Essay:Ethnicity and Nationalism

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I once listened to a podcast in which a Spanish woman and an Englishman were talking about this and that. Eventually, the topic changed to that of language, and, therefore, nations. The Englishman asked her, "What does it mean to be Spanish?" A pause followed, as she had no idea how to answer this unusual question, and she replied, "What does it mean to be English?" And they laughed, as neither knew exactly how to define these terms. Ethnicity is one of those things that most of us take for granted, but that nobody ever stops to think about.

Ethnicity, like nationalism, is something whose exact definition is elusive. Just as there are many definitions of nationalism, many have tried to define exactly what ethnicity is, with no clear consensus. Still, there are a few factors that are common in discussions of ethnicity, such as language, ancestry, and nationality.

What constitutes ethnicity?[edit]

Language/Ancestry[edit]

Frequently, though by no means always, the difference between various countries is the language. Ethnicity-based nation-states are generally united by language; the idea of considering those who have the same language as you to be your fellow kinsmen makes sense, since you can communicate with them, while with speakers of other languages you cannot.

But defining ethnicity in terms of language is problematic. For one thing, languages are often arbitrarily created divisions of a dialect continuum, and are not necessarily in themselves clearly separated from one another, the boundaries between them being fuzzy and unclear. Every language is simply a continuum of dialects that have varying degrees of mutual intelligibility (a dialect continuum), so that two people of the same ethnicity speaking two different dialects of the same language may be unable to understand each other. The point at which cultural or linguistic difference is considered enough to result in a different, "foreign", ethnic group is completely arbitrary. Indeed, the difference between a language and a dialect is political and cultural. Any method of separating a dialect continuum (such as the Slavic one in the Balkans) into separate languages will be based on politics, as there is no clear dividing line between where one language ends and another one begins (as linguist John McWhorter noted in his book The Power of Babel, "Dialects are all there is: the ‘language’ part is just politics.") Historian Alexander Maxwell, in his talk Linguistic Nationalism and the Politics of ‘Dialects’ – The Case of Slovakia, noted that Ľudovít Štúr, who is often called the father of the "Slovak language", was a Panslavist who considered that Slovak, Russian, Polish, etc. were all dialects of a single Slavic language, rather than separate languages in their own right, and that Slovaks were not a separate "nation", but a tribe belonging to a the "Slavic nation", which also included other Slavic ethnic groups.

In addition, linguist Victor Friedman has noted "there is no definitive bundle of isoglosses separating Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian; rather, the dialects shade very gradually from one into another",[1] and

From the point of view of language as a means of communication, the vast majority of South Slavic dialects form a single continuum from northern Yugoslavia and adjacent parts of neighboring countries all the way into northern Greece and to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria in the south and east, respectively. At any given point along this continuum speakers can understand speakers from contiguous points. As the distance between points increases, however, so do dialectal differences, albeit not at a steady rate. Isoglosses tend to cluster in some regions and fan out in others. Nonetheless, there does not exist a single location where one can draw a line between mutually unintelligible dialects. The definition of “language” under such circumstances is made on the basis of other criteria, e. g. ethnic or religious self-identification, geographical or political boundaries selected for extra-linguistic reasons as definitive, etc.[2]

In other words, the South Slavic languages (and all divisions of dialect continuua) are socially constructed dialect groupings with unclear boundaries, rather than sharply defined natural entities.[note 1]

Nationalism can also occur among groups that recognize they speak the same language. For instance, nationalistic and irredentist attitudes exist in many Spanish-speaking Latin American countries towards their Spanish-speaking neighbors. In Bolivia, there is an irredentist national holiday (the Día del Mar) dedicated to remembering (and reversing) the loss of its coastal territories to Chile in the War of the Pacific.[3] In Paraguay, the War of the Triple Alliance is still invoked as an atrocity inflicted by "them" (Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries) on "us" Paraguayans.[4] The fact that these groups all speak Spanish does not stop them from considering themselves as being separate ethnicities, nor does it stop their nationalists from despising each other.[5] The book Historia de las Relaciones Exteriores Argentinas goes into some detail about the alleged (but imaginary) separateness of Latin American countries and describes the processes which led to the fragmentation of Latin America into numerous nations which consider themselves different and separate. It notes:

It is certainly true that, within Spanish America, there were no clear differences of identity between the populations of the embyronic states which were starting to emerge around the various important urban centers. In all the Spanish American states, the construction of differences, which would end up turning the citizens of the various new states into foreigners amongst themselves, was accomplished by several means of indoctrination, including the educational system and conscription. With all these nations being so similar, the main difference between them could not lie in anything else than the virtue of the in-group and the malevolence of the Other. It is through the creation of this image that the pan-Latin American protonationality at the time of independence was destroyed, and it is thus that new local identities emerged, invented by a political power that had relatively contingently (that is, without causal links to previous identity phenomena) succeeded in establishing its rule over a given territorial jurisdiction. Unfortunately, these identities couldn't be constructed by means of positive definitions. It was the social construction of the vile character of the states and populations of the contiguous and autonomous political units that allowed the emergence of the various "us", due to which we can now speak of the Argentinian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, Chilean, Bolivian, Peruan, Ecuadorian, Venezuelan and Colombian "nationalities" as being differentiated amongst themselves.

The Historia also cites a passage from the Bolivian textbook El Mar Boliviano (The Bolivian Sea):

This book is intended for students and attempts to make them understand the entire magnitude of our tragedy, the methods that Chile used to wage its war of plunder and the inability of our governors to stop the machinations of the enemy, the enemy's treacherousness, Chile's expansionist use and abuse of force to take its neighbor's territories, and Chile's use of the riches of these territories to grow.

Note that no reason whatsoever is given as to why it would undesirable for Bolivia to be controlled by Chile. In other cases of nationalism, there is usually at least some pretense that "If they had conquered us, we would all be speaking their language! How horrible that would have been!" — an outcome so inconceivably horrible that anything must be done to prevent it. But in this case, not even this applies. If Bolivia had been wiped off the map and conquered entirely by Chile, the newly enlarged Chile would still be Spanish-speaking just as Bolivia was. As is usual in irredentism, no argument is presented to demonstrate why Chilean rule would be unfavorable; it is merely assumed that "our" country must necessarily be larger and that "we must defend our territories." (Indeed, Bolivia even has an irredentist national holiday, the Día del Mar (Day of the Sea), dedicated to commemorating and reversing the lost of its coastal territories to Chile in the War of the Pacific.[6])

The book also notes the arbitrariness of nationalist attachment to certain territories:

Even when it doesn't mobilize the masses to march to their deaths, nationalism continuously demonstrates its vitality in circumstances in which it can be said that "objectively" a supposed nation does not exist. Objectively, the Argentinian nation is a fairy tale, yet there are few Porteños [inhabitants of Buenos Aires] who, faced with a poster of the Undersecretary of Tourism which boasts a picture of the waterfalls of Iguazú with the slogan "first, it was ours," would realize the fact that these waterfalls are in reality much less "theirs" (that is to say, somehow specific to Porteños) than the well-loved Colonia del Sacramento, which lies on the other side of the Río de la Plata in Uruguayan territory. The type of people, the culture, the same musicality of the language, indeed everything except one anthropologically irrelevant juridical fact, makes Colonia part of the same objective "nation" as Buenos Aires, while Puerto Iguazú is part of another (Spanish-Guarani) nation that is fairly different. What is "ours" about the waterfalls of Iguazú? Do we pay fewer taxes than a Paraguayan when we visit it? Is the trip cheaper? Clearly not. For the Porteño, the waterfalls are in a distant land inhabited by an exotic people. But the poster successfully works its effect on the reader, because the mechanisms of indoctrination which allow Porteños and inhabitants of Misiones [a province in Argentina] to imagine that they are part of a single nation that is different from the Uruguayan and Paraguayan nations are surprisingly successful.

Language is not a determinant of ethnicity at the individual level, either. Multilingual individuals who reach fluency or even a near-native level in the language(s) they have learned do not automatically become part of the ethnic groups whose languages they know. And consider the case of a child of immigrants. The child may be totally ignorant of her parents' language, yet she may consider herself as belonging to the ethnicity of her parents. If she becomes famous, the members of her parents' country of origin that are part of their ethnic group will be quick to claim her for one of their own, though they do not speak her language.

Language is often associated with ancestry, as in, for instance, the case of those Hungarians and Finns who believe they are related to each other, on the basis that they both speak Finno-Ugric languages, or those Romance-speaking people who consider themselves of kindred Roman ancestry. (Many nationalist theories have been based on pseudolinguistics.)

But language and ancestry are not necessarily related. The hypothetical immigrant mentioned earlier may, rather than identifying with her parents' ethnicity, wholeheartedly assimilate into the dominant ethnicity of her parents' adopted country, thus introducing foreign elements into the ethnic group and undermining the nationalist claim of common descent. This can lead to somewhat extreme cases such as that of Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, perhaps Romania's most infamous far-right politician. He was violently nationalistic, antisemitic, and xenophobic, and repeatedly made reference to the Romanians' noble, ancient Roman-Dacian origins. This was despite the fact that his parents were German/Polish; Codreanu was born Corneliu Zelinski, which is not a Romanian surname. Indeed, ethnicity need not be based on language[note 2] or ancestry; Franz Liszt, for instance, considered himself a Hungarian and is known as one of Hungary's greatest musicians, yet he neither spoke Hungarian nor had Hungarian parents — the family's name was originally List, before Franz's father Magyarized it.[7] (Note also the absurdity inherent in defining a Hungarian as someone who has Hungarian parents. Strictly speaking, according to this definition, there is no such thing as a Hungarian, since if one traces the ancestry of any Hungarian back far enough, they will eventually find a non-Hungarian, and the whole chain collapses.)

Historian Edward Augustus Freeman noted in his essay Race and Language, "The doctrine of race is essentially an artificial doctrine, a learned doctrine", and went on:

These races which, in a strictly physiological point of view, have no existence at all, have a real existence from the more practical point of view of history and politics. The Bulgarian calls to the Russian for help, and the Russian answers to his call for help, on the ground of their being alike members of the one Slavonic race. It may be that, if we could trace out the actual pedigree of this or that Bulgarian, of this or that Russian, we might either find that there was no real kindred between them, or we might find that there was a real kindred, but a kindred which must be traced up to another stock than that of the Slav. In point of actual blood, instead of both being Slavs, it may be that one of them comes, it may be that both of them come, of a stock which is not Slavonic or even Aryan. The Bulgarian may chance to be a Bulgarian in a truer sense than he thinks; for he may come of the blood of those original Finnish conquerors who gave the Bulgarian name to the Slavs among whom they were merged. And if this or that Bulgarian may chance to come of the stock of Finnish conquerors assimilated by their Slavonic subjects, this or that Russian may chance to come of the stock of Finnish subjects assimilated by their Slavonic conquerors. It may then so happen that the cry for help goes up and is answered on a ground of kindred which in the eye of the physiologist has no existence. Or it may happen that the kindred is real in a way which neither the suppliant nor his helper thinks of.

