When na­tion­al­ism is a wor­thy twin of pa­tri­o­tism

Love of coun­try can nur­ture the bet­ter an­gels in a pa­triot’s heart

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Suzanne Fields

Barack Obama’s speech in In­done­sia, warn­ing of “an ag­gres­sive kind of na­tion­al­ism,” has drawn both crit­i­cism and ap­plause, depend­ing on the pol­i­tics of who was lis­ten­ing, but it ig­nited a use­ful and needed de­bate on the ac­tual mean­ing of “na­tion­al­ism.” The word has been thrown around al­most for­ever, and it’s a word fraught with am­bi­gu­ity, de­mand­ing con­text, and never more than in the pug­na­ciously po­lar­ized time of Don­ald Trump and so­cial me­dia. The word is pushed and pulled into all man­ner of shapes and col­ors, like a child’s Play-Doh, de­fined and dis­torted in the ser­vice of ide­ol­ogy.

Pres­i­dent Trump started the cur­rent con­tro­versy in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, which his many crit­ics de­cried as dark, di­vi­sive and dan­ger­ous. But it doesn’t have to be any of those things. “Con­ser­va­tives should em­brace a sen­si­ble and mod­er­ate form of na­tion­al­ism,” write Rich Lowry and Ramesh Pon­nuru in Na­tional Re­view. They ar­gue that na­tion­al­ism can be a healthy and con­struc­tive force when shorn of wrong-headed den­i­gra­tion of for­eign­ers and pro­mo­tion of ag­gres­sive war­fare.

A be­nign na­tion­al­ism can re­flect loy­alty to one’s coun­try, they ar­gue, and “a sense of be­long­ing, al­le­giance, and grat­i­tude.” Such na­tion­al­ism em­pha­sizes a nation’s iden­tity, its peo­ple and cul­ture, an in­clu­sive sol­i­dar­ity that of­fers no apol­ogy for love of coun­try. But raw iden­tity pol­i­tics, lately so pop­u­lar in cer­tain precincts, is di­vi­sive be­cause it dis­cards the idea of “e pluribus unum”— out of many, one. Iden­tity pol­i­tics frac­tures and frag­ments a so­ci­ety; a be­nign na­tion­al­ism binds to­gether the cul­ture. It’s a mat­ter of em­pha­sis, and an im­por­tant one. Sol­i­dar­ity can be re­in­forced in the best sense through Fourth of July fire­works, pa­rades, an­thems and the flag.

“Surely, the re­vul­sion that most peo­ple feel when pro­test­ers burn an Amer­i­can flag is based on the be­lief not that the pro­test­ers are sym­bol­i­cally de­stroy­ing an idea,” write Messrs. Lowry and Pon­nuru, “but rather that they are dis­re­spect­ing the nation to which they owe re­spect and fealty.” Honor­ing sym­bols of pa­tri­o­tism, singing “The Star Span­gled Ban­ner,” stand­ing for the pre­sen­ta­tion of the col­ors, cheer­ing the nation’s heroes, whether sol­diers, as­tro­nauts or ath­letes, are tra­di­tions wor­thy of pre­serv­ing.

Amer­i­cans who dissent from this of­ten in­voke the words of the late Wil­liam F. Buck­ley Jr., their in­tel­lec­tual hero. “I’m as pa­tri­otic as any­one from sea to shin­ing sea,” he said, “but there’s not a molecule of na­tion­al­ism in me.” We usu­ally get a para­phrase of that, of­fered with vary­ing em­pha­sis, depend­ing on whether na­tion­al­ism and pa­tri­o­tism are cited as Si­amese twins, at­tached at the heart and soul, or some­thing dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent.

Bill Buck­ley might not ap­pre­ci­ate how his re­mark is ma­nip­u­lated now. Na­tion­al­ism should not be ap­plied as an all-pur-pose gen­er­al­iza­tion, but in spe­cific ap­pli­ca­tion it is firmly rooted in the nation’s demo­cratic values and ideals of Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful, the land of the free and the home of the brave. It can be an emo­tional pas­sion as well as an in­tel­lec­tual one, a cel­e­bra­tion of the civic, not the eth­nic. It’s about lib­erty and the rule of law, of a Con­sti­tu­tion care­fully crafted and cau­tiously amended to em­brace the more per­fect union. Martin Luther King un­der­stood this when he wrote that “I Have a Dream.” That fa­mous speech was al­most a se­quel to Lin­coln’s Get­tys­burg Ad­dress, repris­ing “Four score and seven years ago” to “Five score years ago,” honor­ing the Eman­ci­pa­tion Proclamation.

Irv­ing Kris­tol, one of the founders of neo­con­ser­vatism, fused the ideas of pa­tri­o­tism with na­tion­al­ism. “Pa­tri­o­tism springs from love of the nation’s past,” he wrote in his book, “Re­flec­tions of a Neo­con­ser­va­tive” more than three decades ago. “Na­tion­al­ism arises out of hope for the nation’s fu­ture, dis­tinc­tive great­ness.”

Ron­ald Rea­gan was a new kind of Repub­li­can who re­vived the idea of na­tion­al­ism based on strength and pride of coun­try in the fash­ion of Theodore

A be­nign na­tion­al­ism can re­flect loy­alty to one’s coun­try and “a sense of be­long­ing, al­le­giance, and grat­i­tude.” Such na­tion­al­ism em­pha­sizes a nation’s iden­tity, its peo­ple and cul­ture, an in­clu­sive sol­i­dar­ity that of­fers no apol­ogy for love of coun­try.

Roo­sevelt. Some thought Don­ald Trump’s ap­peal as a rough and ready out­sider would strike a sim­i­lar ap­peal. But he dis­ap­points many who want to be his friend, with blus­ter and bul­ly­ing brag­gado­cio, and scant in­vi­ta­tion to the bet­ter an­gels. He ig­nores the in­tel­lec­tual ide­al­ism of the Found­ing Fa­thers.

But pa­tri­o­tism and demo­cratic na­tion­al­ism, as John Fonte, se­nior fel­low at the Hud­son In­sti­tute, in­sists can en­hance each other. Love of coun­try and pride in the stories handed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion cre­ate an emo­tional as well as a cul­tural and in­tel­lec­tual tra­di­tion, with im­ages of Wash­ing­ton cross­ing the Delaware, the Get­tys­burg Ad­dress, raising the flag at Iwo Jima, and the ir­re­sistible moral force of the civil rights move­ment. The Amer­i­can en­tre­pre­neur who cre­ated the great­est econ­omy the world has ever known, con­trib­utes, too. Such pa­tri­otic pride, no mat­ter who the pres­i­dent, forged a na­tional iden­tity that is al­ways mov­ing to­ward that more per­fect union. It’s an imperfect world, af­ter all, and ev­ery lit­tle bit helps. Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.


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