| Fiction over fact|
|How it didn't happen|
“”Stach z Warty Szukalski’s doctrines about Poles being descended from Easter Islanders are as dotty as the Nazis’ believing their forbears came from Hyperborea; the nationalism of opposing nations is routinely susceptible to kindred delusions. Nationalism is international.
Nationalist pseudohistory is that branch of pseudoscience which is concerned with the glorification of a certain nation. The mind set comes from the antiquarian and Imperial synthesis periods of archeology. The various schools of "thought" of nationalist pseudohistory are inevitably all at odds with each other, yet they share commonalities in their use of similar and oftentimes identical arguments.
- 1 Ethnocentrism and scientific ignorance: a toxic cocktail
- 2 Common tropes in nationalist pseudoscience
- 2.1 Generic ethnonyms prove we are the master race
- 2.2 Similar ethnonyms prove we are the master race
- 2.3 Similar words prove we speak the master language
- 2.4 Similar place names prove we are the master race
- 2.5 The Aryan homeland is located in our country
- 2.6 Ethnic groups have homogeneous, "pure" ancestries
- 2.7 Appeal to foreignness
- 2.8 We invented the swastika, therefore we are the master race
- 3 In fiction and the mainstream media
- 4 Schools of nationalist pseudohistory
- 5 See also
- 6 External links
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Bibliography
Ethnocentrism and scientific ignorance: a toxic cocktail
“”Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
|—Paraphrase of Voltaire|
Nationalist pseudohistorians are generally people who have no credentials in history, linguistics, archaeology, or any other field that might be related to the study of their culture. They are laymen who often know virtually everything about their own country (or at least the nationalist conception of it taught in schools), but are clueless about what exists outside of it. When they venture out into the wider world, they encounter (or actively seek) similarities with their own culture, and, as a result of their ethnocentrism and complete ignorance of relevant scientific knowledge, derive this information in terms of what they are already familiar with. Many of the arguments used by nationalist pseudoscientists derive from this universal tendency, and as a result are found in many countries. Those who make use of these arguments often believe that their group alone has managed to discover such obvious "proofs", while being completely unaware that nationalists of many other ethnic groups make extensive use of them as well. Through books, articles, TV shows, documentaries, websites, and blogs, the ignorant amateurs that are nationalist pseudohistorians promote arguments consisting of all sorts of fallacies and falsehoods to millions-strong audiences themselves consisting of ignorant amateurs incapable of seeing through the absurdities promoted by these dilettantes.
Nationalist distortion of history is often used in support of xenophobic action. Even mainstream "respectable" nationalists often take the position that oppressing ethnic minorities is desirable, because it is in service of "the fatherland", while at the same time being outraged whenever this is done to their own group. They will say that "this land is ours", and that ethnic minorities are just unwelcome intruders who "have no right to be here", but at the same time that all members of their own ethnic group everywhere must have the right to preserve their own language and culture, even advocating war costing thousands or millions of lives in order to do this. In other words, "we" must have all the rights we want, but "you" must have none. There is generally no real reason for this destructive double standard. However, nationalist pseudohistory provides one. Through ridiculous arguments that hypnotize the minds of an unsavvy audience that doesn't know any better, nationalist pseudohistorians will claim that their own ethnic group is the "master race" and that all languages are just dialects of their own language. If this is true, it logically follows that all other ethnic groups are merely "degenerate", "inferior" versions of one's own that have no right to exist and must be assimilated (and hence, "brought back into the fold"). For "them" to be assimilated is not such a big deal, since they are just degenerate versions of "us". But for "us" to be assimilated into "their" culture would be catastrophic, since we are the master race; it is unthinkable that the master race could ever perish from the face of the Earth, or at least be diminished in any way whatsoever — the master race must be preserved at all costs. Nationalist pseudohistory thus serves as a justification for hatred and oppression.