Notwithstanding the obsolete terminology ("race" instead of "ethnicity", "Finnish" instead of "Turkic", etc.), Freeman's general point remains valid. Historian Ernest Renan made a similar point in his work What is a Nation? (emphasis added):


Human history is essentially different from zoology, and race is not everything, as it is among the rodents or the felines, and one does not have the right to go through the world fingering people's skulls, and taking them by the throat saying: 'You are of our blood; you belong to us!' Aside from anthropological characteristics, there are such things as reason, justice, the true, and the beautiful, which are the same for all. [...]
There are not ten families in France that can supply proof of their Frankish origin, and any such proof would anyway be essentially flawed, as a consequence of countless unknown alliances which are liable to disrupt any genealogical system.

Anthropologist Franz Boas, in his Introduction to the Handbook of Indian Languages, said:

The history of medieval Europe, however, shows clearly that extended changes in language and culture have taken place many times without corresponding changes in blood. [...] The Alpine type appears fairly uniform over a large territory, no matter what language may be spoken and what national culture may prevail in the particular district. The central-European Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, and Slavs are so nearly of the same type that we may safely assume a considerable degree of blood relation-ship, notwithstanding their linguistic differences.
Instances of similar kind, in which we find permanence of blood with far-reaching modifications of language and culture, are found in other parts of the world. As an example may be mentioned the Veddah of Ceylon, a people fundamentally different in type from the neighboring Singhalese, whose language they seem to have adopted, and from whom they have also evidently borrowed a number of cultural traits. Still other examples are the Japanese of the northern part of Japan, who are undoubtedly, to a considerable extent, Ainu in blood; and the Yukaghir of Siberia, who, while retaining to a great extent the old blood, have been assimilated in culture and language by the neighboring Tungus.

He also cites the cases of the Hungarians:

While it is therefore evident that in many cases a people, without undergoing a considerable change in type by mixture, have changed completely their language and culture, still other cases may be adduced in which it can be shown that a people have retained their language while undergoing material changes in blood and culture, or in both. As an example of this may be mentioned the Magyar of Europe, who have retained their old language, but have become mixed with people speaking Indo-European languages, and who have, to all intents and purposes, adopted European culture.

According to the textbook General Zoology (emphasis in the original),

A race is a stock of common ancestry and physical characteristics, whereas a people is the assemblage of individuals occupying a given area; the two terms are not synonymous. The culture and languages of a people are of sociologic interest but do not necessarily indicate its origin, as some habits and inventions are borrowed from other peoples and some are independently developed. The human races have probably always been variable and unclearly separated from one another, just as they are in other species of plants and animals. In the past few thousand years migrations, war, conquest, and slavery have probably made them even less distinct.

One genetic study conducted in 2004 concluded that:

The present results suggest a common ancestry of all Balkan populations, including Arom[anians], with a lack of correlation between genetic differentiation and language or ethnicity, stressing that no major migration barriers have existed in the making of the complex Balkan human puzzle.[8]

(This is a sobering thought, when one reflects upon the many atrocities committed in the Balkans in the name of ancestral difference.)

Another study[9] found that Western Slovaks were genetically closer to Czechs and Austrians than to Eastern Slovaks, who were closer to Slovenians. In addition, "[A] few sub-Saharan African (L2a) mtDNAs were detected in a population from eastern part of Slovakia." The study noted that according to "previous mtDNA studies of European populations", there is a common genetic substratum shared by "Central and Eastern European populations, such as [Slavic], German, Baltic and western Finno-Ugric populations", and which also extends to the Western Balkan groups of Bosnians and Slovenians. Further, "Recent mtDNA variability study in Czechs, the neighbors of Slovaks, has shown that they are genetically similar with adjacent European populations, but characterized by a small frequency of East Eurasian (2.8%) and Roma-specific (2.8%) mtDNA lineages[.]"

Clearly, genetics does not conform to ethnic boundaries. The all too common belief that groups of millions of people can be divided into genetically completely separate ethnicities is more of a mass delusion rather than something based on objective facts. Paul R. Brass, in Ethnicity and Nationalism: Theory and Comparison, noted: "[T]here are very few groups in the world whose members can lay any claim to a known common [genetic] origin ... it is not actual descent that is considered essential to the definition of an ethnic group but belief in a common descent."[10] Masatsugu Matsuo said: "As Walker Connor insightfully points out, an ethnic group is the greatest human group characterized by sharing the myth of common ancestry, but it matters little whether the myth corresponds to the historical fact."[11] Ernest Renan, in What is a Nation?, wrote, "Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality." Or, as William Ralph Inge quipped, "A nation is a society united by a delusion about its ancestry and by a common hatred of its neighbours."

But what exactly does this common ancestry consist of? Generally, the claim is that the modern ethnic group is a continuation of another, more ancient ethnic group that was extant as much as over a thousand years ago. Thus, many Hungarians (and foreigners) believe that Hungarians are the descendents of the Huns, and many Romanians consider themselves the descendents of the Dacians and the Roman conquerors of Dacia. But the popularity of claims like these vary from place to place. In Britain, for instance, those who make a big deal out of the "fact" that the English are the descendents of the Anglo-Saxons are not really taken seriously, while in Eastern Europe nationalistic pseudoscience like Protochronism, Thracomania, and the Venetic theory enjoy at least some measure of support.

But in the vast majority of cases, it is not possible for an ethnic group to remain unaffected by all the neighbouring populations. Even if an ethnic group stays in the same place for centuries, it still becomes a mixture of many peoples, as a result of migrations, wars, and other factors to which no group is immune. A language, for instance, through intermarriage, assimilation, and migration, gradually loses some of its speakers to other languages while at the same time absorbing speakers from the neighbouring languages in a sort of "trading" process, so that in a thousand years, the speakers of the language may be genetically very different from those of a thousand years earlier. Thus, modern Greeks cannot claim to have only, or even mostly, ancient Greek ancestors, though their language may be descended from Ancient Greek. An ethnic group cannot go for thousands of years without intermingling with its neighbours (except perhaps in the cases of very isolated tribes), and even if this were commonplace, this would be undesirable, because it would necessarily lead to inbreeding. It is absurd to say that "our ancestors were here before yours", since, in all likelihood (for neighboring or cohabiting populations, at least), both groups ultimately share the more-or-less same mixed origin. In any case, even if two groups are genetically distinct or similar (nationalists often try to claim that their ethnic group is related to or distinct from another one through pseudolinguistic theories),[note 3] having any feelings of love or hatred based solely on this is nothing less than racism.

Furthermore, basing national policy on actual (rather than imagined) genetics would lead to bizarre consequences, as Ernest Renan illustrated (emphasis added):


Be on your guard, for this ethnographic politics is in no way a stable thing and, if today you use it against others, tomorrow you may see it turned against yourselves. Can you be sure that the Germans, who have raised the banner of ethnography so high, will not see the Slavs in their turn analyse the names of villages in Saxony and Lusatia, search for any traces of the Wiltzes or of the Obotrites, and demand recompense for the massacres and the wholesale enslavements that the Ottoss inflicted upon their ancestors? It is good for everyone to know how to forget.
I am very fond of ethnography, for it is a science of rare interest; but, in so far as I would wish it to be free, I wish it to be without political application. In ethnography, as in all forms of study, systems change; this is the condition of progress. States' frontiers would then follow the fluctuations of science. Patriotism would depend upon a more or less paradoxical dissertation. One would come up to a patriot and say: 'You were mistaken; you shed your blood for such-and-such a cause; you believed yourself to be a Celt; not at all, you are a German.' Then, ten years later, you will be told that you are a Slav.

Why exactly should genetic similarity even matter to a given person? If two groups are indeed genetically related (which is by no means certain), why should individuals from the two make a big deal out of it? After all, people don't actually know the specific individuals who were their common ancestors. All they supposedly know is that the ancestors hailed from a certain region, even though results obtained for populations are generalizations that may not necessarily apply to the individual. Even if two individuals indeed share some relatively recent common ancestor, the perceived tie resulting from this is arbitrary — all humans are ultimately descended from the same Africans, so believing in ethnic friendship resulting from common ancestry amounts to deciding that the common ancestry shared with everybody else isn't "good enough" for ethnic purposes, a position which is completely subjective. To slightly modify Freeman's quote above, if you take two random Frenchmen, x and y, and one German, z, it is entirely possible that one of the Frenchmen will be more closely related to the German than to his ethnic compatriot. On the other hand, even if x is more closely related to y than z, this doesn't mean that there is no relation between x and z, as every person is related to every other person; it merely means that the relation is more distant, or, in other words, that the last common ancestor of x and z lived a longer time ago than the common ancestor of x and y (it could be that the last common ancestor of x and y was born in 1023, while that of x and z was born in 820, for instance.) It is not a question of whether two given people are related, but to what degree they are related. Stephen Fry has noted in the following talk that, as a result of the exponential nature of ancestry, one does not have to go back very far to find the common ancestor of two people:

Now, we're all strangers here, especially those of you who are a world away, of a different "racial stock" – as if such things mean anything; because, let's be honest, I don't think even the Prince of Wales could name his eighth great-grandparent. And if he couldn't, he comes from the most famous family in the world, then which of us can? And that's only three generations back. We have two parents, four parents, eighth great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-great grandparents, thirty-two, sixty-four, a hundred-twenty-eight, and so on, and so on, and so on, until it's an exponential curve, this extraordinary number of ancestors we have. [...]
If you can't name your eight great-grandparents, one of whom may be Jewish, one of whom may be Arabic, one of whom may be of any race or ... that you can think of under the sun that may not have shown through as a pigmentation or a facial type, then how can you call yourself anything in terms of identity, other than a brother or sister of everybody else on the planet? [...]
People have worked out that one does not have to go back very far in history before all of us are related. [...]
We're all descended, we're all royal descendants. We must be, because we have more ancestors from the 15th century than the population of Britain in the 15th century. Even allowing for that, you know, for the incest [audience laughs], we must be related. And if you go back further and further, it's Atilla the Hun we're all related to. And, of course, we're all related to that very few thousand number of people who survived the last ice age.

(See also the articles "Ancestry and Mathematics" and Charlemagne’s DNA and Our Universal Royalty.)

