Nationalism—PART I

Last Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron added to the general confusion about the word “Nationalism” by saying:

“Patriotism” is the exact opposite of nationalism: Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By putting our interests first, with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, and the thing that keeps it alive: its moral values.”

Perhaps the French have different meanings for the words “Patriotism” and “Nationalism,” but Macron’s statement makes no sense using the English meanings of the words. Yet English speaking people speak the same kind of nonsense. The meaning of “nationalism” and the importance of the concept to the maintenance of a good society needs to be sorted out.[i]

Merriam-Webster explains:

“…from the end of the 18th century onward for a number of decades, nationalism appears to have been largely interchangeable with patriotism, with both words primarily being used to refer to a general love of one’s country

In U.S. usage nationalism is now perhaps most frequently associated with white[ii] nationalism, and has considerably negative connotations.” [Emphasis added.]

People “loving”[iii] groups of which they are a part is a near-universal human characteristic.[iv] To suggest that loving one’s family, clan, tribe, or nation is immoral is tantamount to saying humans are immoral. While humans may be immoral, they are less immoral when they must cohere to the ideas and ways of effective groups than when left to their own ideas and ways. In light of this, it is fair to say that, in English, Macron’s statement is foolish.[v]

Something not foolish about Macron’s words is that they presumed (accurately) that “Patriotism,” “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty,” is good. Why is that?

While all forms of life are miraculous, the most miraculous life form known to man is man. In addition to being conscious, inventive, creative, productive, interested, interesting, caring, loving, etc., unsocialized humans are also covetous, cunning, and cliquish, and are often brutal and cruel in satisfying their avarice (to mention but a few of their shortcomings). To enjoy that which is miraculously good about humans, the characteristics of unsocialized humans must be socialized, i.e., they must be made to behave in a way that is acceptable to their society. Because behavior is generally motivated by beliefs, for best results, humans must be indoctrinated into the beliefs of their families, clans, and tribes that are sympatico with the beliefs of the nation. Let’s sort out why that is.

Socialization goes for naught if the society is not capable of defending itself and its members against enemies. This is because successful enemies will impose their own set of beliefs and ways on the conquered. To guard against that result, humans resort to the “safety in numbers,” i.e., humans, like many animals, form groups for mutual defense. Families join clans, clans join tribes, and tribes form and/or join nations in order to achieve for its members a greater probability they will be sufficiently strong to defend themselves against those who do not share the common moral and practical beliefs, cultural norms, institutions, traditions, etc. of the clan, tribe, or nation.

A feeling of safety sufficient to enable human flourishing comes from the members of society having (1) the ability to reasonably predict the actions of other members of society, and (2) a belief that the other members of the family, clan, tribe, and nation will join them in a common defense from an attack by enemies. A state of predictable affairs can be achieved only when the vast majority of the society’s members sufficiently cohere to a common set of values, and non-conformists are kept in reasonable check. For a society to have faith that others rise up in mutual defense of the society, the greater the assimilation of all members of that society to the nation’s ideas, morals, history, and general love of country, the better.

Moreover, defending against foreign enemies is not sufficient. For the clan, tribe, or nation to avoid being torn asunder, the vast majority of members need to subscribe and conform to the group’s beliefs, norms, institutions, traditions, etc. The more people who eschew, belittle, or attack those beliefs, etc., the less likely the nation will long endure the assaults.  That is the reason it is often said, “a house divided cannot stand.”[vi] This is also why tribalism is such a threat to a nation.

The effectiveness of a fighting force against an enemy foreign or domestic is improved if the “troops” rally around the idea that they are fighting for something so good that it is worth the risk and cost in blood and treasure to fight for it. Evidence that being excited about the cause is part of a winning strategy can be seen every fall Saturday as football players charge out of tunnels onto the football fields. Patriotism, a fervorous belief by the vast majority of a society’s members that the nation is so good that its preservation is worth fighting for, can make all the difference in a fight for national survival.[vii]

So, contrary to Macron’s flourishes, the essence of nationalism is essentially indistinguishable from patriotism.

So why all the fuss about “nationalism?” That will be the subject of “Nationalism—PART II.

[i] Many of my comments about nationalism in this series of posts are informed by the insights and analysis in an extraordinary new book, “The Virtue of Nationalism” by Yoram Hazony. “Yoram Hazony on the Virtue of Nationalism” is a great interview of Hazony about the book by Russ Roberts.

[ii] Dealing with the mention of “white nationalism” in the context of nationalism is beyond the scope of this series of posts. Suffice it to say, nationalism has a bad rap in Europe and the U.S. now with or without the “white” modifier.

[iii] “Love” is largely ambiguous due to its many gradations and nuances. I’m using the word “love” to describe a feeling that the country is worthy of respect, care, support, and encouragement, and that protection from its enemies is in the best interests of its inhabitants.

[iv] Jonathon Haidt says humans are “groupish.” See “The Groupish Gene – Jonathan Haidt” or, better yet, take the time to get the whole story with “The Groupish Gene: Hive psychology and the Origins of Morality and Religion.”