Common tropes in nationalist pseudoscience
Generic ethnonyms prove we are the master race
Imagine the following scenario. Europeans did not manage to conquer the entirety of the Americas, and several Native American nation-states arose on what would have otherwise become Indo-European-speaking regions. In these nation-states, children are taught in school the history of their own nation in great detail, and have only a foggy idea of the history of other Native American peoples or of the world in general. Some Cherokee engineers and mathematicians, who, like most other people in the country, are clueless about non-Cherokee history, read some books in their spare time and find out that, astonishingly enough, not just the Cherokee, but also the Inuit, Navajo, Incas, and many other peoples of the Americas have historically been called "Indians." Spurred by this fortuitous "discovery", and having spent their whole lives thinking that Indian was a synonym of Cherokee, they publish scores of books arguing that the fact that all these groups have the same name as the Cherokee indicates that they are all in fact Cherokees and that the Cherokee are the Indian master race. The general public, which is likewise completely unaware that Indian was a widely used term with no real ethnic meaning, laps it up, and splurges on media promoting these ideas.
This is undoubtedly a ridiculous line of reasoning. But nationalist pseudohistorians everywhere, who are unfettered by the pesky chains of "logic" and "reason", will often invoke such arguments. They will start with some ethnonyms that they consider to be "their people", find some generic names with which they are often historically equated, and then claim that all the peoples covered under these generic names are in fact derived from their own group. Of course, one could easily reverse this reasoning to argue that any of the other groups are "the master race". One name beloved by nationalists is the word "Scythian", which was often used in antiquity as a term meaning simply "barbarian".
Similar ethnonyms prove we are the master race
The existence of ethnonyms that resemble that of the nationalist's ethnicity is often claimed to be proof of its being the master race. Examples include Russian nationalists' derivation of etrusci (Etruscans) as being from eto russkie (these are Russians) and Romanian nationalists' derivation of deutsch and Dutch as being from the word daci (/dat͡ʃʲ/; meaning "Dacians").
As usual, this can be reversed to argue that it is the Germans that are the master race, and not the Romanians. In addition, this argument does not take into account linguistic evolution. The original form of deutsch was duit-isc, and all words relating to the Dacians in Latin and Ancient Greek were pronounced with a /k/ sound, meaning the modern similarity of the two names is simply a coincidence.
Similar words prove we speak the master language
One of the most common "proofs" used by nationalists are lists of similar words. They claim that the presence of so many words from "our" language in another (or others) proves that "our" language is Proto-World.
The most glaring problem with this (as with many other nationalist arguments), of course, is that one could just as well reverse the argument and say that the presence of these similarities shows that "our" language is descended from "theirs". Besides which, evolution does not work this way. Just as humans cannot be descended from modern-day monkeys, if two contemporaneous languages are related (e.g., French and Italian), then this means they share a common ancestor (e.g., Latin), but by no means could it be said that one is descended from the other. (However, it is true that sometimes earlier states look more like one modern descendant language than the other. For instance, modern Dutch looks more like 17th century Dutch than Afrikaans does.) For somebody to say that many or all languages are descended not from a past common ancestor, but from a modern language, is a sure sign of crackpottery.
Another issue with this argument is that the fact that two words are similar does not in itself prove they have the same origin. The correlation between similarity of form and meaning and common origin is often borne out by daily experience, but this is a mere heuristic that is not scientifically valid. Language changes, and, as a result, words that were originally quite different may over time coincidentally come to resemble each other. Because all languages have thousands of words, if you compare any language with any other (even if both are completely unrelated), many words will be coincidentally similar or even identical due to the large number of words involved. A similar situation applies in the case of individual words. Consider the word and. There are countless thousands of languages in the world, and consequently thousands of ways of expressing the concept "and". Of these many pronunciations, it is inevitable that some or even many will be coincidentally similar or identical to "and". It would be entirely possible for someone attempting to show that all languages are derived from English to compile a list of many such similar pronunciations. But this list would merely contain many similar words from various languages; it would certainly not prove that they all have the same origin, and much less that English, as opposed to any of the other languages, is the words' original source.
For another thing, lexical similarity can be caused by borrowing. For instance, English (and many other languages, for that matter) have words from all over the world, but this is obviously not because all languages are descended from English. Even languages that have been generally stationary throughout their history can have loanwords used across vast swaths of land as a result of borrowing from intermediary languages. For instance, Balkan languages and Indian languages like Hindi share numerous related Arabic or Persian words (e.g., mahalla) as a result of borrowing, either directly from the source language or from intermediaries such as Persian or Turkish.
