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Is Nationalism OK?

Entry 1950, on 2018-11-27 at 21:39:12 (Rating 4, Politics)

Today, many people are commenting on how nationalism seems to be gaining ground in various parts of the world. If you read this blog you will know I am always suspicious of labels, like "nationalism", so I thought that, before commenting, I should get a precise definition of what it is, and compare that to what people think it is.

Here's the definition from the Oxford English dictionary: nationalism (noun) patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts: an early consciousness of nationalism and pride. 1 an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries: playing with right-wing nationalism. 2 advocacy of political independence for a particular country: Scottish nationalism.

And here are some synonyms from the thesaurus: nationalism (noun) the resurgence of nationalism in Europe and in other parts of the world: patriotism, patriotic sentiment, allegiance/loyalty to one's country, loyalism, nationality; xenophobia, chauvinism, jingoism, flag-waving, isolationism; ethnocentrism, ethnocentricity.

So, according to the definiton it is either something mildly unpleasant (definiton 1) or fairly neutral (definiton 2), but according to the thesaurus it can be fairly bad. Words like xenophobia, chauvinism, and jingoism don't sound very positive.

So nationalism sounds bad, but I want to attempt a defence of it here. Followers of this blog will not be surprised by this because I often defend views which are not considered "trendy" or politically correct here (see Mediocratisation, from 2018-10-01; Thank You, Serena, from 2018-09-24; and Southern and Molyneux Defended, from 2018-08-31 for some recent examples).

The type of nationalism I want to defend is one where the person wants to preserve the values of the country he lives in. The fact that he wants to do this implies that he thinks those values are superior in some way, but instead of thinking of this in a negative way I would frame it as a statement of opinion, often based on fact.

There are many variations in how countries operate around the world, and they can't all be equally good, so it makes sense that some must be better than others. I agree this is partly subjective, but there are measures which can be used to evaluate these claims objectively too (I list and discuss these in another blog post, West is Best, from 2018-02-24).

Saying that a person believes one society is better in some ways unavoidably implies that others are worse. If this is xenophobia then xenophobia maybe isn't as bad as many people say it is. But, as I said above, I avoid labels, so I don't even care if someone wants to use that one.

So by this train of logic nationalism is simply the idea that a person has identified something about his own society which he thinks is good and he wants to preserve that. It doesn't sound that bad put that way, does it?

And what are the alternatives? Well, there seem to be two. One is to say that all cultures are equally meritorious, and the other is to merge all cultures into one so that they are all the same. While some people think these are viable options I think they are both disastrous.

If we are all going to pretend that all cultures are as good as each other where is the motivation to try to improve? If I lived in China and saw that my personal freedom was far less than it would be in many other countries I could just say all cultures are just as good as each other so there is no need to improve. Or if I lived in a more free nation, like New Zealand, why bother to try to protect my freedoms? If anyone tried to reduce my freedom I would just think their culture is just as good as mine so why not just let the change happen.

I know that those are rather artificial examples, but the process surely happens in more insidious ways.

And if we had some global culture where values were the same worldwide would this be a good outcome? What would be the option if we had taken the wrong path? Where is the opportunity for diversity?

If neither of these results are what we really want, then protecting the different values of existing cultures (which largely means countries) seems like the best way to avoid them.

This sounds like an extreme conservative agenda and I am definitely not a conservative, so how do we maintain individual national values without the stagnation inherent in conservatism? Well, it's a matter of managing how change happens, not stopping it from happening at all.

So I would reject allowing Muslim immigrants to bring their laws with them. Note that this isn't an anti-Islam rant, but that is the most obvious example of this problem in the world at the moment so it was the most relevant case. Our values should be decided by a consensus of those already here and visitors or immigrants should abide by those. If the general population sees some good points in Islamic culture that we would like to assimilate into ours that is fine, but demanding we follow another culture's beliefs is a bad idea. After all, there is a reason Muslims are fleeing their own countries in high numbers!

So do I think Western culture is superior to Islamic. Hell, yes! All the indicators I care about show that is true. We have more freedom, greater peace, more equality, better innovation, longer lives, etc. If I was a Muslim I might say that Islamic culture is better because it follows the Koran more closely. Well sure, if that's what matters to you then you're welcome to that opinion, just don't try to infect my culture with those ideas!

Does this make me an Islamophobic, ethnocentric, xenophobic, jingoistic, flag-waving, isolationistic nationalist? Well, by some people's definition, very likely, but why would I care? As I said at the beginning of this post, I reject labels. Forget the labels and tell me if what I am saying is true or not. Looking at the real stats it seems that what I am saying is undeniably true.

But there is a second criterion that should be applied to controversial opinions like these. That is, even if it is true, is it useful? In other words, just because something is technically correct there may not be a lot of point in talking about it if it might cause offence, and not result in any positive change.

Well it seems to me that the more we ignore the facts and pretend that all cultures are equally good, the more we allow inferior (yes, I said it) cultures to flourish. So not only is what I said true, but I think it is also essential to talk about it.

So next time someone talks about the dangers of nationalism, think about the alternatives. Maybe there is even greater danger in not having it!


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