11 votes

What's good about nationalism?

This is a question I've been thinking about a great deal in the context of changing global power dynamics. Rising authoritarianism, militarism, fundamentalism, and other ailments of our times are getting in the way of dealing with universal threats to humanity, like climate change, pandemics, and even asteroid impacts.

But nationalism has such a grip on people's psyches... Parts are nostalgic, and parts are about tribal sense of belonging and purpose. Tonight, I watched a Chef's Table episode about a young Russian chef on a mission to make Russian cuisine great again (not his words). The interesting thing is that Mukhin essentially acknowledges that he's helping Russian cuisine become great not by denigrating other nation's products, or clinging to an idealized version of his home food, but through intentionally discovering what is worthwhile elsewhere and at home. It got me thinking about what's been lost in a globalized world, what could be found in isolated places, and what it would take to let people bridge local interests and universal values.

I'd also watched Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins over the weekend. Ivins' writing on Texas state politics as a microcosm and foreshadowing of current U.S. concerns is essential. Then I read Citylab's old story on the paralysis of New York subway system development.

It occurred to me that the U.S. has become fractally parochial, with increasingly local or corporate interests thwarting any exercise favoring broader national or regional goods. The original framing of the nation in the U.S. Constitution has significant flaws because of the original tension between sovereign state interests, and the federal system. We're not learning from the rest of the world very well, either.

I'm curious about whether Tilders think there's such a thing as positive nationalism, capable of both unifying localities and maintaining or growing what's good about a culture in the face of potentially hostile competing nations.

  • Do you think there are positive aspects to nationalism, and if so, what?

  • Do you think nationalism has been, on balance, a positive or negative force in your country in the past?

  • Do you think nationalism is, on balance, a positive or negative force in your country right now?

  • Do you think your country could have a positive version of nationalism in the future?

  • Is it necessary to exclude or mitigate influences from elsewhere in order to maintain the original nature of your national culture?

If I may ask, please include your nationality when responding.

11 comments

  1. chas
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    Nationalism that encourages people to think bigger than their family, their town, their state... great. Other than that, nationalism is just socially acceptable bigotry. Anyone who travels can...

    Nationalism that encourages people to think bigger than their family, their town, their state... great. Other than that, nationalism is just socially acceptable bigotry. Anyone who travels can instantly see how the nationalism of people in other countries is pathetic and irrational. It's just harder to recognize when it's nationalism of one's own country.

    15 votes
  2. mrbig
    (edited )
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    A nation is a political construct that allows a group to pursue its interests in detriment of others. So to answer your questions: Yes. It can be useful in at least two exceptional situations:...

    A nation is a political construct that allows a group to pursue its interests in detriment of others.

    So to answer your questions:

    Do you think there are positive aspects to nationalism, and if so, what?

    Yes. It can be useful in at least two exceptional situations:

    • when a community must unite against an Imperial oppressor towards a national dream
    • when a nation is fighting against an existential threat such as the Axis powers

    But these conditions are far from the norm, and after they end nationalism lingers on.

    Do you think nationalism has been, on balance, a positive or negative force in your country in the past?

    Nationalism was a driving force for all anti-democratic movements in Brazil. It quite literally killed people. So I'm gonna go with negative.

    Do you think nationalism is, on balance, a positive or negative force in your country right now?

    Entirely negative.

    Do you think your country could have a positive version of nationalism in the future?

    There is no such thing as a "positive version of nationalism", just like there is no such thing as a "positive version of fascism".

    Is it necessary to exclude or mitigate influences from elsewhere in order to maintain the original nature of your national culture?

    Absolutely not.

    Also: "original nature" is nothing but a fiction perpetrated by those who seek to ostracize anyone that does not conform. A nation is an artificial construct that is, by definition, multifaceted. There is nothing essential about a nation but plurality itself.

    EDIT: I have nothing against national cultures. Local cultures should be nurtured and preserved (when reasonable). This is not the same as nationalism.

    7 votes
  3. [3]
    patience_limited
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    I'm sorry your experience of nationalism, as a political tool at least, has been absolute crap. However, the definition of nationalism you've given doesn't concur with the full scope of the term....

    I'm sorry your experience of nationalism, as a political tool at least, has been absolute crap. However, the definition of nationalism you've given doesn't concur with the full scope of the term.

    There's nothing which requires nationalism to operate to the exclusion or detriment of other nations. It's both support for one form of political organization (as nations), and a facet of individual political identity. [I say this as a committed border-smashing internationalist.]

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      mrbig
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Is this an answer to my comment? Anyway, to make it clear, I don’t think nationalism is the only culprit. The very idea of nation is harmful in my view.

      Is this an answer to my comment?

      Anyway, to make it clear, I don’t think nationalism is the only culprit. The very idea of nation is harmful in my view.