Not to mention that common ancestry does nothing to bridge linguistic or cultural differences. Outside of the science of genetics, in the context of day-to-day life, common DNA should be nothing more than a interesting piece of trivia, but to actually form bonds, an entire world-view, and sometimes violent political opinions on something that is so remote, uncertain, and irrelevant, is very strange. (And this is assuming the best-case scenario (if one can call it that) that people base their opinions on genetic studies. In actual fact, in the vast majority of cases, if not always, ethnic nationalism is not even based on genetics, but on the myth of common descent perpetuated by nationalist indoctrination.) Indeed, sometimes people support their ethnic group in whatever they may do, for the simple reason that "their ancestors" belonged to it. In other words, some kinds of nationalists have whatever political beliefs they do not because of reasoned logic or thought, but because they feel obliged, as a result of ethnic and ancestral loyalty, to consider some of these beliefs "hard-wired".

Because the idea of common ancestry is based on belief rather than facts, ethnic groups can be invented. During the American Civil War, for instance, there was a widespread belief in the South that Southerners were the descendants of the "noble" Norman conquerors of England, while the Northerners were the spawn of the barbaric Anglo-Saxons[12]—a claim which, to us moderns, seems completely preposterous. (Although if the Confederacy had won, perhaps it would now enjoy the same respectability as the idea that the French are descended from Gauls.) And during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, the French claimed to be representing the "Latin race", and fighting against the "Germanic race".[13] According to James McPherson,

Francis Lieber [in The Latin Race] ridiculed the claim as akin to Southern assertions of Norman descent. "Races are very often invented from ignorance, or for evil purposes," wrote Lieber in a passage that seems strikingly modern. The rebels told us and each other again and again that they were a race totally different from the race of the North." This "pitiful attempt," Lieber declared, consisted of nothing more than "arbitrary maxims, vague conceits, or metaphorical expressions."[13]

Similar attitudes can be found elsewhere. In Macedonia, there is a widespread belief that the Slavic Macedonians are descended from the Ancient Macedonians of Alexander the Great. This idea is widely mocked, but as Raymond DetrezWikipedia's W.svg notes, such myths are not unique to Macedonia:[14]

But since Bulgarian blood is 16 or 18% Thracian, as the Academician Anton Donchev said to the Dutch at the Hague, then why would Macedonian blood not contain at least the same percent of blood from the veins of Alexander the Great? It's exactly the same type of "continuity". Why should the Macedonian obsession with the Ancient Macedonians be more ridiculous than Bulgarian Thracomania or the cult of the Bulgars (the part of their blood that's in contemporary Bulgarians has also been given a measurement that is just as precise, but I forget what it is), the "founders of 12 countries".

The linguist Dan Alexe notes that various other Slavic countries of the Balkans consider themselves to be descended from completely different non-Slavic ancestors:[15]

After the fall of Communism and the dismantling of Yugoslavia, Balkan nations were flooded by an exotic range of national beliefs with a mystical and messianic tinge. It thus became fashionable for Balkan Slavs nowadays to pretend that they are not actually Slavs. The Slovenes prefer to suggest that they are a mixture of Italians and Austrians (don’t they say “ja“, instead of “da“?), Croats pretend that they live in Mitteleuropa, and not in the Balkans, Bulgarians prefer to come from central Asia, and remind you about Khan Asparuh, Bosnians have managed, through stubborn insistence, to make it an accepted fact that there exists such a thing as a Bosnian language, while the Serbs don’t know who they are anymore.

Franz Boas, in his 1915 essay Race and Nationality, noted (emphasis his):

In short, there is no war of races in Europe; for in every single nationality concerned in the present struggle the various elements of the European population are represented, and arrayed against the same elements as grouped together in another nationality. The conflict has nothing whatever to do with racial descent. The so-called racial antipathies are feelings that have grown up on another basis and have been given a fictitious racial interpretation.

In other words, though ethnic conflicts are often portrayed as "brothers" fighting against "foreigners", the "foreigners" are in fact genetically (and, in the case of dialect continua, often linguistically as well) just as much "brothers" as one's ethnic compatriots. What ethnic nationalists often call "our ancestors" could often be more accurately described as "speech-ancestors", a term coined by J. R. R. Tolkien in his essay English and Welsh. (Although, of course, there are exceptions; for example, French is most certainly not descended from Gaulish.[note 4] In such cases, there is no particular genetic or linguistic connection to these so-called "ancestors".)

Ultimately, an ethnic group is what its members believe it is. It is a group of people that, for whatever reason, consider themselves in some undefined way to be "brothers".[note 5] (Because ethnic groups are invented and have little to nothing to do with genetics, I cringe whenever I hear things like "Spanish blood flows through my veins".)

It is disconcerting to think that so many millions of lives have been lost on the basis of what is essentially an imaginary idea. How is it possible for people to be so fiercely devoted to their "tribes", as they are sometimes deprecatingly called? The answer is indoctrination. From birth, people are brainwashed into believing that "we" are completely separate from "them", whoever "they" may be. "We" are descended from the ancient stock of the Romans/Anglo-Saxons/Ancient Greeks/Dacians, which have historically occupied this particular piece of land until "they" took it from us, or which have historically been the enemies of "their" ancestors. (Of course, no one can trace their ancestry all the way back to Roman or even Anglo-Saxon times, which means the statement "they wronged us 1000 years ago" is meaningless.) This patriotic indoctrination is similar to a secular religion: there is no rational reason for believing that "we" are better (whatever that word may mean) than "them". "We" are better simply because I have been indoctrinated into believing that statement since I was a child. It doesn't matter that "they" have also undergone this exact same process and believe the exact same thing; "their" indoctrination is wrong, and "ours" is right.

Because of this ancestor veneration, people can develop strong feelings of enmity towards the neighboring ethnic group, on the basis of past wrongs. These past wrongs need not be recent; they can have occurred as much as over a thousand years ago. Group A was defeated by group B in a given military battle that happened, say, 800 years ago, and because of this, the members of group A forever bear a grudge that can at any moment explode into renewed violence. This is despite the fact that very few (if any) members of group A can actually trace their genealogy back that far, of those, fewer still can claim to have had ancestors on only one side of the battle, and of those, even fewer can claim to have a family tree free of people who, though they did not participate in that particular battle, belonged to group B (much genetic mixing can occur in 800 years, and family trees increase significantly as you go further back in time.)

There is no such thing as ethnic purity, so nationalist "ancestor-worship" is necessarily selective. Nationalists venerate only those ancestors of theirs that happen to be from group A; the rest don't count. In the case of Codreanu, it is not even necessary to have any group A ancestors at all![note 6] It is true that some may be able to trace their ancestors back perhaps 200 or 300 years and satisfy themselves that they have ancestors only from group A. But if they could go even further back in time they would undoubtedly find people from group B, and likely C and D, and probably more. This leads to the strange situation of having ancestors who all fought against each other in whatever wars happened to have occurred during their lifetimes. The logical solution to this, if one were consistent, would be to hate all of the ethnic groups in one's family tree, since they all wronged each other, including one's own!

Nationalism and patriotism are so ingrained into most people's minds, that they are very difficult to grow out of. For instance, in My Russia, which is partly a history of Russia and partly an apology for the USSR, Peter Ustinov, a fervent World Federalist,[16] makes such statements as:

Russia has experienced suffering in war on a scale unknown to other peoples in the last two hundred years. She has had French, British, German, Polish, Austrian, Danish, Italian, Romanian, Swiss, Turkish, Japanese and American troops on her soil as unwelcome visitors. And now she is planning the conquest of the world?

This sentence illustrates the siege mentalityWikipedia's W.svg so common in nationalist ideology. It is always us that are poor, oppressed folk, and it is always everybody else that is in the wrong. We have never done anything to anybody. And therefore, the unstated implication goes, we have the right to do to them what they did to us — it's only fair. Needless to say, such an attitude can and does lead to massive suffering and oppression caused by those who feel themselves to be "oppressed". (Many (particularly Poles and Romanians) would dispute the statement that Russia is a persecuted country, given its history of imperialism. However, given that historically, countries usually have had hostile relations with all of their neighbors, it may not be inaccurate to state that countries generally have been, at some point in their past, both oppressor and oppressed. For instance, the invasion of Russia by Poland in the Polish-Muscovite War and the subsequent occupation of Moscow by Polish troops is often mentioned by Russian nationalists.[17]) Note also that Ustinov cites the aggressions of the French, even though he himself has French ancestry. His choice to identify more closely with the Russians than with the French shows the arbitrary nature of ethnicity.

Nationality[edit]

Then there is civic nationalism, in which people of an ethnic group are bound to each other not by some imagined common ancestry, but by allegiance to the same nation-state. This is based on more firm ground than the alleged "common origin" typically present in ethnic nationalism (though the idea that two people should consider themselves fellows simply because they are loyal to (or at least ruled by) the same government is eerie, to say the least). Whereas ethnic nationalism postulates that the state is created by the ethnicity, civic nationalism postulates that the ethnicity is created by the state, as in the case of Belgium or Switzerland. I will call ethnicities of this type "nationalities", though the term is often used to refer to statehood, as in someone who is of German ethnicity, but French nationality.

Like ethnicities, nationalities can be created. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, gives an example of a newly constructed nationality:[18]

By any standard the country called Lebanon, to which we found ourselves suddenly incorporated after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, in the early twentieth century, appeared to be a stable paradise; it was also cut in a way to be predominantly Christian. People were suddenly brainwashed to believe in the nation-state as an entity.

In a footnote to this paragraph, he noted:[18]

It is remarkable how fast and how effectively you can construct a nationality with a flag, a few speeches, and a national anthem; to this day I avoid the label "Lebanese," preferring the less restrictive "Levantine" designation.

The literary critic Nicolae Manolescu, in an article denouncing xenophobia and praising love of one's country, noted that some do not make a distinction between civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism:[19]


A country isn't an ideological abstraction; one loves it and all it contains. Is there any need to mention what enormous risk is inherent in the conflation of love of one's country with love of one's people? This confusion is a fertile breeding ground for xenophobia and antisemitism. I am unpleasantly surprised every time politicians, dignitaries or simple folk, especially during the holidays, honor ethnic Romanians rather than the citizens of this country [Romania], as though no other nations lived in Romania.

Conclusion[edit]

In the end, ethnicity is a social construct. What does it mean to be Spanish? No one can say for certain. Is it someone who is a citizen of Spain? Someone who has ancestors who considered themselves Spanish? Someone who is a speaker, native or otherwise, of Spanish? It can probably mean any one (or a combination) of these definitions, depending on the intention of who is using the word.[note 7] As for what an ethnic group as a whole is, the only reasonable definition is that it is a group whose members consider themselves to be part of it (or, to put it another way, a group whose members consider themselves to be "brothers/sisters"), and who have at least some connection to the group's language, culture, or country/territory, and/or who are connected to it through ancestry.

