Perspectives: Fearmongering; the difference between patriots, nationalists

OPINION – If there is one good thing to be said about fear, it’s that it is a powerful and effective uniter. Unfortunately, it is almost always used to manipulate the masses for irrational ends.

Two current examples of this include the hysterical hand-wringing over the potential softening of relations between equally hard-line U.S. and Iranian leadership and the swelling hype over which politicians hope to prevail in next year’s presidential election.

Both issues have good people worked into a frenzy with emotional appeals to their sense of nationalistic pride. Neither leads us in the direction of personal or national greatness. The struggle between patriotism and nationalism is playing out before us.

Do we love America because of her ability to project military might? Are we proud to call ourselves Americans because of a certain candidate who may be elected to the oval office? An outside observer watching our daily news coverage might reasonably conclude this is the case.

Now would also be an ideal time for every one of us to seriously contemplate what it means to be a patriotic American in our time.

What far too many of our countrymen believe to be patriotism is actually nationalism cloaked in patriotic garb. It’s a difference worth understanding.

Patriotism is best described as a kind of love for one’s country that closely mirrors the love we should feel toward our family members. It is grounded in a sense of reason, responsibility, a desire for good citizenship, sincere regard for others and a willingness to make corrections when necessary.

Nationalism, on the other hand, is more closely related to the type of fanatical spirit exhibited at a school pep rally complete with chants, cheers, bonfires and banners. It is steeped in emotion, pridefulness, fear of strangers, and a desire to accumulate and exercise power over others.

Albert L. Guerard explains the contrast in this way:

Patriotism, the desire to work for the common weal, can be, must be, reasonable: “My country, may she be right!” Nationalism spurns reason: “Right or wrong, my country.”

Writer Barbara O’ Brien makes an interesting point when she notes that the primary difference between the patriot and the nationalist is what they value most. In the case of the patriot, responsibility is considered paramount in the behavior of the individual and the collective acts of one’s nation.

The nationalist places the highest significance on loyalty no matter what is being done individually or collectively. Think about this difference the next time the discussion turns to U.S. foreign policy, torture or indefinite detention without any due process, or the domestic surveillance of the American people.

Nationalism tends to be more fanatical because at its heart it is a form of modern idolatry in which worship of the state or its military becomes a brand of national religion. This is one of the reasons that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden is portrayed as a heretic who stands accused of disloyalty to the nationalist apparatus.

His revelations of the U.S. government’s domestic spying upon innocent members of the public are cheered as patriotism by supporters of liberty and labeled as treason by nationalists.

So how exactly does one distinguish true patriotism from its nationalistic counterfeit?

Adlai Stevenson offered this gem:

What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility … a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.

Another way to distinguish between patriotism and nationalism is to see how each responds to responsibility. A patriot will speak up when his nation is at fault, not because he hates his country, but because he considers it his duty to correct the shortcomings preventing his beloved nation from reaching its potential.

When confronted with the same situation, a nationalist will defensively lash out with accusations of how those identifying the problem are expressing hatred for his country. To a nationalist, his country can do no wrong and never requires correction.

The nationalist solution to any problem is to exercise greater power over others.

Perhaps that’s why George Orwell, in his excellent essay on nationalism, stated:

Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception.

There are plenty of reasons for which we can be proud of our nation. Likewise, there are some glaring problems that require correction. It is our patriotic duty to help others understand the difference.

Instead of resorting to dominion, let us affect change as patriots who love our country as we love our family – desiring the best for it.

Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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  • KarenS July 27, 2015 at 11:20 am

    Excellent article, Mr. Hyde!

    • fun bag July 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      a hurr durr hurr! best one yet! durr hurr!

  • sagemoon July 27, 2015 at 11:43 am

    Good thoughts, Bryan.

