Is Nationalism a Forward-Looking Ideology?

To What Extent is Nationalism a Forward-Looking Ideology?

Note: One of my duties in the various places where I teach is to show students how to write essays – something most young people are not nowadays taught to do. What I like to do in class is to choose a question at random, discuss possible approaches, and then dictate an answer one paragraph at a time. Some of these answers are very short. Some amount to small dissertations. In this latter case, the students take turns at looking on-line for the information we decide is needed. It they cannot find it, I show them how to change the structure of what has already been written, or to strike out in a new direction.

It is a “writing masterclass” approach that makes use of my own strengths, and is often a welcome alternative to formal teaching. It fills up a long morning session. Everyone learns something, and the more attentive will improve their final grades by at least one step.

Here is an example of the finished product. Do not take it as a statement of personal opinion. It is an answer produced for a specific question, and it bears in mind what a possibly unknown examiner will appreciate, and what can be written to incorporate the sources found in class. SIG

PS – If anyone wants to engage my services as a teacher of these skills, please click on the image to the left. Though they are my niche subjects, Greek and Latin are not my exclusive focus as a teacher. I do much else besides.

Introduction: Minimal definition: Belief that different groups of human beings exist – shared race/religion/language/history etc – and that each group should have assured territory and control of state machinery. Minimal definition says nothing about how the future should be viewed.

Point 1: Nationalism must always be concerned with the past. Every self-aware national grouping identifies itself and defines membership by common origin in past. Jews concerned with bloodlines going back to Old Testament. Russians look back to mediaeval conversion to Christianity. Even Americans look back to War of Independence. In Britain, much of anti-EU iconography looks back to 1940 Battle of Britain. Nation that has no history, or no regard for history, hard to imagine. Belief in past golden age that needs to be preserved or recovered. No doubt, much myth in historical narratives, but essential to national feeling.

Point 2: For this reason, many liberal and socialist philosophers hostile to nationalism. See it as a barrier to progress. The Irish socialist writer James Joyce was sceptical of nationalism. He has one of his characters say “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” The libertarian Ayn Rand called nationalism “the lowest form of collectivism.” Marx insisted that “the Proletariat has no nation.” The Marxist Antonio Gramsci went further, arguing that nationalism was part of the “hegemonic ideology” that the ruling class used to keep the workers from realising their class interest and moving to the next stage of human development – ie, socialism. For all these writers, nationalism was incompatible with progress.

Point 3: However, nationalism must also be concerned with the future. No point belonging to a nation that will vanish. At the most basic, all nationalists concerned with getting or keeping high birth rates to keep nation alive in future. Since 1900, obvious that national survival and well-being is dependent on economic progress. Therefore, both Nazis and Fascists keen to have their versions of history taught to children, but also cult of futurism. Nazis obsessed with keeping German science and technology ahead of everyone else. Saw better aeroplanes and guns and rockets as key to plans for European conquest. In same way, Kemal Ataturk strong Turkish nationalist, but forced radical modernisation on Turkey – adoption of western dress and law codes and use of Roman Alphabet. Arab nationalism tried Soviet-style economic planning to force progress on society. Indian and African anti-colonialists tried to combine nationalism with catching up with the West. Modern China extreme and so far successful example of this tendency. Ditto Japan before 1945. Also Zionism – based on alleged ancient promise by God of Israel to the Jews, but insistent on creation of sophisticated modern economy that makes Tel Aviv look like Chicago.

Conclusion: There are some kinds of nationalism that focus on costumes and folk dancing – possibly Cornish nationalism. These see progress as dangerous to the nation. But these are the exceptions. Most nationalism concerned both with past and future.