Tags: patriotism | nationalism | fascism

Ending the Confusion Over Patriotism, Nationalism and Fascism

Ending the Confusion Over Patriotism, Nationalism and Fascism
President Donald Trump speaks beneath a U.S. flag at a campaign rally at Columbia Regional Airport in Columbia, Missouri, November 1, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

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Friday, 02 November 2018 12:06 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Words have meaning. Using words appropriately is critical to our communication and to our thought. Misusing words and terminology can result not only in miscommunication, but more essentially, in an abuse of history.

Over the past year we have witnessed the hijacking of the word "nationalism." The word has been transformed from an innocuous descriptive term into an emotionally-laden evil expression. It has been linked directly to "White Nationalism" and to "Nazism."

Over and over again we hear pundits and read essays proclaiming that nationalism caused the rise of Hitler and the murder of the Jews of Europe. Sometimes the pundits even cite their credentials as experts on nationalism by reminding their audience that their parents or grandparents suffered under the tyranny of this nationalism.

They assert that nationalism is a scourge on democracy and freedom. They are wrong.

They are not malicious, they are simply incorrect. They are conflating fascism and nationalism.

Fascism is the belief system that Adolf Hitler and his ally Benito Mussolini co-opted to take power in Europe. Fascism is the tool of totalitarianism that Hitler turned into an art form and with which he motivated Nazi Germany to embark on a war to conquer the world.

Fascism is the vehicle that Hitler and his Nazi German minions used to argue that the world had a problem that could best be solved by the "Final Solution." And the "Final Solution" was the total annihilation of Jews — of all Jews — every single one. It was the solution to the problems of the world as seen through Nazi eyes.

Fascism is about hate. Nationalism is love of one's country.

The nationalist argues that their country is the best of all countries, simply because it is their country, it is the country from which they hail. It is a tautological argument — it is not convincing, but it is not fascism.

The American philosopher of German descent, Hannah Arendt, authored a spectacular book entitled "On Totalitarianism." In this seminal work Arendt discusses this very issue at length. She describes fascism as extreme nationalism, what would today be termed nationalism on steroids.

Again, this does not mean that nationalism is fascism. Fascism is the extreme. Similarly, patriotism is not a synonym for nationalism. Patriotism is a subcategory of nationalism. It is a less strident form of nationalism.

On the continuum, going from ordinary to extreme, the order would be patriotism, nationalism, fascism.

George Orwell, explains the difference between patriotism and nationalism in his essay “Notes on Nationalism.” The novelist, essayist, and social critic writes: “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism… By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people. Patriotism is by its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself, but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”

Patriotism is passive, nationalism is active. Patriotism is a feeling, nationalism is an assertion. Inherent in nationalism is an arrogance that emerges in the assertion that one's own culture and society is superior to others. Nationalism is tainted with arrogance. Nationalism has a bent of chauvinism.

Nicolas Chauvin, according to legend, was a French soldier who lived and fought during the time of Napoleon. He was wounded 17 times — even disfigured, in battle. Despite it all, Chauvin was enormously proud and enormously loyal to France. He asserted that France was superior simply because it was France.

Hannah Arendt explained the link between nationalism and chauvinism this way: "Chauvinism is an almost natural product of the national concept in so far as it springs directly from the old idea of the 'national mission.' ... [A] nation's mission might be interpreted precisely as bringing its light to other, less fortunate peoples that, for whatever reason, have miraculously been left by history without a national mission. As long as this concept did not develop into the ideology of chauvinism and remained in the rather vague realm of national or even nationalistic pride, it frequently resulted in a high sense of responsibility for the welfare of backward people."

Hitler and the founders of the Nazi party understood that people would confuse these terms for love of country. And that is why they chose to call their party the Nazi party. "Nazi" is an acronym. It gets its name from Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or NSDAP. Translated, it means the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

The question begs asking. Were the Nazis German workers? If they were German workers, that would make them socialists. So were they nationalists? They couldn't be nationalists because they just claimed to be socialists and nationalists and socialists are polar opposites.

White Nationalist Neo Nazis took the term nationalism and added their own corrupted adjective — nationalist. But their misuse of a word does not, should not, and cannot taint the idea or the word itself — just like the word "worker" is not tainted because it is part of the Nazi acronym.

Throwing around the term nationalism in 2018 elicits a well spring of adolescent and immature behavior but — and here I must say thankfully — even that behavior is a far cry from true fascism. We must be true to language.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. To read more of this reports — Click Here Now.

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Words have meaning. Using words appropriately is critical to our communication and to our thought. Misusing words and terminology can result not only in miscommunication, but more essentially, in an abuse of history.
patriotism, nationalism, fascism
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2018-06-02
Friday, 02 November 2018 12:06 PM
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