Patriotism, nationalism and empathy
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]