[v]  Although I do not subscribe to everything Megan McArdle said about nationalism in this article, she does make some good points about nationalism in, “Nationalism and Patriotism Don’t Have to Be Opposites.” She is particularly right in saying, “If we are to fight our way back from this soft civil war, we will need a muscular patriotism that focuses us on our commonalities instead of our differences.”

[vi]  See Lincoln’s “House Divided Speech,” or Matthew 12:25, Mark 3:25

[vii] In “The Ascent of Man,” Charles Darwin put it this way: “Obedience… is of the highest value, for any form of government is better than none. Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence nothing can be effected. A tribe rich in the above qualities would spread and be victorious over other tribes: but in the course of time it would, judging from all past history, be in its turn overcome by some other tribe still more highly endowed.”

Nationalism—PART II, False Premise.

Recently, Trump said at a rally, “Really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, O.K.? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word! Use that word!” The leftist media leaped into hysteria mode. We’ll sort out why they became hysterical in a later post. In this post, let’s sort out why the leftist media are basing their reaction on a false premise.

Let’s first revisit the definition of Nationalism. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defined “Nationalism” thus:

1: loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially: a sense of national consciousness (see CONSCIOUSNESS sense 1c) exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups

(Then, Meriam-Webster disgustingly[i] added erroneous political commentary: “//Intense nationalism was one of the causes of the war.” Such is life in a leftist world.[ii])

In a post about the difference between patriotism and nationalism, Merriam-Webster said, “’Nationalism,’ general love of one’s country.”

Aside from God (who is, by definition, perfect), nothing humans love is perfect—often far from it.[iii] The definitions of “loyalty,” “devotion,” and “love” do not include an implication that a lover/loyalist/devotee believes the objects of her love/loyalty/devotion are even close to perfect. For example, humans love family members despite members’ flaws. Human’s love of their teams, clans, tribes, and nations are similar in this respect.[iv] When humans love their nation, they are neither endorsing any, much less every, negative aspect of their nation nor asserting that their nation is not in need of significant improvement. They are simply doing what most humans typically do, loving the group of which they are members.

Freemon Dyson summed up why humans cohere with their families, clans, tribes, and nations:

To understand human behavior, I look at human evolution. About a hundred thousand years ago, our species invented a new kind of evolution…, we began a cultural evolution based on social and intellectual changes…

Cultural evolution was enabled by spoken languages and tribal loyalties. Tribe competed with tribe and culture with culture. The cultures that prevailed were those that promoted tribal cohesion… It was more important for a group of humans to be united than to be right….

So, to insist that humans can and should abandon nationalism (as anti-nationalists’ “citizens of the world” types do) conflicts with evolved human nature. Ideologies that depend on humans changing their natures are the deadliest of all ideologies.[v] Also, Human evolution has revealed that barbarous and nationless people are relatively less successful than those in acculturated nations. Regardless, pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth, however, have not been and will not be stamped out of the human heart. Consequently, humans could easily devolve into greater barbarism if they adopt ideologies that fan the flames of the “seven deadly sins,” e.g., socialism.[vi])

Note also that the definition of nationalism does not include or imply that nationalist want their nation to impose its ways, means, or will on other peoples. Politically astute nationalists urge the opposite. For example, Oklahoma Sooners fans do not want the Sooners to be the only football team in the world. Quite the contrary, they want there to be other good teams with which to play, i.e., the whole enterprise would not work if there were only one team in the world. Not only do multiple teams enable the enterprise to exist, wholesome play and vigorous competition cause teams to improve themselves. That same is true of nations. Astute nationalists do not want their nation to dominate the world. They understand that getting a nation’s members to cohere to (rally around) the nation’s fundamental values, ways, and means, which is essential to prosperity, is made easier when the nation is competing with other nations. The greater the diversity of values, in both kind and extent, among a people, the more difficult it is to maintain internal peace and prosperity. Conquering and ruling people who revere values, etc. that are antithetical to the conquering nation’s values, etc. reduce a nation’s chances of being peaceful and prosperous.

Internal Peace and Cooperation: Humans fare better when they are members of a constructive culture. “Culture” is “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes [a group of people, e.g. a nation].” As cohesion to a nation’s values, etc. lessens, the ability of a nation’s citizens to enjoy the benefits of a culture shrink—and too little cohesion will tear a country asunder. Much of the hate that develops in a nation is caused by some groups cherishing values, etc. that are different from other groups. When the vast majority of citizens no longer adhere to a single set of the fundamental cultural values, toleration and cooperation become less frequent, trouble brews, and, eventually, the center will not hold. In short, if a people do not sufficiently assimilate and adhere to a single set of core values, the sundry groups are no longer “a people.” They become warring factions. Nationalism has proven to be an antidote to this problem, i.e., nationalism increases cooperation, prosperity, and internal peace.

Nationalism and Self-Determination. Different peoples do have different values, ways, and means. Humans have a tendency to cherish the values that they determine are worthy of reverence. For that reason, nationalist believe that, rather than fight those human tendencies, countries should have the right of self-determination of their values, etc., to govern themselves as they see fit, and create a culture of mutual protection from enemies, foreign and domestic. The political philosophy that facilitates and encourages those rights of self-determination is called “nationalism.”

