Growing up, we all were brought up with certain nationalistic values. Values such as expressing unconditional love and support for our country, respecting the land we were born in and fighting to protect this very land. We believe that nationalism is a noble thing – that it makes us great servants of our country. However, the real question is: is nationalism really noble? Or is it quite simply, as Albert Einstein likes to put it, “measles of mankind”?
Before we can explore the good or bad nature of nationalism, let us first define Nationalism. In its broadest terms, nationalism is an extreme form of patriotism marked by a sense of superiority over other nations. We can trace the origins of nationalism back to ancient Hebrews, who conceived of themselves as both a chosen people – that is, a people as a whole superior to all other peoples – and a people with a common cultural history. The problem started at the exact time when they declared themselves ‘superior’. Superiority almost always leads to intolerance which can be directly translated to a generation of xenophobic tendencies. When one believes that ‘we’ are superior to ‘others’, what one’s actually doing is disregarding the values and beliefs of ‘others’ and asserting own values and beliefs as superior. Essentially, nationalism almost always leads towards a conflict. Pakistan and India serve as prime examples of this. These two states have been hostile towards each other due to an ever long conflict in ideology. Instead of improving the situation through peaceful dialogue, the nationalism of the general populous almost always worsens the rifts between the two states.
The examples we’ve discussed so far fall under the category of ‘conservative nationalism’. But what happens when we put conservative nationalism on cocaine? Quite simply – Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany showed the traits of expansionist nationalism, which is, simply put, the notion that some nations do not have the right to exist, and that certain nations are meant to rule while other nations are meant to be ruled. Nazi Germany showed us how nationalism led to mass genocide, ethnic cleansing and the death of 11 million Jews and many others. What makes Nationalism so dangerous is how easily our nationalistic ideologies can be manipulated and exploited. We can see how in Germany after the end of World War I, the Nazi party and Adolf Hitler exploited the nationalism of German people. They exploited the grievances of the German people, they exploited the fact that Germany’s pride was broken, and they promised to bring that pride and power back to Germany. History bears the scars of this particular exploitation of nationalism.
Now let us ask ourselves, can something that is apparently so horrendous ever be good in any way? Well, certain types of it can be. There is a type of nationalism that is described by Ernest Renan as a non-xenophobic type of nationalism that promotes equality and tolerance for all sorts of nations, which we call Liberal Nationalism. However, a critique of this type of nationalism is that it’s an oxymoron. Arguments that are presented say that you can either be a liberal or a nationalist, but being both quite simply goes against the very definition of nationalism. It is also argued that nationalism in a fundamental tool to bring about change, and that change is more often than not ‘a good change’. We can look at the situation of African Americans during the 17th and 18th century when they were heavily discriminated against. Due to the ‘white nationalism’ they were considered to be an inferior race that was present to serve the ‘whites’. Towards the end of 19th century, Black Nationalism took fore in the fight against slavery, which led to the American civil war in 1861. In the years that followed we can look at the examples of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. who appealed to the nationalistic values of their people and started movements which ultimately led to the abolishment of slavery and emancipation of black people. Nationalism, in this particular case, proved to be a useful tool. The oppressed fought for their rights and gained their rights due to the force of nationalism that tied them together. However, it can also be argued that had the ‘white nationalism’ not existed i.e. if the ‘whites’ never considered ‘blacks’ to be inferior beings, we would’ve never had this conflict to begin with.
Despite examples where nationalism has proven to be a useful tool, nationalism is still something that has caused more harm than good. Nationalism is something that has led to wars, deaths, distortion of history and manipulation of perceptions. We, as one mankind, should believe in a world where no nation must be discriminated against, where tolerance and equality must be preached, where the idea of ‘love for mankind’ must be accepted. I believe that as long as nationalism lives, as long as humans differentiate themselves from ‘other’ humans, as long as ‘we’ believe that the ‘others’ are inferior to us, equality and peace is then something we cannot achieve.