JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: WHY NATIONALISM IS NOT A POSITIVE FORCE IN HUMAN AFFAIRS – AMERICA’S VERSION CALLED “PATRIOTISM” SHOULD PROVIDE A WARNING WITH ITS ALMOST RELIGIOUS NATURE AND INTOLERANCE AND READINESS TO PUT ITS LAW ABOVE EVERYONE ELSE’S – AND SOME OUTFITS IT SUPPORTS IN UKRAINE DO FRIGHTENINGLY RESEMBLE 1930s BROWNSHIRTS – THE UNPLEASANT LOYALTY OATH FOR CHILDREN – FOOTBALL AND THE NATIONAL ANTHEM   Leave a comment

John Chuckman

COMMENT POSTED TO AN ARTICLE BY PATRICK COCKBURN IN THE UNZ REVIEW

 

“Nationalism Is Transforming the Politics of the British Isles”

 

I think Patrick Cockburn is right about that, and I much regret the fact.

I do not see nationalism as a positive force in human affairs, even when it is not extreme. I am taking “nationalism” as something a little more serious than just reasonable affection for your country. It is an organizing principle, a motive for laws and policies, something associated with sets of loyalties and disloyalties, and can be even more.

Apart from other unhelpful tendencies, nationalism represents a kind of atomizing force in international affairs. At its most extreme, it represents fear and even hatred, organized fear and hatred.

I know it is highly idealistic, but I’ve always been fond of the H. G. Wells quote, “Our true nationality is mankind.”

There is a tendency for many people to treat nationalism as a kind of secular religion, one with its own tenets, rituals and demands and sacred texts.

In the United States, where it is called Patriotism – yes, it is often capitalized – we see that to an extraordinary degree.

There are a number of biblical texts scholars pore over – including the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence, Federalist Papers, Washington’s Farewell Address, etc.  – a host of rituals, including various salutes and recitations, some saint-like figures, including a martyr in Nathan Hale, and even a Judas Iscariot figure in Benedict Arnold. We find scholars using terms like ”present at the creation” when discussing the Constitutional Convention. The term “original intent” is used often to discuss the Supreme Court interpreting Constitutional law.

I do think the American experience with nationalism offers powerful warnings about how poisonous it can be. The country is on a new international crusade to enforce its will over others. It insists that America’s rules and laws are more important than anyone else’s rules and laws, whether those of other countries or of international organizations and treaties. All the great wars and horrors of the past reflect exactly that kind of thinking.

We are all somewhat immunized, or believe we are, through our popular culture, against the darkest extremes of nationalism Europe experienced in the 1930s. But in Ukraine today we see such extreme political organizations as the Azov Battalion and the Right Sector, resembling 1930s Brownshirts in a frightening number of details. And we should reflect on the fact that such gangs were supported by none other than the United States for its coup against an elected government in Ukraine.

 

ADDED NOTE ON AMERICA’S FORM OF NATIONALISM COMPLETE WITH ITS LOYALTY OATH IN SCHOOLS AND ANTHEM AT FOOTBALL GAMES

America has not just an anthem and flag and golden eagles and marching bands, but what amounts to a kind of loyalty oath, the Pledge of Allegiance, which most American school children are required to recite each morning. “Loyalty oath” is the right term owing to its origin.

Written in the 1890s – just before a huge new surge of American imperialism abroad with the Spanish-American War – the Pledge was only officially adopted in the thick of WWII, 1942, with all its accompanying fears and loyalty concerns.

No one in a free country should be expected to take a loyalty oath, much less children.

The quasi-religious nature of the Pledge is underlined by the words “under God,” added in 1954, during a national hysteria over “godless communism” and the Cold War. This in a country whose Constitution is supposed to guarantee freedom of religion, a concept which of course includes freedom from religion.

I suppose no one can make you say the Pledge, but social pressure is a powerful force. Social pressure around religious-tinged matters can become downright dangerous.

Look at the recent national turmoil in America over some football players who respectfully knelt during the playing of the national anthem as a quiet protest against police violence, a legitimate concern in a country where police on average kill three citizens each day.

Vehement arguments were made over so simple a gesture and even the President and Vice president got involved. All kinds of demands were made for punishing players.

What’s the national anthem even doing at a sports event where people pay good money to be entertained? I would be tempted to say it is the anthem which is out of place, not a respectful gesture of protest, for surely kneeling is respectful.

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