4. Nationalists Versus Liberals in Telling Myths Today
Myths are often perceived as something negative, but they are in fact necessary for the 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 nationalist myths which they regard as superior.
The potential and importance of myths were recognized already in ancient times when they led to the writing of the Bible. Plato wrote about the power of myths in the “Republic” (around 380 BC), where he describes myths as invented stories that appeal to feelings rather than the mind and as necessary lies that are a foundation of the state.
In his book “Sapiens” from 2014, Dr Yuval Noah Harari writes about the history of mankind and considers the impact of the myths. According to him, myths are a connective tissue of human society and something which helped mankind to be so successful, in contrast to animals or even humans before cognitive revolution some 70,000 years ago, when first fictive language supposedly appeared. As Harari proves, fiction made it possible for us to imagine the same things together which gave us the ability to cooperate in much larger numbers; without myths, the result of fiction, strangers could never be able to team up. 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, 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. Some of these liberals worry that they have already lost the battle because of this lack, and now they are desperate. Now liberals such as David Brooks from “The New York Times” believe that the nationalists have to be countered with the new and better myths. Liberals who share his opinion claim that the old myth of America as a defender and spreader of the democracy does not work anymore and has been replaced by Trump‟s talk of national identity and “real Americans” (that is to say, no minorities). We will now look at what exactly the liberal myths are and whether the nationalist myths, based on the idea that history and language are 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 until the moment when Trump came to power. According to this myth, Americans do things not only for themselves but also for the entire mankind. Something here does not add up though.
Otherwise, one could think that the founders of this democracy-spreading nation never committed genocide on the original population of their land, the Native Americans, and as a further insult to the injury they had inflicted even took trophies when they named their military helicopters after famous Native Americans such as Black Hawk and Apache: helicopters with which they continue to spread democracy. It was also in the name of democracy that this nation bombed Serbia in 1999. In other words, this myth was busted long ago and is nothing but a cheap talk, which only people who are not fully informed can still believe in. Brooks refuses to see this and talks about creating new myths, both in America and the rest of the world, as if the nationalist myths are something evil and dysfunctional.
The truth is that one of the difference between totalitarian states and democracies is that totalitarian states create new myths, as Germany did in the 1930s when the Swastika was introduced, and Yugoslavia after the Second World War when the communists proclaimed “brotherhood and unity” between nations that the day before had tried to exterminate each other. We saw this in Venezuela as well, when Hugo Chavez renamed the country and changed the flag. His successor continued this revolution until it led to what can be called only a humanitarian catastrophe. One explanation could be that when one tries to replace myths with something that does not work it must end in fiasco.
However, liberals like Brooks still talk about creating new myths. What they have in mind is actually some myth that has to include all of humanity. One could ask, of course, who would be “we” then, in such fairy tale? This also presupposes the notion that there is something wrong with loving one‟s own nation, which is simply an extension of oneself, after family and friends. However, the truth is that national myths, preserved for centuries and defended today by nationalist politicians, proud of their heritage, are far more superior to 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 Nationalist 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 this battle, with all its legends of heroic deeds, lessons and morals drawn, helped to keep together the Serbian nation during the Ottoman rule, although many Serbs were converted to Islam.
This case also illustrates how myths do not necessarily have to be altogether true. For instance, the hero Miloš Obilić first appeared under the name Kobilić, and the four S that take place on the Serbian coat of arms – standing for “Only Unity Saves the Serbs” which supposedly originated from the time of the Battle of Kosovo – were in fact four B derived from a Byzantine dynasty.
Nonetheless, the Serbs believe in these myths, the same way I do, because they tell the story and there are lessons to be drawn. The nationalist myths, such as that of the Serbian people, are also more rooted in facts and history than liberal myths will ever be. They are rooted in people‟s blood and their soil. Thanks to their myths, the Serbs kept their faith during the half-millennium long Muslim rule.
Myths used by nationalists are something that works; liberals have just figured out the magnitude of their power and realized that nationalists have an advantage and win the people‟s support because of them. We see this conflict in Serbia as well, where many politicians want to join the European Union and as a consequence have to recognize the independence of Kosovo, but many Serbs refuse to do so.
Serbian nationalist Vojislav Šešelj was right when he said, on behalf of the Serbian people at his trial before the Hague Tribunal: “Rivers of blood have been spilled because of Kosovo. As long as there is only one Serb left, we will not give up Kosovo.”
Words as powerful as these cannot be matched by anything from the liberals, especially not in Serbia. Yes, 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 honor and pride. This truth will most likely not kill them, since there are antidotes: but the fact remains that they are weaker because of this. Liberals in Serbia, as well as in other countries, cannot replace the age-old heritage that someone is proud of and would even die for with myths created for everyone. That is why they will lose this battle that is raging around the world.