Some time ago, a friend of mine asked her Facebook page what the -ism of our time is. The premise was that fascism was the -ism of the 1920s-1940s, and communism (though of course it began its rise at the same time) was the -ism of the 1950s-1990s. We, the friends, all agreed that today’s dangerous ideology ending in -ism is nationalism.
Let’s start by defining the term. Nationalism is the belief that one’s nation-state is the superior value. It’s full of the one group of superior people and its needs are more important than those of other nation-states. Nationalism is the religion of the nation-as-god, and there is no benign form of this.
Patriotism, the love of one’s country and the earnest hope for its improvement, is quite different from nationalism. Nationalism does not allow for criticism; the nation is the superior value, and always right. Patriotism allows people to work to make the country better. Nationalism predicates itself on other nations’ being less-than. Patriotism can easily assume that other countries are worthy of the love of their citizens (just as married people can see that other people can worthily love their spouses).
Nationalism has been rearing its ugly head a lot lately. From the flagrant immigrant-bashing in the U.S. Presidential campaign to the Brexit vote (as much in concept as in outcome) to the exit of Russia from the Great and Holy Council in Crete, nationalism has been wreaking havoc economically, religiously, and culturally.
The U.S. does not have, and has never had, a single unifying culture. Britain has not been culturally uniform for at least a thousand years. Orthodox Christianity was created in a multicultural context. The mixing of peoples is nothing new.
What is new (ish) is the wide acceptance of and belief in uniformity. Russia gets to take Ukraine because Ukraine was always better off under Russian hegemony; Ukraine is needed for a Greater Russia. Likewise, the Great and Holy Council had already had to change its venue and agenda – to please Russia, which pulled out at the last minute and did not take part. Russia is intent on recreating its grand imperial past. Russia’s good is everyone’s good. Because that is what is going on within Russia, it’s important to understand all Russia’s movements on the international front in this light. Russian action in Syria was about increasing Russia’s power, not about stopping ISIL or supporting the Syrian people. Even in the Olympics, Russian superiority is unquestionable, and the State will work to see that it is on display.
White Nationalists (the term is not coincidental) like Matthew Heimbach and Matt Parrott are taking to the streets in Sacramento, asserting their “right” to live in a uniform, Whites-only society. These are among Donald Trump’s loudest supporters, and they promise to provide “security” at the Republican National Convention. Other Trump supporters aver, without much evidence, that immigrants speak Spanish and won’t learn English, and that they are stealing jobs. Unsurprisingly, many of these people come from areas with very few immigrants; their feeling of threat is increased by inexperience.
Inexperience with immigrant populations was also a factor in the Brexit vote. Areas that had seen the fewer immigrants were more likely to vote to separate from the European Union, and many used the threat posed to the English (mainly – remember, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted “stay”; I suppose Welsh could be thrown in as well, as they mainly voted “leave”) way of life by immigration as a reason. Another reason, of course, was maintaining the ability of the UK to make decisions without reference to EU laws and standards. Nevertheless, the UK needs to continue to trade with continental Europe.
The so-called Islamic State is a bunch of thugs trying to ride the wave of nationalism (and put themselves in charge). They play on the idea that Islam is a nation, a superior nation, with a single leader (caliph). This nation that they advertise is the ultimate good, and because nationalism is the rising global tide, many believe that this is what ISIL is really all about. In fact, ISIL is another iteration of the warlord theme. Disenfranchised young men seek to make themselves look powerful and manly by taking territory and making themselves the biggest bad in the area. They are using a religious-nationalist framework, but on the inside, they are not idealists, or even ideologues. Their ideology is power for themselves, and their ability to dress it up in nationalist garb makes them the more dangerous because it is harder to combat someone whose motives you misunderstand.
We live in an increasingly connected world, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the pace of change. Asserting our own superiority may be of some temporary comfort, but it will not stop the change. Anger, hatred, and violence do not need help. Three-year-olds forced to represent themselves in a foreign language in immigration courts do (and you can help here). Make your choice.