  • Roy J July 27, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    Yep. And Chesterton, in the same vein:
    “The scepticism of the last two centuries has attacked patriotism as it has attacked all the other theoretic passions of mankind, and in the case of patriotism the attack has been interesting and respectable because it has come from a set of modern writers who are not mere sceptics, but who really have an organic belief in philosophy and politics. Tolstoy, perhaps the greatest of living Europeans, has succeeded in founding a school which, whatever its faults (and they are neither few nor small), has all the characteristics of a great religion. Like a great religion, it is positive, it is public, above all, it is paradoxical. The Tolstoyan enjoys asserting the hardest parts of his belief with that dark and magnificent joy which has been unknown in the world for nearly four hundred years. He enjoys saying, “No man should strike a blow even to defend his country,” in the same way that Tertullian enjoyed saying,“Credo quia impossible.”

    This important and growing sect, together with many modern intellectuals of various schools, directly impugn the idea of patriotism as interfering with the larger sentiment of the love of humanity. To them the particular is always the enemy of the general. To them every nation is the rival of mankind. To them, in not a few instances, every man is the rival of mankind. And they bear a dim and not wholly agreeable resemblance to a certain kind of people who go about saying that nobody should go to church, since God is omnipresent, and not to be found in churches.

    Suppose that two men, lost upon some gray waste in rain and darkness, were to come upon the light of a porch and take shelter in some strange house, where the household entertained them pleasantly. It might be that some feast or entertainment was going forward; that private theatricals were in preparation, or progressive whist in progress. One of these travellers might lend a hand instinctively and heartily, might play his cards at whist in a fighting spirit, might black his face in theatricals and make the children laugh. And this he would do because he felt kindly towards the whole company. But the other man would say: “I love this company so much that I dislike its being divided into factions by progressive whist; I love so much the human face divine that I do not wish to see it obscured with soot or grease-paint; I will not take a partner for the lancers, for that would involve selecting one woman for special privilege, and I love you all alike.” The first man would undoubtedly amuse the whole company more. And would he not love the whole company more?
    –G.K. Chesterton. “The Patriotic Idea”. ‘A Short History of England’

    • fun bag July 27, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      followed by a longwinded blathering…

    • Billy Madison July 27, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      Roy, I’ve read three times what you just wrote and I still don’t have any idea what you are trying to say. I don’t know where you went to school but they sure didn’t teach you how common folk speak or read. Or maybe I just spent too much time on the playground merry-go-round with Beverly and Benny pitchin pennies.

      • Roy J July 27, 2015 at 5:17 pm

        Chesterton’s idea of patriotism is similar, I think, to what Bryan was referring to in the opinion. In this particular case, Chesterton is also drawing out the idea of an odious internationalism, which, I admit, is not on point. I quoted and linked it due to the excellent idea of patriotism contained above. Sorry for the misunderstanding.

        • Roy J July 27, 2015 at 5:30 pm

          Although really, it could be argued that ‘internationalism’ in the above sense is simply a gross and sluggish nationalism that attempts to identify and sublimate the individual under some general idea of humanity.

  • BIG GUY July 27, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Bryan crosses the line again. National defense is the first and most important responsibility of national government. One doesn’t have to be a “nationalist” to recognize this: even “patriots” recognize that their personal freedoms depend on it. Evil exists and in most eyes is exemplified in our time by ISIS and Al Qaeda . Yet Bryan seems to admire Edward Snowden whose defection wreaked more damage on our national defense against ISIS and Al Qaeda than any event since Pearl Harbor. Bryan, Edward Snowden was a traitor, not a “patriot,” plain and simple.
    Having a greater concern about NSA collecting telephone metadata than, for example, concern for the lives of five servicemen killed in Chattanooga reflects poorly on Bryan’s judgment. A number of Chattanooga-like attacks have been prevented courtesy of the NSA program that was authorized and monitored by Congressional Democrats and Republicans.
    I have no quarrel with the debate over civil liberties vs. national defense. And while I may have strong opinions on the subject, as a citizen of a democracy, I will live with the legislated outcome. But Bryan fails to recognize that “patriots” in his sense of the word can and do serve in our defense establishment without compromising the nation’s security every time they disagree with a policy. If I’d thought killing Osama bin Laden was against international law, would I have been justified in leaking our plans in advance? How about warning Afghanis about upcoming drone strikes?

