From Hobson's Choice
A political dogma that denigrates the rights and achievements of people of other nations. Nationalism necessarily incorporates resentment of at least one other nation, whether because it is the antagonist in a war of liberation, or a trade rival. Often "nationalism" is used as a synonym for "patriotism," which we regard as problematic.
There is ample grounds for claiming that nationalism is nothing more than universal tribal chauvinism. Hence, we could argue that the wars of 18th Century Europe featured intense nationalism on the part of the belligerent populations. However, the elements for fully developed nationalism were not yet in place: the monarchy was widely recognized as a family that "owned" sovereignty over lands it had inherited, and was not yet regarded as the embodiment of the nation. An authentic national government did not exist in many places; rather, there existed a pan-European set of rights and obligations that were notionally accepted by all the sovereigns, and the nobility of the day were largely responsible for enforcing a particular subset of these. Within each kingdom there might exist many different legal traditions, and princes usually found harmonization of the disparate traditions within their dominions to be a risky business.
A final, crucial element of nationalism that was not really in place until the 19th century was the identification of the people of a state as a cultural unit. England and France were exceptions, of course; but even they were ruled by royal families who regarded England or France as but parts of their royal patrimony. Ideologically, the French monarchy was tied to the Roman Catholic Church, and the clergy propped up the monarchy (as with all such relationships, however, this was not always harmonious).
England's Reformation amounted to the creation of a national religion with a phase during which one was under intense pressure to adhere to that religion. The wars of religion (1521-1648) shattered the pan-European structure of legality and class camaraderie; hereafter, a period followed during which the set of rights and obligations was now in abeyance as far as rival confessions were concerned. While Europe emerged from the Reformation with the political entities somewhat larger, Europe itself was well and truly fragmented into hostile pieces. This fragmentation did not end with the Wars of Religion, but continued; from 1648 to 1792, the kingdoms of Europe waged an immense number of costly wars. The French Revolution and wars waged by the conservative monarchists against the Republic raged for another 23 years before the bloodbath ended.
The effect of this stupendous violence was to effectively restore the pan-European polity splintered in 1521. The new polity included nations conclusively bound by international law, so that the old role of religion in ordering pan-European relations was now superseded by the sanctity of the ethnically-delineated nation.
Emergence of Nationalism
Ah, Love! could you and I with War conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
(with apologies to Edward Fitzgerald)
While there now existed a Trans-European Project (albeit in embryonic form), the peculiar irony of this situation was that the sense of national particularism had reached a fever pitch. There was, first of all, the issue of proto-nations such as Germany, Italy, and the Balkan territories. Germany, as an idealized future nation, meant an open repudiation of the conservative aristocracy that ruled over its "divided" polity—Prussia, Saxony, Bavaria, and so on. Italy, as an idealized future nation, also required such a repudiation, plus the "redemption" (or liberation) of Italian territories under foreign, and ultraconservative, rule (viz., the Papal States and the Austrian Empire). The Balkan nations, which were nearing internal self-rule by the mid-19th century, nevertheless dreamed of full liberation from Ottoman rule.
Second, there was the association of warfare with national renewal. War was understood as a purifying experience; long before the World Wars of the 20th century, sober philosophers recognized that war was terribly destructive, and yet there was a very strong, endemic popular addiction to war as a morally redeeming force. War was understood to
- give meaning to life, without which it would be pallid, or unworthy;
- give moral authority to the men of the generation who fought in war, without which they would be regarded as inferiors to generations who had;
- proved the vigor of the nation waging it, thereby confirming that its foundational principles were still true;
- but paradoxically, in light of reason 3, war was also thought to revise the foundational principles of the state, replacing a morally bankrupt social order with a new one.
For the political right, warfare served a practical function of making a militarist and elitist social order necessary; Randolph Bourne's axiom, that war was the health of the state, was undeniably true during this period. War was openly praised as "rallying the masses" to a social order that degraded and demeaned them; it polluted religion and made it a cult of the ruler. But for the left, it was seen as the path to destroying the old social order. The half-baked bromides and vapid mysticism of sentimental nationalism, it was generally assumed, eventually led the elites to their comeuppance. Even pacifism, in the Trans-European context, did not really mean opposition to war as such; it meant rather, a critique of the existing state's warfare (including threatened warfare). To the pacifist of the latter half of the 19th century, war was a crime of the existing social order against mankind, but also a final stage in the re-molding of the social order into something nearer to the Heart's desire. Hence, pacifism as a serious ideology necessarily rejected nationalism, because it rejected the pretensions of the nation to have a legitimate claim on the loyalty of its citizens; or, in a less strong form, it rejected the pretensions of the state to such a claim.
The 19th century developed the classic and familiar features of nationalism as it is understood today:
- A belief in the extraordinary, or unique, merit of the organizing principles of one's own nation;
- A belief in the fundamental claim of the nation-state on the loyalty of its citizens, and in particular, on the willingness of its citizens to wage war its behalf;
- A belief in the nation's victimhood; specifically, a mythology of external persecution by foreign power[s];
- A belief in the wickedness of moral equivalence.