      2 votes
      1. patience_limited
        Link Parent
        Yes, it was, and that's what happens when I try to reply as I'm falling asleep in bed. I agree with you that nations, particularly as defined by lines on maps or as monolithic ethnic assemblages,...

        Yes, it was, and that's what happens when I try to reply as I'm falling asleep in bed. I agree with you that nations, particularly as defined by lines on maps or as monolithic ethnic assemblages, are bad ideas.

        1 vote
  4. skybrian
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    I'm not sure what's meant by nationalism, but a good thing about patriotism is that sometimes people will do what they think is good for the country, and this has all the benefits of people...

    I'm not sure what's meant by nationalism, but a good thing about patriotism is that sometimes people will do what they think is good for the country, and this has all the benefits of people working together, but at a larger scale than most other groups. It tends to be better than everyone being out only for themselves. It also encourages trust in strangers, at least in a limited realm.

    6 votes
  5. Staross
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    Lordon (a French far-left social scientist) wrote a book (Imperium) about related questions, it's a bit hard to explain but I found this summary: https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Imperium

    Lordon (a French far-left social scientist) wrote a book (Imperium) about related questions, it's a bit hard to explain but I found this summary:

    A prescriptive ‘post-nationalism’ is for Lordon the denial of this fragmentary condition of human social life, its separation in different groupings of belonging; it is the stubborn but futile disavowal of the political, anthropological and social fact of human division. Yet, in a refrain that recurs throughout the book, he insists that this is no cause for despair: a general theory of imperium does not preclude the emergence of more emancipatory forms of verticality and allows (or perhaps demands) that we maintain the ‘maximal programme of emancipation’ as a regulative ideal.

    Imperium then launches into a swingeing attack on the anti-nationalist left, targeting ‘the grotesque claims of the well-off’ for a ‘liberation from belonging’, without acknowledging how much they benefit from their own belonging. Lordon contrasts this to the reality of statelessness, the nightmare of absolute non-inclusion, surviving like the sans-papiers without rights—and indeed fighting for citizenship, for belonging.

    https://wiki.p2pfoundation.net/Imperium

    4 votes
  6. [2]
    suspended
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    I have always lived in the United States and I am unable to find a better source for the reality here than the following article. Please, take the time and effort to read and think about it....

    I have always lived in the United States and I am unable to find a better source for the reality here than the following article. Please, take the time and effort to read and think about it.

    American democracy is doomed

    3 votes
    1. patience_limited
      Link Parent
      It's not really on topic, though, is it? There's no shortage of reasons to be concerned (a/k/a scared to death) about the state of the U.S., but Yglesias' brand of catastrophism here doesn't...

      It's not really on topic, though, is it? There's no shortage of reasons to be concerned (a/k/a scared to death) about the state of the U.S., but Yglesias' brand of catastrophism here doesn't inform the broader discussion of nationalism. It's certainly worth it's own topic, but I'd like to remember that Tildes is bigger than our concerns.

      5 votes
  7. Happy_Shredder
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    In general I'm critical of nation states as a concept and so am critical of nationalism. However, there are two obvious, positive examples of nationalism: Sinn Fean and Nelson Mandela. These...

    In general I'm critical of nation states as a concept and so am critical of nationalism. However, there are two obvious, positive examples of nationalism: Sinn Fean and Nelson Mandela. These people have and continue to fight for an autonomous nation because they want to see their people free from oppression. Self determination is something I value highly.

    In contrast, fascists and Tories and the Republican party and Bolsinaro and so on advocate nationalism for personal advancement and power. These groups use the nation for oppression, not liberty.

    I don't think we have a huge problem with nationalism here in Aus today. There are white nationalists in Parliament; I think the core political problem here is more how disconnected Parliament is from the people and reality. Historically European white nationalists commited genocide, executed pogroms, systematically prevented "undesirables " from entering the country, and stole thousands of children from their parents. More recently, first peoples have been made criminals on their own land and hundreds of refugees have been dumped in concentration camps for the mistake of being brown and poor. Pretty horrible all round.

    3 votes
  8. Tum
    (edited )
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    Nationalism on its own isn't necessarily good, but when combined with multi-state globalism it can lead to competition between nations; allowing the successful to thrive and adoption of successful...

    Nationalism on its own isn't necessarily good, but when combined with multi-state globalism it can lead to competition between nations; allowing the successful to thrive and adoption of successful attributes into less successful states.

    At the extremes are Communism and Libertarianism, but I think a happy medium is Democratic Nationalism; because it is more adaptable than single-party/no-state varieties. Having a Representative Democracy allows the state to adopt laws regardless of their origin, giving them the ability to evolve rapidly towards solutions that benefit their citizens. The emphasis should be on what works, not so much on which group/party suggested it - and this process is turbocharged when competition is introduced.

    1 vote