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Science | History | Geography | Citizenship

Leaders clash over nationalism v patriotism

Is nationalism always bad? Emmanuel Macron has launched a very thinly-veiled attack on self-proclaimed nationalist Donald Trump, describing the ideology as a “betrayal of patriotism”. As world leaders gathered under a grey, drizzling Paris sky to commemorate Armistice Day, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the “old demons” of nationalism that drove the war are resurfacing. “Patriotism is exactly the opposite of nationalism,” Macron declared before the Arc de Triomphe. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying, ‘our interests first, who cares about the others’, we erase what a nation holds dearest: […] its moral values.” His target, US President Donald Trump, looked on. Just weeks ago Trump told crowds at a rally, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist.” While Macron has positioned himself as the centrist champion of globalism, Trump has pursued an “America First” foreign policy. But is Macron right to say that nationalism is “the exact opposite of patriotism”? Google’s dictionary defines nationalism as “patriotic feeling, principles or efforts.” Indeed, patriotism is often listed as a synonym for nationalism. The words were interchangeable until the mid-1800s, both referring to a general love of one’s country. Now, however, according to Merriam Webster, the definition also includes “exalting one nation above all others”. George Orwell made a similar distinction in his essay, Notes on Nationalism. A patriot is devoted to a particular way of life but “has no wish to force [it] on other people”, while nationalism is characterised as domineering. Orwell shared Macron’s anxiety that nationalism can compromise morals by placing a nation state “beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests”. This vision of amoral, oppressive nationalism reached its awful nadir in Nazism. After the world wars, more democratic governments emerged and global free markets connected the world, blurring national lines. But now nationalism is surging, everywhere from Italy to Brazil. Commentators say many people feel left behind by globalisation and long for a grounding sense of communal pride. Is nationalism always bad? For Queen and country It’s a destructive force, say some. It is impossible to ignore the strong and recurring links between nationalism and bigotry, both historically in the Nazi’s ultra-nationalism and in today’s white nationalist movements. Nationalism threatens moral values by blinding a person to their country’s faults, and it encourages xenophobia. Macron is right. It’s natural to want to be proud of your community, reply others. These feelings can be channelled into a positive nationalism that celebrates a country’s achievements without attacking others. As the recent rise of the far-right shows, ignoring nationalism is dangerous as it allows extreme voices to exploit and misdirect the public’s wish to feel pride in their identity. KeywordsArmistice Day - An armistice is an agreement to end fighting, but not necessarily a declaration of peace: the First World War didn't formally finish until a little later. Armistice Day is not quite the same as Remembrance Sunday, which takes place on the nearest Sunday to November 11th.

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