Nationalism is Leftist
These days nobody much talks about nationalism any more. Old Adolf is thought to have given it a bad name. But it is essential to understand what nationalism is if we are to understand 20th century history. So how do we define it? And how do we define Leftism?
The essential feature of all Leftism is the desire to stop other people from doing various things they want to do and make them do various things that they do not want to do (via taxation, regulation, mass murder etc.) When (on October 30, 2008) Obama spoke of his intention to "fundamentally transform" America, he was not talking about America's geography or topography. He was talking about transforming what American people can and must do. So that is the first and perhaps the most important thing about Leftism: It is intrinsically authoritarian. Ideally, it would militarize society (which was Hegel's ideal). It subjugates the individual to the wishes of a Leftist elite.
Nationalism is not so easy. How do we separate it from patriotism? Both involve strong feelings of support for ones own country -- even a willingness to die for one's own country. I submit that the essential difference is that the patriot wishes only to defend his own country while the nationalist wants to see his country dominate other countries.
On that definition, the Nazis and the Italian Fascists of WWII were nationalists but Britain was not. Britain already had an empire so had no wish for another one.
But what about WWI? Feelings that their nation could conquer all comers were rife among all the main combatants of WWI. And historians generally agree in seeing nationalism as the major psychological motive behind WWI.
So WWI could be seen as proof that nationalism is not Leftist. The workers of the various countries generally fell in line behind their national leaders, even though many had Leftist convictions. Leftism was completely out of the picture in WWI. WWI was not motivated by a desire for social change.
But from another viewpoint, Nationalism is as Leftist as they come. Nationalism regards the group as hugely more important than the individual and the nationalist is happy about the huge degree of regimentation that war imposes. Nationalism is a Leftist dream. So nationalism is about international change as distinct from social change in one country. So the yen for change is still there. Nationalism is just a different brand of Leftism. It is Leftism on a broader canvas.
I should add here a small refinement of my definitions so far: Nationalism can mean two quite different things: 1). A desire of a people for independent existence as a nation -- as in 19th century German nationalism or 20th Scottish nationalism; 2). When the lovers of their own country want to dominate other countries. It is meaning 2 that I am concerned with here. And all the examples of that which I can think of, from Napoleon to Hitler, have been Leftists. So my summary of the matter is that nationalism is a Leftist perversion of patriotism.
And even patriotism often gets a bad name these days. The Left pretend to see nationalism in it. So they equate patriots with Nazis. So again it is important to be clear about the difference between the two. If you do not advocate world conquest by your country, you are not a nationalist or a Nazi.
It's interesting that Leftists have gone from being fervent nationalists (with JFK being the last squeak of it in the USA) to people who decry it -- but that is typical of the turnaround that the Left did after WWII. Because Hitler was such a monumental failure they have had to dissociate themselves from all of his doctrines. They are back to seeking change in one country
And I don't think I should leave the subject before noting that the first successful nationalist of the 20th century was American. TR was not only behind America's temporary acquisition of an empire (in Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico etc) and a great glorifier of war but was also the founder of America's "Progressive" party.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).