Friday, May 8, 2009

Lukacs on Patriotism & Nationalism

Today I offer quotes on an insight that John Lukacs has made many times before. It's certainly not new to me in reading Democracy and Populism: Fear & Hatred (2005), but the distinction he makes bears repeating, especially in light of what so many so-called "conservative commentators" want people to think. I would happily count myself a patriot, but nationalist? No. Nationalism, as much or more than any misguided Marxism, was the bane of the 20th century.

When . . . Samuel Johnson uttered his famous (and perhaps forever valid) dictum that Patriotism Is The Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel, he meant nationalism, even thought that word did not yet exist. One of the reasons why there exists no first-rate book about the history of nationalism is that it is not easy to separate it from old-fashioned patriotism. And these two inclinations, patriotism, and nationalism, divergent as they may be, still often overlap in people’s minds. (When, for example, Americans criticize a “superpatriot” what they really mean is an extreme nationalist.)

Patriotism is defensive; nationalism is aggressive. Patriotism is the love of a particular land, with its particular traditions; nationalism is the love of something less tangible, of the myth of a “people”, justifying many things, a political and ideological substitute for religion. Patriotism is old-fashioned (and, at time and in some places, aristocratic); nationalism is modern and populist. In one sense patriotic and national consciousness may be similar; but in anther sense, more and more apparent after 1870, national consciousness began to affect more and more people who, generally, had been immune to that before—as, for example, many people within the multinational empire of Austria-Hungary. It went deeper than class consciousness. Here and there it superseded religious affiliations, too.

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