Nationalists Versus Liberals in Telling Myths Today

Myths are oftentimes perceived as something negative, but they are in fact necessary for a state and its people. This is why liberal journalists and scholars are now urging their politicians to come up with new myths, in order to counter the nationalists’ myths which they regard as superior.

The potential and importance of myths was recognized even in Ancient times and led to the Bible being written. Plato wrote about the power of myths in “The Republic” around 380 BC, where he described myths as invented stories that speak to feelings rather than the mind and as necessary lies that are a foundation for the state.

In his book “Sapiens” from 2014, Dr Yuval Noah Harari writes about the history of mankind and includes what impact myths have had. According to him, myths are binding to human beings and something which has helped mankind to be so successful, in contrast to animals or even humans before the cognitive revolution some 70,000 years ago, when fictive language appeared. As Harairi proves, fiction made it possible for us to imagine something together and this led to the ability to cooperate in large numbers; without myths, the result of fiction, strangers wouldn’t be able to live together. As Harari writes: “Two Serbs who have never met might risk their lives to save one another because both believe in the existence of the Serbian nation, the Serbian homeland and the Serbian flag.”

Today nationalists are winning elections all around the world and one explanation could be that the liberals have a lack of good myths. There is worry among some of these liberals that they have already lost the battle to nationalists because of this lack and now they are desperate. Now liberals such as David Brooks in “The New York Times” are saying that the nationalists have to be countered with new and better myths. Liberals such as him claim that the old myth of America as a spreader of democracy doesn’t work any longer and has been replaced by Trump’s talk of national identity and “real Americans” (i.e. no minorities). We will now take a look at what exactly the liberal myths are and if the nationalistic myths, with the idea that history and language is what binds a nation together, are that wrong after all.

The Liberal Myths and Creating New Myths

According to Brooks and most liberal American politicians, America has been the spreader of democracy in the world up to the point Trump came to power. According to this myth, Americans do things not only for themselves but for the entire mankind.

There is something here which doesn’t add up though. Otherwise, one could think that the founders of this nation of spreader of democracy never committed genocide on the original inhabitants of their land, the Native Americans, and as an insult to the injury even took trophies when they named military helicopters after famous Native Americans such as Black Hawk and Apache, with which they claimed to spread democracy. It was in the name of democracy that this nation also bombed Serbia in 1999. In other words, the myth is cheap talk and only people who are not fully informed can believe in it.

Brooks refuses to see this and talks about creating new myths, both in America and the rest of the world, as if the nationalistic myths are something evil and don’t work. The truth is that one of the difference between totalitarian states and democracies is that totalitarian states create new myths, such as Germany in the 1930s when the Swastika was introduced, and Yugoslavia after the Second World War when the communists talked about “brotherhood and unity” between peoples that had tried to exterminate each other the day before. We saw this in Venezuela as well, when Hugo Chavez renamed the country and changed the flag. It was a revolution that was continued by his successor and it has now led to what can be called a humanitarian catastrophe. One explanation could be that it ends in fiasco when you try to replace myths with something that doesn’t work.

However, now liberals like Brooks actually talk about creating new myths. These liberals talk about some myth which must include all of humanity. Then who are “we” one could ask of course. This also demands the notion that there is something wrong with loving your nation, which is simply an extension of oneself, after one’s family and friends. But the truth is that myths which nations have and which are defended today by nationalistic politicians, because they are proud of their heritage, are far more superior than liberal ones and must not be abandoned. They work and, as we will see, they have helped nations to survive and keep their way of living.

The Superiority of Nationalistic Myths

To illustrate this claim we can take the Serbs and their myths. This is a nation that lived under Turkish occupation for centuries after the battle of Kosovo in 1389. The myths about the battle of Kosovo, with all its stories of heroic deeds and the lessons drawn, helped to keep together the Serbian nation through Turkish occupation, even if many converted to Islam.

It is a case which also illustrates how myths don’t necessarily have to be altogether true. For instance, the hero Miloš Obilić first appeared under the name Kobilić, and the four “S” that are found on the Serbian coat of arms and stand for “Union only saves the Serbs,” which is said to originate from the time for the battle of Kosovo, are in fact four “B” that derive from a Byzantine dynasty.

Nonetheless, the Serbs believe in these myths, the same way I do, because they tell a story and there are lessons to be drawn. The nationalistic myths, such as that of the Serbian people, are also more rooted in facts and history than liberal myths will ever be. They are also rooted in people’s blood and soil. Thanks to their myths the Serbs kept their faith during Muslim rule that lasted for almost a half millennium.

Myths used by nationalists are something that work, and now the liberals have realized the power of myths and recognized that the nationalists have an advantage when it comes to myths and winning the support of people because of them. We see this conflict in Serbia as well, where many politicians want to join the European Union and as a consequence need to recognize the independence of Kosovo, but many Serbs refuse to do so.

The Serbian nationalist Vojislav Šešelj was right when he spoke for the Serbian people at his trial at the Hague tribunal and said this: “Blood has been spilled and the soil has been coloured red because of Kosovo. Even if there is only one Serb left, we will not give up Kosovo.”

Words as powerful as these can’t be matched by anything from the liberals, especially not in Serbia. Indeed, many Serbs converted to Islam, we see Serbs abandoning their roots in Montenegro, and many Serbs want to join the European Union, but these are traitors who have lost their pride and honor. This truth will maybe not kill them, since there are antidotes. But it remains a fact that they are weaker because of this and they, liberals in Serbia as well as in other places, can’t replace the heritage that someone is proud of and would die for with myths that are created for everyone. This is why they will lose the battle that is raging.

Alexekin Rockowia
Editor-in-chief of For-Serbia The Website