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Nationalism Vs. Patriotism

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George Orwell wrote that nationalism was one of the worst enemies of peace. He defined nationalism as the feeling that your way of life, country, or ethnic group were superior to others. These types of feelings lead a group to attempt to impose their morality on any given situation. When those standards were not met, more often then not, war would result.

In contrast he stated that patriotism was the feeling of admiration for a way of life etc. and the willingness to defend it against attack. The obvious difference between the two is that while patriotism is a passive attitude, nationalism is aggressive by nature.

Orwell was writing this during the years just prior to World War Two when nationalism in Europe was running rampant. Not only was Hitler stoking the fires in Germany, but Mussolini was taming the savages of Ethiopia, and Stalin had just finished Russiafying the Ukraine and was contemplating “reclaiming” Finland.

Since the end of World War Two nationalism has escalated beyond what Orwell’s worst nightmares could have visualised. The first wave began with the dissolution of the colonial empires through out the developing world. As they retreated they left behind cesspools of ethnic tensions.

In some countries it had been official policy to play the race card as a means of keeping unrest in check. By creating conditions where it seemed one group was favoured over another, especially a minority over a majority, resentments were built up to the boiling point. As far as the colonial masters were concerned as long as they were fighting each other they won’t come after us.

From one country to the next as independence was achieved nationalistic violence was the rule rather then exception. In India Hindu leaders like Gandhi who pleaded for restraint were murdered by extremists of their own faith. In Israel terrorist groups from both sides set bombs and attacked civilians in order to solidify their claims to territory.

But it was with the big two that most of drama became centred upon. The U.S.S.R. under Stalin did a quick land grab after the end of the war simply by refusing to leave the countries that they had “liberated” from the Germans. On their side the United States began their policy of propping up a variety of dictatorships under the guise of preventing the spread of communism.

It’s debateable whether these initial actions were driven more by “real politick” then nationalism, one side trying to limit the other sides power and influence more then an expansion and imposition of a way of life. But in the end the justifications for actions began to take on the sound of nationalistic fervour whatever the original intent.

American governments began wrapping themselves in the flag of protectors of freedom and democracy under more and more spurious circumstances. Meanwhile the Soviets claims of liberation from the chains of capitalism and oppression became harder to swallow during the post Stalin revelations of mass murders and famine.

Nationalism has a history in both countries as far back as their beginnings. Under the Tsars the Russian empire was just as expansionistic as the Soviets stretching their sphere of influence from the Balkans to the near east. In the U. S. it was first implemented as policy in 1810 with the Monroe Doctrine, which lay claim to the whole western hemisphere as being under American influence.

In both countries these policies continue unabated till this day. Chile, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, and Cuba for the U.S. and Chechnya and Afghanistan for the Russians are all recent examples of hemispheric control exerted by both nations. Of course with the collapse of communism the influence of Russia has waned and that of America has increased.

The fall of communism combined with the death of Marshall Tito gave the world another fine example of nationalism in action. As Yugoslavia fell back into it’s divergent states majority ethic groups began to “cleanse” their territories of minority presences. Once again proving that nationalism knows no boundaries or is exclusive to any one race the cities and country sides of the former Yugoslavia became killing fields. Serbian killed Croatian, Croatian killed Muslim, Muslim killed Croatians and Serbians, Albanians and Macedonians killed each other and so on in a vicious circle of hate.

To claim moral superiority or believe that one way of life is superior to another is to pay disservice to the notion of diversity. How can one genuinely respect another’s beliefs if you feel inherently better then they are just because of an accident of birth? It’s one thing to take pride in who you are and what you believe in. It’s another altogether to think that yours is the only way.

This attitude has led to the extermination of whole nations of indigenous peoples throughout the world. Vibrant and living cultures that could have contributed thinkers and ideas were cut off because “they were not like us”. Through literal and cultural genocide our world is being homogenised to a point that will soon reach no return if we are not careful.

Look at Orwell’s definitions of nationalism and patriotism again. Think about the differences. Which do you think would contribute to a better world?

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Patriotism need not be passive. The difference is in the goal of action. Nationalists tend to burn with envy, and seek to harm the other groups they hate just as frequently as they seek benefit for their own narrow group.

    Patriotism can exist free of such envy, enabling people to gain greater advantages through mutually gainful alliances and cooperation with many other countries and peoples.

    So even though I disagree with one of your statements, Gypsyman, I still support your main goal here. Moving beyond the extremes of nationalism is a necessity. Not only will it make all our lives better, but if we fail to achieve this we may not survive as a species.

    To strengthen your efforts I suggest a couple of minor edits to your post. Gandhi is a frequently misspelled name, but my dictionary agrees with Wikipedia in placing the “h” in the last syllable, not the first. Also near the end of the fourth from last paragraph, the word “viscous” appears where you seem to mean “vicious.”

    But these are minor modifications to your thought-provoking and timely piece.