    • 42214 July 27, 2015 at 4:05 pm

      I have to agree with big guy. Much more practical and realistic vs classroom theory and idealism.

    • izzymuse July 27, 2015 at 4:08 pm

      BIG GUY, my concern is with the U.S. military being used by power hungry and greedy politicians and big government which is combined with corporate powers for “military adventurism” to occupy other countries, etc. this is a fact. The USA spends an inappropriate amount of tax dollars on big military power which exceeds our needs for protection!

      I believe in the principles in U.S. Constitution which enable our military to provide protection from foreign threats, terrorism, and etc. BUT there is way too much international intervention and alliances! America needs to get back to the classic form of foreign policies which were applied by the founders: “Friends with all, allies with none.”

      .The modern “moderates” (Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this) mock this non-intervention approach to foreign policy idea by calling it “isolationism” and say it’s old fashioned, obsolete in today’s “modern” global community. Really? The USA has to police the world? That’s the cool politics for foreign policies and – as the moderate politicians say – it’s in our “national interests ” to bully other countries, occupy them, and stir hem up to hate America? Wrong.

      America needs to stop the preemptive military attacks, international alliances, foreign aid (especially to countries which hate us!), and simply focus on protecting our shores! Get out of other countries business and stick to keeping America safe.

      • BIG GUY July 27, 2015 at 6:24 pm

        IZZYMUSE, I’m interested in where you think we’ve “bullied” other countries. And I’m interested in which politicians were so “power hungry” that they became “military adventurers.” One can argue about whether any military action is worth the cost in lives, treasure and international standing, but ascribing an action to “adventurism” and “bullying” as the primary motivations seems way over the top. Even our 2003 invasion of Iraq , our most controversial military action, doesn’t fit your criteria.

        • 42214 July 27, 2015 at 6:47 pm

          I still agree with big guy but I’m pretty sure we killed Allende in Chile and the Shah in Iran is a good example of our “national interests” justifying our meddling in other countries.

        • izzymuse July 27, 2015 at 7:26 pm

          Here is an example to help you empathize with countries the U.S. gov has bullied: (since you don’t with Iraq). Just imagine if the Russian government felt justified in doing to the USA what our government/military has done to Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. You’d be happy? A bomb interrupting your daughter’s wedding. “Oops! Sorry, we’re just here to occupy your land to make sure you learn to appreciate us. Carry on!” There are hundreds of cases of needless suffering caused by U.S. military. My father was in the marines (Vietnam), my grandfather in the army (WW II). They were ashamed of many things the U.S. military committed. There are horrible stories. You never heard about ’em? You need to look into history, neighbor.

          If another country came to America and did what the U.S. military has done to other countries over the last hundred years they would justify their cause pretty similar to how you are now. Hmmm. What a self-serving double standard that Americans like you have. Sad. It really is.
          Have a little empathy with your fellow humans.

          • native born new mexican July 27, 2015 at 9:31 pm

            I agree with you on this Izzymuse. You said it right in both of your posts. I also have a lot of military folks in my background. My father as an example was in the military during the Korean war and was trained as a sniper. He believed we had no business in Korea or Vietnam. He referred ( sadly) to his friends who were called up in WWII as cannon fodder. How do you decide what is the right thing to do when you don’t believe in the war. You want to do right by your country and you are told – trained to be a sniper of all things. I don’t believe politicians have the right to put people in a spot like that. Let them shoot a man they don’t want to be fighting in the back or the head when it is least expected. They couldn’t do it, but they will try to force others to to do it. “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.” Clausewitz Politicians depend on nationalism to compel people to fight for and support the wars they create. The US has made enemies all over the world with their policy of aggressive war. I believe in defensive war but I believe you would have to go back to the war of 1812 to find a justifiable defensive war that this country fought. I have very mixed feelings about WWII. I don’t think we know the whole truth about that war. My grandfather was in the battle of the bulge and saw the prison camps – death camps. I honor what he did. I just want to know the truth about the REASONS for that war. I honor all US vets. They are the ones who get used and misused for all of these political wars politicians and nationalism get us into.

