Skip to comments.Patriotism or Nationalism?
Posted on 10/30/2001 8:56:40 AM PST by sheltonmac
This is a season of patriotism, but also of something that is easily mistaken for patriotism; namely, nationalism. The difference is vital.
G.K. Chesterton once observed that Rudyard Kipling, the great poet of British imperialism, suffered from a lack of patriotism. He explained: He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reasons. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English.
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 dont 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 dont 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; its 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 others 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.
The nationalist has to prove his country is always right. He reduces his country to an idea, a perfect abstraction, rather than a mere home. He may even find the patriots irreverent humor annoying.
Patriotism is relaxed. Nationalism is rigid. The patriot may loyally defend his country even when he knows its wrong; the nationalist has to insist that he defends his country not because its his, but because its right. As if he would have defended it even if he hadnt been born to it! The nationalist talks as if he just happens, by sheer accident, to have been a native of the greatest country on earth in contrast to, say, the pitiful Belgian or Brazilian.
Because the patriot and the nationalist often use the same words, they may not realize that they use those words in very different senses. The American patriot assumes that the nationalist loves this country with an affection like his own, failing to perceive that what the nationalist really loves is an abstraction national greatness, or something like that. The American nationalist, on the other hand, is apt to be suspicious of the patriot, accusing him of insufficient zeal, or even anti-Americanism.
When it comes to war, the patriot realizes that the rest of the world cant be turned into America, because his America is something specific and particular the memories and traditions that can no more be transplanted than the mountains and the prairies. He seeks only contentment at home, and he is quick to compromise with an enemy. He wants his country to be just strong enough to defend itself.
But the nationalist, who identifies America with abstractions like freedom and democracy, may think its precisely Americas mission to spread those abstractions around the world to impose them by force, if necessary. In his mind, those abstractions are universal ideals, and they can never be truly safe until they exist, unchallenged, everywhere; the world must be made safe for democracy by a war to end all wars. We still hear versions of these Wilsonian themes. Any country that refuses to Americanize is anti-American or a rogue nation. For the nationalist, war is a welcome opportunity to change the world. This is a recipe for endless war.
In a time of war hysteria, the outraged patriot, feeling his country under attack, may succumb to the seductions of nationalism. This is the danger we face now.
They are government supremacists, nationalists.
"...and he is quick to compromise with an enemy."
And my apologies, about my previous reply; it was meant in the context of where I had first, in my error of reading too fast, thought the article was headed.
This is fine in theory, but written as it is, in the middle of the War on Terror becomes demagoguery. That is because what is currently termed "rogue nation" has a precise connotation: a nation that would assist terrorists is a rogue nation; a nation could be as unamerican as a fig pie, if it cooperates with us, it is a legitimate nation.
I love America because she is strong AND because she is America. In fact, an America that isn't strong, isn't America.
A War on Terror is a demagog definition of war.
That is because what is currently termed "rogue nation" has a precise connotation: a nation that would assist terrorists is a rogue nation;
We assisted and trained the Taliban and Bin Laden not to mention the KLA.
a nation could be as unamerican as a fig pie, if it cooperates with us, it is a legitimate nation.
What a ridiculous assertion. You should be ashamed of yourself. Think about your statements I quoted and apply them to other points of view.
That would depend entirely on how you define the word "strong". Before America became an Empire, she was "strong" in the sense that her people and her "small r" republican virtues gave her strength. Being a huge "superpower" with a "place in the world" second to none, might be things that one would point to as evidence of America's strength. I wouldn't.
I would submit that the events surrounding September 11, show us that this "strong" Empire that we still call America is very, very weak. The true strength of America resides in the American people and that strength will be here regardless of how "important" we are in the world or how grandiose our military-industrial complex is.
America was a good country long before it was a "great" country. One should not confuse the trappings of State and Empire with "greatness" as I believe far too many conservatives -- from Kristolites to Keyesters -- do far too often.