Patriotism is about people, their heritage and the culture of a nation, whereas nationalism is ultimately about land and borders rather than the people within these borders. This is why nationalistic leaders were happy to needlessly sacrifice the lives of thousands, if not millions, for “the fatherland”. This is not a Christian sentiment.
Nationalists like to say that nationalism is about sovereignty and self-determination, but this simply begs the question – for whom? On what principles do they choose the borders that they do? Why may others not chose other borders? Aggressive warfare has often sought to extend borders.
Borders are important and it is proverbial that “good fences make good neighbours”.
Borders entered into the UK-EU debate on the Northern Ireland Protocol. They feature in the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war, in the Israeli West Bank dispute and in multiple other border disputes around the world. The Scottish National Party wants to separate from the rest of the United Kingdom after 300 years of unity and tranquility between the nations, to join the EU and thereby to develop another border which duplicates the current problems with the Northern Ireland Protocol. Yet, built into the Good Friday Agreement is the future re-unification of the island of Ireland, while the SNP wants to dis-unite the island of Britain.
Nationalists claim that they want sovereignty over their own affairs. It is easy talk, but short on detail. The SNP wants to cede this sovereignty back to Brussels by rejoining the EU. Why should smaller and smaller areas not claim the same? There are always places with more influence than others, popularised in the modern term ‘postcode lottery’ with a sense of grievance that one’s own area is not adequately represented.
The significance of the topic is that the pursuit of this desired ‘sovereignty and self-determination’ can and has slipped into hostility and how will this hostility be prevented and the aggression be contained by the promoters of a nationalistic spirit? There is such a thing as stoking up trouble and nationalism had a long history in this regard. This nationalistic spirit is not a Christian spirit but it is more like a party spirit.
Processes of change
People speak of “top-down” and “bottom-up” change.
Karl Marx thought change had to come by Revolution. It has a dark history.
It might help younger readers to give a potted history of recent Revolutions.
The chaos of Revolution
The French Revolution in 1789 was followed by a bloody chaos that was eventually put down ruthlessly by Napoleon Bonaparte in order to restore order in Paris and France. He went on to create havoc throughout the rest of Europe.
The 19th-century German philosopher Hegel in Berlin promoted the glorification of land and a warlike nation, developed by Otto Von Bismarck and the German Kaisers Willem I and II, leading to World War I (1914-1918).
The Russian Revolution of 1917 was followed by five years of bloody chaos during which Lenin’s regime murdered more people in one month than the Russian Tsar’s regime it replaced had murdered in 10 years. The five-year civil war under Lenin was suppressed by the brutal and bloody rule of Stalin, nicknamed ‘Steel’ for his brutality and lack of regard for human life.
In Germany, the Russian Revolution led to communist uprisings in Berlin, where the chaos led to the Government leaving the Reichstag and reconstituting in Weimar to form the Weimar Republic in Nov 1918.
The Treaty of Versailles imposed impossible financial reparations upon Germany and humiliated its nationalistic sentiments, creating hyperinflation, unemployment, starvation and resentment in which Hitler’s Nazi Party flourished and he was elected as the strong man who would restore Germany’s prestige, following Mussolini’s template only ten years earlier in Italy.
Adolph Hitler began World War II, insisting that Germans should die for their fatherland. This false religion sent millions to their needless death. Stalin successfully repulsed him using the same ‘fatherland’ principle.
We have several examples of aggressive nationalism within living memory, and historically there are many more.
Nationalism may be peaceful, but if it is not, how will its aggressive features be contained?
This is one of the undesirable fruits of nationalism.
If nationalism is peaceful, this is because since World War II the doctrine of aggressive territorial gain has been condemned by international law.
In Scotland we are faced with the grievance politics of the SNP. Internationally, the world is currently troubled by the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war, and there are many other flash-points around the world.
Land and borders
The EU project to have no internal borders is simply a super-state project, and its weakness became immediately apparent during the COVID crisis when national borders were shut and different states ordered vaccines as they saw fit.
The Northern Ireland border-issue between Brexit Britain and the EU can be interpreted as an EU attempted land grab, promoting the re-unification of the Irish land mass, but within the EU rather than within the British Isles as it was historically.
Nationalism and borders
Every nation has borders. Some try to extend these, but since World War II this has been restricted and international law forbids military means of expansion.
Patriotism respects one’s countrymen but when this veers into racial superiority then it finds its vent in nationalism.
Scottish nationalism in the form of the Scottish National Party thinks it can do better than British nationalism. This is racial superiority disguised as aspiration under the drumbeat of self-determination and sovereignty. There is no proof that it is better and there are plenty examples of Scottish failure – in education, the health service, transport and other areas. It blames Westminster for its own failures and seems unable to admit its mistakes.
Can you admit the faults of your own country?
I am patriotic and proud of being Scottish. There are many good reasons, too many to list here. But there are also reasons to be ashamed of Scottish mis-management. These cover many centuries.
A historical perspective
Just as the Scandinavian countries of northern Europe resisted the advance of the Roman empire, and failed therefore to benefit from Roman infrastructure, education and trade, Scottish resistance also missed out on these benefits. After the Romans left Britain, England and Scotland experienced Vikings invasions. The Norman invasion of Britain in 1066AD was only part of their expansion throughout Europe and beyond. The Normans combined Viking military skill with the benefits they obtained from the Roman empire’s legacy in mainland Europe. The Normans imposed their will and administration on Anglo-Saxon England followed by their military suppression of Wales. However, lowland Scotland embraced the visible progress in Norman infrastructure and administration, thereby avoiding the Welsh experience. I recall this to remind us that Scotland’s history does not begin with the victorious battle of Bannockburn in 1314, so-beloved of Scottish nationalists, which resisted English imperialist aggression,but Scotland’s subsequent independent history did not progress Scottish affairs and may even have delayed progress. It is possible that Bannockburn delayed the civilisation of Scotland and prolonged the historic clan feuds.
