Hello on an extremely warm first Monday of summer.
As you can see from the intro, I began this blog almost three months ago and it was extremely warm and dry summer. The need for rain here in north central Pennsylvania is still real. The summer was abnormal because we are still trying to figure out how we will manage COVID, whether that be as a nation, a global community, or in the other direction, as a state, a local community, or even as an individual. The summer kept me busy as I worked to rethink my first year writing class, and then refocus my views on both my own publication work as well as my teaching here rather than in Poland. However, there have been moments where I needed to step back, attempting to digest what seems to be a daily SNAFU in our national persona and what we are doing as well as who we are. . . . It is now the last day of summer. Recently, I had a birthday that pushed me into senior citizen status, and last night it got down to 32 degrees. I have sat on this blog posting for some time, trying to understand what this means to me. As is typical, I did some thinking, some researching, and some soul searching. What is nationalism? What is patriotism? First, too often we use the terms interchangeably. While I understand how that might happen, it is a mistake because they are not synonymous. Related? Yes, Second, when we conflate them, I believe it goes beyond being a mistake; it is dangerous. The well-known author, George Orwell, who knows a bit about dystopia, wrote, “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism” (Notes on Nationalism, 1945). It is significant to see the year Orwell wrote this essay. It was written at the end of WWII, the nationalism of Germany had accomplished two things. It had plunged the world in a war that destroyed much of Europe and would lead to a Cold War. Second, it tried to justify the extermination of an entire group of people and made a substantial effort in making it happen, succeeding in the murder of six million people. The abhorrence of the shoah is beyond words. The fact that a recent article noted that 2/3 of the young people in this country are unaware of that fact is frightening. Frightening to the degree that the very writing of the sentence sends chills across my entire body.
However, before you think I see nationalism as a completely pejorative term, I do not. In the days following the attacks on September 11th, the nationalism, which I believe was blended with patriotism, was perhaps appropriate. That nationalism united us a people because of the attack from another entity. It focused us as a country, and it, in this case, united us against that other entity. There are times nationalism has a positive consequence. The struggle is to know when and how to implement it. That is complex and depending on from both where and whom that implementation comes, the complexity grows exponentially. While many Americans saw the Arab Spring as a positive event, it was (and is) also an example of nationalism; certainly a number of national entities rose up, but not as a contrast to patriotism, but rather as a reaction against a religious or phylogenetic identity. This struggle of (and against) religious law was because the implementation of that law affected the economics, the gender treatment, and everything about those countries, even down to the technological infrastructure of many of the countries involved in that event. So there can be positive consequences of a nationalistic fervor. However, it should not be confused with patriotism.
Nationalism focuses on the state while Patriotism focuses on the people (Shetty, 03Jul2016). John Dwyer, a historian at Duquesne University, wrote, “The patriot says, ‘I love my country,’ works for its good, and defends it if necessary–against enemies within and without. He strives and prays not primarily that God will bless his country, but that his country will bless God. The nationalist, meanwhile, says, ‘My country is better than yours.’ ‘My country is the greatest there has ever been.’ ‘The greatest nation on God’s green earth.’ ‘They hate my country because it is so good'” (qtd. Walsh, 01 Dec 2016). There is an incredible body of scholarship available from people across the philosophic spectrum, but there seems to be much more agreement than disagreement about the nature of these two important terms. As one of my college classmates will undoubtedly note, you can find the opinions on the other side. Indeed, there are some, but by far, it seems that most will argue that making them synonymous is misguided at best, and flat out destructive at worst.
One reality of the nationalistic fervor that has swept the world now is its very cause: that cause is the global transformation that has enveloped our work. Nationalism is a response to that globalism, which is now a fundamental basis in our present world. Through economic interdependence and our interconnectivity through technology, we are both aware and responsible for each other. While some will argue against that, it is an argument of futility. If we are affected by the other, we have some responsibility for the other. It is that responsibility that requires patriotism, but simultaneously our fragility that pushes many toward nationalism. It is not unique to the United States; it is happening in Brazil, Hungary, or Poland, but is also apparent in countries that might seem more immune because of their social democracy, countries like Sweden or Denmark. In almost every case, it is an inward-focus, it posits an argument that sees the other as the enemy to a greater or lesser degree. It is the pulling out of global alliances, believing we can somehow go it on our own. Much like the current changes in the area of higher education and remote teaching, once that practice is out of the box, it is not going back in. On the other side of this current pandemic that has turned daily pedagogy and delivery upside down, teaching in the academy as we knew it, is gone. What does that mean? The jury is still out, but many who said their teaching, that. course, cannot be done remotely have lost that argument. Certainly, there are more obstacles to manage, more intricacies not anticipated, but the change is real. Technology is the difference; it is also the common thread in both of these situations. Technology controls our communication, either individually or corporately; it is integral to our banking and commerce; and as we have been made aware, both profoundly and painfully, it can be used to support or divide us.
