29 August 2022

Good and Bad Nationalism

Patriotism is a virtue, but is all nationalism also patriotism? Not necessarily, as Mr Pearce, a former extreme nationalist, explains.

From The Imaginative Conservative

By Joseph Pearce

Nationalism has a bad name and for very good reason. Much that is evil has been done in its name and much other evil has been ascribed to it, justly or otherwise. Due to its bad name, it is customary to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism. The former is seen to be good whereas the latter is seen as something that patriots need to avoid. Nationalism is considered a disordered distortion of patriotism, a disorientation which points the patriot in the wrong direction.

In order to test these assumptions, it is first necessary to define our terms. What exactly is nationalism and how does it differ from mere patriotism?

Let’s begin with the latter.

Patriotism is not a creed or a political philosophy or an ideology. It is only a feeling, an emotional impulse. It leads us to excitement at a sports event if our country is competing. It leads us to great happiness if our country triumphs and to sadness if our country is defeated. It leads us to defend our country in time of war. It may affect the way that we vote in elections. It is, however, a thing of the heart, not a thing of the head.

Nationalism, on the other hand, is a creed, or at least it has a creed. It is a political philosophy or at least an ideology. It is not a feeling or an emotional impulse but a set of political principles and propositions. It is not an emotional response to events but a practical call to action in accordance with set intellectual principles. It is a thing of the head, not a thing of the heart.

Let’s look at a few established definitions of nationalism. The American Heritage Dictionary online ascribes three distinct definitions:

Devotion, especially excessive or undiscriminating devotion, to the interests or culture of a particular nation-state.

The belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals.

The belief that a particular cultural or ethnic group constitutes a distinct people deserving of political self-determination.

Merriam-Webster online offers the following definition: Loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

The first of the American Heritage Dictionary’s definitions subjects nationalism to patriotic “devotion”, stripping it of anything meaningful beyond mere emotional patriotism. Indeed, it is closer to being a definition of patriotism than of nationalism. The other two definitions are more helpful. The first emphasizes the goal and necessity of national sovereignty, the belief that a national government should conserve and protect the political and economic freedom of the nation from anything which threatens it. The second emphasizes that the cultural or ethnic identity of a people has inherent value and that such identity deserves to be preserved and protected. Merriam-Webster, by comparison, suggests, albeit subtly, that nationalism is inseparable from the sort of patriotic bigotry which exalts one nation above all others. It’s about the perceived superiority of one nation over another. A nationalist believes that his country is better than other countries and it must therefore place itself above and in opposition to “other nations or supranational groups”. It is implicit in the Merriam-Webster definition that nationalism is inseparable from supercilious arrogance and belligerence. There is even the implicit suggestion that it’s a form of racism.

Comparing the definitions of these two dictionaries serves to remind the discerning reader and thinker that dictionaries can “spin” the meaning of a word. The best strive to be neutral and objective; the worst employ the dictionary as a weapon in the culture wars, wielding it in the war of words as a means of distorting meaning to pursue political agendas.

In this case, however, the differing definitions will serve our rhetorical purpose. The Merriam-Webster definition defines bad nationalism; the American Heritage definitions define good nationalism. Both forms exist and it is the former which has given the latter a bad name.

Bad nationalism makes the nation a menace and a threat to neighbouring nations. Let’s take a few examples of such bad nationalism from history.

Patriotic devotion to the post-revolutionary French Republic led to the Napoleonic Wars and the French invasion of neighbouring nations, with Napoleon crowning himself emperor in 1804. In 1870 the belligerent patriotism of Prussia led to that nation’s invasion of France in the Franco-Prussian War. As if to rub salt into the wounds of his vanquished foe, Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, had himself crowned emperor in Paris. By the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the British Empire controlled a quarter of the land area of the world and ruled a quarter of the world’s population. Amongst her many titles, Queen Victoria was known as the Empress of India.

The astute observer will note how each of these examples of bad nationalism resulted in one nation’s conquest of other nations. In other words, bad nationalism, in crushing the independence of other nations, has no respect for the belief that nations “benefit from acting independently”. Furthermore, the conquest of other nations rides roughshod over and violates the belief that “a particular cultural or ethnic group constitutes a distinct people deserving of political self-determination”. The Napoleonic army had no respect for the peoples of Europe whose nations they invaded. The Prussians had no respect for the right of the French to independence, nor did they respect France as a distinct people deserving of political self-determination. To what extent did the British respect the rights of the people of the Indian subcontinent to their independence or their right to political self-determination?

The astute observer will also have noted that each of these examples of bad nationalism were imperial, which is to say that they established those “supranational groups” known as empires. An empire is not nationalist but internationalist. It is the domination of nations in the name of whoever controls the “supranational group”. Such internationalism takes many forms. Apart from the Napoleonic, German and British Empires already mentioned, we could mention the Soviet Empire and short-lived Nazi empire of the Third Reich. We should also mention the current “supranational” empire, known as the European Union, which is trying to destroy the independence of dissenting nations, such as Poland and Hungary, which are endeavouring to practice good nationalism in the belief that they can “benefit from acting independently” of draconian and destructive European Union dictates. Furthermore, the people of Poland and Hungary believe that they are a particular cultural or ethnic group, a distinct people, deserving of political self-determination.

A good nationalist rejoices in the good nationalism of other nations. He doesn’t want his country to conquer other countries, any more than he wishes his country to be conquered. A good nationalist is never an imperialist because an imperialist is an internationalist. A good nationalist believes that all countries, not merely his own, should benefit from acting independently from globalist demands that nations surrender their right to political self-determination to some unelected and unelectable supranational global elite.

We will conclude with a descent into tautology. Nationalism is only good if it is good nationalism. Like all human things, nationalism can be corrupted. Like all human things it can succumb to the sin of pride and the prejudice that pride begets. Pride poisons nationalism as it poisons everything. The spirit of good nationalism is, therefore, inseparable from the spirit of humility. It loves its neighbours. A good nationalist loves the good nationalists in other nations because they love their country as he loves his.

 A good nationalist knows that bad nationalism is merely imperialism wearing a patriotic mask. He knows the difference between good nationalism and bad nationalism because he knows the difference between good and evil. He chooses the good. All good men who seek to save their countries from the grip of globalism need to become good nationalists.

1 comment:

  1. Great article and very well written. Unfortunately, I would find it hard to believe that even Poland and Hungary did not, sometime in their storied histories invade and violate the boundaries of other peoples, whether those peoples would have been considered "tribes" at the time they were violated or sovereign nations closer to what we in the modern era consider independent states.

    Now, let me pose a question because I love playing devil's advocate. How about if a region of a country becomes so saturated by an ethnic group from another nation, that the group has a tendency to exhibit more patriotic or (good) nationalist fervor for their country of origin than for their adopted country? Is it permissible or even ethical to expect such a group (say, Mexicans who immigrated to the US for economic reasons) or the Moors who settled Southern Europe to display anything less than pride for their countries of origin? And even if it isn't reasonable to expect the immigrant to have the attachment of the native son, does the fact of their existence somehow undermine the national cohesion that makes for healthy nation states? Sometimes the belligerents don't need to cross border to violate a nation's sovereignty. Sometimes they live next door.


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