Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Notes on Nationalism"

To follow up Tuesday's helpful class presentation on Nationalism and the Romantic movement (there is a worthwhile article on this topic, online here at the Dictionary of the History of Ideas,) I delivered a brief lecture on the concept of nationalism based upon an article that is to my mind very useful - George Orwell's 1945 essay Notes on Nationalism in which he draws the distinction between nationalism and patriotism.

Nationalism in this view is favourable attitude toward one's country (or, in the etymological definition, '‘people united by common language and culture’) turned to political action. This necessarily involves direct concern with borders. Also, invariably, though here not necessarily, nationalism leads to the belief that one's nation is superior to other nations. Patriotism, or, to coin a term, matriotism, is on the other hand a love for one's nation -- one's countryside, language, customs, people, and achievements -- that is expressed personally: through art, community participation, family or the like. *

The question arose whether nationalism implies Imperialsm. I answered that it does not. I suggest that nationalism can take one of three forms: imperialist, realist or isolationist. Imperialism is the conquest and ongoing direct rule of another nation: Rome provides the template for Imperial power. Isolationism, such as is practiced today by North Korea and formerly by pre-Meiji Japan, as its name implies tends to avoid influence from, and preferably contact with, other nations. Realism is the doctrine of interference in the affairs of other nations for the sole benefit of one's own, with neither responsibility for nor interest in the governance, welbeing -- nay, even survival -- of that nation suffering the interference.

I also suggest that it might be academically useful to distinguish imperialism from colonialism. I think that it is possible to conceive of Rome as imperial but not colonial: that is, it would conquor and govern, but rather than populate with Romans would require the conquored people to follow the laws and adminstrative regulations of Rome. This, at least, is how I read my Gibbon and my New Testament. Colonialism, in comparison, sees other nations as expansive and available land where members of their home population (perhaps, excess or unwanted population) move to live, and live according to their home nation's law. Hence, of course, colony.

(In this latter case, it might be more a matter of two different types of Imperialism than of colonialism being a seperate form of nationalism. I'd be glad to hear your thoughts.)

Let me conclude by stating my personal position in this area, to head off any possible misunderstanding; and that is that I, with Orwell, see myself as disavowing all these nationalisms and preferring patriotism ....or matriotism as the case may be.

* in this conception, military means are valid in direct defense to one's nation, as police force is valid to defend one's family from attack. With Coleridge and Wordsworth, I have come to recognise "....the Social Sense / Distending wide, and man beloved as man" as a fanciful hope of youth that once met with real experience will immediately and permanently be "....afflicted and struck down." [To William Wordsworth. Words in italics technical terms from Coleridge & Blake respectively.]

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