        • BIG GUY July 27, 2015 at 9:21 pm

          IZZYMUSE, you didn’t read my comment carefully. I didn’t justify any military action and certainly don’t condone any crime committed by a U.S. soldier or agent. I reacted to your claim that military actions were started by “military adventurers” to “bully” another country. Synonyms for bully are oppressor, tyrant or tormentor. None of these can be applied to our motives. Do you claim “power hungry and greedy politicians and big government” invent reasons to torment other countries? You might disagree with the rationale used to justify an action, but “bullying” and “adventurism” don’t apply. Every president agonizes about sending Americans in harm’s way.
          42214, the Shah was a steadfast American ally who died in exile in Egypt in 1980 of lymphoma.

          • native born new mexican July 27, 2015 at 9:58 pm

            Big Guy I don’t believe every president agonizes about sending Americans into harms way. You give them too much credit. Go look up the definition of a sociopath. That name fits many of our modern presidents very well. Not just them but their cabinets. Psychologists have a saying ” sociopaths rule the world.” I believe that because I see it all around me when it comes to people in government. Sociopaths have what it takes to get into positions of power and stay there.

          • anybody home July 27, 2015 at 10:54 pm

            I have two words for you, Big Guy: Dick Cheney.

          • 42214 July 28, 2015 at 2:01 am

            The Shah was a steadfast ally because we and the Brits put him in power in a coup d’tat in 1941 after the oil fields were nationalized. The Shah is actually a good example of the US government’s bad behavior in exerting our power on a sovereign nation for our own national interests.

  • fun bag July 27, 2015 at 9:15 pm

    The main reason Bush II wanted to invade Iraq was because “Saddam Husseine tried to kill my daddy”. Sounds like adventurism to me. Bush II had a little boy dream of being a “wartime president” so he went off to create his own war. Izzy is usually pretty dumb, but he makes some points here.

  • BIG GUY July 28, 2015 at 6:54 am

    IZZYMUSE and NATIVE NEW MEXICAN, instead of fuzzy theories about “sociopaths” and “power hungry politicians,” how about discussing the rationale for military actions with which you disagree? Every military action was justified by some rationale other than “bullying.” Honest men and women can disagree with the rationale and many did at the time. But most actions were supported by members of both parties of Congress (including the 2003 Iraq War).
    By opposing our involvement in WW 2 after Pearl Harbor, you are one of an extraordinarily small number of people who believe that was not the most justified war we ever fought. And do your homework on the War of 1812. Many historians regard that as among the least justified: we declared war on Great Britain with one of our objectives the invasion and annexation of Canada!

    • native born new mexican July 28, 2015 at 8:35 am

      Big Guy I won’t debate you about the the reason for the war of 1812. The point I was trying to make is about aggressive war and about how very wrong it is. I stand by that. I am a strong believer in the 2nd amendment. I have no problem with guns or SELF defense. I just belief to my core that pulling the trigger has to be because there was no other option whether personally or nationally. I don’t know if you like music but here is a song I hope you listen to and really think about. I hope every one posting here listens to it.

    • anybody home July 28, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      I’m beginning to understand that “Big Guy” is code for “Bully.”

      • fun bag July 28, 2015 at 3:31 pm

        ‘Big guy’ is code for ‘Big idiot loser’

        • anybody home July 28, 2015 at 8:31 pm

          Okay, that too. You say potatoes and I say potahtoes.

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