Friday, April 19, 2013

I Believe in One God, Nationalism, and the Emotionalism for Which it Stands...

Patriotism is, rather obviously, a form of nationalism. Nationalism is a belief system. It is a meaning system in Geertzian terms. As such it works very much like religious belief works. It is grounded in emotion. It is often bullyish, thugish, vigilanteish. It constructs heretics, those who don't adequately love the nation, at least in the eyes of those who see themselves as "true patriots", and are often advised by those "real patriots" to leave it. As a belief system grounded in emotions it is not interested in empirical data and often regards empirical analysis of patriotism an act of heresy itself.

I wouldn't say American nationalism is exceptional, though I am sure many Americans would like to believe it is. I spent time in Russia and I found Russian nationalism to be quite intense. I spent time in Australia and I found Australian nationalism to be quite intense as this video of Kylie Minogue leading throngs in the singing of Australia's unofficial national anthem shows. I spent time in Canada and I found that Canadian nationalism can be quite intense as this video of Edmonton Oilers fans singing "O Canada" in English shows. What this video shows, beyond the intensity of love of Canada among hockey fans in Edmonton, should not be lost on those who have been waxing romantically and patriotically about how Boston Bruins fans sang the US national anthem after the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon in April of 2013. I shouldn't even have to mention how nationalistic--arise citizens of France and save the fatherland from aristocratic counterrevolutionaries--and bloody the words to the French national anthem are. I shouldn't need to remind you dear thinking readers how national anthems can be used for emotional and propagandistic purposes such as how "La Marseillaise" was used in the 1942 Warner Brothers film Casablanca in the depths of World War II. When I first saw Casablanca I was ready to jump out of my theatre seat and go off and kill me some Nazis. It is worth remembering, by the way, that many of those singing "La Marseillaise" in the film were refugees from Hitler's Europe and you can see it in their very emotional faces and that by allowing his night club band to play "La Marseillaise" the heretofore neutral Rick, a symbol of neutral America, finally chooses to side with those opposed to the Nazis (as we all knew he would given his background and the fact that he is the good guy in the film).

There may be varying degrees in the emotional intensity of nationalism in places across the globe and even in specific nations at particular times. Macho US nationalism, for example, clearly declined in the wake of Vietnam and rose again in the wake of 9/11. This does not mean, however, that these variations don't lie on a continuum and as such are comparable and similar, not distinct.

Speaking of English settler societies, one of the things I find quite fascinating about the representations of official and unofficial national anthems in settler societies like the United States, Canada, and New Zealand, is how they are often used to sacralise the national landscape. Just look and listen to this ident as nationalist promo that was made by the Canadian national public broadcaster the CBC. Just look and listen to this ident as nationalist promo made for New Zealand national broadcaster TV NZ. And just listen to the unofficial American anthem America the Beautiful sung appropriately by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Joseph Smith and Mormons after him, after all, have regarded the US as a unique promised land and landscape. I suppose one could argue that these "new" nations without Roman ruins or Christian cathedrals had to sacralise the only monuments they had, the natural beauty or perceived natural beauty of their nations. Interestingly, the citizens and leaders of these settler societies may have sacralised their manufactured national landscapes and as such developed emotional attachments to their respective national landscapes, imagined national landscapes, but that didn't and hasn't stoped them from despoiling Canada, New Zealand, or the United States. Capitalism, and making money, it seems, are also emotions that have been linked to settler society nationalisms (the Canadian, New Zealand, and American dreams of making it).

Some Christians, Schleitheim Anabaptists in particular, argue that all forms of nationalism are a form of idolatry, as having another God before Yahweh. I think, however, that nationalism, like religion, is something through which humans create identities and emotional attachments to blood and soil, socially and culturally constructed blood and soil. That is why nationalisms are all potentially, particularly when allied to economic power, political power, cultural power, demographic power, geographical power, technological might, and military might be quite hazardous to the health of some humans particularly when they are on the wrong side of nationalist shouting matches, and that is why replacing nationalism, which has been around at least since the French revolution in liberal and ethnic forms, so difficult to counter or replace, just like religion. Need I add that a universalistic religion like Christianity became itself nationalised? And needless to say American Christians of an Ebenezer Scrooge capitalist and American ethnocentric and nationalist bent aren't calling for its privatisation.

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