In just this past week, I have used technology to communicate with former students or friends in Spain, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, or Ireland. Some of that was with simple text, some with video allowing me the chance to see them where they are. I am old enough to remember long-distance phone calls and the cost of that. I am old enough to remember party lines in rural areas when using the telephone. The ability to communicate, interact, and be connected globally was unimaginable to me growing up. I remember the second time I traveled to Europe (1985) and was in East Germany. I met a seminary student named Thomas. He was about my age and had a family. He was delightful. I remember asking if we could stay in contact and how his answer shocked me. He said, “Michael, you can write to me, but I will not be able to write to you.” I remember when the Wall fell in 1989 and I received a letter from him. I was overjoyed, but there was one line in his correspondence that stunned me. He said, “We will have to learn what freedom means.” I think back to our journey as seminarians through the land of Luther. The title of that course was titled “The Church East and West.” During our three week course, the great majority of our time was spend behind that Iron Curtain. We were allowed to travel, but with a strict itinerary and on the roads we were directed to follow. We were allowed to eat, but in the restaurants we were told to go to. We listened to lectures, but those lectures contained information that was dictated by the state. I remember the most interesting lecture about Luther as the first socialist. I remember being told what money I could spend (as in type of currency) and where I could spend it. What was most astounding to me was how quickly I adapted to, accepted, the restrictions. What was more incredible to me was I did not realize that change until after we were back in the West. I had lived to some degree the stark consequence of nationalism, a requirement to look inward without realizing it was happening. The lack of freedom to communicate, read, or even be allowed to see what might be on the other side was simply accepted, and I was thirty-one. I was a veteran.
I have considered having a bumper sticker or a yard sign created that uses these three terms: Liberal, Christian, Patriotic and see what might happen. I think it would melt some hard drives or motherboards in a few people’s brains (if I want to push that technology metaphor a bit further). Patriotism is not afraid of that which we cannot understand, but I believe works to understand it. Patriotism is a beacon that offers light to those yearning to see. It is the thing that can provide hope to the other. It is the thing that embraces the other culture and allows it to still exist along side. Too often in our past, as we have opened our lands to the other, it seems we ask them to denounce their heritage, their ethnicity. I believe we need to allow their heritage to co-exist. That is not to say we are asking them to be less of an American citizen, but rather to help them see that their diversity adds to our strength as a country. It pains me as an American, and a veteran to see the divisive nature of our conversations in this time. I believe it is contrary to the very principles upon which the country was created. I also realize the idealism in that statement. I believe much of the civil unrest that is currently part of our daily experience is because the ideal and the reality too often are not the experience of many who were also born here. It is our responsibility to change that. It is our duty to practice the principles of our constitution to their fullest extent, not merely holding them up as some photo op.
The consequence, which is too often deemed pejorative, the positive result of patriotism is the strengthening of our country and can make us a country that restores the hope and promise of freedom, and can move us away from some misguided righteous indignation, a divisive politic which pushes us toward a fear that characterized the 1930s in Europe. Marginalization of the other and moving toward an isolationist policy that argues greatness will do little to reestablish our place in the world. Instead it pits us against each other, using fear as a cudgel and arguing we are victims of an unfair world. This is exactly what happened in Germany post 1933. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden note we are at a crossroads. It is the one place I believe they are both correct. It is the argument about whether we are a nationalistic country or a patriotic country. I have used this video before, but I find it to be an inspiring and thoughtful piece that helps remind me of how others might see and support us. I was supposed to go to Ireland in August to see this group. This particular video is from a decade ago, but it seems apropos for us now.
Thank you as always for reading,