“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, this is my own, my native land.” These words of Sir Walter Scott ought to resonate with us.
Who among us does not cherish the land of his or her birth? We honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. We praise and honor those who, on a daily basis, put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe.
This is the true nature of love of country and patriotism. We must never lose it. However, we must be vigilant to preserve real patriotism and not to allow it to be corrupted into a nationalism that has the appearance of patriotism but, in the end, can destroy the very essence of that which has, in fact, made us a truly great nation, a nation built by immigrants.
Historian John J. Dwyer best described the difference between patriotism and nationalism in the following terms: “The patriot says I love my country, I will work for its good and defend it when necessary against enemies within and without. I will strive not to primarily ask God to bless my country, but that my country will bless God. The nationalist will say, My country is better than yours. My country is the best that has ever been. My country is the best country on God’s green earth. Everyone hates my country because it is so good.”
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Sydney J. Harris once wrote that patriotism “creates a feeling of responsibility” while nationalism gives “a feeling of blind arrogance which leads to war.” George Orwell’s book, “1984,” was set in a dystopian society. In this culture, nationalism was the rule that made the people feel they were superior to other societies.
Journalist Alex Nakamura proposes that nationalism’s foreign policy is Jingoism. He describes it in the following way: “Jingoism is an aggressive foreign policy that is believed by nationalists as the best way to handle foreign issues. It is along the lines of attack them before they attack you.” Does this sound vaguely familiar?
Our world is changing. Technology and trade agreements have brought us closer together, revolutionized industrial modes of production and what is to be manufactured. This means economic change at home and abroad. This has had a profound impact on the political arena of all nations, including that of the United States, as witnessed in this last very divisive election cycle.
News articles have those who still believe in the American Dream falling to the lowest level in over 20 years. Denis Pager wrote in his blog, “At no other time was there as much pessimism – valid pessimism, moreover – about America’s future as there is today.”
In the New Yorker, journalist Andrew Sullivan warns us that “late-stage capitalism is creating a righteous revolutionary anger that late-stage democracy has precious little ability to moderate or constrain.” The conclusion is that the United States is exhibiting symptoms of 1930s Europe.
In the German magazine Spiegel, journalist Holger Stark, in his article “Donald Trump and the New American Nationalism,” makes some bold yet rather prophetic and insightful statements coming from a German historical point of view.
We would be wise to listen.
I quote Stark’s words: “The core of Trump’s policy is to react to this fear by establishing an identity through marginalization and isolation. This is evident in his promise to build a wall along the Mexican border and to deny Muslims entry into the United States.”
Stark’s article also quotes the noted historian and fascist expert, Robert Paxton, “The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of the fascist’s recipe book.” Stark further quotes Paxton: “ Trump’s campaign slogan, ‘ ake America Great Again,’ sounds exactly like the slogan of fascist movements.” In comments given recently to the Washington Post, Paxton added that “a sense of victimhood is absolutely essential to the rise of fascism, and I think that’s very strong in America today, particularly among the white middle class.”
As a nation, we now stand at a critical crossroad in our history and the history of the world. Will we choose to be true to the loftier and nobler aspects of patriotism? Or will we choose to go the route of arrogance, a sense of national superiority and the darker forces of nationalism? The world is watching and waiting.
The writer lives in Princeton. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.