard Delanty, Martha
Nussbaum, and Jürgen Habermas. In the words of Delanty, “It might be concluded
that for cosmopolitan citizenship the fundamental criterion of citizenship is no longer
birth, as is the case with most kinds of national citizenship, but residence and the culti-
vation of a critical discourse of identity as multilayered.” As long as you arrive into a
Western territory, and reside there by walking around and breathing, you not only
should have civic rights but are the embodiment of a new “multilayered” identity. See
Gerard Delanty, Citizenship in a Global Age: Society, Culture, Politics (Philadelphia: Open
University Press: 2000), 67. As little as Azar Gat may be aware of this civic citizenship =
cosmopolitan immigrant, he writes approvingly of immigration and a “new” European
identity.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
64
like every other culture in the world, each with their own traditions,
each ruled by what Max Weber called “traditional law,” a type of au-
thority legitimated by the sanctity of age-old practices. Traditional law
tended to be inconsistent and irrational in its application. During Repub-
lican times, the Romans created, in 451 BC, their famous Twelve Tables,
which established in written form (leges) their centuries-old customary
laws (iures). The Twelve Tables covered civil matters that applied to pri-
vate citizens as well as public laws and religious laws that applied to so-
cial fields of activity and institutions. These Tables were customary but
they also constituted an effort to create a code of law, a document aim-
ing to cover all the laws in a definite and consistent manner.
Weber associated “formal-rational authority” with the rise of the
modern bureaucratic states in the sixteenth century, but legal historians
now recognize that he understated the “formal-rational” elements of
both medieval Canon law and Roman law.55 By the time we get to the
writings of Q. Mucius Scaevola, who died in 82 BC, and his fellow ju-
rists, we are dealing with attempts to systematically classify Roman civil
law into four main divisions: the law of inheritance, the law of persons,
the law of things, and the law of obligations, with each of these subdi-
vided into a variety of kinds of laws, with rational methods specified as
to how to arrive at the formulation of particular rules. These techniques
to create and apply Roman law in a rationally consistent and fair man-
ner were refined and developed through the first centuries AD, culmi-
nating in what is known as Justinian’s Code, a compilation of all existing
Roman law into one written body of work, commissioned by Emperor
Justinian I, who ruled the Eastern Empire from AD 527 to 565. Initially
known as the Code of Justinian, it consisted of (1) the Digest, a collection
of several centuries of legal commentary on Roman law; (2) the Code, an
outline of the actual law of the empire, constitutions, pronouncements;
and (3) the Institutes, a handbook of basic Roman law for students. A
fourth part, the Novels, was created a few decades later to update the
Code.
This legal work is now known as the Corpus of Civil Law, considered
to be one of the most influential texts in the making of Western civiliza-
tion.56 More specifically, some see it as the foundation of the “Papal
55 Harold J. Berman and Charles J. Reid Jr., “Max Weber as Legal Historian,” in The
Cambridge Companion to Weber, ed. Stephen Turner (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2000).
56 Peter Stein, Roman Law in European History (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1999).
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 65
Revolution” of the years 1050–1150, which Harold Berman has identified
as the most important transformation in the history of the West. The ec-
clesiastical scholars who made this legal revolution, by separating the
Church’s corporate autonomy, its right to exercise legal authority within
its own domain, and by analyzing and synthesizing all authoritative
statements concerning the nature of law, the various sources of law, and
the definitions and relationships between different kinds of laws, and
encouraging whole new types of laws, created not only the modern legal
system, but modern culture itself. This is the thesis of Bermans book,
Law and Revolution, Vol. 1: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition.57
There are flaws with Berman’s book (simply stated, he underestimat-
ed much of what was accomplished before and after 1050–1150), but he
is right to emphasize not just this Papal revolution but the common
Western legal heritage of the peoples of Europe neglected by the nation-
alist historians of the nineteenth century, and, of course, by some ENR
intellectuals who prefer “pagan” law. Here I want to criticize recent
works which argue that the Roman legal system broke decisively with
any notion of ethnic identity by formulating a legal system “for all of
humanity.” This is not easy; there is a universalizing logic inherent to
Western civilization, which becomes all the more evident in the devel-
opment of Roman law, which deliberated and encoded legal principles
in reference to all human beings as possessors of reason in common and
as inhabitants of a multiethnic Roman community. I don’t intend to fab-
ricate arguments about the racial self-awareness of Romans and the par-
ticularistic language of Roman law. But I will nevertheless try to show
that Roman legal ideas cannot be used to make the claim that Romans
invented a legal system for a “multicultural and a multiethnic state”—
teleologically pointing towards the creation of our current immigrant
state in which racial identities are abolished and a race-less humanity is
created. There is vast temporal and cultural space between Rome and
our current state of affairs.
