“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first”.
—Charles de Gaulle
Nationalism, as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” In other words, nationalism is the idea of identifying with a nation and subscribing to the notion that one’s nation and its culture are superior to others. It is important to note that nationalism is not solely identifying with a country and its culture. Rather, it is largely a psychological phenomenon. More contemporarily, nationalism has become associated with idealised conceptions of how a nation should be, usually on the basis of how the nation operated in the past. However, more often than not, these idealised conceptions of past national greatness are largely imaginative and not necessarily based on reality. Typically, nationalism takes two forms: one of unification, and the other of superiority. The latter one has become the current trend.
The term globalisation has been assigned many different definitions and is used rather interchangeably based upon context. For this research, we will define globalisation as “a process of interaction and integration among the people, companies, and governments of different nations. A process is driven by international trade and investment, and aided by information technology”. Globalisation has been the common moniker of the 21st century, where we have seen much more interaction between people across the globe through avenues such as social media and international economic interdependence. Globalisation has become everyday terminology in our contemporary milieus.
Nationalism, the sentiment that has for long been one of the motivational forces in shaping human societies and defining state boundaries, is undergoing a perceptible change. In the West it has lost some of its traction. Even in India, in the aftermath of the recent events at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, a debate has started on its meaning and implications.
The sense of belonging, first to small social groupings, and later to nation states, generated strong feelings of loyalty and inspired men to make the ultimate sacrifice. “My country, right or wrong” was the mantra, and patriotism, or its offensive form jingoism, was its corollary. Any hostility to, or criticism of, the ‘nation’ was deemed to be treason and territorial integrity of states was not open to question, unless under duress. Even Abraham Lincoln’s memorial in Washington remembers him not for having abolished slavery, but because he “Saved the Union”.
There were, however, enlightened men and women everywhere who were guided by the more universal principle of humanism, which transcends nationalism. Thomas Paine, an Englishman, ditched his country to side with the Americans who had revolted against Britain. In his time he may have been berated as a ‘traitor’, but today he is hailed as one of the great thinkers of human history who gave us classics like the ‘Rights of Man’.
Karl Marx exhorted workers of the world to unite across national frontiers. For intellectuals like Bertrand Russell (who opposed England’s participation in the First World War) and Babasaheb Ambedkar (for whom social justice took precedence over political freedom) nationalism was not the paramount ideology. But there were not many such people. The rise of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were both ugly manifestations of patriotism. In the US, in 1950s, McCarthyism, a dirty campaign to hound people with leftist links, was launched for patriotic reasons.
The traditional notion of nationalism received its first serious knock with the formation of the European Union. States which had over centuries fought bitter battles over territory decided to dilute the very concept of national frontiers and gradually subsume elements of their identity for the sake of the greater good. This was a voluntary pact entered into by the concerned parties after deliberate consideration.
Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, the idea of nationalism took another blow, but this time in unfortunate circumstances. This was during the Vietnam conflict. The American state came under heavy criticism for fighting what many considered an unjust war. And even though their soldiers were dying in large numbers in far off Asia, slogans taunting President Lyndon B. Johnson, like ‘Hey, hey LBJ/ How many kids you killed today?’ rent the air across the country. Universities led the protest against the national war effort. There were riots and police firings and in Kent State University, Ohio four students died of police bullets. This led to college strikes all over the country.
Were the opponents of the national policy traitors? Apart from some fringe jingoists, even in the US no one called them that. In fact, today they are considered enlightened young men and women who hastened America’s withdrawal from an unjust position. Blind adherence to the adage “My country, right or wrong” was out.
More recently, we have had instances of a large section of the people in Scotland and in Canada’s Quebec province demanding secession from their respective countries. Were they branded ‘traitors’ and thrown into jail? No, they were given the chance to get a mandate from the people in a referendum, or in elections. They both failed, but at least they had the choice.
Countries like the United Kingdom and Canada are confident that they have provided a good enough life, with necessary freedoms and rights, to their citizens and that will ensure unity of the nation. But even if some component wants to secede, they do not make a prestige issue of it. In any case, in the globalised society of the 21st century, when mobility across has increased exponentially, and when people migrate to distant lands and acquire new citizenship, or have links with kin who have gone there, loyalties can get blurred. With problems like pollution and poverty which have to be tackled across frontiers, humanism is what the world needs most.
Local circumstances do not permit the less developed countries to take such a liberal view of secessionist movements just yet. They have serious border issues to settle first. Humanism is difficult to practise unilaterally in international relations. But if passions generated by recent history are allowed to subside, who knows what lies in store for the future? And, among them if there is any one nation that can rise above narrow sectarian considerations, it has to be India, a country that, despite recent aberrations, knows how to accommodate diversity.
Back to the events here, there is undeniably a section in Kashmir which wants to secede from India, though it would be wrong to judge its strength by the noise it makes. But what signal does the debate over the JNU events, particularly the doubts expressed over the execution of Afzal Guru, send to the Valley? It tells the people there that India is a democracy where all voices are heard and, if the Indian state errs, it also has the capability of correcting itself through a democratic process. At least that is what we hope we are capable of.
Globalisation and its relationship with nationalism are complex. It is likely that the future will bring increased globalisation with more innovations technologically, which will result in an even more intricate relationship between a citizen’s feeling of connection to his/her nation-state and the evolving global society around him/her. The nation-state will likely continue to be the main political entity in the international system, as it has been shown that nationalism is already beginning to rise, and even more extreme feelings of nationalism will likely occur. If this is the case, as we have seen currently, immigration sentiments will continue to worsen as a result of this neo-nationalism. Nationalism and the psychological tie to the state, are human nature, coupling modern tribalism with concrete borders. However, we as a species must fight our instincts in this regard and learn to accept one another independent of abstract belongings to a certain territory.