There is, however, a competing philosophy, “imperialism.” In “The Virtue of Nationalism,” Yorum Hazony states the distinction between nationalism and imperialism as follows:

Nationalism “is a principled standpoint that regards the world as governed best when nations are able to chart their own independent course, cultivating their own traditions and pursuing their own interests without interference. This is opposed to imperialism, which seeks to bring peace and prosperity to the world by uniting mankind, as much as possible, under a single political regime.”[vii]

To summarize the above, the benefits of nationalism/self-determination include: 1) with multiple nations pursuing various combinations of values, etc., humankind gains the benefit of multiple experiments around the world to discover the values, etc. that work best, [viii] and 2) internal peace can best be achieved when a society’s members cohere a single set of values, etc. and language. Societal prosperity can be achieved only when there is sufficient peace within society. The more the citizens are proud of the values, ways, and means of their nation (while working on its flaws), the more peaceable and prosperous they will be.

Most, if not all, of this serendipity evaporates, however, if a country—no matter how nationalistic—becomes imperialistic. Fortunately, an intensely nationalistic country need not become imperialistic.

Imperialism. There are basically two political theories as to how the world’s peoples should be governed, nationalism and imperialism. The big difference between the two is: Astute imperialists believe that their values, way, means, and/or other cultural characteristics are so superior to all the values, etc. of others that it should be imposed on everyone in the world, while astute nationalists believe that peoples should have self-determination.

Consequently, there is nothing immoral about being an un-imperialistic nationalist, and nationalist nations can be extraordinarily moral (though, like all nations, never near perfection). Yet, falsely presuming that nationalism is imperialistic, globalists in general and leftist globalists, in particular, demonize nationalists. We’ll sort out why that is and why they are wrong to demonize nationalists in future posts.

A footnote: In the past, there was a general belief that nationalism would not work well with multiple races, ethnicities, etc. Fortunately, however, since the end of the Civil War until recently, America has demonstrated that a nation can be “One people,” regardless of the number of races, skin colors, ethnicities, or national origins comprise its members. So long as a suitably high percentage of a society’s members sufficiently assimilate, adhere, and revere the nation’s values, etc. a nationalist society has not only been proven workable, a multi-racial, etc. society has proven to be the most successful society ever. Sadly, however, with the recent rejections of many of America’s core values[ix] and the adoption by many of values antithetical to America’s core values,[x] how much longer a nation so conceived and dedicated can endure has been brought into question. Were it not for this trend, there is are good reasons to believe America’s success story could continue for at least another 250 years.


[i] The gratuitous comment epitomizes the false premise the media used to excoriate Trump for promoting nationalism. Note, however, the gratuitous political comment is not definitional, it was commentary. The comment is a claim that the thing defined (nationalism) caused something different from the thing defined (war). Intensely nationalist countries do not always start wars, and, even when they do, it is not necessarily the nationalism that causes them to start a war. Such gratuitous commentary when supposedly defining things is obscuring rather than “making something definite, distinct, or clear.” In addition, it is incorrect. Nationalism, intense or otherwise, was not a cause of the war—assuming (as one must given Webster’s lack of specification) the comment was a reference to the Nazis.

[ii] ESPN is a great example of politicizing something that need not be politicized. They appear to prefer going down in flames than foregoing politicizing everything they touch. See “ESPN tells talent to stick to sports, it’s ‘not a political organization’.” Politicizing everything is not good. Watch “Politics and Sports: Keep Your Hands Off My Football.”

[iii] This is largely due to human’s amazing ability to identify how a thing could be better. Couple that with a tendency to take for granted the positive aspects of things are usually perceived to be much farther from perfection than they by any objective standard.

[iv] For example, most Oklahoma Sooners fans love their football team despite its porous defense this year. They also regularly forgive the Sooners not scoring touchdowns on every offensive possession.

[v] See “Socialism: An Ideology of Death and Destruction.” For example, a political philosophy that depends on dogs not sniffing is not likely to work in practice.

[vi] See “Gulag Archipelago,” “Socialism Is An Immoral System,” and “Socialism’s true legacy is immorality.”

[vii]  See “Hazony, Yoram. The Virtue of Nationalism (Kindle Locations 94-97). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.”

[viii] Evidence of how effective this process is all the nations that have vastly improved their standards of living by eschewing socialism in favor of more capitalistic ways of running an economy. See “Capitalism, Global Trade, and the Reduction in Poverty and Inequality.”

[ix] Examples include: Equal protection of the law, i.e., equal opportunity (as opposed to equal outcomes), individualism (as opposed to collectivism), people should be judged by the content of their character (as opposed to the color of their skin or other immutable characteristics), the presumption of innocence (as opposed to the accusations of victim must be believed, or, at least, accorded far more credence than the denial of the accused), and the importance of reverence for the things for which the flag stands.

[x] Examples: Multiculturalism and Intersectionality. Also see endnote next above.