Pa­tri­o­tism, na­tion­al­ism and em­pa­thy

Business Bhutan - - Editoria - JUG SURAIYA

At a cer­e­mony com­mem­o­rat­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of World War I, the French pres­i­dent, Em­manuel Macron, took a dig at what are seen as the iso­la­tion­ist and Amer­ica-first poli­cies of the US pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump.

The French leader made a dis­tinc­tion be­tween two con­cepts which, only too of­ten, are seen as in­ter­change­able: pa­tri­o­tism and na­tion­al­ism.

“Pa­tri­o­tism is the ex­act op­po­site of na­tion­al­ism, it is a be­trayal of na­tion­al­ism,” said Macron. He went on to elu­ci­date his ar­gu­ment: “In say­ing ‘our in­ter­ests first, and who cares about the oth­ers’ we erase what a na­tion has that’s most im­por­tant: its moral val­ues.”

Though aimed at the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, Macron’s words ap­ply to other gov­ern­ments, in other parts of the world, who seek to pro­mote a hy­per-pa­tri­o­tism among cit­i­zens, at the risk of dis­card­ing the moral and eth­i­cal com­pass which not only all har­mo­nious so­ci­eties, but all en­light­ened in­di­vid­u­als, must use as a nav­i­ga­tional aid in chart­ing their course be­tween self-in­ter­est and the recog­ni­tion of a larger, more in­clu­sive scheme of things, be­tween the de­sires and de­vices of the ego and the aware­ness of a col­lec­tive con­scious­ness which in­sep­a­ra­bly binds the one to the many.

Pa­tri­o­tism – dis­missed by Sa­muel John­son as the last re­sort of scoundrels – has as its mantra ‘My coun­try, right or wrong.’ Na­tion­al­ism – as de­fined by Macron, on the other hand – is based on the moral im­per­a­tive ‘My coun­try, to which I can show no greater loy­alty than to en­deav­our to en­sure that what it does is that which is right.’

The dif­fer­ence be­tween pa­tri­o­tism and na­tion­al­ism, as set forth by the French pres­i­dent, is the dif­fer­ence be­tween fake news and real news.

A morally-blind­folded pa­tri­o­tism which will back its coun­try, ir­re­spec­tive of right or wrong, is jin­go­ism based on de­lib­er­ate false­hood. A morally vig­i­lant na­tion­al­ism which ac­tively up­holds the civil­i­sa­tional val­ues of all hu­mankind is based on an un­flinch­ing com­mit­ment to truth.

Pa­tri­o­tism is con­fined within the change­able bound­aries of ar­ti­fi­cially cre­ated po­lit­i­cal bor­ders. Na­tion­al­ism owes al­le­giance to a com­mon­al­ity of ideals it shares with other na­tions and which rep­re­sent a col­lec­tive prin­ci­ple for all to up­hold.

Na­tions, like in­di­vid­u­als, don’t ex­ist in iso­la­tion. No man is an is­land, no na­tion is other than a pas­sen­ger on the shared Space­ship Earth.

Pa­tri­o­tism at its chau­vin­is­tic worst has been re­spon­si­ble for crimes like colo­nial­ism, the as­sump­tion that my coun­try is in­trin­si­cally su­pe­rior in all re­spects to yours and has the right to rule your coun­try, which is the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion the British used to en­slave India and mil­lions of In­di­ans for 250 years.

It took the na­tion­al­is­tic move­ment of Mo­han­das Gandhi to break the shack­les of colo­nial rule through the non-vi­o­lent moral weapon of satya­graha, or truth force.

Pa­tri­o­tism has led to two World Wars, and count­less con­flicts across the globe. Na­tion­al­ism, which in or­der to re­spect it­self must re­spect the rights of other na­tional en­ti­ties, has led to the cre­ation of multi­na­tional trade pacts, non-ag­gres­sion treaties, the In­ter­na­tional Court of Jus­tice and the United Na­tions.

Greed has used the guise of pa­tri­o­tism – it’s my pa­tri­otic duty to en­rich my coun­try, never mind the cost to the en­vi­ron­ment – to poi­son the planet with pol­lu­tion. Our only hope of sav­ing it is a co­op­er­a­tive pan-na­tion­al­ism based on en­tente, the mu­tual re­spect of each other rights.

And the well­spring of en­tente arises from a trans­for­ma­tive vi­sion by which na­tions and in­di­vid­u­als learn to see each other. It’s the cor­rec­tive lens of moral eye­sight which changes ev­ery­thing, and it’s called em­pa­thy.

The writer is a reg­u­lar colum­nist for Times of India. [Cour­tesy: ToI]

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