Awhile back I wrote a post called “Patriotism v. Nationalism,” which was followed up by “Patriotism v. Paranoia,” “Patriotism v. Francis Fukuyama,” “Patriotism v. Hate Speech,” and probably some other posts.
I bring those old posts up because Christopher Dickey has a splendid article on the Newsweek web site that makes many of the same points. Dickey sites George Orwell’s 1945 essay, “Notes on Nationalism,” and argues that the American Right has become the embodiment of Orwellian nationalism. That is not good.
American nationalism, unlike American patriotism, is different — and dangerous.
The second part of Orwellâ€™s definition tells you why. Nationalism is the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or an idea, â€œplacing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.â€ Patriotism is essentially about ideas and pride. Nationalism is about emotion and blood. The nationalistâ€™s thoughts â€œalways turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. â€¦ Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.â€
One inevitable result, wrote Orwell, is vast and dangerous miscalculation based on the assumption that nationalism makes not only right but might-and invincibility: â€œPolitical and military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties.â€ When Orwell derides â€œa silly and vulgar glorification of the actual process of war,â€ well, one wishes Fox News and Al Jazeera would take note.
For Orwell, the evils of nationalism were not unique to nations, but shared by a panoply of â€œismsâ€ common among the elites of his day: â€œCommunism, political Catholicism, Zionism, anti-Semitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism.â€ Today we could drop the communists and Trotskyites, perhaps, while adding Islamism and neo-conservatism. The same tendencies would apply, especially â€œindifference to reality.â€
Get this part:
â€œAll nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts,â€ said Orwell. â€œActions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage-torture, the use of hostages, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians-which does not change its moral color when committed by â€˜ourâ€™ side.â€¦ The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.â€
Hammer. Nail. Head.
Itâ€™s this aspect of nationalism that peacemakers in the Middle East find so utterly confounding. The Israelis and the Palestinians, Iraqâ€™s Sunnis and Kurds and Shiites, Iranians and Americans have developed nationalist narratives that have almost nothing in common except a general chronology. â€œIn nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown,â€ Orwell wrote, in a spooky foreshadowing of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeldâ€™s nationalist musings. â€œA known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in oneâ€™s own mind.â€
I think this tells us a lot about why righties cannot be reasoned with, which is more or less the subject of the three previous posts on this blog. This post, for example, is about the way righties frame arguments to confound any attempt at rational response (quoting Tristero):
Like, â€œSo, would you rather Saddam stay in power?â€ this is a framing of the issue that provides for not even the hint of an intellectually coherent response, let alone a â€œdialogue.â€ It is designed to elicit the narrowest range of acceptable responses, responses that reduce disagreement with Bushism to a quibble.
Or, the way they’re turning agreement for the Hamdan decision into support for terrorists, which is absurd, but righties will cut off their own lips before they’ll admit the point is absurd. A few righties, I believe, know good and well their arguments are absurd but make them anyway, probably because they’ve got a vested interest in righties running things. But the bulk of them really don’t know their arguments are absurd, because they’ve walled off large parts of their brains. As Orwell said, “A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in oneâ€™s own mind.”
For years, the ideaâ€™s been percolating through the rightâ€™s well-organized propaganda apparatus that Democrats arenâ€™t loyal Americans.
Regarding Ann Coulterâ€™s ludicrous book, â€œSlander,â€ I once wrote that â€œthe â€˜liberalâ€™ sins [she ] caricaturesâ€”atheism, cosmopolitanism, sexual license, moral relativism, communism, disloyalty and treasonâ€”are basically identical to the crimes of the Jews as Hitler saw them.â€ Michael Savage, Michael Reagan, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh and others peddle the same sterilized American update of an ancient slur. Limbaugh recently called 80 percent of Times subscribers â€œjihadists.â€ Now the Bush White House, desperate to prevail in 2006 congressional elections, has taken up the cry. Reasonable people never want to believe that extremists believe their own rhetoric. But quit kidding yourselves. This is mass psychosis. The next terrorist strike, should it happen, will be blamed on the enemy within: treasonous â€œliberalsâ€ who dissent from the glorious reign of George W. Bush. Unless confronted, itâ€™s through such strategems that democracies fail and constitutional republics become dictatorships.
Have a nice day!