  • It’s hard to place nationalism and patriotism in today’s world nowadays. Money seems to be ahead of both as motivators. We’re in Iraq because of GW’s want to heighten his own legacy ahead of his father’s. If you look at a heavily historical and cultural country like China, you can see money in everyone’s eyes. How else can you explain the constant bulldozing of Beijing as the country prepares for world stardom at the 2008 Summer Olympics? You can put nationalism as a reason, but how can a few weeks of international media coverage overlook the discovery/preservation of ancient buildings and relics?

  • Considering how much oil plays a role in today’s nationalism maybe viscous was appropriate? Damn I hate that, being such a bad speller that spell check doesn’t even work, thatnks I will correct that one!!!
    The spelling of Ghandi that I used was what was offered up my Word of Microsoft when set to Canadian English, I want to try and stay consistant with my word usage so I’ll stick with the spellings(when I get the right word)as they are given to me. But given the nature of who this person was I’ll do some more research on the spelling and make a decision accordingly.

    thanks for the comments and the save

  • Mik

    I have been studying various internet authors over the past week on the subject of nationalism vs. patriotism. It seems that most (including this one) have a pretty good grasp of the characteristics of each tendency. Most authors agree that both are a manifestation of pride in one’s country, but that patriotism is benign while nationalism is destructive. We’ve already fleshed out enough examples of each one to know implicitly what we’re talking about, but so far no one has really explained the psychology that underlies nationalism or patriotism and how a person gravitates toward one or the other. I ask you to bear with me while I share some thoughts on this.

    If both nationalism and patriotism are based on national pride then we must explain what we mean by that. To this end I suggest that we look at the oldfashioned but very useful distinction between true pride and false pride, otherwise known as hubris. True pride is an understanding of one’s own abilities and limitations and a love of self based on an internal awareness of that person’s intrinsic value and “goodness”. False pride is a manifestation of a person’s lack of self-worth which that person attempts to compensate for by bragging, showing off, needing to compete and be “better than” the next person, putting down or intimidating others, all for the sake of filling the void left by their low self-esteem. I think you can see where I’m going with this… A person’s self-identity is embedded in their membership in various groups. It starts with the family group, then extends to their neighborhood, their city, and their country. The fact that the person “belongs to” any of these groups becomes part of their self-identity. How that person is taught to feel and interact in their family environment will dictate all future feelings of belongingness in the larger groups. But what happpens when the child is neglected or abused or controlled in an authoritarian way is that the child does not develop healthy “true pride” but instead manifests false pride. Not only that, but their membership in each group provides a sense of security to compensate for their internal insecurity. So the person becomes dependent on the group out of fear of feeling insecure to the ultimate extent that their own life becomes meaningless outside of the group. Sound familiar? This is where nationalism can become like a drug that keeps people with low self-esteem feeling happy and secure in the knowledge that their country is “the best” or “the strongest” or at least “better than your country”. So nationalism is based on false pride while patriotism is an expression of true pride, which starts with the person’s own feelings of self-worth and extends to the groups of which they are a part. A person who has true pride does not need the group to provide him with a feeling of worthiness. In fact, this person can easily take an objective look at the group and criticize its actions at the risk even of being kicked out of the group. The person who can do this while still maintaining a bond with the group is a true patriot. This person also understands the intrinsic value of the other people and groups outside of his own. He does not need to prove his group’s superiority over theirs because his self-esteem is not dependent on the success or failure of the group. Nationalism is simply the end result of false pride because nations are currently the biggest groups to which one can meaningfully belong. Perhaps in the future we’ll have Earthists who discriminate against alien species… But it’s important to understand the psychology here. It implies that it would be very difficult to talk someone out of their nationalist tendencies unlss you first address their feelings of worthlessness, insecurity, and self-degradation. I invite you to test this theory in real life and let me know what you think. Thanks.

  • opio christopher

    patriotism is the love for the country or even society therefore it has its mission of which mission is transformation.

  • opio christopher

    individuals should do their best to find to it that they have love for their country ,society and for their fellow neighbours therefore we must be patriotic inorder to fullfill the mission of transformation.

  • daniel

    Mik’s comment is very well thought out. I would love to have rights to copy it to another forum. As a Christian in America, I see nationalism, as Mik describes it, to be something that many of us have embraced, leaving reason and objectivity behind. We think everyone is out to get us as we try to bolster our identity as a Christian nation using bully tactics. Which is just as it sounds, making us living examples of an oxymoron. I believe this fearful & prideful mindset to be like a self fulfilling prophesy, which will further undermine the stability of the USA, leaving us (Christians) to blame for our own deserved persecution. May God open our eyes before its too late.

  • niraj

    patriotism can be define as state of mind in which folks think that they r born to do extraordinary for the nation.

  • niraj kimmy

    nationlism some creates voilence..

  • Jonathan Goldberg

    This article offers interesting insights but is deeply flawed by the equivalency suggested between the USA and the Soviet Union, and between Israel and the Arabs. The statement “In Israel terrorist groups from both sides set bombs and attacked civilians in order to solidify their claims to territory.” is factually as big a distortion as one can find. Could you specify with dates the incidents of Jewish Israelis setting off bombs?

  • Spuds

    thanks Mik im doing a position paper tomorrow and i find your post more helpful than the original article

  • Inter

    mik did a great job going more in depth and i got more out of it then this article. thanks