Nationalism, as an idea, is an ambiguous word. On the surface it seems like a word meant to convey a form of patriotism; something benign, virtuous, and ultimately, something worth becoming. A closer examination of what it means to be a nationalist, reveals in my estimation, a malignancy that blinds those infected from ascertaining what such an idea can lead to; that of a fiercely unilateral, stilted and doctrinal-like belief that one’s nation, institution, or societal conglomerate is superior to all others, while refusing to accept the faults, injustices and contrary actions that they enact in real world events. The definition of nationalism is:
1.) national spirit or aspirations.
2.) devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation; patriotism.
3.) excessive patriotism; chauvinism.
4.) the desire for national advancement or independence.
5.) the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation, viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.
It’s this final interpretation that I find permeating and consequently dominating the actions of our modern world and the policies of Western government in particular. Interestingly, being a nationalist doesn’t necessarily preclude non-governmental agencies and affiliations from being termed nationalistic. Any organized group, or even loose associations of individuals that share common beliefs, can be nationalists in the sense implied by definition (5). The immovable factor necessary for nationalistic sentimentality is the unbending sense of moral justification behind the actions and rhetoric of a “group”, even when the actions and rhetoric do not align with facts, truth or real world consequences. The impetuous nationalist, as has always been the case, cannot be bothered by facts. The nationalist is one that prefers the propaganda of his day- even though he is unaware of it- believing that his party, government or institution is infallible. He refuses to acknowledge that a group proclaiming moral supremacy and the perpetual pursuit of democratic ideals, could ever falter under the weight of power. In his mind his party is incapable of deceit, manipulation or injustice. Evil of that kind is only perpetuated by an opposing party, government or institution, in which his party is constantly at war.
If nationalism stopped at definitions (1) and (2) it would carry a different implication. Where the concept becomes pernicious is when it is used to blindly justify imperial fervor, to the extent that a powerful entity exploits, harasses and subdues a weaker one without prior consent or proper reciprocation. The nationalist believes that his entity is always in the right and that it should be rewarded with the spoils of conquest; or in our modern parlance, the natural resources of conquered entities, which strengthens elite power regardless of the expense. Under the spell of indoctrination, the nationalist will condemn perceived enemies for executing similar exploitations. His refusal to acknowledge the hypocrisy of his condemnation, awards him praise from his peers while he ascends the rank of the power structure. Repeating his inculcated mantra provides him with access to high-ranking, like-minded individuals, all of whom share the same slanted perspectives. The nationalist believes that he gains this access, not because he regurgitates party propaganda, but because of his intellectual prowess, fueled by his insight into the purity of his party’s singular world vision. He never thinks to question or challenge authoritative power, because he genuinely believes that his party are the moral gatekeepers for a world gone astray.
The nationalist, when discussing matters unrelated to his prejudice, can be a rational and patient human being. He listens intently to what others have to say and measures his response respectfully. He even admits when a question is posed that he does not know the answer to. Conversely, this same human being, when nationalist issues arise, casts aside his patience, rationale and willingness to admit that which he does not know, in favor of a volatile hostility that coalesces into a venomous amalgamation of distortions, ironic half-truths and absurd renditions that are absolutely unfounded in reality. The peculiar point is that this reversal of personality, while dislodged from real world truth, is believed to the core by an otherwise logical person. In fact, this nationalist believes so deeply in the flawed apparition of his party, that he is willing to go to unthinkable lengths to prove how right he is and how wrong you are. He finds himself laughing at other cultures, religions and governments, because of how incongruous and nonsensical he believes their ideologies to be. He’s incapable of recognizing how equally inconsistent the policies of his own party are. To bring this up is futile, because he’ll label you something derogatory- such as the word “communist” or “socialist” in the West, when speaking critically of capitalism- in order to relegate your thought to the periphery, while he inwardly attempts to come to terms with the possibility that something contradictory to what he’s always believed, could actually turn out to be true. (As if disagreeing with the execution of certain philosophical principles somehow makes you less of a party member.) He’s convinced that the information he receives is correct, while all other sources are subjective because they’re “liberal” or “conservative”. He believes his party’s media source to be impartial (because they say they are). He resigns himself to believing that his party is the one true source of goodness, purity and perfection and that his leaders only act in accordance with the law, in the interest of freedom.
I’m convinced that the nationalist spends most of his time trying to make himself believe, inside his own mind, the propaganda that he spews on others. I believe that he justifies his fanaticism, by telling himself that at the foundation of the party’s principles, the ideology is pure, and if followed rigidly, can restore greatness to an otherwise wayward society. What nationalists misconstrue, is the belief that ideology controls the people within the party. The truth is, ideology can inspire the people of a party, but ultimately human beings control it. Parties, no matter how idealistic they appear from the outside, are invariably subject to the imperfect nature of the human ego and all of the prejudice and lasciviousness that springs from it. When we examine ourselves critically, and are aware of our predilection for power, our denial of facts is disconcerting. We defend, without the slightest shred of evidence, outrageous claims about people and policies (both physical and metaphysical) that we know nothing about. History is ignored. Real world action is ignored. What’s said on the record is ignored. The nationalist is so caught up in mainstream media’s definition for both his party and that of the opposition, that his preconceptions swallow any hope for open-minded consideration and dialogue in an effort to compromise for the betterment of the whole. Instead of intelligent conversation, debate, inquiry and understanding, the nationalist says “you’re wrong because you’re a ____ and I’m right because I’m a _____.” What you insert there doesn’t matter; the outcome is the same.
For the sake of clarity, nationalists include:
Any political party member of any nation that unconditionally believes their party is infallible while the opposing party is flawed. This nationalist will ignore obvious party policies that are contradictory to the platform, and will adamantly deflect blame, using whatever means necessary, to defend what they know is deception perpetuated by their leaders.
Any citizen (or magistrate) of any country that blindly believes his country is always right and never acts contrary to its rhetoric or to its proclaimed ideals. This nationalist will defend his country’s actions by any means necessary no matter how ugly, while he degrades the same policies and actions of the so-called enemy states.
Any religious believer, who aggressively opposes the legitimacy of other religions, believing that their religion is the one true source to a higher power. This nationalist usually has never read any other religious text besides his own, and instead chooses to make up his own mind before knowing anything factual about other systems of belief. His indoctrination is the gift of centuries of prejudice, close-mindedness and superstition, handed down by those that lived in perpetual fear because of their bigotry and ignorance.
Any corporate employee who is indoctrinated to believe that the practices of their corporation are always just and therefore beyond reproach, while their competitors, who engage in the exact same levels of fraud, are somehow appalling and should be prosecuted for malfeasance.
These are but a few of the examples of what I mean by the term nationalist, and how it has evolved into something darker and more divisive. In an era of supreme fear, imperial war and power seeking fiscal gain through enigmatic means such as the “War on Terror”, it’s important to scrutinize how this nationalistic impulse is vitalized and sustained. I’d like to conclude by saying that I see a clear path to rid ourselves of this unruly and destructive impulse, but I believe the power structures to be too powerful.
Passion for one’s cause, and belief that one’s ideology can make something better, is not what I’m discouraging. Passionate action and positive discourse are both much-needed in a world riddled with apathy. It’s when we are indoctrinated to the point that we no longer can be critical of our government, religion or party’s actions, that nationalism overcomes our honest ability to assess, scrutinize and finally change that which is necessary to ensure that what we believe is not being subverted by institutional greed and power.