Ever since I started this blog I have shown a certain contempt of nationalism, and perhaps it’s about time I explain my reasons for it. To me, nationalism is one of the greatest evils in this world, or at the very least a cause for many evils, and it is for that reason that I am often rather critical of countries such as the US, France or North Korea, while I am much more optimistic about countries in the Middle East. After all, it’s true that religion has caused many people to die, but I doubt any kind of ideology has caused as many deaths as nationalism has.
Firstly, we need a simple definition of nationalism. TheFreeDictionary defines it like this: “Devotion to the interests or culture of one’s nation.” Although that already gives a decent image of the concept, I would like to add something: aside from the fact that nationalism can be considered a devotion to something, it has its basis in pride and heritage, or to be more specific, the place and way someone is born. All of these three, devotion, pride and heritage, are rooted in prejudice and ignorance, and for that reason, nationalism too has its roots in these two evils.
Jane Austen didn’t just call her world famous book “Pride and Prejudice” for no reason, as the two are closely linked, while at the same time, devoting yourself to someone or something always leads to ignoring certain faults to keep up the illusion of perfection. Finally, heritage or the location in which someone was born is no different from their race or ethnicity, and therefore differentiating between people based on that is also rooted in prejudice, not to even mention the discrimination it involves.
Nationalism, in that sense, is no different. We are all irrationally proud of our nation merely for one reason, and that is because we were born there. Had I, as a Dutch person, been born just a couple of kilometres further south, I would have been making fun of those greedy Dutch rather than of the dumb Belgians. It is incredibly artificial, destructive and pointless.
Of course, relations between Belgium and the Netherlands are very good and the jokes we make about each other are all in good fun, like two siblings who quarrel occasionally but at the end of the day have nothing but love for each other. However, that isn’t always the case. When relations are not so good, nationalism leads to death and destruction, probably even more often than religion does.
Think of the two World Wars, the two biggest and most destructive wars the world has ever known. The first one was caused by an irrational kind of nationalism both on German and on French-British side (not to even mention the ultimate cause, which centred around an assassination by a Serbian nationalist), and the second World War was caused by the most irrational and destructive nationalism to date: that of Hitler and his fascism.
One might think that the world would learn from all that, but the opposite seems true: extreme nationalism almost turned an irrational Cold War into an outright stupid third World War that could have reduced the entire planet to nothing but nuclear waste, and even now, in the 21st century, North Korea is testing nuclear weapons and the US and Russia are quarrelling in the Middle East, all for the sake of nationalism because all these countries want to be the world’s super power.
But why is any of that needed? Why would a Russian person feel the need to prove that his or her country is the best and most successful country in the world? What separates the American citizen from the North-Korean citizen except for the place where they were born?
Ultimately, nationalism has very little use. It merely creates differences, disrupts cooperation and causes people to die, and the only benefit is a bit more unison within a nation. Now, perhaps that doesn’t mean that nationalism should be avoided all together. Everyone wants to feel like they belong to a certain group, so a world without borders where everyone is the same would probably just be very frustrating.
However, nationalism should have a limit. The moment an entire nation starts making pledges to a piece of cloth with a couple of stars and stripes on it, something is going wrong. The moment people are sent to war to fight for this piece of cloth and an artificial line on a map, something is going wrong, and the moment the US and Russia feel the need to play political games just to keep up their image as a dominant world nation, something is going very, very wrong. If we want to eradicate discrimination, getting rid of nationalism would be a very good first step.
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