Some Thoughts on Nationalism

31 mar 2002


Reluctantly accepting that we won’t be going anywhere until the end of April has lowered my frustration to a more or less acceptable level. Kind of. At least for this morning. Scanning the internet, I came across an article by Lee Camp on Mint Press News that talks about nationalism, a topic I consider controversial in that there are so many various definitions about it. Here are two paragraphs that stood out for me:

What if we decided there were no nations but instead the working people of the world were one group and the corporate owners of the world were another group. If humans were divvied up that way instead, the working people of China would be able to help the working people of Italy or America and vice versa without nationalistic propaganda. (Of course this raises other problems such as that the corporate owners would certainly hoard all the ventilators since they are generally sociopaths.)

But we are subliminally told by our mainstream media never to side with the people of another nation. First and foremost care about America. Yet in reality, if we free our minds beyond the mental prison of toxic nationalism, do any of us have anything against a shoe salesman in China or a garbage man in Cuba? I seriously doubt it. You’re not at war with that shoe salesman. You don’t have any reason to hate him or even wish him ill will. So truthfully the extremely rich of the world are at war with each other while 99% of the various populations are along for the ride – some knowingly and some blissfully unaware.

While I don’t agree with everything here, it brought back to mind an anecdote which I noted somewhere earlier on the blog. Back in the fifties, my father and I were torching an infestation of tent caterpillars in one of our pear trees, when I asked him why a Russian farmer would want to fight with an American farmer? He said something about them being Communists, while giving me a menacing look, as if I was asking something absolutely taboo, unspeakable (at least for our family). For me, it wasn’t a satisfying anwser, but I had learned, from the end of a wooden yardstick or a belt on my bare butt, that arguing (or trying to discuss) with my father was out of the question. And I commented sometime later, that we may live in a democracy, but that I lived in a communist household, which got me sent from the dinner table to my bedroom.

In any case, Camp sounds like he’s channeling Lennon’s “Imagine” in his piece and, while I generally tend to agree with Camp and Lennon, I think nationalism has been unfairly painted with with too large a brush. Here, I refer to Dmitry Orlov:

Patriotism is one’s love of one’s native land and people. It is a natural, organic result of growing up in a certain place among a certain people, who have also grown up there, and who pass along a cultural and linguistic legacy that they all love and cherish. This does not imply that those not of one’s family, neighborhood or region are in any way inferior, but they are not one’s own, and one loves them less.

• Nationalism is a synthetic product generated using public education and is centered around certain hollow symbols: a flag, an anthem, some yellowed pieces of paper, a few creation myths and so on. It is supported by certain rituals (parades, speeches, handing out of medals) that comprise a civic cult. The purpose of nationalism is to support the nation-state. Where nationalism serves the needs of one’s native land and people, nationalism and patriotism become aligned; when it destroys them, nationalism becomes the enemy and patriots form partisan movements, rise up and destroy the nation-state.

• Fascism is the perfect melding of the nation-state and corporations, in the course of which the distinction between public and private interests becomes erased and corporations come to dictate public policy. An almost perfect expression of fascism is the recent transatlantic and transpacific trade agreements negotiated in secret by the Obama administration, which at the moment, to everyone’s great relief, seem to be dead in the water. – Dmitry Orlov, Firing the Elites.

What I think is important here is his definition of nationalism. Read it closely. He says it’s a double-edged sword. When it’s synthetic and destroys the natural sense of loving and caring for ones neighbours, it can be destructive of the ties that bind. When nationalism and his definition of patriotism coincide, there’s a natural harmony.

I don’t think Orlov is defending national borders, per se, as they are relatively arbitrary lines on a piece of paper, decided by people who have no (or little) connection to those living within the confines of said borders. What he’s saying is that there is a natural, organic means of establishing connections with our neighbors that shouldn’t be defined by people who aren’t there and have no connection with the intricacies of living together, or who attempt to pit one against the other for their personal means.

But there’s a problem. We now have national borders, whether or not we agree to them (see the Middle East, the Balkans for example). But we also have something else, the European Union, a kind of hybrid definition of national borders and this something else, defined by Brussels, is a supra-government that seems to have no interests other than maintaining itself and its huge bureaucracy, and serves no purpose other than to bow to the diktats of the multinationals. Regardless of borders. So we have so-called independent countries subsumed into something of an alliance that leaves them relatively little autonomy.

Speaking of autonomy brings me to the question of the Euro. Remember Greece, and all that entailed? A perfect example of the hypocrisy of “European Solidarity” as a few big banks literally stole the country. As to the Greeks themselves, Fuck ’em. Reminds me of when my wife and I spent a fair number of summers in southern Italy, Calabria, refurbishing her sailboat. People there were not fond of the Euro, either, since prices basically doubled overnight, while their salaries stagnated. No wonder it was pretty much a cash economy. Of course the rich became richer, siphoning EU subsidies into their own pockets. “And so it goes” …

The term “nationalism” (like so many others, “populism”, for example) has been redefined these days to imply stuff like Nazism, racism. All negative, when, according to Orlov, it isn’t necessarily the case. It can be either/or, depending on the circumstances.

Towards the end of his article, Camp writes:

During this partial collapse, new structures could emerge if we break out of our antiquated thought prisons. Right now is not about nations or fences or political parties. It’s about you, and me, and our neighbors, and our friends, and our shared humanity.

From my point of view, yes, “breaking out of our thought prisons” is a great idea. But I think it should at home, in each of our countries, reclaiming national autonomy, cleaning house locally, chasing the multinationals (who have no real home) from the corridors of power, and let the people decide what they want to do. It’ll probably be a lot better than what we have now.

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