Widespread and often extreme nationalism, as well as its prevalence in political debates over the past few years, has arisen in the United States recently, especially given the divisive political climate at present. We at the Technique wish to discuss the implications of such ideologies as well as their impact on democracy as a whole.
Nationalism as a phenomenon is difficult to define. There are numerous interpretations of how nationalism can be explicated. One definition of nationalism might surround the country itself, its origin and its history. It could be the practice of taking pride in one’s country in an invigorated, impassioned manner. On the other hand, nationalism could be defined as an ideology that boasts superiority to the detriment of other countries, often resulting in unnecessary exploitation.
Even within the boundaries of a sovereign state, nationalism may result from the idea of pitting “us” versus “them,” establishing communities, often minorities, as the aliens. Politics and elections are often centered around using such language. Even in the recent Republican National Debate, the United States’ supposed allies were not painted in a positive light. This can play into xenophobic ideologies that have plagued the U.S. as of late.
Here in the United States, nationalism has a tendency toward far-right beliefs, and those beliefs are often attributed to the concept of nationalism. This may be because there exists substantial overlap between nationalism and patriotism; the idea of uniting under America drives a lot of these sentiments. While the concept of unity appears unassuming, those same thoughts can allow for subversion of law in mass. An example of this is the Jan. 6, 2022 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. This has occurred historically as well, such as with long-standing voter disenfranchisement of African Americans, even after policy was enacted beginning in 1870 to allow voting; such issues persist to this day. However, objectively, nationalism is not necessarily partisan. Both large parties in the U.S. have a desire to improve the country domestically, expand the United States’ power and tout their “love” for the nation. Nationalism has been used historically as an effective means of uniting people, such as with the Irish nationalist independence movement and Indigenous nationalism, with communities standing up for their rights and sovereignty. While there may be a long way to go, notably with Indigenous peoples, nationalism is the driving force in their fight for liberties.
But with issues such as xenophobia and extremist nationalism making its way through the country, for all the good that it may bring, nationalism in practice is becoming warped. The Jan. 6th insurrection was fundamentally unconstitutional and depicted a distorted sense of nationalism for what a very vocal group wanted to see the country as, rather than the best parts of what the country is. If the insurrectionists believed in the United States as a country of good, full of good people, then they would not have attempted to overturn democracy and laws.
Negative nationalism, as depicted by the insurrection, is the conflation of nationalism with concepts such as authoritarianism, racism and American exceptionalism. While nationalism can result in the decline of democracy, with certain groups taking away from the democracy of the whole, individuals have varying senses of what nationalism means. Nationalism can and should, in practice, embody community-building and foster pride in one’s own country. In an ideal world, people can be proud of their country while also acknowledging the issues within its systems. In the meantime, we must do what we can to preserve the traditions and connections of our own country without aiming to overpower and surpass another.