The actual way to prove a genetic relationship between two languages is to demonstrate the existence of regular sound laws by means of the comparative method. For instance, the Latin consonant sequence /ct/ regularly corresponds to /t͡ʃ/ in Spanish, /tt/ in Italian, and /pt/ in Romanian. The Latin noctem is noche in Spanish, noapte in Romanian, and notte in Italian; octo corresponds to ocho, opt, otto; coctus corresponds to cocho,, copt, cotto; factus corresponds to hecho, fapt, and fatto; and pectus corresponds to pecho, piept, and petto. This is because these languages are all related. On the other hand, merely cherry-picking similar words, when lexical similarities are statistically certain to happen by chance, does not demonstrate anything whatsoever. Despite the fact that the comparative method is Historical Linguistics 101, many nationalist pseudolinguists have never even so much as heard of it, exemplifying the universal tendency of nationalist amateurs to be totally ignorant of even the basics of the fields they pretend to be experts in.
Similar place names prove we are the master race
Nationalist pseudoscientists will often compile lists of place names that resemble either toponyms in their own country or words in their own language, and assert that they are all derived from the place names or language of the nationalist's country.
The logical flaw in the first case is obvious. The nationalist arbitrarily assumes that all these place names must be originally from his country, when one could, also arbitrarily, claim that it is the other way around, with the nationalist's group being derivative. Such lists also do not demonstrate that these place names have a common origin; out of the countless place names in the world, it would be impossible for some not to be coincidentally alike.
As for the second case, it is to be expected that place names and words will resemble each other by chance. If one takes any language in the world and compares its thousands of words to the thousands of existing place names, many will happen to be similar. For there to be no coincidences is simply not possible. Similarly, if you take a particular place name, it's a good bet that it will coincidentally mean something in various languages. Good examples of this are the village of Fucking, Austria, and the city of Pula, Croatia (pula meaning "the dick" in Romanian).
The Aryan homeland is located in our country
"Aryan" is a now mostly discredited term that was used to refer to speakers of Indo-European languages (of which Yiddish funnily enough is one) as a group and which is still used to refer to a group of (likely Indo-European speaking) conquerors in the early history of India. As languages rarely leave physical traces in non-writing cultures it is very difficult to pin down where the first Indo-European languages were spoken and there is not yet any scholarly consensus on that. Of course, cranks are having a field day with that.
There are many hypotheses as to the location of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) homeland, and consequently many different books for nationalists to cherry-pick. They will cite various sources stating that the PIE urheimat (homeland) was located in their country, and claim that therefore they must be the master race, and that the Proto-Indo-Europeans spoke their language. This makes about as much sense as stating that the Sumerians, Hittites, and Egyptians were all Arabs, that all pre-contact Native Americans were really English, or that the neanderthals were French.[note 1]
Ethnic groups have homogeneous, "pure" ancestries
Nationalists are generally obsessed with proving that their ethnic group has occupied its current territory since time immemorial (a tendency known as primordialism), usually by claiming descent from some ancient people whose former territory they inhabit, but whose language they do not actually speak. For instance, the Slavs of Macedonia like to imagine that they are descended from the Ancient Macedonians, and hail Alexander the Great as being their national hero. This is mocked and perceived as ridiculous by groups like Bulgarians and Romanians, despite the fact that they also claim to be descended from ancient peoples whose languages they do not speak: the Thracians and Dacians. The historian Raymond Detrez has pointed out the inconsistency of this position:
“”But since Bulgarian blood is 16 or 18% Thracian, as the Academician Anton Donchev said to the Dutch at the Hague, then why would Macedonian blood not contain at least the same percent of blood from the veins of Alexander the Great? It's exactly the same type of "continuity". Why should the Macedonian obsession with the Ancient Macedonians be more ridiculous than Bulgarian Thracomania or the cult of the Bulgars (the part of their blood that's in contemporary Bulgarians has also been given a measurement that is just as precise, but I forget what it is), the "founders of 12 countries"?
