Patriotism is a warm and personal business.
Nationalism is another business entirely.
The difference between patriotism and nationalism is the difference between the love a father has for his family and the love a Godfather has for his “family” – the Bonanno family, the Colombo family, the Gambino family, the Genovese family, the Lucchese family…
Patriotism is a warm and personal business. Nationalism is another business entirely. It’s the kind of business Salvatore Tessio talks to Tom Hagen about after Tessio’s betrayal of Michael Corleone.
Tessio: “Tell Mike it was just business.”
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In 1945, George Orwell wrote an excellent essay, “Notes on Nationalism,” for the British magazine Polemic. The essay is too long to reprint here and too detailed in its analysis of Nazi, Stalinist, and Trotskyite political ideas that were put out with the trash long ago (although sometimes, unfortunately, recycled).
But – in severe condensation – what Orwell had to say is:
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism… By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people… Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other [ideological, theological, racial, etc.] unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
Sinking your own individuality into anything is not a prescription for happiness. Even if what you’re sinking it into is beer.
Sinking your own individuality into anything is not a prescription for happiness. Even if what you’re sinking it into is beer. (Maybe especially if it’s beer.) But being a White Nationalist – or Black Nationalist or Hindu Nationalist or Islamic Nationalist or Gay Nationalist or Whatever Nationalist – is worse than being drunk.
At least if you’re drunk, you’re not part of a mass movement. Although I have seen something close to that at O’Rourke family Irish wakes. But too many O’Rourke’s fall down or pass out, so it ends up being more mass than movement. (And speaking of mass, we have to sober up and go to one the next day).
What makes me unhappy about mass movements is just what Orwell points out. You lose your individuality in the “unit.” When you lose your individuality, other people – who aren’t part of your mass movement, who aren’t nationalists in your “nation” – lose their individuality to you. They cease to be people and become “Other People.”
When that happens, you don’t see these others as individuals. It becomes easy to be afraid of them, hate them, regard them in a jealous way, and want to exert power over them.
As Orwell goes on to say:
… as soon as fear, hatred, jealousy and power worship are involved, the sense of reality becomes unhinged… the sense of right and wrong becomes unhinged also. There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when “our” side commits it… one cannot feel that it is wrong, Loyalty is involved, and so pity ceases to function.
Nationalism turns people into assholes or – as we’re called everywhere in America except the part of New England where I live – Patriots fans.
Yeah, we call ourselves “Patriots,” but everybody knows we’re really “Patriot Nation.” It’s Chicago Cubs fans who are patriotic.
Cubs fan: “I hope our team beats all the other teams.”
Patriots fan: “What other teams? There aren’t any other teams. And if there are any other teams, I hope they die in a plane crash!”
I am also a patriotic Ohioan. Born and raised there. (“Round on the Ends and ‘HI’ in the Middle!”) I am devoted to that particular place and to the Ohio way of life, which I believe to be the best in the world.
But I have no wish to force other people to go on family vacations to the birthplaces of all seven U.S. presidents who were born in Ohio (William Henry Harrison, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, William Taft, and Warren Harding), eat salads with miniature marshmallows in them, mist up when they hear Chrissie Hynde sing “My City Was Gone,” argue about whether WKRP in Cincinnati or The Drew Carey Show was the best TV program ever, and get suicidal if something goes wrong in “The Game” and Michigan beats Ohio State at Homecoming.
I don’t want Ohio to conquer the world, or even Michigan. I don’t want everyone in the world to become an Ohioan. (We’d run out of miniature marshmallows.) And, come to that, I haven’t personally lived in Ohio for almost 50 years, but I’m still a loyal Buckeye.
And, reading further in Orwell’s essay, I discover, to my surprise, that the way I feel about Ohio means I’m engaged in a “moral effort:”
Nationalistic loves and hatreds… are part of the make-up of most of us, whether we like it or not. Whether it is possible to get rid of them I do not know, but I do believe that it’s possible to struggle against them, and that this is essentially a moral effort. It is a question first of all of discovering what one really is, what one’s feelings really are, and then of making allowance for the inevitable bias… [Boo, Wolverines!] The emotional urges which are inescapable… should be able to exist side by side with an acceptance of reality. [Okay, okay, Tom Brady played for Michigan.] But this, I repeat, needs a moral effort.
So become a patriot and you, too, can turn into a more moral person than Michael Corleone turned into, not to mention those fearful, hateful, jealous, power hungry people who went to the University of Michigan.