The idea of nationalism is a relatively new one, dating back only to the late 1700s with the American and French Revolutions and the ideals that their respective declarative documents presented.
Writers and intellectuals of the time also perpetuated this new notion of identifying with one’s country, for prior to this time, people generally viewed themselves in relation to their village or town or by their immediate leaders.
Now, we tend to identify ourselves broadly, beginning with something as small as the residence hall we belong to at school and finishing with the country that we call home.
However, there is a difference between identifying with a country and actually being proud of that country. Recently, I have noticed an unfortunate decline in national pride for the United States among my generation.
For this article, I think it is important to distinguish between nationalism and patriotism. English writer George Orwell determined that nationalism is the feeling of superiority of one’s nation over the rest, while patriotism is an attitude of admiration towards one’s country and way of life within that country.
Nationalism is the more aggressive term, used to justify wars and colonialism under its powerful influence. I consider myself a patriot, not a nationalist.
I am of the opinion that patriotism is a commendable quality to possess, but it has become evident that not everyone believes this to be true; and, in fact, many people believe the exact opposite. America has been demonized and, by extension, so has patriotism for America by, of all people, Americans.
This is something I have picked up on from a number of students in a few of the class discussions I have had while at Lawrence, and I think it is a common trend among people my age.
For example, during a discussion about nationalism in a history class, we were asked to raise our hands if we would sacrifice our lives for our country. I raised my hand and was somewhat surprised to see that only three or four other students also had their hands up in a class of nearly thirty.
I am not in the military, but I think that being in the military is the most admirable career choice one can make and the most genuine expression of patriotism and selflessness.
Therefore, when asked to explain why, we expressed that it would be a sacrifice for something bigger than ourselves, and it would be the honorable thing to do for the country that has given us so much. Of course, there is no requirement that we sacrifice our lives for America—sans the non-enforced draft—but it is entirely unnecessary to scoff at the very idea, which is how the sentiment was received in that history course.
Furthermore, in my anthropology course, we were instructed to have a culturally relativistic approach when studying other cultures; that is, not to place the values, beliefs or practices of our own culture above another. There was certainly no room for superiority.
Yet to not be superior does not mean to become inferior. Every culture was to be valued on equal terms, but some students saw this as an opportunity to debase America during discussion, and even casually express a hatred for it.
I find all this anti-patriotism to be mere ungratefulness. Though I am not so asinine as to believe that America is perfect, I do think that focusing so intently on its imperfections is narrow-minded, because you won’t be able to see its greatness. Part of that greatness is having the freedom to dislike or be ashamed of America, while I have the freedom to defend it and that precious right of yours.