Another example would be the French obsession with "our ancestors, the Gauls". (It is ironic that one of the most famous Gauls, Astérix, was created by second-generation immigrants with the very unfrench names of Gościnny and Uderzo.) The Gauls were defeated by the Romans, and the modern French speak the language of the victors, while their country's name refers to a Germanic tribe (whose language they don't speak either) which moved into the area during the aptly named Migration Period. Indeed, the only people still speaking a Celtic language in France (the Bretons) have been persecuted for it since the French Revolution until well into the 20th century.
There are similar examples having to do not with continuity, but with supposed "nobility" or ethnic superiority. During the American Civil War, for instance, there was a widespread belief in the South that Southerners were the descendants of the "noble" Norman conquerors of England, while the Northerners were the spawn of the barbaric Anglo-Saxons—a claim which, to us moderns, seems completely preposterous. (Although, if the Confederacy had won, perhaps it would now enjoy the same respectability as the idea that the French are descended from Gauls.) Francis Lieber criticized this idea in his article The Latin Race, stating, "The rebels told us and each other again and again that they were a race totally different from the race of the North[.] [...] races are very often invented from ignorance, or for evil purposes". Oddly enough, in modern times this idea has been spun around by neo-Confederates such as the League of the South to claim that the Southerners are an Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Celtic people, and that the damn Yankees were descended from the upper-crust Norman oppressors. Funny how things change — in the age of open white supremacy and Jim Crow, segregationists were keen to claim descent from nobility, but since then, their descendants have renounced that heritage in favor of identifying with the Scotch-Irish Appalachian 'hillbillies' that had previously been seen as just one step above the blacks.
Nationalists often support such claims of descent by arguing that their ethnicity is biologically descended, mostly or entirely, from the ancient ethnic group in question, often accompanying this statement with an exclamation along the lines of "the blood of group X runs through our veins!" This is, naturally, nonsense. Family trees grow at an almost exponential rate, doubling virtually every generation. If the genealogy of a particular individual could be traced back to a particular time in antiquity (or even just a few centuries ago), there would be countless hundreds of millions of ancestors of undoubtedly varied linguistic affiliations alive at that moment in time. Consequently, one has only to go back a couple of hundred years to find the latest common ancestor of (say) two Europeans. (Because of this, there is a common saying that all Europeans are descended from Charlemagne. In fact, it's not just Charlemagne, but also Muhammad, Nefertiti, and Confucius.) According to one professor of genetics, "If I get a white European to shake hands with the person next to them, there is about a 30 per cent probability that they are talking to their seventh or eighth cousin. The common ancestor of everyone alive today lived something like 3,500 years ago. So you are not saying anything when you have your test done and find out you are descended from Romans. Everybody is.” When a white supremacist is shown to have African DNA, this is not particularly remarkable, since all white people have relatively recent African ancestors. Or as Stephen Fry put it:
“”Now, we're all strangers here, especially those of you who are a world away, of a different "racial stock" – as if such things mean anything; because, let's be honest, I don't think even the Prince of Wales could name his eighth great-grandparent. And if he couldn't, he comes from the most famous family in the world, then which of us can? And that's only three generations back. We have two parents, four parents, eighth great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-great grandparents, thirty-two, sixty-four, a hundred-twenty-eight, and so on, and so on, and so on, until it's an exponential curve, this extraordinary number of ancestors we have. [...]
If you can't name your eight great-grandparents, one of whom may be Jewish, one of whom may be Arabic, one of whom may be of any race that you can think of under the sun that may not have shown through as a pigmentation or a facial type, then how can you call yourself anything in terms of identity, other than a brother or sister of everybody else on the planet? [...] People have worked out that one does not have to go back very far in history before all of us are related. [...]We're all descended, we're all royal descendants. We must be, because we have more ancestors from the 15th century than the population of Britain in the 15th century. Even allowing for that, you know, for the incest [audience laughs], we must be related. And if you go back further and further, it's Atilla the Hun we're all related to. And, of course, we're all related to that very few thousand number of people who survived the last ice age.
All individuals have ancestries of unimaginable diversity (even if it may not be in the living memory of the individual's immediate family), rendering claims of racial purity and phrases like "our ancestors, the Gauls"[note 2] meaningless. The only way a person could possibly have ethnically "pure" blood is through thousands of years of continuous, uninterrupted inbreeding,[note 3] which is not only very unlikely (bordering on impossible), but also a fairly idiotic thing to be proud of.
