Monday, November 1

Tomorrow's Choice: Patriotism or Nationalism

Nationalism is a political movement with an implicit ideology that portrays one's country as somehow superior to other countries, and as deserving of special privileges without regard for international concerns. Nationalism in history has frequently been a reaction to a threat from the external world.... Nationalism thrives on a sense of national insecurity. Nationalism is sometimes an inevitable necessity when a country is just being formed as the home of a nation that gains independence from foreign overlords. But in well-established countries it can easily lead to unhealthy excesses. It nurtures expansionist dreams among rulers. It can stir up people into belligerency and aggressive action against neighboring countries.

Patriotism, by contrast, follows from genuine and reasonable emotions connected to a concern for the well-being of the country to which one belongs. Nationalism cannot be together with internationalism in the same person. But patriotism is perfectly compatible with internationalism. In fact, there may be good reasons to conclude that patriots make good internationalists, since a mature love for the country makes them wish that their country can conduct itself responsibly on the international stage. Patriots do not generally have the tendency to blame foreigners for problems that are home-made.
It is tempting to reduce the choice between John Kerry and George Bush to a single distinction. In many cases, it would be deceptive to do so. But consider these lines from Karel van Wolferen, which were published in 1988, and ask yourself, who, among Kerry and Bush, is the responsible patriot, and who the unhealthy nationalist?

The lines are quoted in A Public Betrayed, a book that studies media consolidation and right-wing politics in Japan. However, don't these lines ring true in the political drama of America today? Don't they suggest that we American voters face a choice between fascistic nationalism in the divisive figure of George Bush and responsible patriotism in the reflective person of John Kerry?

Former White House Bureau Chief Helen Thomas, who has covered presidents since John F. Kennedy, would surely find the comparison pertinent, since she sees "dark times" ahead if Bush is given a second term. (Not surprisingly, George W. Bush sidelined Helen Thomas because of her habit of asking challenging questions. He was the first president who could not stand up to the pressure of an aged woman doing her journalistic duty for the sake of the American people.)