Items 3 and 4 require further expansion. Nationalists, in practice, nearly always harbor bitter resentment against at least one foreign power; while this could encompass several others besides, the "others" usually are understood to be stooges of the primary adversary. In many cases, the other nation has been, or is, a colonial power; in other cases, the other nation is hegemonic; in still other cases, the other nation is either a rival, or even a former colony whose independence was achieved through momentary weakness. An example of the latter would include English attitudes towards the USA after 1815, when the new nation was too deeply scorned to be worth reconquering, but too craven and too diabolical to be forgiven its apostasy. (Specifically, publications such as the Times of London cited its irresponsible pursuit of aims conflicting with Britain's, and its opportunistic reliance on allies sharply at odds with its stated ideals, such as pre-Revolutionary France.)
Item 4 is another curious feature of classical nationalism. In the absence of extreme nationalism, it stands to reason that political arguments about one's government's behavior would rely on appeals to the facts. When a possible invasion of a particular foreign nation, for example, is discussed, it would be natural to oppose such an invasion on moral grounds: invading such-and-such a country would be beneath us; it would bring international disgrace on our nation, and odium on our strategic aims. Our allies would be shamed and have to question their alignment with us. Having denounced a proposed invasion ex ante, it makes sense that someone would be able to condemn it ex post, since the same person has the same moral judgment before and after the invasion occurred. Likewise, a person looking back on an act by her nation in the past (perhaps before she was born), might apply moral standards in a uniform fashion, and adjudge that the act was morally reprehensible.
Under extreme nationalism, such discernment becomes socially (or even legally) dangerous. Instead of clear moral boundaries, the extreme nationalist proposes a new crime: "moral equivalence." Moral equivalence is the act of applying moral standards impartially. The ultranationalist argues that, whatever the facts of the case, the acts of one's own country may never be legitimately compared to those of its adversaries. If one's own country uses treachery or violates international norms to gain an advantage, then one insists that urgent necessity (and an incomparably superior moral standing) extinguishes the crime. The concept of "moral equivalence" as a sin, implies a nationalist principle of "moral incomparability": crimes committed in the pursuit of a noble motive are not really crimes at all, while even legitimate acts of self-defense by the adversary are morally wicked.
As always, the concepts embodied in the phrase "moral equivalence" may apply even when it occurs to no one to use that exact wording.
Relationship to Patriotism
Patriotism (love of country) is often equated with nationalism; in European usage, this equation is well-nigh universal. Among Europeans of center-left disposition, both are seen as vicious; while Usonians usually welcome being described as "patriotic," Europeans almost never do. In Usonian usage, "nationalism" is sometimes seen as negative, while "patriotism" is perceived as something good (in the past, the British usage was more like the Usonian; now, it is more like the Continental European). Naturally, the distinction then hinges on the speaker's notion of what form of national self-regard is appropriate.
Patriotism is a lively sense of collective responsibility. Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on its own dunghill and calling for larger spurs and brighter beaks. I fear that nationalism is one of England’s many spurious gifts to the world.The valuable essay by the pseudononymous Maha that furnished that quote makes the case that the main difference is the patriot's sense of responsibility; here's another Usonian example:
'Richard Aldington' via Mahablog
Nationalism is militant hatred. It is not love of our countrymen: that, which denotes good citizenship, philanthropy, practical religion, should go by the name of patriotism. Nationalism is passionate xenophobia. It is fanatical, as all forms of idol-worship are bound to be. And fanaticism—l’infame denounced by Voltaire—obliterates or reverses the distinction between good and evil. Patriotism, the desire to work for the common weal, can be, must be, reasonable: "My country, may she be right!" Nationalism spurns reason: "Right or wrong, my country.Maha supplies the example of Erich Fromm, who denounces patriotism as the ideological manifestation of nationalism. Fromm, of course, understands patriotism in its European sense.
Albert L. Guerard (Ibid.)
Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare—never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.From the opposite end of the political spectrum as Maha, Joseph Sobran makes a similar point:
In the same way, many Americans admire America for being strong, not for being American. For them America has to be "the greatest country on earth" in order to be worthy of their devotion. If it were only the 2nd-greatest, or the 19th-greatest, or, heaven forbid, "a 3rd-rate power," it would be virtually worthless.
This is nationalism, not patriotism. Patriotism is like family love. You love your family just for being your family, not for being "the greatest family on earth" (whatever that might mean) or for being "better" than other families. You don’t feel threatened when other people love their families the same way. On the contrary, you respect their love, and you take comfort in knowing they respect yours. You don’t feel your family is enhanced by feuding with other families.
While patriotism is a form of affection, nationalism, it has often been said, is grounded in resentment and rivalry; it’s often defined by its enemies and traitors, real or supposed. It is militant by nature, and its typical style is belligerent. Patriotism, by contrast, is peaceful until forced to fight.The patriot differs from the nationalist in this respect too: he can laugh at his country, the way members of a family can laugh at each other’s foibles. Affection takes for granted the imperfection of those it loves; the patriotic Irishman thinks Ireland is hilarious, whereas the Irish nationalist sees nothing to laugh about.
Joseph Sobran, "Patriotism or Nationalism?"
I would argue that Usonians of a sober disposition generally agree that patriotism implies emotions closely analogous to love for another person. In contrast, nationalism is a cult of the nation; it could almost be called "nation-statism," since the whole idea is a cult of the state power that happens to prevail in one's nation. Europeans, however, associate both with a pernicious cult that has been described above.
James R MacLean (12:21, 22 February 2008 (PST))