Patriotism or Nationalism?

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This
is a season of patriotism, but also of something that is easily
mistaken for patriotism; namely, nationalism. The difference is
vital.

G.K. Chesterton
once observed that Rudyard Kipling, the great poet of British imperialism,
suffered from a "lack of patriotism." He explained: "He
admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things
with reasons, but love them without reasons. He admires England
because she is strong, not because she is English."

In the same
way, many Americans admire America for being strong, not for being
American. For them America has to be "the greatest country
on earth" in order to be worthy of their devotion. If it were
only the 2nd-greatest, or the 19th-greatest, or, heaven forbid,
"a 3rd-rate power," it would be virtually worthless.

This is nationalism,
not patriotism. Patriotism is like family love. You love your family
just for being your family, not for being "the greatest family
on earth" (whatever that might mean) or for being "better"
than other families. You don’t feel threatened when other people
love their families the same way. On the contrary, you respect their
love, and you take comfort in knowing they respect yours. You don’t
feel your family is enhanced by feuding with other families.

While patriotism
is a form of affection, nationalism, it has often been said, is
grounded in resentment and rivalry; it’s often defined by its enemies
and traitors, real or supposed. It is militant by nature, and its
typical style is belligerent. Patriotism, by contrast, is peaceful
until forced to fight.

The patriot
differs from the nationalist in this respect too: he can laugh at
his country, the way members of a family can laugh at each other’s
foibles. Affection takes for granted the imperfection of those it
loves; the patriotic Irishman thinks Ireland is hilarious, whereas
the Irish nationalist sees nothing to laugh about.

The nationalist
has to prove his country is always right. He reduces his country
to an idea, a perfect abstraction, rather than a mere home. He may
even find the patriot’s irreverent humor annoying.

Read
the rest of the article

Joseph
Sobran (1946–2010), conservative turned libertarian, was one
of the most significant American writers of his time. See his
website
and his
intellectual journey
.

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