Observations of an ex pat: Patriotism vs Nationalism

Patriotism: Good. Nationalism: Bad. At least that is how it reads in my political lexicon.

Patriots  love  their country. They love the land and the sky, the people, the culture, the history and the values.  If necessary, they are prepared to die for their country.

Nationalists feel all the above, but then take it a step too far. Sometimes several steps. And therein lies the problem.  Nationalists (in my political lexicon) believe that their country is better than other countries.  That it and their fellow citizens are superior to other countries and their citizens.

Sometimes that sense of superiority is applied not to national identities but to race or religion, such as White nationalists, Black nationalists or Islamic nationalists.  But whichever vehicle they use, nationalists  carry a strong sense of entitlement based on their nationality, colour or beliefs. And, if they are superior to others,  than it must follow that whomever the others are, they must be inferior.

That is why nationalism is bad.

European colonialism was bad because it was at least partly based on the belief that Europe was bringing a superior civilisation to a barbarian world. Colonialism was a form of European-wide nationalism.  In fact, much of the world that Europe viewed as barbaric had enjoyed the fruits of civilisation centuries before anything approaching civilised structures were even thought of in France, Britain or Spain.

Nazi Germany was the ultimate expression of nationalism. It encompassed race, language and culture, It claimed ultimate superiority for the German state and German race and used that assumed superiority to wage genocide and set out to subjugate the rest of the world.

Except for a handful of detestable Neo- Nazis ,the philosophies of  Nazi Germany are now accepted as a blot on the history of mankind.

Nationalism was the centuries-long cause of a European history consisting of one war after another. The EU is one of the ultimate expressions of anti-nationalism. It was the post-war brainchild of French politician Jean Monnet. He hit upon the brilliant idea that European wars could be eliminated if the European countries were economically interdependent.

It worked. And the EU became a blueprint for the benefits of an expanded version called  globalisation. For example, In 2002 India and Pakistan were on the brink of a nuclear war. Secretary of State Colin Powell was finding it difficult to broker a deal. Then Western  multinationals stepped in. India had become the outsource destination for many large businesses in Europe and America. They made it known that if there was a war between India and Pakistan, they would have to move their outsourced operations elsewhere. India backed down.

China is a communist country. But its economy is run on free market lines because the Chinese have been given a stake in the free markets of the world.  That is why—by and large—they are not rocking the world political boat.

The United States was one of the original anti-nationalist national states. Woodrow Wilson was the brains behind the first attempt at a global community—the League of Nations. Unfortunately it failed because of American isolationism, which, by the way, is a handmaiden to nationalism because a corollary of nationalism is that you are so much better that the rest of the world that you don’t need to be part of it.

After the  Second World War, the world was remodelled through the eyes of Franklin Roosevelt. The UN, Bretton Woods, and the World Bank were the result of his imagination. The Marshall Plan sprang from the belief that a strong and prosperous Europe would benefit America and the rest of the world.

Now the United States has fallen victim to what Senator John McCain called “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems .”

America First implies that the rest of the world is second at best and advances the win/lose theory of international affairs, when the practice of win/win has proven itself a source of peace and prosperity.

* Tom Arms is a Wandsworth Lib Dem and produces and presents the podcast www.lookaheadnews.com

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  • Richard Easter 20th Oct '17 - 10:09am

    “America First implies that the rest of the world is second at best and advances the win/lose theory of international affairs, when the practice of win/win has proven itself a source of peace and prosperity.”

    The rust belt voters have not won from job offshoring. There is a human cost to globalisation, and these people are going to vote for the nationalist right or the socialist left, because the establishment centre in bed with the offshoring multinationals sees them as collateral damage in the globalisation game. Of the “credible” candidates, only Sanders and Trump actually spoke up for them.

  • “If necessary, they are prepared to die for their country.” Having met many veterans (including WW1 and WW2) in the course of academic research, I’m afraid I can’t accept that – though some politicians and journalists safe at home have pursued the myth. Wilfred Owen got it right as an old lie.

    “If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
    Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.”

  • So… you’re saying that the EU is bringing a superior form of civilisation to a barbarian world?

    Sounds like you’re an EU nationalist!

  • David Raw, ever the radical.

    As an aside, do people notice how many times politicians say “We have the best police force/soldiers/health service/whatever in the world.” Nationalists all when it comes down to it.

  • Patriotism: Good. Nationalism: Bad. At least that is how it reads in my political lexicon…..
    Patriots love their country. They love the land and the sky, the people, the culture, the history and the values. If necessary, they are prepared to die for their country….

    My father was gassed in WW1. I grew up with a father who was unable to play football with me, or even run about.
    Why? because, in 1915, he believed the nonsense that you consider ‘good’…He came back to a country that was only too happy for him to go and die for it and yet treated him, and millions like him, as pawns when wealth and privilege were concerned…

    How anyone, in 2017, can still believe such rot is a sad reflection on how little we have learned…

  • Dav
    I agree, pro-EU arguments some times come comes across as a kind of ersatz Imperialism. And actually are the problems caused by nationalism or are they caused by expansionism and the suppression of nationhood?
    As for America. It’s history is littered with slavery, genocide, expansionism and so on. Let’s be honest here. if it wasn’t so powerful we would hold it up as a benign force for good at virtually any period in history. It’s not like bad foreign policy was invented by Donald Trump or even that he has actually gone to war. Unlike say Teddy Roosevelt, JFK, The two Bushes, Clinton or LBJ.

