Nationalism is an oft-debated topic around the world. A shift in political power dynamics in recent years, and the growing disenchantment among different sections of society with the ideas of liberalism and multiculturalism, has led to the propping up of conservative and self-proclaimed nationalistic political entities. Some of the prime examples include the Narendra Modi-led BJP government in India, Donald Trump in the U.S., French politician Marine Le Pen, and Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.
How has nationalism affected the political landscape in different countries? Isn’t being a ‘nationalist’ a good thing as you are professing love for your country? Let’s analyze how an English conversation or debate would go down on this topic.
Situation: We have two debaters Aakash and Priyanka. Aakash supports nationalism while Priyanka considers it to be harmful for a country and its people.
Aakash: Good morning everyone. The idea of nationalism is a very nuanced one. Most people, especially in liberal circles, perceive it as a divisive and exclusionary force, and those identifying themselves as nationalists are dismissed as practitioners of bellicose rhetoric. However, there are many virtues of nationalism that we tend to ignore.
Priyanka: Good morning everyone. I beg to differ with Aakash. There is a huge difference between nationalism and patriotism. Nationalism is a dangerous tool used to inflict fear within society. It stresses on focusing on unification of culture, creed, language, and religion. There is no scope for inclusion, tolerance, and secularism, which are the necessary threads to bind the fabric of unity and harmony. Patriotism means being united by moral beliefs and values, and working for the betterment of the country without any discrimination towards any sect or community.
Aakash: I would like to say that egalitarian cultural pluralism, which does not involve any element of national unity, is as harmful and divisive as ultra-nationalism, to which I do not subscribe. There should be a melting pot of nationalism in the country, where different ethnic and religious groups come together under one identity, and have common goals of civic virtue, social bonding, and in general, more cohesiveness in the society.
Priyanka: But that is not exactly what we are witnessing, right? All the political parties emboldened by conservative pundits and chest-thumping nationalist rhetoric are indulging in the worst form of xenophobia and racial supremacy. Minorities, LGBT rights, and other socially oppressed groups find themselves worse off due to the sensationalism propounded by nationalist parties. Can you provide any good points that highlight the merits of nationalism?
Aakash: Patriotism is a direct consequence of nationalism. Nationalism instills a feeling of pride and sacrifice for the nation, and even the most downtrodden and impoverished people feel powerful. It also contributes to the country’s culture, literature, and traditions and teaches people to love their feelings and be proud of themselves. It plays a huge factor in self-determination.
For example, let’s take the example of the US and India. In the US, President Donald Trump’s continued stress on ‘Make America Great Again’ and compelling big MNCs to boost their manufacturing in American plants by providing them rebates and subsidies has done a lot for raising employment levels there. People who live in the Rust belt in the US and represented the traditional blue-collar workers in the country have got their hopes raised again.
In India, the youth who was earlier ashamed of India’s history, culture, and religion now proudly wears patriotism on their sleeves. They are actively participating in the social and cultural upliftment of India.
Priyanka: In my opinion, those are very broad points that you made. You are conveniently ignoring the darker aspects of nationalism in these countries. In the US, racist white supremacists groups like the KKK are becoming more mainstream, historical facts are distorted every now and then, and nationalists resort to the worst lies, exaggerations, suppositions, flawed reasoning, and inadmissible self-praise. An atmosphere is created that foments hatred against almost every minority group in the US.
Coming to India, the discourse is dominated by beef lynchings, renaming of cities, endless propagation of hate against minority communities, and majoritarian bullying in almost every aspect. The cultural upliftment that you speak of is mainly a vicious strand of nationalism that seeks to erase the historical complexities of India and deny social reality by concocting fables and twisting facts.
Aakash: I would beg to differ. Bunching together isolated incidents to form a larger negative narrative means to conveniently overlook the overwhelming positives. National symbols encourage peace in the country, there is an emphasis on collective identity, and the entire country works as a single cohesive unit. People have common interests and they can work together to ensure that the rich and powerful do not pull the strings.
Priyanka: In my opinion, your rich and powerful argument does not hold water because in a country like India, it is still the Ambanis and Adanis who actually control the governments. There are many powerful forces that call the shots and getting ‘benevolent dictators’ only strengthens them further. Nationalism creates power-hungry and selfish people who have exclusionary and prejudiced attitudes, which can also result in internal instability by sowing the seeds of distrust and suspicion. An environment of ‘Us vs Them’ is created that can tear the social fabric of the country.
Aakash: I guess there are both positives and negatives associated with nationalism, as with any other ideology like liberalism, socialism, or capitalism. But it cannot be denied that with the right people in power, a positive attitude towards nationalism can be a strong factor in unifying the country and making it more secure from external threats.
Priyanka: That point I can agree on. The rest, not so much, Let’s agree to disagree!
Disenchantment = A feeling of disappointment about someone or something you previously respected or admired; disillusionment.
Multiculturalism = The presence of, or support for the presence of, several distinct cultural or ethnic groups within a society.
Nuanced = Characterized by subtle shades of meaning or expression.
Bellicose = Demonstrating aggression and willingness to fight.
Egalitarian = Believing in or based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.
Melting pot = A place where different peoples, styles, theories, etc. are mixed together.
Xenophobia = Dislike of or prejudice against people from other countries.
Rust belt = A part of a country characterized by declining industry and a falling population, especially in the American Midwest and NE states.
Blue collar = Relating to manual work or workers, particularly in industry.
KKK = The Ku Klux Klan is a secret organization of white Protestant men in the United States which promotes violence against black people, Jews, and other minorities.
Foment = Instigate or stir up (an undesirable or violent sentiment or course of action).
Concocting = Create or devise (a story or plan).
Not hold water = To not be or not appear to be true, verifiable, or able to be supported by facts.