Is nationalism beneficial?[edit]

Problems[edit]

"We" and "They"[edit]

So ethnicity is vague. But is nationalism itself bad? Well, I would tend to think so. For one thing, nationalism necessitates an attachment to one's ethnic group, which often leads to ethnicity being considered an extension of the individual. If some famous individual did something of importance hundreds of years in the past (such as making a revolutionary scientific discovery), then the modern-day people who consider themselves of his ethnicity take that to mean that they themselves did something important, as in the following "reasoning":

  • Newton discovered the concept of gravity.
  • Newton was English.
  • Therefore, the English discovered gravity.
  • I'm English.
  • Therefore, we English (which includes me) discovered gravity. (This is said in a tone of pride that implies the person speaking actually had anything to do with the discovery, so that "We English discovered gravity" is virtually the same as "I discovered gravity!")
  • I [practically] discovered gravity.[note 8]

Similarly, an Englishman might say to a Frenchman, "We beat your ass at the Battle of Agincourt!" or an American might say, "We saved your ass during WWII!" though the speakers were not alive during, let alone involved with, either of these events.[note 9] (In Robert Graves' novel I, Claudius, Claudius says his incompetent tutor "was always boasting of his ancestors, as stupid people do who are aware that they have done nothing themselves to boast about.") Or take the situation where an English athlete wins a sporting event. If an English athlete wins a sporting event, it means the English won, which means that the English spectator won, even if the athlete did all the hard work, and the person watching TV is just some bum drinking beer. Comedian Doug Stanhope satirized this kind of thinking (a transcript of the relevant section is available below the video):

Nationalism [Extreme nationalism, that is] does nothing but teach you how to hate people that you never met. All of a sudden you take pride in accomplishments you had no part in whatsoever, and you brag about - the Americans'll go "Fuck the French! Fuck the French. If we hadn't had saved their ass in two World Wars, they'd be speakin' German right now!" And you go, "Oh, was that us?" Was that me and you, Tommy, we saved the French? Jesus! I know I blacked out a little bit after that fourth shot of Jägermeister last night, but I don't remember... I know we went through the Wendy's drive-thru to get one of them "Freschetta" sandwiches that looked so alluring on the commercial, but then we ordered it and realized we had no money, and we had to ditch out before the second window, and those douchebags in line behind us with the bass music probably got our order and we laughed about that. But I don't remember savin' the French. At all! I went through the last ten calls on my cell phone and there's nothin' incoming or outgoing to the French, lookin' for muscle on a project! I checked my pants, there's no mud stains on the knees from where we were garroting Krauts in the trenches at Verdun. I think "we" didn't do anything but watch sports bloopers while we got hammered. I think "we" should shut the fuck up!

Now, most of these situations are harmless, and you may say there's nothing wrong with them, despite the illogical thought underlying them. But this kind of thinking also extends to much more serious problems. An imputation that an ethnic group perpetrated some wrongs in the past is taken to mean that the individual's (real or imaginary) ancestors did so. The national past is taken to be the same as that of the individual's family (even if this is false).[note 10] The accuser may feel animosity towards people in the other ethnic group because of these wrongs, even if the event occurred a long time ago, with the reason being something like "his ancestors fought/shot at/killed my ancestors" (one could easily imagine this sort of thing happening among Americans and Japanese, for instance[20]), which is an undesirable attitude that can (and does) lead to discrimination, if not outright violence. As we have seen, this assumption of ancestry is not necessarily true. And even if it were, what does it matter? A person is not the same as his ancestors; their acts have nothing to do with him.

Further, people very often fight in wars not because they want to, but because they are forced to do so by their governments, whether they want to or not. The composer Maurice Ravel and the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, for instance, both fought on opposite sides during World War I, but after the war, they became friends, and Ravel actually composed a concerto for Wittgenstein.[note 11] Now, maybe Ravel and Wittgenstein did support the war efforts of their respective countries. But those war efforts were initiated by their governments, and had it not been for the governments, they would not have fought against each other. In many cases, if there is any hostility to be felt, it should be directed towards the governments rather than the people serving them. Of course, there are wars that are caused by ethnic conflict rather than the machinations of government policy. But even here, this raises an interesting issue. "Their ancestors shot at my ancestors because of the former's nationalism, so I am justified in being nationalistic." In other words, "their nationalism is harmful, therefore we are justified in our nationalism." That "our nationalism" is also harmful (or at least that there is a very real possibility of it becoming so) is not recognized. The root cause of the "wrongs" in the first place is nationalism, which can further lead to an escalation of nationalism on the other side, and so on, in a situation resembling that of nuclear warfare. But unlike in nuclear warfare, there is no mutually assured destruction to stave off conflict.

Irredentism and expansionism[edit]

Benefits for the ethnic group, such as territorial expansion, are taken to be benefits for the individual. The feeling of ethnic pride can result in the depressingly common situation of nationalists wanting to conquer one or more neighboring countries. Every nationalist's heart swells at the thought of his country having more land. Why? It is hard to say. Nationalists write hundreds of pages on why they and their ethnic group are entitled to a piece of land, without explaining what good could be had from this land transfer. In the EU, for instance, people can more or less come and go freely, and the EU's members are democratic societies, so what good would border modification do? Who would benefit from it? The belief that territorial expansion is in itself a desirable goal, the achievement of which is worth thousands or even millions of deaths, is an irrational, knee-jerk reaction, with no real thought behind it – a senseless instinct inculcated by nationalist indoctrination. This is the case, for instance, in the following anecdote from Tolstoy's Christianity and Patriotism:


An old friend of mine, who passed the winters alone in the country while his wife whom he visited from time to time, lived in Paris, often conversed during the long autumn evenings with his steward, an illiterate but shrewd and venerable peasant, who used to come to him in the evening to receive his orders, and my friend once mentioned amongst other things the advantages of the French system of government compared with our own. The occasion was a short time previous to the last Polish insurrection and the intervention of the French Government in our affairs. At that time the patriotic Russian Press was burning with indignation at this interference, and so excited the ruling classes that our political relations became very strained, and there were rumours of an approaching war with France.

My friend, having read the papers, explained to this peasant the misunderstanding between France and Russia; and coming under the influence of the journal, and being an old military man, said that were war to be declared he would re-enter the army and fight with France. At that time a revanche against the French for Sebastapol was considered a necessity by patriotic Russians.
"For what should we fight with them?" asked the peasant.
"Why, how can we permit France to dictate to us?"
"Well, you said yourself that they were better governed than we," replied the peasant quite seriously; "let them arrange things as well in Russia."
And my friend told me that he was so taken aback by this argument that he did not know what to reply and burst into laughter, as one who has just awaked from a delusive dream.

Of course, nationalism comes in a gradient, from moderates to xenophobes who are willing to resort to violence to get the land that is "rightfully theirs". How do they know it's rightfully theirs? They've been indoctrinated into believing that they have a historical right to it. But what constitutes a legitimate historical right? There is no clear answer to this question, but the Seven Rules of Nationalism quoted by Stuart J. Kaufman could be illustrative:

  1. If an area was ours for 500 years and yours for 50 years, it should belong to us – you are merely occupiers.
  2. If an area was yours for 500 years and ours for 50 years, it should belong to us – borders must not be changed.
  3. If an area belonged to us 500 years ago but never since then, it should belong to us – it is the cradle of our nation.
  4. If a majority of our people live there, it must belong to us – they must enjoy the right of self-determination.
  5. If a minority of our people live there, it must belong to us – they must be protected against your oppression.
  6. All of the above rules apply to us, but not to you.
  7. Our dream of greatness is historical necessity, yours is fascism.[21]
A 19th-century French teacher brainwashing kids into hating foreigners teaching his students how France lost Alsace to Germany.[note 10]

Often, the nationalist will concern himself with the state of his ethnic compatriots living in other countries to a very strong degree, while making use of hypocritical double standards. He may oppose their assimilation at all costs, even supporting irredentist war in order to preserve their culture. As regards ethnic minorities in his own country, however, he will likely regard their situation with indifference or even with feelings that assimilation (either natural or forced) would be a good idea. (Those who vociferously object to the "unspeakable evil" of assimilation, and who even advocate war potentially costing thousands or millions of lives in order to secure rights for "our brothers", are very often the same people who strenuously deny those same rights to minorities within their own country.) His feeling that his ethnic group is superior to "those barbarians" may contribute to this; since it's better to be X than Y, it is, naturally, preferable for minorities of group Y to become X. There is thus a marked contrast between his strong support for his compatriots' right to preserve their culture, and his opposite positions regarding ethnic groups he does not belong to. This may be due to a feeling of possession. The members of group X that live in the nation-state of group Y belong to "us," and losing part of "our" members is unthinkable. If a group-Y minority lives in the X group's nation-state, however, assimilation is an attractive idea, because it means more people will belong to "us," and thus make "us" a greater people.

Even moderate nationalists who dislike violence can feel that it would be good if such-and-such piece of land were part of their country. Of course, they don't like war, but they think it would be great if finally that province were peacefully reunited with its rightful owner, even if the majority of the inhabitants are now part of a different ethnic group. In that case, the province could be colonized ("peacefully", of course), so that the nationalist's ethnicity will (perhaps "once again", perhaps not) become the majority. A moderate nationalist might desire this expansion (whether he is willing to act upon it or not) even if he lives at the other end of the country and will never step near the said province in his life. If a piece of land belongs to his country, then it is "ours", and, by extension, "his". He feels that it belongs to him personally. If that land is annexed (or was annexed some, possibly very distant, time in the past), then that means "they" stole it from him. He may go on about the various buildings and monuments erected there by "us", which "they" took from "us". These may be buildings considered to be of great national importance, such as fortresses built by one of the ethnic group's great past leaders, or houses in which one of its great artists or scientists was born. (In Orhan Pamuk's novel The Black Book, pg. 71, one of the characters, a Turk, watches a documentary about the "old [Ottoman] mosques, fountains, and caravansaries [in the Balkans] that had fallen into the hands of the Greeks, the Albanians, and the Yugoslavs", and as he does so, "he seemed close to tears".[note 12] In my experience, I have come across similar reactions.) Now, what is the reason for this attitude? After all, it isn't as if these edifices were wiped off the face of the earth; they are still there, as is the land, with the only difference being a change of border. It may simply be a result of the feeling of possession, or in other words, of an abstract idea not based in any practical negative consequences. On the other hand, there may be other factors. There may be the fear that, because the other "side" does not care as much about the monuments, they will not take good care of them, or perhaps even dismantle them for their building materials or for political (xenophobic) reasons. It may be because the new border does not allow for visitors, and so the person may not be able to visit (however, since the sentiment can also occur even in regions where people can travel freely, such as the EU, and even when the person may not have planned on ever going there, this is probably not one of the main reasons.) In any case, buildings are not the causes of irredentism. It is the land itself that is under dispute; any human constructions that may be "ours" are only tacked on to irredentist arguments as additional reasons that the land should belong to "us", or used to further fuel the fire of nationalist fervor. Indeed, it is very likely that the irredentist's country itself contains monuments that are similarly valuable to members of at least one of the neighboring ethnicities, so that the very same arguments ("that building was built by our great King[note 13] X"; "they don't care about it and will destroy it") could very easily be used by the other side as well.