So there are matters to praise and others to be deplored. The collapse of the Darien scheme was Scottish imperial greed being hoist on its own petard. It led to Scotsmen selling Scottish independence for English gold. Modern Scottish nationalism bemoans this union of Scotland and England, which the English did not particularly want, but nationalists cannot blame the English but only Scotsmen for bankrupting themselves in the failure of their get-rich-quick scheme at other people’s expense. The same activity among Scottish landowners is seen in the Highland Clearances. Scotland’s role in the slave-trade is coming to public attention, but it is not the only shameful activity of Scottish leaders.
As if this was not enough, in recent memory we had former SNP First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond extolling the Tiger economies and praising the Royal Bank of Scotland, whose collapse helped to contribute to the financial collapse in 2008 of the western banking economy. We should blame ourselves, not Westminster, which bailed out Scotland as it did when the Darien scheme collapsed.
The RBS debacle arose from lack of due diligence. This is a common theme. It permeates the BCCI debacle in the Western Isles Council, the Ferguson ferries contract, and the list goes on.
We have a shameful nationalist SNP Administration that has failed Scotland in education, health and business, but the SNP shamelessly blames its own failings upon Westminster and claims, without evidence, that it would do better if Scotland was separate from England.
So I am shamed of those Scotsmen who sold the land for English gold. I do not blame the English for that, but I am thankful for the benefits that came to Scotland from the Union of the Parliaments. This does not mean that there are not matters of genuine grievance that need remedy, and the Scottish Christian Party has given its input to this matter.
One needs to distinguish patriotism from nationalism, although nationalists promote their ‘fatherland’ dogma by appealing to patriotism, and many do not notice the difference.
Listen to George Galloway’s assessment of Scottish Nationalism and nationalism in general.
Nationalism needs to be distinguished from patriotism, which may best be illustrated by ex-patriots, although it can be learned from many Scots people who do not buy into the SNP narrative.
Ex-pats are more patriotic than Scots people who live at home in Scotland.
They do not concentrate on borders and they are by definition already outside Scotland’s borders. They can concentrate on Scottish history and they cultivate true appreciation of Scotland’s achievements and culture. Thus today I saw many Americans and the wider Scottish Diaspora celebrating the annual commemoration of the battle of Culloden, and recently the Scottish Diaspora celebrated Tartan Week in New York and many others cities around the world.
Do the scenes in this link demonstrate nationalistic or patriotic fervour at the Culloden battlefield today? It is the site of the last pitched battle on British soil, and long may it remain so. The battle took place on 16 April 1746, but why is it remembered by so many ex-pats? The new manager of the National Trust for Scotland centre on the battlefield is not Scottish but from South Carolina, USA.
Nations and Unions
There are many examples of lasting unions. They are not without their difficulties but they are models for the future.
The UK and the USA have had civil wars but these are thankfully receding into history, and we do not need nationalism stoking the flames of conflict.
Globalism is another topic and it has positive and negative points.
Current globalism is secular and will fail because of its own inbuilt, ungodly principles. Technology is helping the world but it can always be abused. It is people and their worldview that are the problems, not machines and technology.
The civilising influence of Judeo-Christian principles, arising from the Christian Bible, have still to be implemented in civil and national affairs in many countries, but it will come.
The checks and balances in western democratic nations are not yet duplicated in global corporations, NGOs, international bodies, multinational corporations and the growing number of organisations styled as World ‘this or that’ such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the United Nations. These still need to have Christian principles applied to ameliorate their capacity to aggrandise their officials with an over-weaning sense of their own importance, and to expose and eliminate corruption in such large bodies.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.”Jesus Christ – Mat 6:10 and Lk 11:2.
16 Jun 2018: there are various definitions of nationalism, most of which I find inadequate or faulty, not least because those that I have consulted do not even mention borders. In an email discussion in 2018 I defined nationalism as “that form of identity politics that exalts one’s nation as the prime identification of a people living within particular identifiable borders”. This is what I oppose. Americans ‘worship’ the flag or at least pay allegiance to it. I worship God and I do not pay allegiance to material objects even as symbols of underlying concepts – it is too close to idols and idolatry.
On the subject of identity, my identity politics prioritises Christianity as my prime identity and so I do not identify with nationalist identity politics, far less with gender-identity politics. It is more important for me to have a Christian government than to have a Tory, socialist or nationalist government. I consider this the best thing I could do for my nation, and for other nations as well, through Christian foreign policy and by Christian example.
On the subject of borders, Scots can determine their own borders and have done so. This is self-determination. Scotland is already a separate nation by its own determination, which manifests itself in many areas of life.
On the subject of self-government, this is a political decision and many people in Scotland are prepared, if not happy, to have Westminster govern them, just as many SNP supporters are prepared to have Brussels govern them. These are political choices and do not reflect upon one’s patriotism, which is a supportive attitude towards one’s native or adopted land.
21 Apr 2023: this recent speech in the UK House of Commons illustrates the WHO power-grab without the checks and balances expected of national governments. The size and power of many multi-national corporations supercedes the power and budget of many national governments.
19 May 2023: here are some perceptive comments by Neil Oliver on the difference between community and nationalism.
One thought on “Nationalism and patriotism”
Even the Garden of Eden had to be a “walled in” paradise with guards, to prevent the likes of Adam & Cain trying to muscle in for a share of there own,