Nationalism, having patriotic feelings or principles, is easy to blame for the troubling events throughout the world recently. It is even easier to blame nationalism for the troubling events that have happened in the past. From colonialism to World Wars 1 and 2, and now to the insurgence of hateful rhetoric throughout the world. It is easy to label nationalism as an idea that divides humans based on arbitrary and imagined borderlines, and that it is the root of all evil. As a teenager growing up in the 21st century, where personal interest is the natural driving force, it is my instinct to look down upon the idea of nationalism. However, for the purpose of this article, I have decided to ignore my instinct, play devil’s advocate, and say it: maybe nationalism is not so bad. Just maybe.
Let me begin by exploring why nationalism is looked upon as regressive, starting with the present. Throughout Europe, there has been a sharp rise in the number of politicians wanting to put their respective countries “first.” In Austria for example, Norbert Hofer, member of the far right “Freedom Party” nearly won the 2016 Presidential Elections, losing by only 4%. In the United Kingdom, the right-leaning parties managed to convince the electorate to vote for leaving the European Union using highly emotional and patriotic language. That is a major reason why nationalism gets a bad rap. It is seen as a fanatic idea, the utter and irrational devotion to one’s country of origin. Nationalism beat (or should I say “Trumped”) logic. When economic and political experts warned against Brexit because of the possible, logical repercussions, they were ignored. The prevalence of emotion over logic is scary for some people, and is something that should not happen anymore. And yet it does. Probably because cold, calculated logic is not always the answer.
For those that agree that being emotionally-driven is not a sin, another reason exists for despising nationalism. “It breeds conflict!” they say. “It starts wars!” they shout. Well, that is true, there is no denying that nationalistic pride has been the fuel for multiple wars and conflicts. However, nationalism should also be given credit where credit is due. Political writer John Mearsheimer states that nations seek to preserve their cultural values and identities, and that in many cases the best way to do that was through the developing of nationalistic values. Without the spread of nationalism, the Ottoman empire would have still been intact, the British would still have control over most of the world, and the Chechens would have accepted their status as Russians and would have likely been subject to cultural assimilation.
Finally, there is a distinction to be made between nationalism and xenophobia. I find that necessary because when looking for a concrete definition of nationalism, the word “xenophobia” was a synonym. Nationalism is not xenophobia. Loving one’s own country and harboring patriotic sentiments does not entail hatred for another country, or fear of outsiders. The reason nationalists have lost the ability to coexist in present times is fear. To quote Remus Lupin, their minds have “been twisted and warped by fear. Now fear makes people do terrible things.” To be fair, we do live in scary times, but that is a topic for later.
Nationalism is a complicated subject, and it requires a much longer piece and much more research. However, this much is clear. It’s easy to label it as an evil, unnecessary idea, especially when we see what goes on around us. However, it is just wrong to claim that no good could ever come from it, or that it is simply “backwards.”