IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Nationalism and Peace (1)

Many conflicts seem to be about nationalism, in one form or another (ethnic nationalism, in particular), so I thought it would be worth considering this important force in the modern (and for that matter, post-modern) world.  First, I need to say that this is a big subject (there are courses just on types of nationalism), and I am only going to mention a few aspects.  For background, you can go (you guessed it!) here.   Of course, we also need to consider what a nation is.  While the Wikster article mentions all the traditional bases of “nationhood”, at the end of the day, a nation is a group that, for a variety of reaons, has come to think of itself as a nation, and around which grows up a consciousness/ideology of nationalism.

I think there are a variety of problems with nationalism, as far as peace is concerned.  The one I want to discuss here goes back to the period when nationalism as we know it emerged (19th century Europe).  At that time, the idea of Social Darwinism (associated with Herbert Spencer and others), was popular.  The idea was that human society divided (neatly and naturally) into nations which were involved in a process of struggle for domination that paralleled the process of natural selection among other species.  So, nations were “organic” groupings, and struggle (which included violent conflict) among nations was a force for progress and therefore “good”, since it meant the best and strongest survived and perpetuated themselves.  If you are hearing arguments associated with 20th century Fascism here, you are on the right track.  While the world has, seemingly, rejected Fascism, the idea that a nation should be strong and even “virile”, is still very much with us.  Today nationalism (particularly in conflict situations) often takes the form of “chauvinism” which, according to Mr. W:

“…is extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of a group to which one belongs, especially when the partisanship includes malice and hatred towards a rival group. Jingoism is its nationalistic, militarized form”

While patriotism, the love of country, and nationalism are sometimes seen as synonymous, this is not the case:  you can love your country, without wanting necessarily to see it dominate others.

In the 21st century, we know (if we stop to think about it) that nations are not natural groupings, and that a constant struggle for dominance among them is not the engine of history.  Therefore, it seems to me that patriotism, which can be compatible with love of one’s species and one’s planet, needs to be, once again, distinguished from the more extremist forms of nationalist ideology which have contributed to the frequency and intensity of conflict over the last several decades.

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January 13, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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