The related concept of expansionism, which advocates annexation of territories that even the conquerors do not claim are "rightfully ours", stems from the feeling of pride mentioned earlier. Just as people take pride in things others (such as scientists, artists, or athletes) did, and just as they take pride in their country's achievements (which they did not contribute to), so, too, can they take pride in the size of their country. The lust for new territories is simply a more extreme manifestation of the phenomenon of ethnic pride. Yes, the current inhabitants would not like the new rule, and yes, that land has never been ours, ethnically or otherwise, but still, my country would be bigger, and that is something I can support. Even if the newly acquired lands will not benefit him in any way, the expansionist nationalist will still support annexation for the mere reason that it would make his country (and, by extension, him) "greater".

Generalizations[edit]

Nationalism encourages people to think in terms of generalizations, with some ethnicities being this way, and some ethnicities another way ("Germans make good scientists and engineers", "Canadians are polite and well-mannered", "Americans are fat, uncultured idiots", etc.), as though it were possible to be certain about the traits of millions of different individuals. Nationalism requires one to think in terms of "us" as opposed to "them", with "them" usually if not always being wrong. Attachment to one's ethnic group requires being separated to some extent from other ethnic groups; the people in one's ethnic group are "brothers" or "neighbors", while the people in other ethnic groups are "foreigners". Why are they foreign? Various factors could be at the root of this: culture, language, or statehood, among other things. But these things can be shared across ethnic boundaries, and they can also vary within them.

(The idea of one's ethnicity consisting of one's "neighbors" is also dubious, as an individual living near the border of a country may consider members of the other ethnicity living on the other side of the border (or even on the same side) foreign, though they may be in much closer proximity to him than his ethnic "neighbors" at the other side of the country. In addition, ethnic groups usually number in the hundreds of thousands or millions, so that one cannot possibly know all of its members; this means that they are, as Benedict Andersen puts it, "imagined communities," rather than actual communities.)

Amin Maalouf, in Les Identités meurtrières, argues that each person has a unique identity, of which ethnicity is only one component; one cannot simply say "I'm French" and expect that to explain everything. A given Serb is different from a Croat, he says, but that Serb is also different from every other Serb. He is not saying that "all people are the same", but that "every individual is different". It does not make sense to make sweeping generalizations about huge swaths of very diverse individuals ("The English ravaged ...", "The Arabs decided ...", "The x are lazy", "The y are hard-working"), especially given that two people even within the same family can be extremely different in terms of opinions and temperament. In addition, he argues that identities are not static, unchanging entities, but fluid constructs. He gives as an example a hypothetical Sarajevan. Around 1980, this man would have been first and foremost a Yugoslav, secondly a citizen of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and only incidentally a Muslim. Twenty years later, this man would have been first and foremost a Muslim, and would not appreciate being reminded of his former self-identification as a Yugoslav. In 1998, he would say he is a Bosnian, then a Muslim, and also a European. Maalouf says that all these different components (religion, language, nationality) are part of who he is.

By contrast (and this is me talking), some make it a point to combine ethnicity and the individual as much as they can. Some people meet a few unpleasant people who happen to be x, and they conclude that x's are jerks: "All x I've met have been horrible people!" (Experiences of this sort will be subject to the cognitive biases (such as confirmation bias) and other shortcomings common to all anecdotal evidence, skewing one's perception against or in favor of a given ethnic group, sometimes depending on the individual's xenophobic/ethnocentric or allophilic inclinations. Hence the existence of such contradictory stories as "I went to Paris and everybody was a jerk to me," and "I went to Paris and everybody was very friendly.") Similarly, they may project their stereotypes of what a given ethnicity is like when meeting someone belonging to it ("Oh, he's y, he's one of the oppressors", "Ah, he's a z, how nice, I hear they're wonderful people.") Personally, I dislike all such associations and prefer to judge each individual based on their own merits, without letting such judgements cloud my opinions of other people from their ethnicity. I don't see why my opinion of a Viennese dentist should affect my judgment of (or create any preconceptions about) an actor from Linz. In fact, I strongly suspect (but cannot prove) that factors like profession or class are much better indicators than ethnicity (that is, if you took a number of random programmers (say) from different ethnicities, they would be more similar than random people from the same ethnicity.)

Extreme Nationalism vs Moderate Nationalism[edit]

Michael Ignatieff, in Blood & Belonging, Journeys Into The New Nationalism, said:

My journeys have also made me re-think the nature of belonging. Any expatriate is bound to have moments of longing for a more complete national belonging. But I have been to places where belonging is so strong, so intense that I now recoil from it in fear. The rational core of such fear is that there is a deep connection between violence and belonging. The more strongly you feel the bonds of belonging to your own group, the more hostile, the more violent will your feelings be towards outsiders. You can't have this intensity of belonging without violence, because belonging of this intensity moulds the individual conscience: if a nation gives people a reason to sacrifice themselves, it also gives them a reason to kill.[22]

Does nationalism always lead to violence? Not necessarily. One does not need to be an extremist to be a nationalist. But there are countless examples of harms and bloodshed caused by nationalism, and very few, if any, examples of genuine good resulting from nationalism. The idea of nationalism itself necessarily breeds a certain type of xenophobe, even if there are also many moderates. And is moderate nationalism really that beneficial, if at all? I would think not, given the "us vs. them" mentality that it requires, the resulting suspicion felt and/or discrimination perpetrated towards foreigners, the at least passive support for irredentism that it encourages, and the resentment felt towards other ethnicities on the basis of alleged past wrongs, not to mention its often religious-like commitment to the erroneous and dogmatic doctrine of common descent. But many of the problems stem from the myth of common ancestry and thinking in terms of generalizations, so what if there were a form of nationalism that did not incorporate these attitudes? Suppose people were taught that ethnicity is not the same as ancestry, that ethnicity is not the same as the individual, and that stereotypes are not reliable. Would such a kind of nationalism be acceptable? Well, this would no doubt alleviate many of the issues associated with nationalism, but the problem still remains that ethnic nationalism involves considering groups of people as "foreign" on the basis of what social construct they belong to – this exclusion would still be based on ethnic grounds rather than cultural or linguistic ones (which do not always overlap).

Nationalism and Patriotism[edit]

George Orwell, in his Notes on Nationalism, distinguished between nationalism, which is aggressive, and patriotism, which is "devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people." Is this kind of patriotism desirable? I would not say so, since there is no reason to believe one's nation to be the best in the world, and such an attitude could have negative results, such as opinions of other ethnicities as being inferior, as well as hypocritical hostility or indifference to the attempts of other peoples to preserve their culture (as mentioned in the section "Irredentism and expansionism").

Paul Carus, commenting on Tolstoy's Christianity and Patriotism, considered "good" patriotism as including a desire to improve one's nation and benefit the people in it.[23] But why should the act of improving society be confined to one group? Surely, raising the standard of living (or whatnot) of a given ethnicity and that of humanity as a whole are not mutually exclusive. Say a scientist or engineer goes into university thinking, "I'm going to become a great scientist in order to help my fellow countrymen." Why only her countrymen and not humanity? Scientific discoveries are universally applicable and, unless of a military nature, are usually tried to be disseminated world-wide for the benefit of all nations. The idea should be of helping people, rather than specific ethnicities. If the people that one is capable of aiding happen to be of a certain group, or if a certain group happens to be particularly disadvantaged and in need of help, that is understandable, but they should be helped because they are in need of help, not because they belong to a particular social construct. If this "good" patriotism consists of giving preferential treatment to one's ethnic group, then it's discrimination. If it consists of helping people without regard to their ethnic or national origin, then there isn't much point in calling it "patriotism". As Tolstoy noted in Patriotism and Government:


It is generally said that the real, good patriotism consists in desiring for one's own people or State such real benefits as do not infringe the well-being of other nations.

Talking, recently, to an Englishman about the present war, I said to him that the real cause of the war was not avarice, as is generally said, but patriotism, as is evident from the temper of the whole English society. The Englishman did not agree with me, and said that even were the case so, it resulted from the fact that the patriotism at present inspiring Englishmen is a bad patriotism; but that good patriotism, such as he was imbued with, consists in Englishmen, his compatriots, acting well.
"Then do you wish only Englishmen to act well?" I asked.
"I wish all men to do so," said he; indicating clearly by that reply the characteristic of true benefits,—whether moral, scientific, or even material and practical,—which is that they spread out to all men; and therefore to wish such benefits to anyone, not only is not patriotic, but is the reverse of patriotic.

In A Reply to Criticisms, Tolstoy compared patriotism to egoism:


By "patriotism" is really meant a love for one's own nation above other nations; just as by "egoism" is meant a love for oneself more than for others. It is hard to imagine how such preference for one nation above others can be deemed a good, and therefore a desirable, disposition.[25]

Tolstoy's "patriotism" is, for the purposes of this discussion, our "nationalism", but still, I think this is applicable to my previous points about benefiting society.

Nationalism also encourages people to obsess on mostly irrelevant issues, such as whether "our" culture is superior to "theirs", whether a piece of land should belong to "us" or "them" (by knowing the person's ethnicity, you can usually tell what their position will be), whether a certain disputed ethnic group is separate or part of "us" (or even of "them"), whether a certain historical political leader was part of "us" or "them", or whether "our" descendents were superior to those of everybody else (leading to pseudohistorical and pseudolinguistic attempts to glorify them and raise them above all ancient peoples). Rather than focusing on more important things, such as improving humanity's (and hence, their) well-being, prosperity, and happiness, nationalists may instead devote their time and energy on these other, frankly trivial and narrow-minded, subjects that may in fact lead to violent conflict which leaves all parties concerned (or, at least, a significant number of individuals) worse off than before.

Perhaps the main defect of much nationalism is its exclusionary nature. Any individual may have a hierarchy of loyalty. A given Texan may be an American first, a Southerner second, and a Texan third. As far as nationalities or ethnicities beyond the U.S. are concerned, they are external to this hierarchy and don't matter to him. They are "them", part of the Other, while Americans are "us". You will not find a Texan irredentist trying to claim that such-and-such part of Louisiana should be part of Texas, because, for a Texan, Louisiana belongs to the "us" that is the United States. As Amin Maalouf noted in Les Identités meurtrières (translation mine):

Europe without borders. Doesn't it look lovely? Note that it is significantly larger than most European irredentists' beloved Greater Whatever.
From the moment we belong to a country or a union such as a united Europe, we can't help but feel connected to each of the individual parts that comprise it; we still keep, certainly, a special relationship with our own culture, and a certain responsibility to it, but we also form relationships with the other parts. From the moment a Piedmontese feels Italian, they can't help but take an interest in the history of Venice and Naples, even if they still have a special fondness for Turin and its past. Similarly, as this Italian comes to feel European, the courses of Amsterdam or Lübeck will gradually become less indifferent to him, gradually less foreign. It may take two or three generations, for some maybe more, but I know some young Europeans who already behave like the entire continent were their homeland, and all its inhabitants their compatriots.

