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I have seen a number of dismissive references to nationalism around (not just on DKos), and I think they miss the point. I think nationalism serves an important role.

First, let me clarify what I mean, and don't mean, by nationalism. Nationalism is simply an ideology focused on your nation. It is not the same as jingoism; i.e. being a nationalist in no way entails thinking other nations inferior, just as loving your family in no way means that you think your next-door neighbor is a lesser human being.

Now, why do I think nationalism is important? It teaches us to love humanity; it's one of the component in that.

We evolved a predisposition to love 'our own', whatever 'our own' means. This is what 'benefits' our genes. However, as Steven Pinker famously said, our genes can go jump in the lake. We recognize that we shouldn't simply protect our relatives and treat everyone else as means to our ends.

We are born with a predisposition to form attachment to our family. However, through loving our family, we learn to love our friends, those whom we make "our own". And then we expand this circle of humanization to our neighborhood, and our town, and our region, and our country -- and eventually, humanity.

It's like a series of concentric circles of humanization: as we develop, we broaden our understanding of what it means to be a human being, while not forgetting where we came from, precisely because our origins -- our families, towns, and nations -- provide us with grounding for further humanization of the world; each successive expansion of humanity, of intrinsically worthy personhood, builds upon the previous one.

Nationalism is simply an important stepping stone on this path. In embracing nationalism, we learn to recognize a whole nation as 'our own', and prepare to extend the same recognition to all of humanity, in the same way as through loving our family, we learn to love our friends and neighbors.

Nationalism is not destructive, it is constructive. In fact, I think the fall of USSR provides a great illustration of how important it can be. When USSR dissolved, outside Russia, pretty much the only republics which seems to be doing OK for themselves are the ones which had a history of nationalist movements: the Baltic republics, Ukraine, and Georgia. Belarus, ethically closely related to Ukraine and Russia, is stuck in a Groundhog Day version of USSR, in my opinion precisely because it never had a nationalist stage, it never developed a coherent view of Belarus as a single ethnic group, as a coherent 'us'; and so now it kinda just floats along, lacking any coherent impetus for progress, an amorphous society without anything to give it ideological and cultural shape.

Just like any other force, nationalism can be turned to destructive ends; but it is itself not destructive, and it's a very important force, one which is very difficult to replace. It provides a country with an important ideological core which permits further progress. It's not the only such core (USA used its Constitution as such a core instead, for example), but it's the most common one.

Thus, I think, we should not denigrate nationalism where it manifests, but embrace it and harness it to constructive ends.

Originally posted to Victor on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:01 PM PDT.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Ceterum Censeo: Veritas et Libertas Ultra Omnis Sunto

    by Victor on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:01:40 PM PDT

  •  I cannot agree (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jxg, Silverbird, Anorish

    nationalism is destructive.  I spend to much time with Antifas and Die Linke fighting against resurgent nationalism and the National Democratic Party of Germany to buy into this.  Nationalism is merely the bourgeois variant of more ancient tribalism.

    Christ rode on an ass, but now asses ride on Christ. - Heinrich Heine

    by Jeffersonian Democrat on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:09:12 PM PDT

    •  Sorry, I disagree (2+ / 0-)

      I was born in Ukraine. Ukraine is on its path to freedom and democracy now because of nationalism. Without nationalism, it would have been like Belarus. Nationalism was the core of the Orange Revolution. Remember it?

      Nationalism can be destructive, but it's also a nigh-indispensable aspect of human progress.

      Ceterum Censeo: Veritas et Libertas Ultra Omnis Sunto

      by Victor on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:11:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  liberation is a stage beyond nationalism (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Jeffersonian Democrat

        but I grant that if a people is oppressed, nationalism is an necessary, if insufficient, stage that cannot be avoided in the rush to live pure irreducible difference now like some post modernist theroy.

      •  so we are on irreconcilable (0+ / 0-)

        opposite ends of the spectrum, here.  My ex for eight years was a Muscovite before she became a US citizen, so I imagine that you realize where we stand in opposition to each other here.  I am very familiar with Ukrainian nationalism so I also understand your point of view.

        I guess we will have to agree to disagree.  no use getting into flame wars, we will not end up changing each others mind on this topic.

        Christ rode on an ass, but now asses ride on Christ. - Heinrich Heine

        by Jeffersonian Democrat on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:24:56 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Perhaps Patriotism is the word? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    A Citizen

    Nationalism seems to me to be the worship of metaphysical essences, close to racism,  something that divides and is rubbish in any event. Patriotism, though not my cup of tea, seems to me, and perhaps this is an eccentric view,closer to your defination of nationalism.

    •  Patrionism does not create nation-states (0+ / 0-)

      nationalism does -- and yet most modern developed countries are nation-states. Patriotism is a side effect, a consequence, not the essence of what makes this advancement possible.

      Nationalism -- the ideology of national unity, the uniting national myth, the feeling of 'us' -- is what makes these advancements possible in the cases of nation-states. it's what gives people a reason to seek common good, it's what gives them a comprehensible idea of 'common' outside their immediate surroundings.

      Ceterum Censeo: Veritas et Libertas Ultra Omnis Sunto

      by Victor on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:16:52 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If one loves humanity, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jeffersonian Democrat, Anorish

    then, to me, nationalism seems confining.