  • Should read “not hold it up”.

  • Steve Trevethan 21st Oct '17 - 10:23am

    Perhaps the word “Exceptionalism” might be useful in this conversation.
    Perhaps there are at least two types of exceptionalism.
    One is an individual or group of any size being special and different which seems to be part of human nature and helpful.
    Another is a group, notably nations, religions and races, seeing themselves as inherently superior to all the others. This leads to bullying of all sorts and sizes including nuclear threats.
    Into which category does US “exceptionalism” belong?
    Perhaps the rise in nationalism and/or patriotism is connected to a greater realisation among the public that governments are using the theories and practices of “Austerity” to make them poorer and weaker.

  • Much criticism of those who sacrificed so much in 1914-1918. It must depend, I suppose, on whether you think Germany’s rape of Belgium was a good thing or a bad thing.

  • Also surely the two big drivers of European colonialism were capitalism and Christianity rather nationalism. Almost the first thing colonial powers did was set up churches as they exploited local economies. Most of the resistance to colonialism came from forms of nationalism. Shortly before WWI a lot of people were arguing that the world was so interconnected that war was unthinkable. After WWII there were sill numerous wars based on ensuring the dominance of western economic and social ideas often conveniently aligned to former colonial dominance or spheres of influence. A lot of the problems in the ME still follow along these lines.
    I don’t agree that “nationalism” is anymore innately problematic than internationalism. Most Countries are not really constantly at war with each other at all. The conflicts usually arise when powers try to extend their influence and regions become playgrounds for the over ambitious to peddle grand visions.

  • Peter Hirst 21st Oct '17 - 3:22pm

    Thanks for explaining the distinction. It seems a blurred line. You could say nationalism is passionate patriotism but the difference is how you view others. Patriots acknowledge other countries’ citizens are proud of theirs. Also, patriotism is inclusive, nationalism is exclusive. Patriotism is bound up with identity, nationalism with values.

  • Palehorse 21st Oct ’17 – 11:28am…..Much criticism of those who sacrificed so much in 1914-1918. It must depend, I suppose, on whether you think Germany’s rape of Belgium was a good thing or a bad thing….

    Sadly, the ‘Rape of Belgium’ was a symptom of German ‘Patriotism’ or is only UK/US patriotism good?
    BTW there are well documented episodes of British atrocities in Kenya, Ireland, etc. and, regarding punishment for such crimes, the US has probably the worst record in recent years My Lai, Air Flight 655, Oliver North, etc…..

  • . Nationalism is more tied to the belief in the nation state and self governance , so can be aligned with breaking from empires. colonial rule and so fourth. Where as patriotism can be tied to jingoism paternalism and so on.

  • Expats.
    And through history but none of them exonerates the German invasion of Belgium nor the atrocities they committed there.

  • Martin Walker 21st Oct '17 - 10:33pm

    Mmm – while I agree with the differentiation between patriot and nationalist, I’m not sure that being willing to die for your country is a prerequisite of being a rational patriot.

    I would also question whether China is a communist country.

  • I don’t think either, Partiotism and Nationalism are useful sentiments in policy-making. Politicians using either term, often as a substitute for “right” or “good”, which they struggle to find and stand up for, scare me (the patriots just a little less).

    National borders historically delineate legal and governance-systems, but have no rational basis. Indeed, in the age of the internet, the jet-airplane and containers (purely technological advances wrongly labelled as a political project called globalization), almost nothing can be intelligently regulated within those historic boundaries.

    The re-emergence of the terms nationalism and partiotism is just the outflow of uneasiness about these developments. Instead of reflecting this, politicians should harness the potential for wealth-creation and peace-stabilization inherent in our borderless world. They should also make a much greater effort in explaining these benefits to people, instead of hiding behind empty terms that just fan hopeless nostalgia.

  • Simon Banks 16th Dec '17 - 7:50pm

    Nationalism looks different if it’s in a nation contained by force in a larger state. Thus Liberalism and nationalism were often seen to work together in 19th century Europe as the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Turkish empires struggled to hold down dissastisfied peoples. The word is also applied to others wanting independence. I’m not sure all Welsh or Irish or Catalan nationalists believe they’re superior to other peoples. Of course, as the crises leading up to the First World War showed, if pro-independence nationalism wins all over the place and empires retreat, it unleashes all kinds of conflicts, mainly over disputed territories.

    I had baulked at the die for your country thing. What if your country’s cause is wrong? If you fight and die in a good cause, are you dying for your country or for that cause (democracy, equality, “the rights of small nations”)? That last was the reason for fighting given by Major Robert Gregory, the Irish First World War airman whose death led to Yeats’ poem “An Irish Airman Forsees his Death”.

    Owen’s poem attacks those who preach “my country right or wrong”. But Owen wasn’t a pacifist and it can happen that your country’s cause is right.

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