Nationalism versus Patriotism
Addressed to National Review, USA in August 2017.
As a Central European I follow the ongoing debate about nationalism on the pages of NR with very keen interest. It is no secret that the European continent was ravaged by sundry nationalisms to a degree that beggars belief. And my part of the continent suffered most.
Just think about it: Except of USA, in 1914 Europe was in terms of economic and military power vastly superior to the remaining part of the world. But not only that. In terms of human rights/freedoms its superiority was perhaps even more pronounced. But instead of using these blessings to help other peoples in the world, nations of Europe started to cut each other throats.
The carnage ended after 4 years with untold millions dead, mutual hatreds made that much fiercer and – this is rarely mentioned today – Communists in power in Russia! One would think that after such a large scale disaster, war in Europe would be unthinkable at least for a few generations. Not so. Twenty years later, another round of violence erupted – this time with apocalyptic feature of gas chambers. On top of that this time the earthly Satan was not defeated by good guys alone – they had to make friends with earthly Beelzebub at a cost that led to immense human suffering in the decades to come.
Nationalism is a state of mind in which men derive their self-esteem, dignity, importance, security and in general whole meaning of their lives from belonging to a large group. A nationalist is thus a man who embraces nationalism to serve his inner needs and to attain spiritual comfort. OK – it is selfish, but at first glance there seems nothing that would predestine nationalist peoples to mutual wars. Most people in any society are selfish and yet there are many nations where men live in peace. However, the very essence of nationalism inevitably exerts a constant pull towards regarding other nations at best with annoyance. This is so because other nations simply by their existence automatically diminish place under the sun available to his own nation, i.e. to the very source of his spiritual comfort. And given human nature a mutation of mere annoyance into outright hostility or even hatred of neighbouring nations takes place only too naturally. Thus opens the inclined road to belligerency and ultimately to war.
Patriotism on the other hand is just an extension of personal charity and care for others beyond one´s immediate circle – to all citizens of his nation. Its origin is thus in the willingness to serve others even at a cost to one´s own wellbeing, and not just to serve his own needs. Therefore a patriot does not in the least feel diminished or threatened by the existence of other nations. In fact he finds it incoherent not to extend his goodwill to them.
The difference between patriotism and nationalism is not that of a degree with nationalism just being a patriotism carried too far. No – one is a virtue and the other is a vice.
It is true that our world is not composed of unalloyed pure white and pure black, rather we can see diverse hues of gray. One thus cannot meet a total nationalist or a total patriot. In practice many good people are flocking to nationalist drummers because they are justly made afraid by bellicose sounds coming from ascending nationalists in neighbouring countries or in neighbouring group. This starts the same vicious circle that was operative in Europe in years before 1914. If this vicious circle is not interrupted by patriots in the respective countries in time the war is inevitable. The fresh example in Europe is the violence during and after disintegration of Yugoslavia.
(A very fitting characterization of nationalism is that it is a cowardly form of egoism.)