In What Is the West?, Philippe Nemo has a chapter on Rome with the
title, “Invention of Universal Law in the Multiethnic Roman State,” in
which, to start with, he contradicts his earlier assertion that Greek citi-
zenship was “regardless of ethnicity,” as he admits that Greek city-states
were “ethnically homogeneous.”58 But Nemo now thinks he has a tight
case to persuade us that with their contribution to law “the Romans rev-
57 Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution, Vol. 1: The Formation of the Western Legal
Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983).
58 Philippe Nemo, What Is the West?, 17.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
66
olutionized our understanding of man and the human person” wherein
all reference to ethnicity was disregarded. His first line of argument is
that, as the Romans expanded beyond Italy and created a multiethnic
empire, and foreign subjects came under their sovereignty,
it became necessary to use ordinary words and formulas without
reference to the religions or institutions of specific ethnic groups so
that they could be understood by everyone. This, in turn, encour-
aged the formulation of an increasingly abstract legal vocabulary.59
I would express the implications of this expansion across multiple
ethnic lands as follows: with non-citizens inhabiting the empire, to
whom the current laws for citizens did not apply, jurists developed
“laws of nations” or laws that applied to all people, foreigners and non-
citizens as well as citizens. In connection to this, they also began to rea-
son about the common principles which all peoples should live by—the
laws that should be “natural” to all humans (rooted in “natural law”).
But this form of reasoning about law was not merely a circumstantial
reaction to the problem of ruling over many different categories of peo-
ple; it was a form of reasoning implicit in the process of reasoning itself.
The development of an increasingly abstract vocabulary resulted from
the application of reason (as opposed to customary thinking) to the de-
velopment of law; abstraction is inherent to the process of reasoning and
results from the process of generating definitions, classifications and
concepts, recognizing common features in particular instances and indi-
vidual cases, and generating different types of laws and different terms.
As Aristotle writes in his Posterior Analytics, inductive reasoning “exhib-
its the universal as implicit in the clearly known particular” (bk 1, chap.
1).
Essentially what the Romans did was to apply Greek philosophy, par-
ticularly the Aristotelian inductive logic of moving from experience to
certainty or probability, by coalescing together in one’s mind the com-
mon elements in the particular cases observed. Roman jurists were
trained to be very practical about their legal reasoning, and rather than
debating ultimate questions about justice, they went about deciding
what was the best legal course of action in light of the stated facts, and,
in this vein, they classified Roman law into different kinds of law in a
systematic fashion, as was evident in the treatises of Q. Mucius Scaevola.
59 Ibid., 19.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 67
The point I am driving at is that just because the Romans were devel-
oping legal concepts that were increasingly abstract and without refer-
ence to the customs of particular groups, it does not mean they were try-
ing to create a multiracial state with a common system of law, or a natio
dedicated to racial equality.
There is clearly a connection between universalization and subjecting
the legal system to a rational process that engenders an abstract lan-
guage that bespeaks of a common humanity. That is why Western
thinkers always write in terms of “man,” “humanity,” “mankind,” even
if they are really thinking of themselves, be they Greeks, Romans, or
Germans. Westerners created a universal language in the course of be-
coming—the only people in this planet to do so—self-conscious of the
“human” capacity to employ its rational faculties in a self-legislating
manner in terms of its own precepts, rising above the particularities of
time, custom, and lineage, and learning how to reason about the univer-
sal questions of “life” and the “cosmos.” Europeans are the true thinkers
of this planet, the only ones who freed their minds from extra-rational
burdens and requirements, addressing the big questions “objectively”
from the standpoint of the “view from nowhere,” that is nobody’s in
particular. But we should realize that it is the view of European man on-
ly, and that abstract concepts do not amount to a call for equality, mass
immigration, or race mixing.
ROMANITAS
Now, it is also the case, as Nemo points out, that with the emergence
of the Hellenistic world after Alexander the Great’s conquests (331–323
BC), Greek Stoics philosophized about a common humanity (in the con-
text of the combination of Greeks, Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, and oth-
er groups within this world) with a common nature. It is also the case
that Stoicism was very influential among Romans, who produced their
own Stoics, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. Influenced by the Stoics, Ro-
man jurists developed the idea of natural law which Cicero described as
follows:
True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal
application. . . . And there will not be different laws at Rome and at
Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal
and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times,
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
68
and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for
he is the author of this law.60
How can one disagree with Nemo that the Romans bequeathed to us
the idea that we should envision a New World Order in which all the
peoples of the earth are ruled by universal laws regardless of ethnicity
and other particularities? Add to this the fact that, with the Edict of Car-
acalla issued in AD 212, all free men in the Roman Empire were given
Roman citizenship. Citizenship had long been reserved for the free in-
habitants of Rome, and then extended to the free inhabitants of Italy, but
this edict extended citizenship to multiple ethnic groups.
