Should we leave Nationalism to the Fascists?

The business of Nationalism has been left to the Fascists.

Those who cherish freedom of views, opinions and beliefs, accept the global condition of existence and strive for peace and harmony among different peoples and communities, have taken Nationalism as a dirty word. It represents, one argued, the sort of narrow territorial and cultural identities the educated and the cultured should seek to supersede.

It seems that the emotion of nationalism stood in the direct contrast of the rationalism of human histories defined by the class. It was in opposition to cool economic calculations of advantages and incentives in a market economy. In short, in the evocation of global humanity, nationalism appeared to be a dated idea to be left for the fools.

So the Fascists stepped in, gratefully. They were clinging to those outdated and outmoded ideas of race, pseudo-histories and rites and rituals and were effectively marginalised ever since the late twentieth-century liberal boom. And, suddenly, the promises of prosperity and the sense of security crumbled in a few short years, borders were very real again and globalisation came back to bite. With all liberally-minded caught in the headlight, it was an open season for the Fascists. And, they moved in, immediately.

This is a mistake. There is nothing inherently Fascist about nationalism. Just as the anti-nationalism isn't an inherently liberal idea.

We know enough now to recognise that human beings seek to identify with others. It's a natural human thing with deep evolutionary origins. And, they can do so by various means, nations - a combination of territorial affinity, ethnicity, language and custom - being one of them. This is no more irrational than seeking to identify with others through our consumption habits (as the globally mobile rich will do) or by the sense of deprivation of consumption (in other words, class consciousness). In fact, there is merit in thinking that nationalism - the feeling of oneness with other people from our own country - is better than whatever idea makes people shift their wealth into London properties and Swiss Bank accounts. 

The 'liberal' argument - the kind made by The Economist and its kind - is that freedom and progress mean cutting our territorial roots and maximising our economic welfare, an argument which is bound to lead to tax heavens and London houses. And, the opposite argument - that the footloose elites are traitors against their own people - are not necessarily 'populist' and 'fascist' despite the portrayal. It's a natural instinct of the deprived, an appeal to shared roots and human connection. By sneering at this view, the 'liberally minded' (those who don't get the liberal economic benefits but must make liberal sounds out of their guilt about privilege) are letting the fascists capture the stage. This has happened before and happening again.

I hear the argument that people are being manipulated into a nationalist zeal and sooner or later they would see the truth. My usual refrain is that those espousing this grand theory - the intellectuals - they are being manipulated too, by global capital and men who control the money. Would they, in their infinite wisdom, wake up before the people do? Would they see that the architecture of global finance is both anti-natural? Would they realise that the best hope for the communities and the climate actually remain in territoriality and familiarity? Would they, once they wake up, come home?

Nationalism doesn't have to be hate-filled and exclusive, as the Fascists make it. It does not have to be crass and consumerist. There are great examples of inclusive nationalism. Instead of looking at nineteenth-century Europe - the ideas of pure nations - one should look at Twentieth Century Asia, to India, Indonesia and even Mao's China, which walked the road with emergent nationalism, rather than predefined one. Regardless of the rhetoric and evocation of tradition, their's were creative nationalisms, carved in the face of the humiliation of colonialism and misery of war. Despite their failures and imperfections, they couldn't really leave anyone out. Or, rather, they came to be inclusive when experiences taught their leaders that exclusivity doesn't work. Indeed, these lessons have been forgotten under the influence of globally mobile money and the cult of consumption, but that nationalism of sacrifice offers the best way out of the sure path to destruction that many nations are currently walking on.


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