The Toxic Relationship Between Patriotism And Nationalism

The concept of patriotism, that is love and support for one’s country, has been around since the dawn of time.

It drove the civilisations of ancient times to greatness and glory and wrote their names into the history books. Nationalism, excessive favouritism towards one’s own country, is also a historical concept and has been viewed positively through time. However, the concept of nationalism as we now know it is much more recent, only being truly formalised in the 18th century, but is equally as important as patriotism in this modern era. Formally, Nationalism is defined as “an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.” This extreme form has, unfortunately, led to violence in severe cases, and deep-rooted hatred and anger in those less serious.

The Roman historian, Tacitus, described patriotism as “praiseworthy competition with one’s ancestor.” Through the centuries, this doctrine seems to have been taken to heart by leaders of the world, from Alexander the Great to Abraham Lincoln, to Winston Churchill. All of these leaders focused on making their countries the greatest they could be, and by expanding on what their predecessors did before them. These people helped to make their nations as great as they could, either by expanding their influence, implementing great social change or defending them from attack. In this form, patriotism is a force that is able to bring about great change, bringing glory and honour to patriots.

More recently, however, in the 21st century, there has been a rise in nationalism around the world.

On both sides of the Atlantic, nationalist agendas have been widely supported. Perhaps the best-known example of a modern nationalist leader is, of course, President Trump. Trump’s policies are all “America First,” such as his Muslim travel ban, his unilateral withdrawal from trade agreements, as well as his blatant failure to condemn white nationalists after they caused death and destruction in Charlottesville. In his statement, he condemned “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” This is just one example of Trump’s rhetoric that appears to support white nationalists and seems to express his dislike to those whom Trump sees as the enemy – in other words, people reacting negatively to his extremist views. Donald Trump appears to fear those who are not like him; such as Muslims, Hispanics and people of different ethnicities to himself. He is anti-globalism in his political views and policies, and this form of governance is damaging both his country as well as the wider world.

A similar tide of nationalism has swept across Europe, from Marine Le Pen in France, with her nationalistic message, to Sweden, where the far right is gaining more support than ever. Le Pen pushed an agenda that was similar to Trump’s, which essentially put France and the French people above all else. She is the quintessential nationalist, taking a hard stand on Islam, an immigration policy that would be prohibitive, and wanting to exalt “French natives” above all others. Le Pen progresses through to the last round of the French presidential elections, which shows just how much this message of nationalism strikes the hearts of Europeans. Similarly, in Sweden, the rise in nationalism has been frightening. A government cannot be formed because of deadlock, caused by Alliance, a far-right party, receiving over 40% of the vote. It is easy to argue that this is because voters want to take back control, but I would argue differently. This rise of nationalistic ideology has been caused by one factor: fear.

People are scared. They are scared by nature, often irrationally. In Europe, people are scared of migrants and those who are different from them. In the United States, white nationalists are terrified of losing their supposed ‘white culture.’ They are scared of threats which they have increased in magnitude out of proportion of reality.

Even in the UK, the Brexit vote of June 2016 can be seen as an example of patriotism turning sour. The electorate voted to take back control of their borders, and soon a sharp rise in xenophobia was recorded. The Home Office reported that in the financial year over 2016 and 2017, 80,400 hate crimes were committed, aggravated by race, religion or culture. This is an increase compared to 62,500 similar incidents occurring in 2015-2016. A stark example of this rise in xenophobic crimes aggravated by nationalism is the Finsbury Park mosque murder, where an innocent man was killed for simply looking different. This is just an example of a rising trend in which people who believe they are acting patriotically, turn extreme and cause immense suffering to those who deserve nothing but safety. Einstein, himself a member of a minority said famously: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

In order to move back to patriotism as a society, we must prevent nationalism from ever becoming integral to our culture. We must educate our leaders of tomorrow and the future electorate about the dangers of nationalism and at least attempt to instill the ideals of patriotism in all its positive forms. Future generations are the ones who will shape world events to come. With this notion of building the world on patriotism, the world can become more connected and yet competitive in a way that brings out the best in every nation. Patriotism, trade and competition bring about huge advances in technology, as seen throughout history. The 20th century was a time of immense advancement both socially and technologically, such as the advent of equality in many ways, such as in gender, race and belief, along with the introduction of the aircraft, and modern computers. These are just some of the factors that irreversibly changed the world for the better. Patriotic people saw that their country could be made better by allowing people to simply be themselves and as such great technological and social changes took place in our society.

Patriotism has also given birth to one of the best social welfare systems in the world and turned the United Kingdom into a place where everyone can feel safe and secure, even in difficult situations. The implementation of the National Health Service has undoubtedly helped millions of people throughout periods of despair in their lives and ushered them through to a better place. Patriotism allowed this country to benefit from what the rest of the world has to offer, particularly Europe. Now, nationalism has threatened this channel of wealth, social security and diversity by pulling the United Kingdom out of the European Union. A large percentage of people who voted for Brexit were people scared of those different to themselves and therefore wanted to ‘take back control’. This is an incontrovertible way in which we, as a nation, have and will be affected by nationalism.

In short, nationalism is bursting its banks, yet we must quickly build levées to protect what it will surely destroy. Our young people must be warned against the dangers of nationalism and empowered with the ability to directly affect change whether in their local community or on a global stage. We must play the music of patriotism to return, composed in harmony – not discord, to return to a culture with a healthy love and support for one’s country.