This article was published in the Spring 1999 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
Myths of the Nation-State
by Gordon Neal Diem

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The Role of Myth in Maintaining Nationality
Inventory of Myths Essential to a Nation-State
-Myths of Founding
-Myths of Dynasty
-Myths of Great Struggle
-Myths of Uniqueness
-Myths of Political Community
-Myths of Destiny

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The Free Nation is a nation-state. The nation-state is a duality; it is both a nation and a state. The nation is a mass of people united by culture, psychology, and shared territory into a nationality. The state is the organization through which the nation maintains its freedom and independence.

At some point in the development of a nation, the nationality aspires to self-government, and the nation-state is born. In the process of this birth, each nation-state develops a set of myths which (1) explain and justify its creation, (2) simplify the process of socializing its new members, (3) distinguish it from all other nation-states, (4) describe relationships among its citizens, and (5) chart its destiny.

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The Role of Myth in Maintaining Nationality


A nation is a mass of people sharing a common geographic territory, common culture, common history, and common aspirations. The nation-state is founded through the initiative of intensely nationalistic individuals who claim self-governing statehood for the nation, usually through acts of heroism and self-sacrifice like revolution or mass migration. Once established, the nation-state is perpetuated from generation to generation through the process of socialization. Socialization imprints nationality and state citizenship on both newborn citizens and immigrants.

The newborn has no notion of nationality or citizenship and has no reason to support one nation or one state over another. Socialization begins with a blank slate and constructs both nationality and citizenship. The immigrant aspires to assume the new nationality and new citizenship; that is the immigrant's motive for migration. But, each immigrant must be deprogrammed from their previous nationality before being enculturated with the new nationality and must forsake their old citizenship as they embrace new citizenship.

One essential tool in the socialization process is mythology. Myths are simply stories that need no proof or substantiation. Myths are agreed upon and accepted by the vast majority of people who share a common culture. Myths deal with a variety of topics from morals to medicine; some myths deal directly or indirectly with nationhood and with statehood.

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Inventory of Myths Essential to a Nation-State


Six categories of myths support the successful nation-states from antiquity to the present. These are (1) Myths of Founding, (2) Myths of Dynasty, (3) Myths of Great Struggle, (4) Myths of Uniqueness, (5) Myths of Political Community, and (6) Myths of Destiny.

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Myths of Founding

The nation and the state are founded by a great personage or personages, usually with divine or supernatural attributes. The founding is a miraculous event accomplished by extraordinary personalities.

Myths of antiquity provide examples. A Trojan prince and his descendants, Romulus and Remus, found Rome. Most of the other cities of the Roman Republic are also founded by Greek heroes of the Trojan War. The god of never-ending light and bounty founds Russia. The descendent of the only survivor of the great flood sent by Zeus to destroy humanity founds Greece and is the direct ancestor of all Greek people. The sun god founds the Inca Empire and is the ancestor of all Inca people. The Irish are the beneficiaries of several successive foundings, the earliest ones by Noah's daughter who arrives forty days before the Great Flood and is drowned in the deluge, and Parthalon, a descendent of Noah's son Japheth, who arrives 300 years after the flood.

American founders include the righteous Pilgrims with their near perfect compact form of government, the philanthropic William Penn, the Roanoke colony which vanishes in heroic mystery, and the Jamestown Colony with its dashing John Smith, for whom Princess Pocahontas sacrifices her own nationality to insure his nationality survives. The American nation becomes a nation-state at the hands of the great revolutionary Founding Fathers, described as heroic, extraordinary, and visionary.

The Free Nation will construct its own myths of founding, focusing on the already enshrined Ayn Rand who provides the moral justification for the Free Nation, the visionary Rich Hammer who facilitates the social and political framework for the Free Nation, and that one entrepreneurial libertarian who eventually secures the geographic territory for the home of the Free Nation.

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Myths of Dynasty

The current rulers of the state are legitimized by their connection to the founders through dynastic succession, nobility, social class, political party affiliation, or some other shared cohort status. The entire current generation of citizens is linked to the dead heroes of the past and to the yet unborn.

Antiquity provides many examples. The noble families of Thebes are descendants of the "sown men" who arise from the teeth of the dragon slain by the founder of Thebes and planted by him on divine orders. There are divine or partially divine ancestors for the royal ruling regimes of ancient Germany, the Inca Empire, and modern Rwanda, Zaire, Sudan, and most other royal families of the world.

American myths of dynasty include claims the original Founding Fathers also fathered America's great political parties, claims current public policies are an incremental extension of the ideas of those Founding Fathers, and personal claims by budding politicians to connections with the leadership dynasties of the American past—the Roosevelts, Byrds, and Bushes. Continuity from the past is maintained by organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution and by the national preoccupation with genealogy.

The Free Nation will construct its own myths of dynasty, probably based on loyalty to one of the various paradigms of libertarian philosophy (e.g. objectivist, anarchist) or on claims of genetic lineage from the heroic founders of the Free Nation. Successive generations of leaders of the Free Nation will legitimize their claim to leadership by associating themselves with the founding personalities.