Still, it would be a great mistake to envision Roman citizenship as a
conscious effort on the part of ethnic Romans to recognize the common
humanity of all ethnic groups. Firstly, as Gat has observed about em-
pires generally, ethnicity was no less an important component of the
makeup of empires than domination by social elites over a tax-paying
peasantry or slave force. “Almost universally they were either overtly or
tacitly the empires of a particular people or ethnos.”61 While it is true
that Italy, from the beginning of Rome’s ascendancy, did not consist of a
single ethnos as was the case with ancient Greece, it is worth noting that
as Rome became a major power by defeating the Latins in west-central
Italy, it continued its march to supremacy in the Italian Peninsula by
forming an alliance with Latin city-states, which “belonged to the same
ethnic stock”62 as the Romans, speaking the same language and sharing
a similar culture. Through this alliance, the Romans defeated the Etrus-
cans and Samnites. When Hannibal’s armies were on the verge of defeat-
ing Rome, after Cannae (216 BC), it was only the Latins and other thor-
oughly Romanized communities of central Italy, revealingly enough,
that remained loyal to Rome, whereas the Samnites, Greeks, Etruscans,
and Celts either deserted Rome or were in open rebellion.
Gat qualifies this by noting that it was the “cultural component of
ethnic identity” among the expanding Romans that played the major
part in the consolidation of an empire with a strong ethnic identity. In
short, as Romans defeated all other ethnic groups in Italy, they imposed
a process of acculturation to Roman ways, elite connections, military
service, and eventually the granting of citizenship. Citizenship was
granted to all Italian residents after the so-called Social War of 91–88 BC.
60 Cited by Nemo, What is the West?, 21.
61 Gat, Nations, 111; italics in original.
62 Ibid., 75.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 69
Gat writes that
if ethnic differences in Italy were still noticeable at the beginning of
the first century BC, they had practically disappeared by the end of
that century. By the time of Augustus, the concepts of Roman and
Italian had become virtually identical.63
It should be added that Roman/Latins were so reluctant to grant citi-
zenship that it took a full-scale civil war, the Social War or Marsic War,
for them to do so, even though Italians generally had long been fighting
on their side helping them create the empire. Gat neglects to mention
that all the residents of Italy (except the Etruscans, whose status as an
Indo-European people remains uncertain) were members of the Europe-
an genetic family. As the process of Romanization continued, in AD 212
the entire free population was given citizenship status, which is to say
that before this rather late date in Rome’s history, the vast majority of
those who held Roman citizenship were from Italy; moreover, historians
agree that the only reason the Emperor Caracalla extended citizenship
was to expand the Roman tax base. All in all, the acquisition of citizen-
ship came in graduated levels with promises of further rights with in-
creased assimilation; and, right until the end, not all citizens had the
same rights, with Romans and Italians generally enjoying a higher sta-
tus.
Moreover, as Gat recognizes, Romanization was largely successful in
the Western half of the empire, in Italy, Gaul, and Iberia, all of which
were Indo-European in race, whereas the Eastern Empire retained its
upper crust Hellenistic culture, with a mass of Mesopotamian, Egyptian,
Judaic, Persian, and Assyrian peoples following their ancient ways, vir-
tually untouched by Roman culture. The process of Romanization and
expansion of citizenship was effective only in the Western (Indo-
European) half of the Empire, where the inhabitants were White; where-
as in the East it had superficial effects. This is the conclusion reached in
Warwick Ball’s book, Rome in the East (2000); Roman rule in the regions
of Syria, Jordan, and northern Iraq was “a story of the East more than of
the West.”64
Rome was not a civic polity devoted to a trans-racial order, notwith-
63 Ibid., 120.
64 Warwick Ball, Rome in the East: The Transformation of an Empire (London:
Routledge, 2000), 443.
The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 3, Fall 2015
70
standing the veritable effects of Romanization.65 It is no accident that the
roots of the word “patriot” go back to Roman antiquity, the city of
Rome, expressed in such terms as patria and patrius, which indicate city,
fatherland, native, or familiar place, and worship of ancestors.66 Roman
ethnic identity was strongly tied to the city of Rome for centuries;
George Mousourakis writes of “a single nation and uniform culture”
developing only in the Italian Peninsula as a result of extending citizen-
ship, or naturalizing non-Roman Italian residents.67 While Rome has
been called a melting pot of races, the Italian-born inhabitants of this
city, not citizens from elsewhere, made up 95 percent of the population
at the height of the Empire.68
CONCLUSION
I have two general concluding statements. First, it would be anachro-
nistic to project back to the ancient Greeks and Romans an ingrained
disposition for a civic state without ethnic identity. Civic nationalism
was uniquely Western, but it is important to be aware of the West’s dis-
continuous development, conflicting ideologies, and recent undertak-
ings by hostile forces, rather than tracing the West’s current pathological
obsession with diversity back to Greek (or Christian) times. In trying to
understand our immigration policies and the obsession with diversity,
we would gain important insights if we were to concentrate on the forc-
es that led to the separation of civic and ethnic nationalism in the West,
coupled with the celebration of ethnic minorities, rather than assuming
that civic nationalism is a universal ideology inherently opposed to Eu-
ropean particularisms.
