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
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.
[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.