Appeal to foreignness
Nationalists will often give lengthy lists of quotes by foreigners who say that "our" nation is the oldest in the world, that "our" nation is the master race, or that "we" are the most gentle, kindhearted, yet also ruthlessly competent warriors the world has ever seen. This is a reverse ad hominem argument which implies that, because the foreigner in question cannot be influenced by nationalistic bias, they must therefore be right. Of course, "foreigners" can be found to promote such theories about any and all peoples. That does not mean that all ethnic groups are simultaneously the master race.
Conversely, nationalists will often claim that the nonsensical theories they cook up are being covered up for political reasons by "the enemies of our country", who don't want to recognize the indisputable truth that "we" are the master race. If you don't believe "we" are the master race, that's just because you're a foreign "us-hating" nationalist.[note 4]
We invented the swastika, therefore we are the master race
Nationalists will often claim that their country has the oldest swastikas in the world, and that this proves they are the Aryan master race. Since the swastika exists all around the world, this means that the master race, starting from the nationalist's country, spread out and migrated, taking the swastika with them, and that all peoples are really part of the nationalist's ethnic group. This is wrong on numerous counts.
Second, it cannot be said that such swastikas are the oldest, but merely the oldest that have been discovered so far. It may turn out that others will be discovered elsewhere that are even older.
Third, shared cultural elements do not indicate a common linguistic origin.[note 5] Swastikas may have spread through cultural diffusion. The fact that computers, Western clothing, Pepsi, and Western music are found worldwide does not mean the origin of all languages is Europe, and the fact that gunpowder is now international does not mean Chinese is Proto-World.
Fourth, the fact that an ethnic group happens to live on the spot where such swastikas were found does not imply they have anything to do with the people that created these swastikas. This is like saying that Teotihuacan was built by Spanish speakers because Spanish happens to be spoken there now, that the Pyramids were built by Arabs, or that Stonehenge was built by Englishmen.
Fifth, even if the swastika really were passed on from an original ethnic group to its linguistic descendants, this does not mean that its language is the same as any modern language. It could be said that these ethnic groups share a common ancestor, but this ancestor must necessarily have existed thousands of years ago, and cannot possibly be any ethnic group extant today; a modern language cannot be descended from another modern language, just as a person cannot be descended from someone his own age.
In fiction and the mainstream media
While full-blown nationalist pseudohistory tends to be a fringe phenomenon, the ethnocentric national chauvinism at its core is evident in such grandiose titles in popular history as How the Irish Saved Civilization and How the Scots Invented the Modern World which are (fortunately) less awful than their bombastic titles would suggest. Arguably the most famous fictional example of a totalitarian approach to history resembling nationalist pseudohistory is George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four in which the Party constantly rewrites history to make itself the inventor of practically everything. The narrator, Winston Smith, is certain that the airplane, contrary to the official history, existed before the Party took over as he can remember the one predating the other (although, thanks to the memory holes he cannot document this). He expects that in the future, the Party will be given credit for practically all technical inventions and can see the process at work in his rebellious lover, Julia:
“”She believed, for instance, having learnt it at school, that the Party had invented aeroplanes. (In his own schooldays, Winston remembered, in the late fifties, it was only the helicopter that the Party claimed to have invented; a dozen years later, when Julia was at school, it was already claiming the aeroplane; one generation more, and it would be claiming the steam engine.)
Schools of nationalist pseudohistory
- Hindutva (Indian Hindus)
- Hwandan Gogi (South Koreans)
- Juche (North Koreans)
- Nihonjinron (Japanese)
- Nazism (Germans)
- Protochronism (Romanians)
- Thracomania (Bulgarians and Romanians)
- Turkish nationalism (Turks)
- Venetic theory (Slovenians)
- Descent from antiquity was used even before the advent of nationalism for essentially the same purpose
- Anglo-Saxon Foundation
- National mysticism
- Good old days
- Ethnic cleansing
- Dialect continuum
- Delusions of grandeur
- Everything and Everyone is an Indian, showcasing nationalist hyperactive pattern recognition at its finest.