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Myths of Great Struggle

Founders struggle with, and overcome, great and evil adversaries in the process of establishing the nation-state, thus imbuing both themselves and the founding of the nation-state with moral virtue. Those opposing the founders use immoral means in their opposition, but the founders use only moral means rooted in the highest human values of fair play, self-sacrifice, and humanitarianism to overcome that opposition.

Antiquity provides many examples. Cadnus confronts and kills a dragon in order to found Thebes. Jimmu-tenno mounts a great expeditionary conquest to become the first emperor of Japan. Nyikang, founder of Sudan, defeats the sun in battle and parts the waters of the White Nile to establish the Shilluk nation and its governing dynasty. Parthalon, a descendent of Noah's son Japheth, battles the evil Fomorians, descendants of Noah's son Ham, for control of Ireland. Romulus wars with the Sabines to establish the Roman nation and state. Yu the Great, labors thirteen years to drain the waters of a great Chinese flood into the sea before establishing the Xia Chinese dynasty.

The classic American founding struggles include the War of Independence against an evil British king and the long-term struggle of American unionists against the anti-federalists and confederates who oppose unity and support states' rights.

The Free Nation will identify some struggle of its own—a struggle against the sea in ships, against aggression from neighboring nation-states, or against interference from the United Nations or from American tax authorities. This struggle, and the sacrifice by those who make the struggle, will justify the nation and sanctify the governing regime.

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Myths of Uniqueness

The nation-state claims to be one-of-a-kind among the nations and states of the world. The race, culture, and intellectual achievements of the nationality are unique and superior. The structure and ideology of the state are also unique, superior, and invincible in the face of foreign or domestic adversaries.

In antiquity, the Israelites claim they are the uniquely chosen people of God, that their culture and laws are given directly to them by God, and that God supports them in war. In Hawaii, Pacco, a divine conqueror from across the sea, overthrows the existing dynasty of chiefs creating a new dynasty and founding the new religion of the regime. American uniqueness includes claims for (1) the first written Constitution, (2) a historically superior "presidential" and "representative" form of government, (3) a melting-pot culture which combines only the best attributes of each of the other nationalities and states of the world, (4) the first nation born in freedom, and (5) divine guidance in all the above.

The Free Nation will claim to be the most free nation on Earth and the first to put into practice the ideals of libertarianism. The culture, social arrangements, and government of the Free Nation will be touted as the vanguard of the inevitable worldwide movement away from the liberal-conservative left-right continuum and movement toward the libertarian pinnacle of the Nolan Chart. All these claims will support a notion of moral superiority in a world of inferior nation-states.

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Myths of Political Community

A national fantasy of an idealized political community instructs citizens how the politics of the state operates and how citizens relate to one another within the nation and the state.

In antiquity, politics is clearly elitist and authoritarian and the relationship among citizens is stratified into superior-inferior and master-slave. Plato's Republic is the ideal hierarchical nation-state.

Enlightenment thinkers and the American and French Revolutions bring a new fantasy of equality, fraternity, and democracy. All men are created equal and participate equally in the life of the nation-state.

The Free Nation will claim to be the ultimate fulfillment of the Enlightenment myths, with all previous nation-states, including the United States, being inferior successive approximations of the ultimate ideal. In fact, much of the work of the Free Nation Foundation is focused on creating the national fantasy of the idealized community even before the nation-state is founded.

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Myths of Destiny

Based on the stature of its founders, the virtue of its great struggle, the legitimacy and pedigree of its continuity, and the unique superiority of its culture and government, the nation-state sees itself destined for geopolitical greatness. With divine support and with moral and political superiority, the nation-state draws the people and resources of the world to itself, teaches and guides the less fortunate and less able nations of the world, accumulates vast territories and wealth, and fulfills the great destiny or higher purpose thrust upon it by gods or fates. The destiny is phrased in generalities so any succession of short-term goals and the development of new goals is possible within the context of that destiny.

In antiquity, the Israelites are destined to obey God, the future glories of Rome are revealed by the gods to Rome's founder, the goddess Aphrodite predicts the everlasting dynasty of Rome (perhaps through to the Third Reich?), and conquerors from Alexander to the Islamic warlords claim to fulfill destiny with their successful conquests. The British Empire of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries assumes "the white man's burden" to civilize the peoples of the world.

American history is dotted with claims for manifest destiny, including consolidation of the colonies, conquest of the natives, conquest of the terrain, expansion west of the Appalachians, expansion to the Pacific, expansion into Spanish America, expansion into a global empire, and singular leadership of the New World Order. American history is also dotted with claims of cultural, racial, and political superiority, including superiority over the yellow horde, the Filipino people, the European despots, and the Soviet evil empire.

The Free Nation will develop similar myths to solidify a sense of nationality, instill national and state loyalty, and maintain the self-confidence of the nation-state in the face of a world community which does not share the values of the Free Nation. D

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Alinsky, Saul. Rules for Radicals. Random House, 1971.

Bentley, Peter. The Dictionary of World Myth. Facts on File, 1995.

Eley, Geoff and Ronald Suny, eds. Becoming National. Oxford University Press, 1996.

Lipset, Seymour Martin. The First New Nation. Basic Books, 1963.


Gordon Diem is Assistant Professor of Political Science at North Carolina Central University, and a former member of the North Carolina Marriage and Family Therapy Certification Board.

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