Nationalism is always a problem

Nationalism is always a problem

Why rampant nationalism should worry us all.


In order to consider this topic, we must first define what nationalism is. Nationalism is the belief or creed of an individual who identifies with their nationality. It is a sense of identity that is tied to a nation or group of people.

The reason this is a problem is because when your sense of identity is tied to a nation, then you are moved to defend that nation as you would defend yourself. An attack on the nation is an attack on you.

It isn’t unusual for religious or political ideologies to be tied to this sense of identity and again, those must be protected because for a nationalist, an attack on your sense of what constitutes the nation is an attack on self. This is why Christian Nationalists in American and Hindu Nationalists in India respond to the suggestion that nationality is not tied to religion are often seen as treasonous statements.

Most Humanists view nationalist identities as immature and dangerous.  A Humanist chooses political allegiance situationally. We may be loyal to our nation, but our loyalty is not absolute and it doesn’t need to be because we ultimately view ourselves as autonomous individuals who choose allegiances as it makes sense per our personal needs and our perceptions of whether or not a particular political entity (like a nation) is acting morally and so is deemed worthy of our respect.  Respect and adherence to authority is not part of our identity. It is something we choose autonomously.

It is easy to see why people whose identity is tied to their perceived nationality view those whose allegiance is conditional as suspect and as a threat. And this is what makes nationalism such a problem.

Nations are basically political entities that exist as a result of them gaining some type of sovereignty over themselves or over a territory. To a Humanist, these are obviously arbitrary constructs and as such, to be taken seriously only until or unless they become, to paraphrase the US Declaration of Independence destructive to the Rights of Man in which case, to actually quote the Declaration, we have a moral obligation “to abolish it, and to institute a new government.”

Because a nationalist’s identity is tied to the nation the idea of abolishing the nation is suicide, even if the nation in question was founded on exactly these principles!

But there is another reason why nationalism is always a problem.  And that is that nations have a right to defend themselves. The question we must always ask ourselves is what actions are morally permitted to defend a nation and under what circumstances are these actions to be permitted? And at what point are they morally untenable anymore.

A Humanist or other individual whose allegiance but not identity is allied with a nation is capable of having this sort of moral discussion. A nationalist is not. And because they are incapable of having a this sort of moral discussion they are dangerous because they are essentially ammoral even if what they are espousing is a national identity founded on a particular set of religious morals. This inability to morally reason makes them exceptionally dangerous.

The final reason why nationalism is always a problem is because they are immature. In the us, nationalists will simultaneously argue against nationalism while embracing nationalism. It’s a bit confusing. But basically, this is when they invoke state’s rights to avoid being forced by the rest of the body politic to adhere to the laws of the nation while invoking their concept of nationalism to force as the national standard their morals so that they can attack by those who are “other” and therefore seditious. They are the protectors of the nation even while disobeying the nation.  To me, this seems a lot like they are little children who just want to get their way and they throw a tantrum when they don’t. That’s why I view it as an immature response to disagreement.
I bring this up because today’s nationalists in America like to claim that when it came to the nationalist socialist party of Germany – also known as the Nazi’s, the problem with the party was that it was socialist. And while there are certainly some problems associated with socialism as outlined in Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom
, the real problem with the Nazi’s was that they were nationalists. The atrocities they committed were committed to defend their national identity, not to defend the precepts of socialism.

Nationalism is always a problem, which is why I am always always uncomfortable around forced displays of nationalistic pride.  Patriotism should be voluntary. When it ceases to be voluntary but becomes a test of allegiance and national identity we are getting on that slippery slope to nationalism and that almost always ends badly.