I would support the idea of a "rooted cosmopolitanism",[note 14] free of the "other" and ancestral differences of nationalism, in which there is a place for one's ethnic origin in the loyalty hierarchy, but in which loyalty to one's ethnicity is subordinate to that to broader trans-national entities such as Europe (for instance) and/or the Earth.

Quotes[edit]

[W]e must remember that it is culture, not war, that cements our [European] identity. The French, the Italians, the Germans, the Spanish and the English have spent centuries killing each other. Today, we've been at peace for 70 years and no one realises how amazing that is any more. Indeed, the very idea of a war between Spain and France, or Italy and Germany, provokes hilarity.
Umberto Eco
On this globe there are national boundaries marked, but on photographs of the Earth from space, there are no national boundaries to be seen, which is perhaps a useful lesson for politicians.
Carl Sagan[27]
Alas, Nationalism, the “cocaine of the middle classes”, tends to stamp its nihil obstat on histories that overlook the negative aspects of the in-group. In appreciation of the full story we must look at history with our coveted victimhood set to one side.
—Liam Hogan, The Myth of “Irish Slaves” in the Colonies
In fact, we are all infinitely closer to our contemporaries than to our ancestors. Would I be exaggerating if I said that I have much more in common with a random person walking on a street in Prague, Seoul, or San Francisco, than I do with my own great-grandfather? Not only in appearance, dress, gait, lifestyle, work, housing, and the devices that surround us, but also in moral values and habits of thought.
—Amin Maalouf, Les Identités meurtrières
It is useful to know something of the manners of different nations, that we may be enabled to form a more correct judgment regarding our own, and be prevented from thinking that everything contrary to our customs is ridiculous and irrational, a conclusion usually come to by those whose experience has been limited to their own country.
—René Descartes, Discourse on the Method
It is fact, that to every Pole, the Pole is nearest and dearest; to the German, the German; to the Jew, the Jew; to the Russian, the Russian. It is even true that, through historical causes and bad education, the people of one nation instinctively feel aversion and ill-will to those of another. All this is so; but to admit it, like admitting the fact that each man loves himself more than he loves others, can in no way prove that it ought so to be. On the contrary, the whole concern of all humanity, and of every individual, lies in suppressing these preferences and aversions, in battling with them, and in deliberately behaving towards other nations and towards individual foreigners, exactly as towards one's own nation and fellow-countrymen. To care for patriotism as an emotion worthy to be cultivated in every man, is wholly superfluous.
—Leo Tolstoy, "A Reply to Criticisms"
Progress has been slow, but almost steady, in the direction of expanding the political units from hordes to tribes, from tribes to small states, confederations, and nations. The concept of the foreigner as a specifically distinct being has been so modified that we are beginning to see in him a member of mankind.

Enlargement of circles of association, and equalization of rights of distinct local communities, have been so consistently the general tendency of human development, that we may look forward confidently to its consummation.

It is obvious that the standards of ethical conduct must be quite distinct as between those who have grasped this ideal and those who still believe in the preservation of isolated nationality in opposition to all others. In order to form a fair judgment of the motives of action of the leaders of European nations at the present time, we should bear in mind that in all countries the standards of national ethics, as cultivated by means of national education, are opposed to this wider view. Devotion to the nation is taught as the paramount duty, and it is instilled into the minds of the young in such a form that with it grows up and is perpetuated the feeling of rivalry and of hostility against all other nations.
—Franz Boas, "Race and Nationality"
"Every national border in Europe," El Eswad added ironically, "marks the place where two gangs of bandits got too exhausted to kill each other anymore and signed a treaty. Patriotism is the delusion that one of these gangs of bandits is better than all the others."
—"Robert Anton Wilson: Searching For Cosmic Intelligence" - interview by Jeffrey Elliot (1980)[28]
And in this way we must train the rising generation; we must educate them so that, just as now a young man is ashamed to show his rude egoism by eating everything and leaving nothing for others, by pushing the weak out of the way that he may pass himself, by forcibly taking that which another needs: so he may then be equally ashamed of desiring increased power for his own country; and so that, just as it is now considered stupid, foolish, to praise oneself, it shall then be seen to be equally foolish to praise one's own nation, as is now done in divers of the best national histories, pictures, monuments, text-books, articles, verses, sermons, and silly national hymns. It must be understood that, so long as we praise patriotism, and cultivate it in the young, so long will there be armaments to destroy the physical and spiritual life of nations; and wars, vast, awful wars, such as we are preparing for, and into the circle of which we are drawing, debauching them in our patriotism, the new and to be dreaded combatants of the far East.
—Leo Tolstoy, "Patriotism, or Peace?"
It should be the aim of education to develop sympathy for and connections with those beyond whom one was born by chance. Of course, the student can more easily identify with one's family, ethnic group, nationality, religion and nation. However, the developing personality should have a sense of being part of the human family, with all the peoples who inhabit our planet. The optional psychological and political development should be an appreciation of the sacredness of all life and the value of commitment of opposition to the persecution, maltreatment and mass murder of any group of people, and commitment to human rights.
Philip Rosen
If the American desires the greatness and prosperity of the States before all nations, and the Englishman desires the same for his nation, and the Russian, Turk, Dutchman, Abyssinian, Venezuelan, Boer, Armenian, Pole, Czech, each have a similar desire; if all are convinced that these desires ought not to be concealed and suppressed, but, on the contrary, are something to be proud of, and to be encouraged in oneself and in others; and if one country's greatness and prosperity can only be obtained at the expense of another, or at times of many other countries and nations; then how can war not be?
—Leo Tolstoy, "Patriotism, or Peace?"
You write of the terrible acts of violence perpetrated by the savage, stupid, and cruel Russian authorities, directed against the belief and language of the Poles; and you exhibit these as providing a motive for patriotic action. But I do not see this. To feel indignation at these deeds, and to oppose them with all one's might, it is not necessary to be either a Pole or a patriot; to be a Christian is enough.

Upon this point I, for instance, who am not a Pole, will yet vie with any Pole in the degree of my abhorrence of, my indignation at, those savage and stupid measures which Russian government officials direct against the Poles. I will vie, also, in the desire to oppose those measures; and this, not because I care for Catholicism above other religions, or for the Polish language above other tongues, but because I strive to be a Christian.

—Leo Tolstoy, "A Reply to Criticisms"
Those attacks upon language and religion in Poland, the Baltic provinces, Alsace, Bohemia, upon the Jews in Russia, in every place that such acts of violence occur—in what name have they been, and are they, perpetrated? In none other than the name of that patriotism which you defend.

Ask our savage Russifiers of Poland and the Baltic provinces, ask the persecutors of the Jews, why they act thus. They will tell you it is in defence of their native religion and language; they will tell you that if they do not act thus, their religion and language will suffer—the Russians will be Polonised, Teutonised, Judaised.

—Leo Tolstoy, "A Reply to Criticisms"
Patriotism in its simplest, clearest and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason and conscience, and a slavish enthralment to those in power. And as such it is recommended wherever it may be preached.

Patriotism is slavery.

—Leo Tolstoy, Patriotism and Christianity
If it weren't for the bayonets you can still use to poke their backs, with what arguments would you take them from their quiet work? What concept or emotion would you appeal to?

"The motherland wants you," you might tell him.
"What is the motherland?" the worker would ask. "The temple? It's empty. Science? It has no borders. Fortune? It's usually on the other side of the seas. My ancestry? The stocks intermingle peacefully. The earth? It's not mine. It is not you who are my compatriot, but the worker in the neighboring country. You want my life to save not the fatherland, which you have created, but your own property.
I am French because they've written my name on a piece of paper. You tell me Germany has insulted me and that I should take vengeance. If you hadn't told me, I never would have known. It must be you they have insulted. Avenge yourselves by your own means. Don't force us to defend your pockets, full of the gold that you are taking from us. We have no shared interests. And what is Germany? There is no such thing as Germany; there are only Germans. I don't know what Germans have insulted me, but I'm sure it's none of the millions who, like me, work the fields they won't even bury us in. Who's coming, who's invading the country? Our poor brothers in slavery! They come spurred by terror, and I will go marching terrified against them."

—Rafael Barrett, El antipatriotismo
About four years ago the first swallow of this Toulon spring, a well-known French agitator for a war with Germany, came to Russia to prepare the way for the Franco-Russian alliance, and paid a visit to us in the country. He came to us when we were all engaged cutting the hay crop, and when we had come into lunch and made our guest's acquaintance, he began at once to tell us how he had fought, been taken prisoner, made his escape, and finally pledged himself as a patriot—a fact of which he was evidently proud—never to cease agitating for a war with Germany until the boundaries and glory of France had been re-established.

All our guest's arguments as to the necessity of an alliance of France with Russia in order to reconstruct the former boundary, power and glory of his country, and to assure our security against the evil intentions of Germany, had no success in our circle.
To his arguments that France could never settle down until she had recaptured her lost provinces, we replied that neither could Russia be at rest till she had been avenged for Jena, and that if the revanche of France should happen to be successful, Germany in her turn would desire revenge, and so on without end.
To his arguments that it was the duty of France to recover the sons who had been snatched from her, we replied that the condition of the majority of the working population of Alsace-Lorraine under the rule of Germany had probably suffered no change for the worse since the days when it was ruled by France, and the fact that some of the Alsatians preferred to be registered as Frenchmen and not as Germans, and that he, our guest, wished to re-establish the fame of the French arms, was no reason to renew the awful calamities which a war would cause, or even to sacrifice a single human life.
To his arguments that it was very well for us to talk like that, who had never endured what France had, and that we would speak very differently if the Baltic provinces or Poland were to be taken from us, we replied that the loss of the Baltic provinces or Poland could in no wise be considered as a calamity, but rather as an advantage, as it would decrease the necessity of armed forces and State expenses; and that from the Christian point of view one can never admit the justice of war, as war demands murder; while Christianity not only prohibits all killing, but demands of us the betterment of all men, regarding all men as brothers, without distinction of nationalities.