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding - Give me any word, and I show you how the root is Greek
- The roots of Finns and the Uralic language, by Jaakko Häkkinen, which describes the delusion that genes, culture, and language must be connected
- The Invention of Tradition, Eric Hobsbawm
- On Macedonians, “noble” origins, and how Alexander the Great is a Muslim figure, Dan Alexe
- "Our Ancestors the Gauls": Archaeology, Ethnic Nationalism, and the Manipulation of Celtic Identity in Modern Europe, Michael Dietler
- Historiography and nationalism, Wikipedia
- A Short Introduction to Pan-Turanism, an overview of Turkish pseudohistory
- Indeed, Chinese nationalists make claims that are fairly similar to this. According to The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe by Tomasz Kamusella, page 27, "Numerous Chinese academics project their nationalism onto the paleontological past and seriously maintain that the Chinese nation has existed at least for several million years. This is much further in the past than Homo sapiens sapiens that originated some 100,000 to 200,000 years ago (Sautman 2001: 103)."
- A more truthful version of this cliché would read "our ancestors, everybody."
- "Thracian blood flows through my veins!" "Oh, your ancestors were inbred? That's cool. I'm not really into incest myself, but I can respect people with alternative lifestyles."
- Nationalists are, amusingly, very fond of calling their opponents "nationalists". This is because they imagine every single other nation is tainted by chauvinism, with the speaker's nation alone being entirely in the right and completely objective.
- See Indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands and Native American Cultures, which show Native American culture areas which encompass many linguistically unrelated groups.
- Culture Clashes in Europe East And West, Jonathan Meades.
- Trigger 1989, 110-147.
- Лекция А.А. Зализняка "О профессиональной и любительской лингвистике" на фестивале науки в МГУ 11 октября 2008, Andrey Zalinyak.
- Dacii - adevaruri tulburatoare despre protocronism
- Dacii reali erau mult mai puțin tulburători decât vor dacomanii să credem, Vice Romania.
- Dacomania sau cum mai falsificãm istoria, Historia.ro.
- Irredentism: An Inevitable Tendency of Ethnic Nationalism, Dimostenis Yağcıoğlu.
- From “Barbarian Turk” to “Muslim Turk”, Ayşe Hür.
- Diasporas and Homeland Conflicts: A Comparative Perspective, Bahar Baser, page 55.
- Prison Narratives from Boethius to Zana, P. Phillips.
- Ethnicity, Class, and Nationalism: Caribbean and Extra-Caribbean Dimensions, Anton L. Allahar, page 217.
- Have Xenophobia and Racism Become Mainstream in Turkey?
- Protochronism#Various peoples are called "Wallachs"
- Dutch, Online Etymology Dictionary.
- Protochronism#The words Deutsch/Dutch are derived from the word Dacian
- 1421, Bill Poser, Language Log.
- Lyle Campbell, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, pages 108, 318-319, 322-323.
- محلة, en.wiktionary.org.
- cocho, es.wiktionary.org.
- Factus, Wiktionary.org.
- Identifying Complex Sound Correspondences in Bilingual Wordlists, Grzegorz Kondrak.
- See pula, en.wiktionary.org.
- Studying the Uralic proto-language, Jaakko Häkkinen.
- The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe, Tomasz Kamusella, pages 27, 33.
- The (re-)making of the myth of ancient origin in Macedonian history textbooks, Darko Stojanov.
- FYROM Primary School History Textbooks, Stavroula Mavrogeni.
- De ce au devenit dacii strămoșii simbolici ai românilor, Historia.ro.
- Bretons fight to save language from extinction, Simon Hooper, CNN.
- McPherson, James M, Is Blood Thicker Than Water? Crises of Nationalism in the Modern World, page 45.
- Charlemagne’s DNA and Our Universal Royalty, National Geographic.
- Ancestry and Mathematics
- Are You Related To King Charlemagne?
- The Royal We, The Atlantic.
- Are you related to Cleopatra? Or are genealogists fishing in the Nile?
- Stephen Fry on Race, Ancestry and the Invention of Chess
- Protochronism#The Goths and Getae were the same people
- See also the 1421 theory.
- Mukti Jane Campion "How the world loved the swastika - until Hitler stole it", BBC News Magazine, 23 October 2014
- Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Chapter 1, p. 25:
- Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Chapter 2, p. 107: