Nationalism Vs Patriotism – do we need them?

Differences between the terms nationalism and patriotism generally confuse people. On the surface, the two terms may appear to be similar, however, there are differences between the two. Historically, although both terms have been used roughly in a similar manner, both depicting a strong sense of pride and belonging to one’s nation, they diverged with time along the way, with patriotism emerging as a much more positive connotation than nationalism.

Dictionary, dated 23 August 2022 (https://www.dictionary.com/e/patriotism-vs-nationalism/), explains the historical differences between the two:

  • The term patriotism, recorded first in the early 1700s, is based on the word patriot, which was recorded in the 1500s and originates from the Greek word patriṓtēs, meaning ‘fellow-countryman.’ In essence, the term means ‘fatherland’, which relates to terms paternalpatriarchy and father.
  • The term patriotism signifies ‘devoted love, support, and defence’ for one’s nation, with unshakeable loyalty, and refers generally to active services – performed as their national duty – by soldiers, government representatives, diplomats, first responder etc.
  • In contrast, the term nationalism – recorded first in the early 1800s – means ‘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‘ in most present contexts.
  • Nationalism, rooted historically, in part, in French and American revolutions, is generally viewed as a cornerstone of Western liberalism and democracy. However, over time, fascist regimes merged nationalism with notions of superiority, in particular, in terms of ethnicity and religion.
  • In general, therefore, nationalism may be viewed as having a relatively more negative connotation as compared to patriotism. In a distorted view, ‘patriots’ may potentially be seen as those who agree with you and ‘traitors’ those who do not.
  • In a nutshell, the act of nationalism is a kind of ‘excessive, aggressive patriotism’.

In the author’s personal opinion, patriotism may be quiet and self-sacrificing, whereas nationalism may tend to be more jingoistic and potentially aggressive towards fellow citizens with different ideologies (religious, political or ethnic), despite their otherwise unquestionable patriotism on the ground. In dangerous situations, where nationalism is consciously doused with religious ideology, best of democracies suffer due to mistrust and unease between communities with differing ideologies, eventuating into inter-religious strife.

A classic act of patriotism may be exemplified by a self-sacrificing soldier who stands guard and patrols the country’s border silently in extreme geographical and climatic conditions, braving existential challenges and remaining prepared to lay down his life while on duty. In contrast, a nationalistic may be exemplified by one who, despite enjoying the comfort of an air-conditioned home or office or car, as an armchair activist or a keyboard warrior, is loud and jingoistic, calling for the head of those who may differ ideologically but may otherwise be equally or perhaps more patriotic towards their county.

Some well-meaning globalists may argue against both patriotism and nationalism, claiming these acts cause segregation in the global family order. Ideally, one may wish for a one world order where countries exist without borders and people travel without passports. But humans are far from being ideal nor perfect. In reality, however, humans are known to be amongst the most unpredictable and dangerous animal species on the planet.

The author, based on the following analogies, argues in favour of both patriotism and nationalism, albeit without any form of ideology – ethnic, religious or political – driving them or sitting at their core.

A family may be considered as the smallest unit of a nation and analogous to a country, with the family surname analogous to the name of the country. A family lives in a house, called home, which coexists with many other dwellings in the same street or the same locality or the same city, all of which may be considered as analogous to the global community of nations. For any family, friendly relations with their immediate neighbours are one of the essential requirements for their common good and peaceful coherence. 

Countries without borders or passports may be considered analogous to the family-homes that are without doors or latches or bolts. A family living in such an open-door house, without the safety or security of its compound wall or lockable gates and doors (or a sophisticated modern security system) will undoubtedly be vulnerable to trespasses and attacks by all kinds of unscrupulous elements – robbers, rapists, thugs and miscreants.  Such a family can’t be expected to live in peace or thrive happily. Analogously, therefore, as a family-home must have the known safety mechanisms, countries too have the right to secure and close their borders, as required from time to time, and examine the papers and passports of all incoming visitors and immigrants in order to verify their authenticity and intentions.

Every family has its own vision and set of values, which are transmitted from one generation to another. For a family to make progress — in terms of health, education and material wealth — it is important that its members believe in the family values and vision and be proud of their family name (surname). Such belief becomes visible in the form of their pride. Nothing is wrong with such family pride or the sense of belonging. Don’t children believe their parents are the best parents on the planet? Analogously, therefore, nationalism may be considered akin to the family pride and proactive endeavours of its members to defend and strengthen their home. Logically, therefore, nothing must be seen as wrong with that too.

The main problem with nationalism, however, is that we – as an individual or a nation – tend to get carried away and fanatically try to make other people (or nations) look smaller or inferior to us, by boisterously claiming superiority over them, or aggressively imposing our values on them.

What good is that nationalism if it inspires or drives the citizens of a country, or several countries, coming from diverse backgrounds – political, religious or ethnic – to be at each other’s throat? Such a divisive form of nationalism, if thriving in a country or simmering between several countries, must be logically deemed as regressive and counterproductive to achieving the common good – sustainable peace, happiness and progress – in a country or on the planet as a whole.

Where nationalism is represented by shameless jingoism, with nationalists loudly claiming and boasting disproportionate superiority over other people, or other countries, the core interests and wellbeing of the country are potentially undermined. Such a nationalism is self-defeating, considering that, in reality, most nations on the planet, big or small, are interdependent. A nation that boisterously makes unsubstantiated claims that it is the best nation in the world, or a world-leader in something or everything, not only exposes its own vulnerability but also projects its nationalists as arrogant, naive and averse to plurality. In this day and age of globalisation, inclusiveness with mutual recognition and respect are paramount for achieving the common good and bringing in a sustainable peace and coherence amongst the nations.

To conclude, in most contexts in the present age of regressive polarisation, patriots continue to be hard upon themselves, whereas nationalists are observed to show tendency to be hard on other people. What good is that loud and jingoistic form of nationalism if it makes you an eyesore or a reason for alarm, or be interpreted as a bully or a tall poppy or a potential military threat by other countries? What good does it do to a country if it inspires its people to tribalize and regress away from the rest of the world?

Tribalism cannot – and must not – be called progress or a responsible step towards global peace and coherence. Plurality is the way to go if humans have to coexist peacefully.

Going forward, therefore, an acceptable form of nationalism would be seen to be exemplified by a progressive nation that demonstrates – albeit not boisterously or with loud jingoistic slogans – how it thrives, operates and progresses as one large, mutually-caring and responsible family, in which its citizens from varied backgrounds acknowledge and respect one another and consciously desist from imposing their individual thoughts, beliefs or ideologies on one another through violence or coercion. 

… Bill K Koul [22 Sept 2022 (Perth, Western Australia)]

Note: After this piece was published, some friends asked the author if he would call himself a nationalist or a patriot. In response to them, the author may call himself a nationalist at best, albeit with the realm of his globalism and humanism. As for patriotism, in accordance with his personal understanding and interpretation of the published definitions of the term, he can’t claim to be a patriot, not just yet, because he has not done any outstanding act of visible patriotism other than being a conscientious taxpayer and responsible citizen of his country.

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