A deeply disordered love
by Ken Myers
“Hitler . . . more than once cited his sentence from Mein Kampf recalling his youth: ‘I was a nationalist; but I was not a patriot.’ . . .
“Nationalism, rather than patriotism. . . . We have examples of that even among the extremist groups in the United States, too, with their hatred of government — that is, of the state. We have seen that while true 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 everything, a political and ideological substitute for religion; both modern and populist. . . . [N]ationalism and patriotism often overlap within the minds and hearts of many people. Yet we must be aware of their differences — because of the phenomenon of populism which, unlike old-fashioned patriotism, is inseparable from the myth of a people. Populism is folkish, patriotism is not. One can be a patriot and cosmopolitan (certainly culturally so). But a populist is inevitably a nationalist of sorts. Patriotism is less racist than is populism. A patriot will not exclude a person of another nationality from a community where they have lived side-by-side and whom he has known for many years; but a populist will always be suspicious of someone who does not seem to belong to his tribe. . . .
“Since it appeals to tribal and racial bonds, nationalism seems to be deeply and atavistically natural and human. Yet the trouble with it is not only that nationalism can be anti-humanist and often inhuman but that it also proceeds from one abstract assumption about human nature itself. The love for one’s people is natural, but it is also categorical; it is less charitable and less deeply human than the love for one’s country, a love that flows from traditions, at least akin to a love of one’s family. Nationalism is both self-centered and selfish — because human love is not the love of oneself; it is the love of another.* Patriotism is always more than merely biological — because charitable love is human and not merely ‘natural.’ Nature has, and shows, no charity.
*A convinced nationalist is suspicious not only of people he sees as aliens; he may be even more suspicious of people of his own ilk and ready to denounce them as ‘traitors’ — that is, people who disagree with his nationalist beliefs.