There’s loving your country for what it does right, and then there’s loving your country for whatever it does. I think the former is a nice sentiment but I think that the latter is a lot more sinister. In this piece I’m going to talk about why nationalism is a word which I think is quite bloated and why patriotism is perhaps the better term to use when expressing love for your country.
It should also be noted that this is an opinion piece more than anything and isn’t really very factual. Feel free to disagree.
In truth I feel much of nationalism is varnished tribalism; a feeling of self-pride for something ‘one of your people’ has done. It’s an ‘us versus them’ mentality, which only seeks to foster more divisions in an already divided society. In a world where people are defined by a lot of things they can’t determine, why add nationality to the list? Love your country, but do not try hard to rationalise your love for it. Sometimes you simply can’t (it’s love after all, what were you thinking)? At the same time, I don’t want to mistake tolerance of other nations as unconditional acceptance for their customs. With this in mind, I can understand why people would feel that they live in a ‘better’ country to someone else’s. We should promote international dialogue, and with that nations will begin to align with one another naturally.
I recognise and admire the unity of some nations, but I just think having to deploy nationalist rhetoric to achieve this unity is a sad sign of how susceptible people are to an entitlement they don’t actually acquire themselves. Speaking with candour to people about this issue would produce the best dialogue. A greater appreciation for the countries we neighbour at the expense of casting away inflated appreciations of our own nations could lead to more cordial relations.
There’s a distinction to be made between patriotism and nationalism. Sydney Harris (1917-1986) discussed how that distinction should be made:
The patriot is proud of his country for what it does [well], and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.
(Dhruv, a friend of mine who also writes, gave his thoughts below).
If we look at a recent example of the ill effects of nationalism, David Cameron’s Conservative Party won the recent General Election in May by playing a nationalist fear card to bring more votes their way. One overriding feature of the Conservative campaign was scaremongering; the idea that the Scottish National Party supporting the Labour Party in government would be disastrous for the country, and the rest of Britain must vote to keep their union intact. However, while this tactic put Cameron back in 10 Downing Street, it completely demolished the Labour vote in Scotland, allowed the SNP to win all but three seats in the same place and left the Liberal Democrats decimated across the country. Scottish nationalism is now enjoying a huge amount of success, as is English nationalism. This division between peoples of the same union; the same country, is one threat that nationalism can pose; intra-national division in addition to the more obvious international division. And that is a concern.
Maybe you think I’m creating a redundant division between two similar words. Maybe you agree with me. Regardless, drop a comment below and let me know!