By Promod Puri
I have been anti-national since I understood the nature of its allegiance to the country one belongs. At the same time, I am not a patriot either with its blurred image as it is often a consequence of nationalism.
Patriotism and nationalism have an obscure borderline between them. It is a “problematic pair” to find independent definitions to isolate each concept. Both the words are synonyms for each other according to their dictionary explanations. Still, certain attempts have been made to detach the two.
Nationalism arises from the word nation. As such, it seeks love, devotion, pride and unconditional loyalty for it. This commitment must be confined within a nation’s borders. It is an outright and avid engagement with the country one resides in.
Nationalism also seeks pride in the nation’s identities contained in monolithic societies.
One religion, one language, and one culture dominate the monolithic societies. Together these are showcased to represent the overall nationalistic character of the nation. The country’s politics are espoused and steered around the sensitivities of these aspects.
However, in the universality of contemporary society, nationalism has a confined perspective. It denies or ignores the fast-emerging reality of nations’ multicultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious expressions. In the nationalism of the majority, minorities’ share is limited or unimportant.
As technology, the internet, and social media are the current factors cementing the multi-facet character of the world’s societies, the sentiment of nationalism does not appeal.
Moreover, nationalism thins out when people migrate due to political, economic and other reasons or as refugees. It is often a dilemma for immigrants to settle in host countries to pick one national loyalty and reject the other.
Nationalism has lost its impact because no single identity is monopolizing cosmopolitan populations. But it is used as a political tool to arouse the majority community’s religious, cultural and linguistic sentiments.
Nationalism leads to the political exploitation of the dominating community, apprehensive of being overwhelmed by the population mix of multiple and distinctive identities.
Xenophobia is thus forged thru nationalistic politics.
Governments are elected in a manufactured atmosphere of fear and hatred for minorities, foreigners, and refugees. Enemies are concocted within a nation where bigotry, racism, and injustice are encouraged and played for political sovereignty.
Albert Einstein said: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
Nationalism finds an accomplice in patriotism for political gains and opportunism. In this behaviour, patriotism becomes a victim of nationalism.
Patriotism is derived from the word patriot. Its character is better understood in valour, bravery, sacrifice, duty and devotion toward the nation and its citizens.
The purity of patriotism lies in the concerns and care of the nation’s people, devoting and sacrificing for their protection and peace irrespective of their class, caste, religious or cultural affiliations. It encourages pride in the nation’s achievements while seeking a critical analysis of its failures involving governing leadership.
A changing behaviour has been observed toward the concept of patriotism among school kids in the United States recently. According to a study by Professor Jane Lo of Florida State University, “students opt out of the ritual of saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”
Further, according to the professor, “a public opinion poll conducted by the Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness suggests that young people see the flag less as a symbol to be proud of and more as a symbol of what is wrong with the country. If more students associate the flag with flaws in the system, it would explain why some students opt out of standing for the pledge of allegiance or other celebratory acts.”
Patriotism, nevertheless, is an evocation to support and shield the parochial aspect of nationalism. As it keeps subtle binding with nationalism, military patriotism is manifested.
But military patriotism induces an ever-escalating global war budget in the name of “defence.”
As patriotism is a major motivating factor, armed forces are raised and maintained with the spending of billions and trillions of dollars for the “defence.”
The question is: defence from whom?
Countries are rarely invaded by other countries anymore. (Except for the continued Russian invasion of Ukraine that started early this year.) That era, which dominated the histories of humanity, ended with the Second World War 77 years ago.
The thirst of the political Left and Right ideologies for political dominance and expansionism are not the factors. That period ended with the Cold War between the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc in the late last century.
What is aimed now is business or corporate expansionism. The reason is an ever-increasing appetite for capitalism which significantly impacts democratic and communist political systems. Business-political nexus is thus created.
Over the last several decades, borders for battlegrounds are not needed in this expansionist development. But the war industry’s clout keeps the borders hostile. Aggressive patriotism, infused with nationalism, is set up across the borderlines.
From that perspective, military patriotism is a deadly commitment.
The eighteenth-century French philosopher Voltaire said, “It is lamentable that to be a good patriot, one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.”
We can admit that patriotism has been a motivating factor in the service of humanity. Both nationalism and patriotism have historical contributions toward a nation’s pride, unity, independence, and sovereignty.
But the world has changed, comprising varied demographic characteristics. Nationalism and patriotism are now divisive concepts within a nation’s borders. Most fights and conflicts worldwide happen within a country, not between nations.
When nationalism stirrups patriotism, the latter develops into a chauvinistic tool of power politics.
Both nationalism and patriotism relate only to the confines of the nation’s border. The world, thru technology, mass communication, and social media, is fast emerging as a cosmopolitan mix of one world- community.
“Our true nationality is mankind,” H.G. Wells.
As such, our concerns and issues are now at the global level of wellness of all humanity. This empathetic awareness creates respect and understanding among peoples of the world irrespective of class, caste, religious or societal differences.
In this concern, our environments, which have no space for nationalistic and patriotic jingoism, are equal partners seeking their attention and protection.
As we are fast developing into a multi-facet global community, we need humanitarianism and environmentalism without the caging borders of nationalism and the obscurity of patriotism.