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For those who feel deeply about contemporary politics, certain topics have become so infected by considerations of prestige that a genuinely rational approach to them is almost impossible. And there are whole strings of kindred questions to which you can only get an honest answer from someone who is indifferent to the whole subject involved, and whose opinion on it is probably worthless in any case. Political or military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties.Out of the hundreds of examples that one might choose, take this question: Which of the three great allies, the U. Hence, partly, the remarkable failure in our time of political and military prediction. And aesthetic judgements, especially literary judgements, are often corrupted in the same way as political ones.But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success.
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 on other people.
Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.
But here I must repeat what I said above, that I am only using the word ‘nationalism’ for lack of a better.
Nationalism, in the extended sense in which I am using the word, includes such movements and tendencies as Communism, political Catholicism, Zionism, Antisemitism, Trotskyism and Pacifism.
But secondly – and this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.
Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved.It is also worth emphasizing once again that nationalist feeling can be purely negative. When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer.There are, for example, Trotskyists who have become simply enemies of the U. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name.As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation – that is, a single race or a geographical area.A Communist, for my purpose here, is one who looks upon the U. But many other forms of nationalism also flourish, and it is by noticing the points of resemblance between different and even seemingly opposed currents of thought that one can best get the matter into perspective.Ten or twenty years ago, the form of nationalism most closely corresponding to Communism today was political Catholicism. Chesterton was a writer of considerable talent who chose to suppress both his sensibilities and his intellectual honesty in the cause of Roman Catholic propaganda.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, for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.But Chesterton was not content to think of this superiority as merely intellectual or spiritual: it had to be translated into terms of national prestige and military power, which entailed an ignorant idealization of the Latin countries, especially France.Chesterton had not lived long in France, and his picture of it – as a land of Catholic peasants incessantly singing the has to everyday life in Baghdad.