Tuesday, May 19, 2009
United we stood
I recently took a very casual poll and discovered that most people consider "nationalism" to be the same thing as patriotism: love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it. However, ask a history buff knowledgeable in the emergence of Nationalism, and you'll learn something a bit different.
"Nationalism proved to be the single most powerful European political ideology of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (pg. 744)". Yes, European political ideology. And nationalism is very simple, really. The idea is simply the "concept that a nation is composed of people who are joined together by the bonds of common language, customs, culture, and history, and who, because of those bonds, should share the same government [such as a democracy, a monarchy, or other governmental form]" (pg. 745). Ideally, any group can form its own nation, "but in reality nationhood came to be associated with groups that were large enough to support a viable economy, that had a history of significant cultural association, that possessed a cultural elite that could nourish and spread the national language, and that could conquer other peoples to establish and protect their own independence" (pg. 747)*.
Such relatively simply ideology helps really put a fine point on why there are so many conflicts and wars in this world, doesn't it? We want to be united and have the right to be united and protect ourselves from other groups. And by "we", I mean just about every single individual culture on the planet.
Now if you read my previous post, "Out of Africa", you already know that I posed a very dramatic pitch for peace by way of understanding and respecting our genetic similarities as a species. Genetic similarities do not define cultures, however, and the European Nationalists saw a problem in Europe that ended up redefining borders and bringing about nation states such as Italy and Germany, as well as tying peoples together in a way that had not ever occurred before.
You'd think we, the fledgeling U.S. and "Republic experiment", would have learned something. Apparently we did not.
Take another look at what nationalism means: "peoples joined by common language, customs, culture, and history...." Who in politics is trying to keep this country united at all? No one, that I can think of. Every single politician that comes to my mind is focused on segregating this country by focusing on various economical or cultural differences within our borders. Abortion activists' tend to define that entire argument based on a difference between the sexes, supported by the rhetoric of "a woman's right to do what she wants to do with her body". The entire political plank of illegal immigrants recognizes and thus divides culturally the Mexican/Latino culture from the "American" culture. Arguments over health care tend to alienate economic classes and to some degree also includes ageism by focusing on Medicaid and Medicare. The argument over taxes divides the working class, the upper class, and the tax exempt class.
In short, how does this country stay together at all? We are no longer joined by a common language (we're increasingly bi-lingual), we have no common culture or customs, and our history is used as a political tool to divide us instead of unite us.
With cultural globalization we are increasingly losing whatever vestiges of culture we had as we embrace individuality and increase our integration of other cultural norms into our own melting pot. This in and of itself would not be a bad thing if we actually had an "American" culture that united us. When this country was founded, it was in response to religious oppression and persecution. It was a break from the tyrannical rule of a monarchy. It was to separate from a government that failed to allow equal representation. It was also a chance to pursue personal wealth without strict adherence to a caste system, and a chance to encourage and participate in free trade.
We seem to have abandoned everything that once united us. With no commonality as a nation, of course we're at the whims of our president and congress. Of course we're turning towards socialism and communism and away from the republic that our forefathers established. And until we understand our history, we cannot begin to change our future.
*Craig, Graham, Kagan, Ozment, Turner (2009) The Heritage of world civilizations, (vol. 2, 8th ed., pp. 744-747). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.