Intolerance, authoritarianism and nationalism

It was a wet sunday afternoon and Mr Midnight, Sir Winston and myself had decided to go upstairs into the study to make a comfortable afternoon. I made a fresh cup of my favourite darjeeling (Steinthal First flush) and then went upstairs with my two lads close behind. After a while, our topic of conversation turned to a topic which was becoming more and more prominent every day in the world news.

Here is a jist of our conversation:-

       I don´t understand it all. So much victimhood and dissatisfaction uncontrollably seems to spread around the “modern” world like a mad virus.

       I think that´s partly due to the new craze of the times.  That crazy thing called Nationalism.

       There´s lots of information here in these books daddy about your human thing called Nationalism.

I think Nationalism is an evil.

It causes wars, its roots lie in xenophobia and racism, it is a recent phenomenon – an invention of the last few centuries – which has been of immense service to demagogues and tyrants but to no one else.

       Quite true Sir Winston. Disguised as patriotism and love of one´s country, it trades on the unreason of mass psychology to make a variety of horrors seem acceptable, even honourable.

       I see what you  mean daddy.  Here´s an example:  if someone said to you, “I am going to send your son to kill the boy next door”, you would quite rightly hotly protest. But let him seduce you with  “Queen and Country!”, “The Fatherland!”, “My Country right or wrong!” and you will find yourself permitting him to send all our sons to kill not just the sons of other people, but other people indiscrimanately – which is what your bombs and bullets do.

It´s a mad, mad world out there!

       Look daddy in this book. That not very nice gentleman, Mr Hitler, once said, “The effectiveness of the truly national leader consists in preventing his people from dividing their attention, and keeping it fixed on a common enemy”.

       That man was truly off his rocker wasn´t he. How ill can one get.

       Here´s a quote from Goethe who once remarked that nationalistic feelings “are at their strongest and most violent where there is the lowest degree of culture”.

       That Mr Goethe was a smart fellow wasn´t he.

       But he also proves that nationalistic tendencies are not only a sign of our present times because he died quite a few years ago.

       Nationalists take certain unexceptionable desires and muddle them with unacceptable ones.  We individually wish to run our own affairs; that is unexceptionable.  Most of us value the culture which shaped our development and gave us our sense of personal and group identity; that too is unexceptionable. But the nationalist persuades us that the existence of other groups and cultures somehow puts these things at risk, and that the only way to protect them is to see ourselves as members of a distinct collective, defined by ethnicity, geography, or sameness of language or religion, and to build a wall around ourselves to keep out “foreigners”.

It is not enough that the others are other; we have to see them as a threat –  at the very least to “our way of life”, perhaps to our jobs, even to our daughters.

       Your human idea of nationalism suggests that of a “nation”. The word is meaningless: all “nations” are mongrel, a mixture of so many immigrations and mixings of people over time that the very idea of ethnicity is largely comical, except in places where the boast has to be either that the community there remained so remote or disengaged, or so conquered, for the greater part of history, that it succeeded in keeping its gene pool “pure” ( a cynic might say “inbred”).

       I do hope you humans get your act together because we all, even little pussy cats, have the same basic wishes in life; namely to live in peace and be loved.

       I´m going down stairs now to get another cuppa. All this stuff about nationalism on a Sunday afternoon has dried my mouth out.

       I couldn´t agree with you more daddy. Our topic this time round is very dull and dry. I think  I will join you and have a large bowl of milk.

       I´m all up for that, but before we go, allow me to quote some wise words from a Mr George Bernard Shaw.

He said; “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”

His words certainly make me think!

 

(C) Copyright MAGS 2017

* This article was based on an extract from the book “The Meaning of Things” by A C Grayling.

Advertisements