—Leo Tolstoy, Christianity and Patriotism
People live on the Rhine in peaceful communication with each other. Suddenly, owing to certain quarrels and intrigues between kings and emperors a war commences; and we learn that the French Government has considered it necessary to regard this peaceful people as Frenchmen. Centuries pass, the population has become accustomed to their position when animosity again begins amongst the Governments of the great nations, and a war is started upon the most empty pretext, because the German Government considers it necessary to regard this population as Germans: and between all Frenchmen and Germans is kindled a mutual feeling of ill-will.

Or else Germans and Russians live in friendly fashion on their frontiers, pacifically exchanging the results of their labour; when of a sudden those same institutions, which only exist to maintain the peace of nations, begin to quarrel, are guilty of, one stupidity after another, and finally are unable to invent anything better than a most childish method of self-punishment in order to have their own way, and do a bad turn to their opponent, which in this case is especially easy, as those who arrange a war of tariffs are not the sufferers from it; it is others who suffer and so arrange such a war of tariffs as took place not long ago between Russia and Germany. And so between Russians and Germans, a feeling of animosity is fostered, which is still more inflamed by the Franco-Russian festivities, and may lead at one moment or another to a bloody war.

—Leo Tolstoy, Christianity and Patriotism
We must take back our (by which I mean my) rightful territory from those filthy Liberlandians. Liberlandia is the cradle of our Scytho-Venetic-Martian ancestors, who used to occupy the entire world, before they took it all away from us. Remember the bravery of your forebears and their struggles against the vile Liberlandian oppressors! Just listen to the cries of our poor, persecuted brethren suffering under the Liberlandian yoke. They say, "How can we possibly live in a country not named Кřěĵlandia? We are forced to hear the ugly, disgusting name of Liberlandia every hour of every day of our lives, and to be called 'Liberlandians' wherever we go! Save us from the oppression of having to live in a country with such an hideous name, and being known by the despicable appellation of Liberlandians!" They march in the streets, desperate to be rid of the name of Liberlandia, and to be freed once and for all. They cry out for salvation, and save them we shall. We must liberate them by bombing Liberland into the dust! (After all, not being us is a fate worse than death — better dead than them!) The name of Liberlandia shall perish from the earth, and the glory of Кřěĵlandia will once more shine brightly over the benighted Кřěĵlandians of the globe. First Liberlandia, then the world!
—Кřěĵ XI, King of Кřěĵlandia, Lord of the Aryan-Hyperborean-Hittite-Sarmatian-Martian-Sumerians

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Notes[edit]

  1. In my reading of Bulgarian material related to Macedonia, I have noticed that the attitude expressed in these texts seems to be something along the lines of "Bulgarians and Macedonians are exactly the same people, have the same origin, and speak the same language, and have been torn asunder only because of the Serbians' meddling." Now, I am not particularly well-versed on this issue, but the idea that there is a sharp line dividing Serbians and Bulgarians and that the two groups are fundamentally different seems to me more a product of nationalist ideology than anything else, given the nature of the South Slavic (and indeed, any) dialect continuum. While I do not have any particular affection for Macedonism (or nationalism in general), and though I believe it would have been more beneficial if Macedonians had not split off from Bulgarians (since this would lead to less division), I do think that the concept of Macedonians as being an ethnic group distinct from Bulgarians is no more artificial than the divisions separating all the other South Slavic ethnicities. As Heather Rae has noted in State identities and the homogenisation of peoples: "Despite the recent development of Macedonian identity, as Loring Danforth notes, it is no more or less artificial than any other identity. It merely has a more recent ethnogenesis – one that can therefore more easily be traced through the recent historical record."
  2. See also the Wikipedia article on GrecomansWikipedia's W.svg, a pejorative term used to describe non-Greek-speaking individuals who identify as Greek.
  3. The following quote from RationalWiki's article on pseudolinguistics is pretty spot on:
    "Nationalists of various stripes are especially proficient abusers of linguistics. Many like to make up family relationships between languages or language families and then claim the newly discovered kin as a part of their nation. For example, a Turkish linguist might claim that the Finno-Ugric languages are related to Turkish and that therefore the Finns are actually Turks (for some reason you'll never hear it the other way around, that my language is related to your language and therefore my people don't exist but are members of your people)."
  4. It is ironic that the creators of one of the most famous "Gauls", Astérix, were second-generation immigrants named Gościnny and Uderzo.
  5. This can also extend to other ethnic groups. For instance, there is a putative kinship between Poles and Hungarians, which is illustrated by the following well known poem (translation courtesy Wikipedia):

    Pole and Hungarian cousins be,

    good for fight and good for party.
    Both are valiant, both are lively,
    Upon them may God's blessings be.

    So, for some reason, everybody in one group of millions of people is supposed to be attracted in some undefined way to everybody in another group of millions of people. In honor of this, the parliaments of Poland and Hungary, in 2007, declared 23 March "Hungarian-Polish Friendship Day", whatever that means. I do not believe that such a vague and arbitrary sense of "friendship" between two enormous and heterogeneous groups, to the exclusion of others, is particularly rational or useful. Leo Tolstoy, in Christianity and Patriotism, discusses a wave of French-Russian "friendship" in the late nineteenth-century, as in the following passage:
    In many of the articles describing the [French-Russian] festivities a naïve satisfaction is clearly expressed that no one during them alluded to what it was determined, by silent consent, to hide from everybody, and that only one incautious fellow, who was immediately removed by the police, voiced what all had in their minds by shouting, "Down with Germany!"

    Consider this article, which attempts to show that the Hungarians and Scottish are both descended from the ancient Scythians. The opening paragraph contains the following exhibition of self-congratulatory stereotypes and the ever-fashionable nationalist persecution complex:

    One learns of the historical hardships of our new Scottish acquaintances, their unfair treatment by historians, their love for freedom, their generous spirit, and all these ignite a feeling of kinship in any Hungarian soul, since their fate and spiritual aspirations are very much akin to those of the Scottish peoples.

    Presumably this is supposed to mean that "love for freedom" and "generosity" are traits Hungarians do not share with their despicable neighbors, the Slovaks/Croats/etc.

    Then follows a very lengthy "proof" of the supposed "kinship" and "brotherhood" between the Scottish and Hungarians. In the conclusion, we see the hostility lurking behind this belief explicitly stated:

    As a conclusion I have to mention that the history of both the Scots and the Hungarians were written and propagated by their oppressors and enemies. The chronicler of St. Margaret’s life, for example, talks about the Hungarians of King St. István’s time as uncouth, wild, oriental people and does not realize the contradiction: St. Margaret learned literacy and the arts from these barbarians. The same is true in the case of the Scottish historical picture. Present historians, like David MacRoberts, almost apologize for these images, sensing that this must be an inaccurate representation of these people.
    It is the same spirit which tries to preserve the heritage of the ancestors in both Scotland and Hungary. I wonder if these ancestral traditions have gained a place in public education in Scotland. The other Celtic-Scythian nation, the Welsh, gained permission within recent memory to finally erect a national library. There are no universities for Hungarian Studies in Hungary even though the Hungarian Academy of Sciences was founded with such a purpose by count István Széchenyi.
    The Trianon dictate of 1920 severed the body of Hungary and she lost two thirds of her territory and population. The most Hungarian region, Transylvania, fights for its existence amidst cultural and ethnic genocide as we speak.

    Note the phrasing. She is talking about the struggle of the Hungarians of Transylvania to preserve their language in the face of assimilatory pressure, but refers to Transylvania as a whole "fighting for its existence", as though Hungarians were the only group in Transylvania. This, too, is characteristic of ethnic nationalism. Nationalists cannot conceive that a region could be multi-ethnic. The other ethnicities of areas that belong to "us" (even if they are in the majority) are unwelcome intruders with no right to be there who must be booted out or assimilated as quickly as possible, or whose existence in the region is merely "tolerated" (an attitude which could change at any time). If a territory is "ours", it must therefore also be inhabited only by "us", or in other words, it must be ethnically homogeneous (an emblematic attitude of ethnic nationalism, including both the Hungarian and Romanian varieties; presumably the author would have nothing against Magyarization policies against non-Hungarian ethnic groups, despite her adamant opposition to similar policies being applied to Hungarians.) Transylvania is Hungarian land, and all other groups must either leave or be Magyarized. In fact, during the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, Hungarians were in the minority even in "the most Hungarian region" of Transylvania. In other words, in the regions ceded by Hungary, the majority of the population was inhabited by groups that resented Hungarian rule. But, naturally, the will of the people must necessarily be subordinate to and trumped by the supremacism of the ruling group.

    It is quite likely that the author would not be so quick to fraternize with the Scottish if Scotland bordered Hungary. The only reason the author is even considering the possibility of Scottish-Hungarian "brotherhood" is because Scotland is too far away from Hungary to pose a threat to Hungarian territorial aspirations; if it were a neighbor, Hungary would have to contend with Scottish irredentism (all countries that neighbor each other, even if linguistically related, have territorial disputes), and the author would probably not be so keen to hail them as "brothers". Indeed, note the logic here. Hungarians are the brothers of a distant nation, with which they have no real relation or contact, because of some events that supposedly occurred thousands of years ago in the distant past and that have nothing to do with people today, yet are at the same time the sworn enemies of all the neighboring ethnicities with which they have been undeniably and continuously living together for over a thousand years. (Similarly, some Hungarian nationalists (who presumably loathe Hungary's actual neighbors) consider the Sino-Tibetan Magar people of India their "brothers" for no other reason than that "Magar" resembles "Magyar".) Genetically, linguistically, and culturally, the Hungarians are more similar to the Romanians, Slovaks, Croats, (and so on) than they are to the Scottish, yet the author despises the former and adores the latter — another example of the completely arbitrary categories of "brothers" and "enemies" created by nationalists.

