Today is National Flag Day in Australia, if you've never heard of it don't feel too bad, practically no one has. Australia had a public competition to choose it's national flag and on the 3rd of September 1901 the winning flag from the national flag competition was flown for the first time. It seems a fitting day to talk about Patriotism and Nationalism.
Often these two ideas are used interchangeably, as if the difference between them are slight or non existent. However when you look into it you find that the two are quite different. One is a feeling, the other a belief. One is ancient, even timeless, the other is modern. One is about love, the other more conflicted.
Patriotism is ancient, both Greeks and Persian were patriotic and many others besides, they had a love of country and of their own people. Patriotism is exactly that, a love of your own country. It is a higher emotion because it is selfless, your country cannot love you back, the love is all one way. It may be critical or uncritical, but it is never selfish because all Patriots understand that true love of country involves sacrifice. Because at all times Patriotism is a duty, a duty to a higher cause, the cause of your own people. Not just your family and friends but all of those who are your people. The greater and more diverse your people are the less Patriotic feeling is aroused. The more homogeneous the people the easier it is to generate patriotic feeling. Patriotism may or may not be about love of Government, but it is always the love of the people. Of their customs, of their culture, of their history and of their survival.
You can still be a Patriot and betray the Government, but you cannot be a Patriot if you betray the people. Legally Treason can only be committed against a Government. But all true Patriots know that the Government exists for the benefit of the people, not the other way around.
Nationalism however is different, it is not ancient, instead it is a by production of the French Revolution. During the Enlightenment, many sort a way of limiting the influence of religion upon society. One great power that the Catholic Church had was it's wide reach, It crossed borders and was outside of many laws, as were it's members. Many resented this, they wanted the Church to not be a Supranational institution, but to be a national institution. One that was both controllable by national laws and at the same time a symbol of the nation, like the Church of England was in England. For others Religion was wrong, Popes, Cardinals and Priests shouldn't exist, But both believed that spiritual life wasn't as important as this life. And in this life nations are important, very important.
Patriotism and Religion have rarely clashed as they saw each other as complementary, dealing with different but related areas of life. Nationalism however saw Religion as a rival because it sort to replace Religion, to make the Nation-State the object of worship and dedication. Nationalism was in it's beginning a Liberal philosophy. It was about freedom, the freedom of the nation from any outside authority. Especially that of the Catholic Church!
Nationalism was about freeing the nation from it's own feudal past, freeing it from foreign rulers, which included freedom from religious authority. Sadly Nationalism was as much about hate as it was about love. About rejecting the nations heritage, about rejecting it's traditional bonds and obligations. Instead all of those things were to be cut away to make room for the new and improved nation. It fed on resentments and fears. I will give you two examples from my lifetime. The Irish Republican Army is Nationalist, I have never heard it talk about how much it loves Ireland, I have however heard it talk about how much it hates England. In a similar vane are the various Palestinian groups, never have I heard them shout "Life to Palestine", but I have heard them yell "Death to Israel". You might argue that their causes are just and that they are right to feel angry, hatred and bitterness. But you would find it much harder to argue that they hold these positions because they love their own people.Any love they feel is more than overshadowed by the hate that they feel.
I know a fair number of Nationalists and most of them are good people. Most of the time we share similar views. But the truth is I am not a Nationalist, I am a Conservative, I am a Patriot.
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