The Privilege of Nationalisms

You know what a globalist is? A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what, we can’t have that. You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word?’ You know what I am? I’m a nationalist. Use that word.
Donald Trump

I call myself a nationalist, but my nationalism is as broad as the universe. It includes in its sweep all the nations of the earth. My nationalism includes the well-being of the whole world. I do not want my India to rise on the ashes of other nations. I do not want India to exploit a single human being. I want India to be strong in order that she can infect the other nations also with her strength. Not so with a single nation in Europe today; they do not give strength to the others.
– Mahatma Gandhi, Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda


Most countries in the world today have the privilege of nationalism. That is, by their mere existence as independent, sovereign nations whose governments and territories are coterminous, they practise nationalism every day. They don’t call it nationalism, of course: they just call it normal. A country running its own affairs isn’t an “ism.” It’s just what countries do.

Donald Trump is abusing that privilege, because the United States is already a nation: the USA gets the government the USA votes for; the USA commands every facet of its national and international policies, every resource, every inch of soil; the people of the USA have full control over their own nation’s destiny, whether they realise it or not. Invoking nationalism in opposition to globalism – as if the globe and the nation are not interlinked by virtue of each other’s very existence, let alone the notion that the globe and the nation can both do well at the same time – is signalling to those who prefer to use nationalism over other words. Trump’s USA is, like the nations of Europe in Gandhi’s time, a nation that does not give its strength to others.

Those who would compare the nationalism of independent nations to that of ones which are not independent are equally complicit in this privilege. This is the privilege of nationalisms – the irony that you can denounce nationalism while practising it every day of your life.

The highest ranking politician of a country referring to themselves as a nationalist means very different things depending on whether their country is independent or not. Nationalism in non-independent countries has a bad name in large part because of nationalism in independent countries – usually, because the already-independent nation has a vested interest in preventing a piece of their country depriving them of people, resources, and territory. Hence the “all nationalism is the same” nonsense. Who could seriously argue that the nationalist movements of Gandhi, Garibaldi, Connolly, Kenyatta, Kossuth, Mandela, and Mazzini are remotely comparable to the nationalisms of Antonescu, Franco, Mussolini, Pinochet, Kai-Shek, Malan, and Milošević?



Or Nicola Sturgeon & Jacob Rees-Mogg, apparently.

Yet plenty do – because it’s easy to be against nationalism when you have a nation.

It’s easy to be against nationalism when you can point to your country on a map and see its name; where it’s a different colour from its neighbours; where you can find it as a full entry listed in gazetteers and encyclopedias and travel guides, without it being a subheading of another country.

It’s easy to be against nationalism when you can see your nation’s flag flying over your nation’s historic buildings, hanging beside the others at the United Nations, included in Flags of the World bunting, printed on our food and goods; when you can select your nation on a drop-down menu on any website, choose its distinct area code, use its distinct VPN; when you aren’t forced to refer to your country as a “region” of another, or see it called such by your national broadcaster.

It’s easy to be against nationalism when no-one calls your nation’s indigenous languages slang, or dead, or fake; when no-one ridicules your accent or demands you speak “properly” – meaning speak with another country’s accent; when no-one denies your country its own money and land and resources on the basis of “pooling and sharing” with a larger neighbour; when no-one treats your country as a historical curiosity superseded by modern considerations, a fanciful fairytale best left to the past.

It’s easy to be against nationalism when the politicians your people elect are not forced to swear allegiance to a monarch outside of your nation’s legal system; where the government your people elected is not forbidden from debates regarding your country’s future; where the leader your people elected is not treated as subordinate to the junior ministers of a government your country did not elect.

It’s easy to be against nationalism when no-one is considering for a moment to cede your nation’s freedom to a larger neighbour in the belief that they’re too wee, too poor, and too stupid to do it alone (even if they protest they never use those exact words); when your entire Parliament can be overruled by your neighbour’s even on issues that have nothing to do with them; when your country gets the government it votes for every single election, without fail.

The word isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. Many blanch at the implications, the history of the word – and the people who use it to describe themselves. For my part: if it’s good enough for Mahatma Gandhi, it’s good enough for me. I want no more for my Scotland than what Gandhi wanted for his India: a country that realises it is part of a whole world of countries, and acts accordingly as a responsible member of its own nation – the Nation of the Earth.

The tragedy is that many countries battling the Trumpian kind of nationalism seem to have forgotten what it was like when their country was truly not their own – Poland, Hungary, the Netherlands. Some, like the country-pretending-to-be-a-union that is the UK, have never known any masters except themselves. When Scotland becomes independent, we must resolve never to forget what it was like not to be independent – for then we will value our freedom all the more, and recognise the insidious, destructive agenda of nativism for what it is.

Just like Gandhi, my nationalism encompasses the well-being of the whole world – and independence is the greatest step we can make towards that.


5 thoughts on “The Privilege of Nationalisms

  1. Dawn in NL says:

    Thank you for putting this in words! This is my nationalism.

  2. Marconatrix says:

    The sheer brutal contrast between your two opening quotations, from Trump and from Gandhi was frankly shocking. Maybe many of our politicians and others need exactly that kind of shock?

    IIRC ‘Mahatma’ is supposed to mean ‘Great Soul’ (at least a Welsh poem in his praise begins “Enaid Fawr, nid cawr ond cyfaill” ‘Great Soul, no giant but a friend’ ‘Anam Mór, chan e fomhair ach caraid’) : Fortunate the nation that possesses such a soul, such gentle strength, the strength of a smile.

  3. Jock McDonnell says:

    This is superb, thank you.

  4. hugh mcsween says:

    Murray misses the point that working closely with the EU is not the same as being ruled by the UK.

  5. […] many layered nationalist – one whose nationalism sweeps to all the nations of the earth, like another famous independence icon from the Indian […]

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