  6. Although, of course, it is quite possible, and even probable, that there were Romanians among his many millions of ancestors.
  7. The situation in Russian is slightly less ambiguous, as there are two different adjectives to describe Russian nationality (rossiyskiy) and Russian ethnicity (russkiy). Of course, there is still the question of what exactly constitutes an ethnic Russian.
  8. In any ethnicity, there are some nationalists who are absolutely obsessed with the ancestry of famous people. If a famous guy's great-great-great-grandfather belonged to that ethnicity, then the nationalist will jump on that fact as though it is something important or even vaguely relevant to anything. They may try to prove the celebrity is of that ethnicity in all sorts of roundabout and perhaps ridiculous ways. For a fictional example of this phenomenon, see these videos. (I myself know people who talk very much like this. But don't take my word for it. See for yourself.)
    "But wait," you say, "what's wrong with a little national pride? It can't do any harm." You would think that, but you would be wrong. This sort of "pride" is not purely defensive. Suppose you have a famous scientist who is almost universally acknowledged as being part of group A, and group A take him to be one of their national heroes. Then come people from group B saying that he's not really from group A, but actually from group B, on the basis that he had ancestors from B, that he was born in the Bs' country, that he spent a significant part of his life in the Bs' culture, or that he spoke the Bs' language (among other possible reasons). Group A, of course, take this to be typical group B imperialism, and the two ethnicities argue furiously about who he really belonged to, as though ethnicity were something that could be objectively determined (and is it really either/or? Couldn't he be both A and B? Surely one can belong to or identify with more than one ethnicity). It makes no sense to boast that X celebrity is "ours" (what would that even mean?), especially since he has never met the celebrity in question. This kind of boasting can and does lead to confrontation, even if of perhaps a mild sort. (Regarding celebrities: It is baffling to me why people should get so worked up about obscure individuals who have nothing to do with anyone living today and who are only known at all for being the ancestor of a celebrity. How could this possibly be of relevance to anyone besides historians or genealogists?)
  9. As of the time of writing, a Google search for the phrase "We beat you at Agincourt" yields 41 results. Google searches for "we saved your ass during WWII" and "we saved your asses during WWII" have 444 and 112 results, respectively. (See also the Zompist phrasebook.) Try searching for similar phrases and variants like "We kicked your ass at Agincourt", and see what you get.
  10. 10.0 10.1 It seems to me that nationalism is excessively dependent on the past, something which could perhaps be illustrated by a passage from Karel Čapek's The War with the Newts. A Czech couple visiting the Galapagos Islands meets a newt, who just so happens to speak flawless Czech, having read several books on the topic of Czech language and history. The man asks:
    "So you take an interest in our history," I exclaimed with joy.

    "I do indeed," the newt replied. "Especially the subjugation that followed the Battle of White Hill and the Thirty Years War. I have read a great deal on the matter in this book. I'm sure you must be very proud of your three centuries of subjugation. It was a great era for the Czech people."
    "Yes, it was a difficult time," I said, thinking to humour him. "A time of oppression and sorrow."
    "And did you suffer greatly?" asked our friend with enthusiasm.
    "We suffered unspeakable and unrelenting sorrows under the yoke of the oppressor."

    "I'm very glad to hear it," the newt said with relief. "That's just what it says in the book. I'm glad to hear that it is true. It is an excellent book, sir, far better than Geometry for the Sixth Form. I would be very glad to stand on the memorable spot where the Czech aristocracy were executed, as well as on the other celebrated places of cruel wrongdoing."

    Later on, before leaving, he inquires:

    "And what message do you have, Mr. Jablonski, for us to convey back to our people?"

    The newt considered the matter for a short while. "You may tell your compatriots," he said slowly, deeply moved, "tell them...that they should always maintain the ancient disagreements among the Slavonic peoples...that they should always retain Lipany and the defeat at White Hill in their grateful memory. Farewell,..." he ended suddenly, attempting to overcome his feelings.

    In other words, the books the newt read were full of nationalistic whining that does nothing but keep the flame of enmity burning. It is unfortunate that so many history books (or even textbooks) are full of such propaganda — as noted by Franz Boas in his essay "Race and Nationality":

    In order to form a fair judgment of the motives of action of the leaders of European nations at the present time [1915], we should bear in mind that in all countries the standards of national ethics, as cultivated by means of national education, are opposed to this wider view. Devotion to the nation is taught as the paramount duty, and it is instilled into the minds of the young in such a form that with it grows up and is perpetuated the feeling of rivalry and of hostility against all other nations.
    Conditions in Europe are intelligible only when we remember that by education patriotism is surrounded by a halo of sanctity, and that national self-preservation is considered the first duty.

    Or, to a lesser extent, by Joseph McCabe in his 1916 book The Tyranny of Shams:

    History should be wholly remodelled. It is ludicrous to-day to make the child grow pale and worn over the past royal families and wars of England, and dismiss the general history of the race in a page or two. A fine scheme of the history, and even the prehistory and origin, of the human race, with so much fuller information about the child’s own country as is useful for the understanding of its institutions and monuments, could be imparted in less time, with more interest, and with far greater profit. The patriotic sham deeply vitiates our scheme of instruction and makes the training of the child scandalously one-sided and exacting. Germany has recently shown us the pernicious results of this political perversion of education.

    Leo Tolstoy, in Christianity and Patriotism, cites a French history textbook advocating irredentism and militarism:

    And why in all French schools is history taught from the primer of M. Lavisse (twenty-first edition, 1889), in which the following is inserted:—

    "Since the insurrection of the Commune France has had no further troubles. The day following the war she again resumed work. She paid Germany without difficulty the enormous war indemnity of five milliards.
    "But France lost her military renown during the war of 1870. She has lost part of her territory. More than 15,000 inhabitants of our departments on the Upper Rhine, Lower Rhine, and Moselle who were good Frenchmen have been compelled to become Germans. But they are not resigned to their fate. They detest Germany; they continue to hope that they may once more be Frenchmen.
    "But Germany appreciates its victory, and it is a great country, all the inhabitants of which sincerely love their fatherland, and whose soldiers are brave and well disciplined. In order to recover from Germany what she took from us we must be good citizens and soldiers. It is to make you good soldiers that your teachers instruct you in the history of France.
    "The history of France proves that in our country the sons have always avenged the disasters of their fathers.
    "Frenchmen in the time of Charles VII. avenged the defeat of their fathers at Crécy, at Poictiers, at Agincourt.
    "It is for you, boys, being educated in our schools, to avenge the defeat of your fathers at Sedan and at Metz.
    "It is your duty—the great duty of your life. You must ever bear that in mind."
    At the foot of the page is a series of questions upon the preceding paragraph. The questions are the following:—
    "What has France lost by losing part of her territory?"
    "How many Frenchmen have become Germans by the loss of this territory?"
    "Do these Frenchmen love Germany?"
    "What must we do to recover some day what Germany has taken from us?"
    In addition to these there are certain "Reflections on Book VII," where it is said that "the children of France must not forget her defeat of 1870"; that they must bear on their hearts the burden of this remembrance," but that "this memory must not discourage them, on the contrary it must excite their courage."

    This nationalist stirring up of hatred on historical grounds is also selective, and ignores past violence committed within a nation, or between groups that would later merge into a single nation, as noted by Renan (emphasis added):

    Forgetting, I would even go so far as to say historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a danger for [the principle of] nationality. Indeed, historical enquiry brings to light deeds of violence which took place at the origin of all political formations, even of those whose consequences have been altogether beneficial. Unity is always effected by means of brutality; the union of northern France with the Midi was the result of massacres and terror lasting for the best part of a century. Though the king of France was, if I may make so bold as to say, almost the perfect instance of an agent that crystallized (a nation) over a long period; though he established the most perfect national unity that there has ever been, too searching a scrutiny had destroyed his prestige. The nation which he had formed has cursed him, and, nowadays, it is only men of culture who know something of his former value and of his achievements.

    […] Yet the essence of a nation is that all individuals have many things in common; and also that they have forgotten many things. No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgundian, an Alan, a Taifale, or a Visigoth, yet every French citizen has to have forgotten the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, or the massacres that took place in the Midi in the thirteenth century. [...] It is good for everyone to know how to forget.

    If some massacres can be forgotten in the name of fostering unity, surely it would not be too far-fetched to extend this to others as well.

  11. In the movie Jules and Jim, a similar situation happens. Jules, a Frenchman, and Jim, a German, close friends, are separated by World War I. Jules, in his diary (or narrating the movie, I forget which), laments that he's perpetually scared that he's going to kill Jim. There is nothing to indicate that Jules actually believes in the war. This is different from the case of Ravel and Wittgenstein in that Ravel and Wittgenstein did not know each other before the war.
  12. In Maureen Freely's translation:
    The Things We Left Behind was a catalog of Ottoman achievements in the Balkans; as the presenter talked of the old mosques, fountains, and caravansaries that had now fallen into the hands of the Greeks, the Albanians, and the Yugoslavs, he seemed close to tears. As Galip sat there [...] watching the sad parade of lost mosques [...]
  13. Referring to a long-dead monarch as "our" king seems strange to me. What could he possibly have to do with anyone living now? Similarly, I am baffled by the common act of taking pride in the size of a state that existed hundreds or thousands of years ago because "our" country was bigger back then. Back then, the speaker wasn't even alive!
  14. I have not had the chance of reading Appiah's Ethics of Identity (where I assume this phrase originated), so I don't know whether my definition of this phrase coincides with his.

References[edit]

  1. Friedman, "The first philological conference for the establishment of the Macedonian alphabet and the Macedonian literary language: Its precedents and consequences", page 280.
  2. Friedman, "Macedonian Language and Nationalism During the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries", page 160.
  3. [1]
  4. [2]
  5. See also List of irredentist claims or disputesWikipedia's W.svg.
  6. Día del Mar – Bolivia Commemorates the War of the Pacific.
  7. How Hungarian was Liszt?, Jacob Lubliner.
  8. Comas, D., Schmid, H., Braeuer, S., Flaiz, C., Busquets, A., Calafell, F., Bertranpetit, J., Scheil, H.-G., Huckenbeck, W., Efremovska, L. and Schmidt, H. (2004), Alu insertion polymorphisms in the Balkans and the origins of the Aromuns. Annals of Human Genetics, 68: 120–127. doi: 10.1046/j.1529-8817.2003.00080.x
  9. Malyarchuk, B. A., Perkova, M. A., Derenko, M. V., Vanecek, T., Lazur, J. and Gomolcak, P. (2008), Mitochondrial DNA Variability in Slovaks, with Application to the Roma Origin. Annals of Human Genetics, 72: 228–240. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-1809.2007.00410.x
  10. Quoted in McPherson, page 31.
  11. Matsuo, page 64.
  12. McPherson, page 45.
  13. 13.0 13.1 McPherson, page 67.
  14. [3]
  15. On Macedonians, “noble” origins, and how Alexander the Great is a Muslim figure, Dan Alexe.
  16. http://web.archive.org/web/20081029022410/http://www.wfm.org/site/index.php/pages/673
  17. [4]
  18. 18.0 18.1 Taleb, page 5.
  19. Confuzii alarmante
  20. For an example of this type of situation, see ‘Racist' London Underground Rant Caught On Camera (VIDEO), Huffington Post.
  21. The Seven Rules of Nationalism
  22. Ignatieff, page 188.
  23. Tolstoy, Christianity and patriotism: with pertinent extract from other essays.
  24. Tolstoy, Патриотизм и правительство.
  25. Tolstoy, Patriotism and christianity: to which is appended " A reply to criticisms" of the work, and "Patriotism, or peace?". A letter called forth by the Venezuelan dispute between England and the United States"
  26. Tolstoy, Leo, Письмо Толстого М. Э. Здзеховскому (о патриотизме).
  27. Christmas Lecture, 1977
  28. [5]

Bibliography[edit]