Saturday, May 6, 2017

In Defense of Nationalism

Nationalism.  That is a word that gets thrown around all the time, usually with a rather negative connotation.  It seems to have many definitions these days in fact.

Recently, author E.D. Hirsch, Jr. penned an excellent article in Democracy Journal, aptly titled "A Sense of Belonging".  In it, he discusses how misunderstood, underrated, and often unfairly maligned the concept of nationalism in the USA has been for the past several decades, and how our lack of the sense of belonging that nationalism provides has left Americans alienated and discontented.   He discusses how our educational system (particularly elementary school) has been recently failing to impart the essentials of a shared national culture, history, and citizenship, and how the left's overzealous avoidance of the (very real) dark side of nationalism ultimately ends up throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.  The trends of the past several decades towards both hyper-individualism as well as an explicit anti-nationalism end up inhibiting our overall social cohesion and sense of community, with negative consequences resulting.  And this is coming from an author who one can safely say is on the political left himself.

He basically argues, in a more eloquent and detailed fashion, something not very different from when Bernie Sanders famously cautioned fellow progressives against overreliance on "identity politics". While this was not very well received and he came across as tone-deaf and failing to check his white straight male (etc.) privilege, he was not in fact against such intersectionality at all.  Rather, he was concerned that focusing too much on the pluribus at the expense of the unum would be detrimental to the overall progressive movement.  Which in turn would make it harder to maintain a united front against our real enemy, the oligarchy.  And while he did not use the word "nationalism" by name, it was certainly implied that the left needs to reclaim nationalism, lest it fall into the hands of the right--which did in fact happen.  Consider the following chillingly prophetic words by Richard Rorty in 1994:

"The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone to assure them that once he is elected the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodern professors will no longer be calling the shots. . . . All the sadism which the academic left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back."

Which basically describes the whole Trump phenomenon in a nutshell.  That is what happens when the left neglects the need for nationalism:  disaffected voters will seek it out from other sources, namely the right.  And the right's version is virtually always going to be toxic and jingoistic, if not altogether racist, fascist, and authoritarian.  There is a reason why so many Trump supporters openly call themselves "white nationalists", after all.

Nationalism can indeed be a very good thing if it is of the proper sort and in the right hands, while the wrong sort and/or in the wrong hands can indeed be horrific.  All the more reason to reclaim it from the right. To quote Hirsch:

"The right kind of modern nationalism is communal, intent on including everyone. The wrong, exclusivist kind, exemplified by the racism of the Nazis, gave all nationalism a bad name and helped turn the post-Vietnam left away from nationalism of any sort. The sentiment was that most countries are pretty bad, especially big ones that prey on little ones."

As we like to say, nationalism is like nitroglycerine:  it can either be used to blow up bridges or heal hearts.  And the TSAP represents the good kind of nationalism that is so desperately needed to heal the wounded and heavy heart of America.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Nationalism is a necessary component and nationalism can only be a positive force if it is built with the criteria described here.