    I don't care for partriotism either.  Howard Zinn, in his book, The People's History of the United States, said that patriotism was used to get the support of everyone below the landed gentry on the social and economic scale so they to be interested in defending the interests of the gentry who wished to fight the Revolutionary War.  And I don't see that it has been beneficial since then either. the elites...actually believe that society can be destroyed by anyone except those who lead them? - John Ralston Saul -

    by Silverbird on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:26:27 PM PDT

    •  I would suggest that Mr. Zinn did not well (0+ / 0-)

      consider the men who fought the Revolutionary War battles in the south (where we now know that war was won). The lists of soldiers and millitia at Kings Mountain, Cowpens, Ramsour's Mill, Guilford Courthouse, etc. were the "landed gentry" of the Carolina backcountry. Marion and Sumter also led bands of land owners that harrassed the Brits between crop seasons.

  •  Nationalism (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jxg, Jeffersonian Democrat, Anorish

    Belarus, ethically closely related to Ukraine and Russia, is stuck in a Groundhog Day version of USSR, in my opinion precisely because it never had a nationalist stage, it never developed a coherent view of Belarus as a single ethnic group

    You speak of nationalism as a country seeing itself as a single ethnic group. But that is a very serious problem for any multi-ethnic country, such as the United States. That sort of nationalism pits ethnic groups against each other.

    The wolfpack eats venison. The lone wolf eats mice.

    by A Citizen on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:39:39 PM PDT

    •  yes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      nationalism comes from the Latin root natio, which means a people (Volk) who share a territory, ethnicity, and language in common.  France was the first true bourgeois nation-state in that regard after their revolution.

      The beauty of the American experiment was that it was a country made up of many nations: English, Dutch, French, German, Scot, etc.  And that is why we are patriots rather than nationalist.  The patriot defends the Enlightenment social contract while the nationalist defends the natio.

      Christ rode on an ass, but now asses ride on Christ. - Heinrich Heine

      by Jeffersonian Democrat on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:59:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I specifically mentioned USA as different (0+ / 0-)

      Our core idea is not nationalism; it's our Constitutional foundation. The nationalism is only helpful to nation-states, I wouldn't dream of suggesting it for USA.

      Ceterum Censeo: Veritas et Libertas Ultra Omnis Sunto

      by Victor on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 05:27:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm Less Sure About Philsophy Than Governance (0+ / 0-)

    I see value in nationstates for maintenance and protection of rights.

    And I see them as still --FAR and away-- the largest rational free trade zones.

    We've even experienced significant stress from internal free trade, as the northern manufacturing base first fled to our union-free south, before fleeing on to Mexico and offshore.

    But free-trading between a union information-age economy and dirt-floor slave labor economy, that's absolutely sick.

    If you're going to protect human citizens as workers, consumers, and citizens, there has to be a jurisdictional system larger than provinces, and the nation-state is a decent and already-established entity for that function.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:43:44 PM PDT

    •  Agree, to a degree (0+ / 0-)

      But surely we need those identifications only as a stage to their abolishment. If a Ukrainian is oppressed as a Ukrainian, then it is as a Ukrainian that they resist, but only so they can reach the stage where that very category is irrelevant and they can live their own particular concrete difference as an autonomous subject, free from such artifical constraints.

  •  Common destiny is the issue (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Victor, bmcphail, TylerFromNE

    People become a nation when they believe that they will all share the future together.

    A positive patriotism calls us to the put the interests of the nation above our own.

    A negative patriotism calls us to suspend reason and to put our national interest above the interests of the world.

    We shall overcome, someday. Yes we can.

    by Sam Wise Gingy on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 01:59:15 PM PDT

  •  Two major trends summing to an optimum (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Victor, Anorish

    It has seemed to me for quite some time that there are two separate but convergent trends that seem in perfect opposition which instead offer an opportunity to resolve a great deal of conflict and give us the best of both worlds.

    1. The tendency towards fragmentation into smaller ethnic/historical areas

    examples: movements of nationalism and separation such as Basque, Kurd, Quebequois.

    1. The tendency to consolidate into large units of economic and legal cooperation

    Examples:  Free trade areas, The E.U.

    What needs to happen, in my opinion, is to give anyone a state that wants one....with the understanding that national statehood isn't what it used to be.  After all, when Spain, Italy, France, and Germany allow free passage across borders and share a common currency and large areas of regulatory law, why shouldn't the Basques, to take one example, have a similar national province of their own?

    I'd be interested in the reactions of folks here with more direct experience with all of the above.

    •  This, of course, assumes.... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...that such emerging provincial states can avoid ethnic conflict, exclusionism and, not to put too fine a point on it,  genocide.    


    •  Would it be a "best world" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      if all American whites were required to be Utahns, and all American blacks South Carolinans, and all American Asians Hawaiians, etc. - even if freedom of movement were retained?

      No. It encourages insularity and discourages miscegenation, which combine to equal racism - a profoundly negative outcome.

      The same is true of the ridiculous nationalism of Europeans (and cultures in the middle East, south Asia, Africa, and South America which have aped the Europeans), which has caused hundreds of millions of deaths in war and genocide and continue to perpetuate ethnic differences which make possible future genocides.

      The concept of nations and of ethnic groups is one which must be eradicated. The European Union is a good - not, as you say, because it allows a separate but equal stance for negotiation - but because it weakens and will eventually destroy the very distinctions that make separation possible.

      Dana Houle on his site: "Stop Expecting or Asking for Intellectual Honesty"

      by jxg on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 10:23:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Utah was founded by mormons... (0+ / 0-)

        ...and mormons still pretty well run things, but Utahns are not required to be mormon and the principle of equality before the law is upheld in Utah as well as it is anywhere else in the states.

        I suppose I'm looking at it through an American lens, since our states have a lot of technical independence but in the end don't really mean that much in the federal system.  

        Thanks for your perspective.


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