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Is Nationalism good or bad? 17 Jan 2022 21:44 #11814

  • José Azel
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I am reluctant to discuss nationalism in a short newspaper column. Nationalism is complex, misunderstood, and often abused. Yet, I will give it a try.

Let’s begin by clarifying that nationalism is not synonymous with patriotism. Nationalism and patriotism are often found together, but they are not the same. Just as importantly, we should not equate the nation, or the state with each other or with the government. Being a patriot does not imply one must offer unwavering support for all government policies as implied by the phrase, “My country, right or wrong.”

That phrase, by the way, is attributed to United States naval officer and commodore Stephen Decatur Jr (1779-1820). This young patriot, and hero of the Barbary Wars, and the War of 1812, played a significant role in establishing the identity of the United States. Regarding the phrase, the English polymath G. K. Chesterton noted: “My country, right or wrong is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case.” His meaning was that we should not be indifferent to the policies undertaken by our nation. As good citizens, we should seek to change what is wrong in our country.

In unadorned terms, patriotism is defined as love or devotion to one’s country. Similarly, nationalism also reflects loyalty and devotion to a nation but, and this is a critical difference, nationalism also seeks to build and maintain a single national identity.

Nationalism seeks to foster a single national identity on shared social characteristics such as culture, language, religion, politics or history. This makes nationalism exclusionary and disenfranchising of those who do not share such characteristics. The definition of nationalism includes “exalting one nation above all others…” Unchecked, nationalism can easily turn into Fascism or Nazism as happened in Italy and Germany. As Charles De Gaulle defined it, “A patriot loves his country, a nationalist hates everyone else’s.”

Historians trace the origins of modern nationalism to the political upheaval of the 18th century associated with the American and French revolutions. In the 19th century, nationalism became one of the most influential political and social forces in history. Historians have also identified several types of nationalism, three of which, civic, ethnic, and economic nationalism I will introduce here for clarity.

Civic nationalism defines the nation as being made up of people who have equal and shared political rights and creates a political identity centered on political rights. Civic nationalism was inspirational for the development of representative democracies in multiethnic countries such as the United States.

In contrast, ethnic nationalism is a form of nationalism where the nation is defined in terms of ethnicity. The central theme of ethnic nationalism is that the nation is defined by a shared heritage of characteristics such as a common language, a common faith or common ancestry.

Economic nationalism is an ideology that favors state interventionism in the economy, with policies that emphasize domestic control of the economy. My Latin American readers are very familiar with this form of nationalism.

In my Cuban tribe, nationalism began with the Wars for Independence, and was patently present in the early days of the Republic. The Cuban Revolutionary Party -commonly called El Partido Auténtico- had its origins in the nationalist Revolution of 1933 and had as its slogan, Cuba para los Cubanos (Cuba for Cubans).

Auténticos argued that the economy needed to be managed by tripartite commissions made up of labor leaders, government bureaucrats and
businessmen. In 1933, a provisional government headed by Auténtico leader Ramón Grau San Martin enabled a law requiring that no less than fifty percent of all the employees of national or foreign firms had to be Cuban. Cuba’s famed 1940 Constitution was heavily influenced by the Auténticos nationalist ideas.

Cuban nationalism carried into exile, and in the early 1960s was represented by a movement called Nacionalismo Realista (Realistic Nationalism) headed by Rafael Luis Serralta Nogues.

Nationalism may mean different things to different people, but to be an American has always meant to identify with a set of ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
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