65 See Janet Huskinson, ed., Experiencing Rome: Culture, Identity and Power in the Ro-
man Empire (Oxford: Routledge, 2000), for a collection of essays pushing the Romaniza-
tion argument as far as possible, the spread of Roman architecture, economic exchang-
es, administration, clothing, Latinization, civic government, yet generally agreeing that
Romanization did not penetrate into the common people outside Italy, remaining lim-
ited to the upper echelons of the citizenry.
66 Kenneth Minogue, Politics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2000), chap. 3, “The Romans: The Real Meaning of Patriotism.”
67 George Mousourakis, The Historical and Institutional Context of Roman Law (Bur-
lington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2003), 156.
68 See Jean Manco, Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to
the Vikings (London: Thames and Hudson, 2013), 199. Manco plays up the “melting
pot” cliché, then dismisses the concerns of Roman authors “who railed against immi-
gration” by offering this 95 percent figure. The people who spoke proto-Italo-Celtic
were Indo-Europeans, associated with the Bell Beaker Folk, migrating to Italy in the
third millennium from the Carpathian Basin.
Duchesne, “The Greek-Roman Invention of Civic Identity” 71
Second, the sensible response one should reach on examining the de-
bate between civic and ethnic nationalism is that the historical research
validates the idea that European nation-states were founded around a
strong ethnic core even if there were minorities coexisting with majori-
ties. The states of Western Europe developed liberal civic institutions
within the framework of this ethnic core. Sociobiological research fur-
ther supports the natural inclination of humans to have a preference for
their own kin. This biologically based research demonstrates that hu-
mans cannot be abstracted from an ethnic collective. The claim that such
a preference is an irrational disposition imposed from above by regres-
sive elites is false. Ethnocentrism is a rationally driven disposition con-
sistent with civic freedoms. Civic freedoms are consistent with a collec-
tive sense of kin-culture. What is not consistent with rationally based re-
search, with individual rational decision making, and with our collective
kin-dispositions, are the claims that Western nations were civic in ori-
gins, and the current enforcement of mass immigration without allow-
ance of open rational debate.
... The extensive research of Anthony Smith, the most prolific scholar on the origins of nation states and nationalism, has confirmed that the modern states of Europe were more than the "imagined communities" or "invented traditions" that Hans Kohn, Eric Hobsbawm, and Benedict Anderson wrote about (Duchesne, 2015). Nation-level infrastructures, official languages, centralized systems of taxation, national currencies and unified laws were culturally constructed by elites seeking powerful territorial states with mass appeal on the basis of actual ancestral ties and territorial roots. ...
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The history of Roman law in antiquity spans a period of more than eleven centuries. Initially the law of a small rural community, then that of a powerful city-state, Roman law became in the course of time the law of a multinational empire that embraced a large part of the civilized world. During its long history Roman law progressed through a remarkable process of evolution. It advanced through different stages of development and underwent important transformations, both in substance and in scope, adapting to the changes in society, especially those derived from Rome’s expansion in the ancient world. During this long process the interaction between custom, enacted law and case law led to the formation of a highly sophisticated system, gradually developed from layers of different elements. But the great bulk of Roman law, especially Roman private law, was not a result of legislation but of jurisprudence. This unenacted law was not a confusing mass of shifting customs, but a steady tradition developed and transmitted by specialists, initially members of the Roman priestly class and later secular jurists. In the final phases of this process when law-making was increasingly centralized, jurisprudence together with statutory law was compiled and ‘codified’. The codification of the law both completed the development of Roman law and evolved as the means by which Roman law was subsequently transmitted to the modern world.
Manco plays up the "melting pot" cliché, then dismisses the concerns of Roman authors "who railed against immigration" by offering this 95 percent figure. The people who spoke proto-Italo-Celtic were Indo-Europeans, associated with the Bell Beaker Folk
  • See Jean Manco
See Jean Manco, Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings (London: Thames and Hudson, 2013), 199. Manco plays up the "melting pot" cliché, then dismisses the concerns of Roman authors "who railed against immigration" by offering this 95 percent figure. The people who spoke proto-Italo-Celtic were Indo-Europeans, associated with the Bell Beaker Folk, migrating to Italy in the third millennium from the Carpathian Basin.