In the face of an increasingly authoritarian technocracy rooted in liberal internationalism, there is much talk today about nationalism as an alternative. However, this discourse mistakes nationalism for an end in itself, and lacks a sense of philosophical first principles. What does nationalism seek to recreate? What is really meant by “social justice” as the term is used today? What core principles separate left from right?
Because leftist thinking is rooted in a sense that nature can be improved upon, the man of the left considers himself an optimist. But receptivity to the sublime requires acceptance of the timelessness of all that is dreadful. This, and not saccharine devotion, is the essence of faith. The following excerpt shows how such faith can transcend the boundaries of the provincial and the particular without attempting to efface them, and demonstrates the principle expressed in Ephesians 6:12 that every physical struggle is essentially metaphysical.
“From the time when the Czarist government erected the central prison of Vilna called Lukishki, its sturdy walls have been dumb witnesses of many revolutions, of the fall of regimes and the rise of others, of changes of ‘population’ in its gloomy cells, and changes of guards in its long corridors. Each revolution had its guards; every war had its prisoners; and every batch of prisoners had its inscriptions. Half a dozen languages were engraved on the thick walls, reminders of the revolutionary war against the Czarist regime; of the strivings for national liberation of the Poles and Lithuanians; of the war of the Communists against the Polish and Lithuanian regimes; of the persecution of the Lithuanians by the Poles, and the Poles by the Lithuanians; of the imprisonment of Poles and Lithuanians alike by the Soviet regime. I gave the Hebrew language, too, a place of honor on the concrete walls of Lukishki….
“My first cell-mate [had] owned a little farm and was an officer in the Polish reserve; he was accused of belonging to a secret organization but he did not have to ‘go underground’ in order to find himself behind bars, one fine day, under the Soviet regime. The man was a kulak, which meant that he was condemned to liquidation as such. To this ‘original sin’ my companion added another crime: twenty years before his arrest he had fought in the ranks of the Polish army against the Bolsheviks….
“The NKVD did us a good turn and put into our cell a third prisoner. He was a corporal in the Polish army, a tailor by trade, a young man, uneducated but intelligent. We were drawn together mainly because I began to give him lessons in a number of subjects, principally the history of his people and of other nations….
“One day [our] solidarity was broken. That day we had a discussion about the war and the international situation…. My neighbors spoke of the impending clash between the ‘Swabians’ and the ‘Muscovites’ with satisfaction that they did not even try to conceal. For their hopes there were not only national reasons—they had, with their own eyes, witnessed the partition of their country by the ‘neighbors’—but also personal reasons. My neighbor, the officer, said: ’Whatever the future holds in store for us, there is no doubt that if war breaks out between Germany and Russia we’ll get out of this stinking cage.’ And the corporal added: ‘I think the Swabians will beat the Muscovites, and if the Germans come here we have a chance of being set free. And you, Mr. Begin, don’t you worry. We’ll stand by you and help you.’
“My reply burst, as it were, from my very heart: ‘Gentlemen, I can’t share your delight. I also think that a trial of strength between Russia and Germany is inevitable. But I am very much afraid. I can’t forget the fact that in the event of a Russo-German war, more millions of Jews are likely to fall into the hands of Hitler. And what will become of them?… Yes, I also want to get out, but I would rather remain in Lukishki if that will prevent Jews from falling into the hands of the Gestapo…. I am not praying for a war between Germany and Russia.
“The reply of my neighbor, the officer, was like an explosion of wrath. ‘What you have just said, sir, is most characteristic. With you people, everything is decided according to one criterion: what is good for the Jews. Actually, I was told long ago that there is a solidarity among all Jews, but you have given me confirmation that you people guard your solidarity under all circumstances.
“My pupil, the corporal, was equally angry. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘the Jews always stick together. Don’t try to deny it, Mr. Begin. Why, you yourself have just said that it is better that we should all rot in this stench, if only no harm will befall your people.’
“What was there for me to reply to their contentions? They both spoke of Jewish solidarity as if it were a crime, as if they were talking about a conspiracy, something evil. For heaven’s sake!—I though to myself—what have the Jews not done to prove that they do not stick together? The divisions among the Jews, the multiplicity of their parties and their trends, are proverbial! ‘Gentlemen,’ I said, ‘what you call Jewish solidarity—I wish it really existed.’
“One day a change occurred in my pupil, the corporal. When we first met he declared that he was not religious, that he was even an atheist. He used to tell many stories about priests who did not observe the various laws of abstinence. His blatant unbelief used to annoy our cell-mate, the officer, very much. He was a devout Catholic and prayed a great deal…. But one morning we were amazed to see the corporal isolate himself in a corner, cross himself, and sink to his knees in silent prayer. When he had finished praying, he turned to us and said with a certain shy hesitancy: ‘I shall pray every day. I have begun to believe again.’ The officer, who had just been through one of his attacks of obsession for order, forgot his anger and the boycott and shook the two of us by the hand most warmly….
“In the atmosphere that prevailed in our cell with the religious resurrection of the corporal, I naturally found my cell-mates understanding when I informed them, one day, that I would do without my supper and my food for the whole next day…. We had been in jail for quite awhile already, and the menu of the NKVD was beginning to have its effect on us. We were no longer hungry. We were starving. In such conditions man is liable to give substance to the frightening words: ‘Man hath no preeminence over beast’ (Ecclesiastes 3:19). My giving up the portion of soup in the evening, the coffee in the morning, and more soup at midday, under circumstances like these, would certainly have prompted cellmates that had no faith to ask me if I had gone out of my mind. But my two neighbors, who found consolation in their faith, did not scoff, and it was only with the greatest of difficulty that I succeeded in persuading them to share between them the food which I renounced on the Day of Atonement.”
From White Nights: The Story of a Prisoner in Russia (1957) by Menachem Begin (1913-1992)