Raising the Standard.

Patriotism Off the Leash

The song of angry men. (“Liberty Leading the People” by Eugene Delacroix)

“This country and this people seem to have been made for each other.”

—John Jay, The Federalist Papers, No. 2.

Political movements spurred by popular opposition to the status quo are fueled by unity and resolve. Values themselves make no difference without organization, and effective institutions do not thrive without fervor. An imbalance of either disrupts the good order of a political system. Such is the case of upstart political parties, ideologies and even revolutions.

Few causes unite so clearly as love of country. Celebration of national holidays, recognition of national symbols in government (anyone who is anyone in D.C. has an American flag lapel pin) and vibrancy among the citizenry are all examples of positive patriotism. However, if this ardor is not restrained, it can devolve into nationalism.

Some of America’s conservative intellectuals still view nationalism as a complex and necessary force. Irving Kristol, the “Godfather of Neoconservatism,” describes the difference between patriotism and nationalism as the difference between reflection and optimism: “Patriotism springs from love of the nation’s past; nationalism arises out of hope for the nation’s future, distinctive greatness.” While I would argue that a degree of patriotism does the nation good, in this case nationalism becomes too much of a good thing. Instead of serving to advance American interests, it repudiates our broader mission of shining as a City on a Hill, displaying our values to all who come near. Patriotism should display the best of the American spirit while subduing the urge to claim supremacy.

In recent history, growing far-right movements have utilized nationalism to garner support. In Europe, the increasing prominence of nationalist right-wing parties has shaped elections and policy. Japan flexes its aching muscles in response to Chinese aggression. Both regions have been nationalistic historically, yet within the past five years the severity of action carried out by these groups has spiked.

Europe experiences ultranationalism acutely. The continent’s proportionally representative legislatures allow minor, ultranationalist political parties to win more seats than they would in a two-party system. Golden Dawn, a proto-fascist Greek political party, holds 18 seats in the Greek parliament. Founded in 1980, it often resorts to violence to silence dissenters; in one case, they killed an opposition musician.

THE EDITORS: The original nationalists.

In France, the National Front (FN) serves as the nationalist party. The 2012 French presidential election showed their political might clearly, when conservative incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy was forced to move further right to take votes from FN candidate Marine Le Pen. Sarkozy’s campaign failed because his tack to the right alienated enough French voters to elect Socialist candidate François Hollande. There are dozens of other parties throughout Europe which exhibit ultranationalistic tendencies, including belief in racial superiority and immigration restriction. The greatest danger from these groups is that they may draw enough voters away from major parties to have a seat at the table. Coupled with minority governments, these parties are capable of coalescing with right-of-center parties in exchange for policy concessions.

Japanese ultranationalism stems from the re-election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. His Liberal Democratic Party — terms not synonymous with the right wing in the U.S. — used to support the pacific foreign policy Japan maintained since 1945. However, growing tension with China over the Senkaku Islands and Chinese military development has caused a new strain of nationalism in the land of the rising sun. Japanese militarism, diplomatic steadfastness and, controversially, Abe’s visit to a shrine honoring the Japanese dead of World War II are all examples of reawakened nationalism. The latter consistently frustrates the international community by fostering a nationalist disposition. These rather sudden developments have surprised much of the foreign policy community, considering America’s role as Japan’s defender. Increasingly, Japan is looking internally for support, which signifies increased nationalism and a belief that it can succeed against outside forces.

A brief look at these cases indicates that, politically, unquestioned belief in national might — whether it stems from responses to new threats or ideological beliefs — could be on the rise throughout the globe. While patriotism fosters national unity, an overabundance could catalyze dangerous conflict.

Objective thought allows for constructive decisions more often than does absolute allegiance to the nation. When we reverse this order, all reasoning displays an artificial national inclination. Acting on our patriotism, we must ensure our fervor is based on love of country and not hate of others. These developments are not unnatural, but must be restrained. Let prudence dictate our zeal.

—Brennan Mancil is a freshman studying political science and international affairs

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