Race, Nationalism, and Patriotism, Part II: Nationalism

As we continue this series on race, nationalism, and patriotism, I’d like to note that the discussion on Part I: Race has been more subdued and thoughtful than similar discussions, and I’d like to thank those who have taken part in it.

In this second part, I rely quite heavily on the writings of the Hungarian-American (and Catholic) historian John Lukacs, though, for the sake of space, I’m not going to quote him.  I’ve mentioned him, however, in case the reader would like to examine nationalism in greater detail, since I have only the space and time barely to touch on this issue.

In any discussion of nationalism, the first thing we need to do is to define our terms.  Many people use the terms nationalism, patriotism, and even national identity interchangeably.  For the purposes of this discussion, I will not.  National identity is the consciousness of our close relationship to others who share a common language, culture, genetic endowment, and homeland, among other things.  It is a constituent part of both nationalism and patriotism.

Against those who believe that national identity is a modern construct that has no basis in reality, Pope John Paul II, in his last book, Memory and Identity, points out that “Catholic social doctrine holds that the family and the nation are both natural societies, not the product of mere convention.”  The mention of doctrine is important here: The Catholic libertarian, for example, who adamantly rejects the very notion of the nation in favor of a modern liberal understanding of universal humanity, is (as the Holy Father makes clear) dissenting from doctrine.

Patriotism, writes Pope John Paul II in the same book, “is a love for everything to do with our native land: its history, its traditions, its language, its natural features.  It is a love which extends also to the works of our compatriots and the fruits of their genius.”  Or, to sum it up as I have in other discussions of the works of John Lukacs, patriotism is the love of a particular people in a particular place (and the place is just as important as the people).

Nationalism, on the other hand, is, in its pure form, something different.  As Pope John Paul II writes, “[N]ationalism involves recognizing and pursuing the good of one’s own nation alone, without regard for the rights of others.”  It is insular, and not in a good sense; it not only assumes the superiority of one’s nation over the nations of others (which is not necessarily a bad thing in itself), but it refuses to acknowledge or understand that others might regard their nation in the same way.  It can also (and often does) separate itself from a particular place, its native land.  The nationalist can be rootless; the patriot cannot.

That is why nationalism tends to be expansive, imperialistic, while patriotism does not.  Obviously, in the real world, these categories are rarely found unmixed.  Even the most rabid nationalist likely has some patriotic feelings; while the most ardent patriot may find himself slipping into nationalism.  What’s most important to understand is that these are poles of experience.

When modern liberals (and, on the right, their libertarian confrères) denounce the nation-state, most of what they object to—imperialistic wars, for instance—is nationalism.  But not all, and this is where things can get a bit confusing.  Within any particular nation, the opposite of the nationalist should be the patriot.  But today, we often see nationalism as the primary bulwark against internationalism, and it’s certainly true that, against those forces and organizations that would destroy national sovereignty, the patriot might well ally himself with the nationalist.  Remember, national identity is a constituent part of both patriotism and nationalism, but (obviously) it is not a part of internationalism.

On the other hand, in practical terms, nationalist movements can, paradoxically, advance the cause of internationalism.  Montenegro’s secession from Serbia is a case in point.  It was motivated by Montenegrin nationalism, and opposed by Montenegrin patriots such as the Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan of Montenegro, Amphilochius.  In the end, the nationalists won, by prostrating themselves before the European Union.  Today, Montenegro is, for all intents and purposes, a satrapy of the European Union, whose power has been increased through a successful nationalist movement.

Within the context of the United States, with its massive internal migrations, increasing loss of national sovereignty, and the influx of huge numbers of immigrants who not only cannot (by definition) be American patriots (at least when they arrive) but are also frequently Mexican nationalists, the issue can become even more ambiguous.  It is possible, for instance, that the road to a revival of patriotism in America runs through American nationalism.  (John Lukacs, who has criticized what he regards as the nationalist tendencies in Pat Buchanan, also clearly admires Mr. Buchanan.)

It’s certainly true that many who consider themselves American nationalists are more patriotic than nationalistic, but it’s equally true that many who would eschew the term nationalist—such as the neoconservatives who run our government—are the most rabid nationalists in the United States today, in the sense that John Lukacs and Pope John Paul II use the word.  The task for true patriots today is to encourage the patriotic impulse in the first group, while adamantly opposing the nationalism of the second.



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