OPINION – If there is one good thing to be said about fear, it’s that it is a powerful and effective uniter. Unfortunately, it is almost always used to manipulate the masses for irrational ends.
Two current examples of this include the hysterical hand-wringing over the potential softening of relations between equally hard-line U.S. and Iranian leadership and the swelling hype over which politicians hope to prevail in next year’s presidential election.
Both issues have good people worked into a frenzy with emotional appeals to their sense of nationalistic pride. Neither leads us in the direction of personal or national greatness. The struggle between patriotism and nationalism is playing out before us.
Do we love America because of her ability to project military might? Are we proud to call ourselves Americans because of a certain candidate who may be elected to the oval office? An outside observer watching our daily news coverage might reasonably conclude this is the case.
Now would also be an ideal time for every one of us to seriously contemplate what it means to be a patriotic American in our time.
What far too many of our countrymen believe to be patriotism is actually nationalism cloaked in patriotic garb. It’s a difference worth understanding.
Patriotism is best described as a kind of love for one’s country that closely mirrors the love we should feel toward our family members. It is grounded in a sense of reason, responsibility, a desire for good citizenship, sincere regard for others and a willingness to make corrections when necessary.
Nationalism, on the other hand, is more closely related to the type of fanatical spirit exhibited at a school pep rally complete with chants, cheers, bonfires and banners. It is steeped in emotion, pridefulness, fear of strangers, and a desire to accumulate and exercise power over others.
Albert L. Guerard explains the contrast in this way:
Patriotism, the desire to work for the common weal, can be, must be, reasonable: “My country, may she be right!” Nationalism spurns reason: “Right or wrong, my country.”
Writer Barbara O’ Brien makes an interesting point when she notes that the primary difference between the patriot and the nationalist is what they value most. In the case of the patriot, responsibility is considered paramount in the behavior of the individual and the collective acts of one’s nation.
The nationalist places the highest significance on loyalty no matter what is being done individually or collectively. Think about this difference the next time the discussion turns to U.S. foreign policy, torture or indefinite detention without any due process, or the domestic surveillance of the American people.
Nationalism tends to be more fanatical because at its heart it is a form of modern idolatry in which worship of the state or its military becomes a brand of national religion. This is one of the reasons that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden is portrayed as a heretic who stands accused of disloyalty to the nationalist apparatus.
His revelations of the U.S. government’s domestic spying upon innocent members of the public are cheered as patriotism by supporters of liberty and labeled as treason by nationalists.
So how exactly does one distinguish true patriotism from its nationalistic counterfeit?
Adlai Stevenson offered this gem:
What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility … a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
Another way to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism is to see how each responds to responsibility. A patriot will speak up when his nation is at fault, not because he hates his country, but because he considers it his duty to correct the shortcomings preventing his beloved nation from reaching its potential.
When confronted with the same situation, a nationalist will defensively lash out with accusations of how those identifying the problem are expressing hatred for his country. To a nationalist, his country can do no wrong and never requires correction.
The nationalist solution to any problem is to exercise greater power over others.
Perhaps that’s why George Orwell, in his excellent essay on nationalism, stated:
Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.
There are plenty of reasons for which we can be proud of our nation. Likewise, there are some glaring problems that require correction. It is our patriotic duty to help others understand the difference.
Instead of resorting to dominion, let us affect change as patriots who love our country as we love our family – desiring the best for it.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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