I get an uneasy feeling when people talk about nationalism or about patriotism. That’s because I believe that these terms are code for inclusion and exclusion based on geography or, more historically, on tribe. Nationalism and patriotism, like tribalism, are based on inclusion in a group that, by definition, excludes all others. When it is tribalism, at least there is some kind, however loose, of family or clan connection. But nationalism is a loyalty to something that is quite artificial – a political entity based on defined geographic borders.
I love the country which gave me sanctuary when Hitler was threatening to invade Britain, in whose Armed Forces I served for 25 years and in which I have spent most of my life, but I don’t think that Canada, which is an artificial political construct, should rank higher in my loyalty than a true friend.
As E M Forster said; “I hate the idea of causes, and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”
The word patriotism has been hijacked, in my view, by politicized people who want to define anyone who doesn’t agree with them as less patriotic or even as treasonous. George W Bush gave this approach a huge boost after the destruction of the twin towers, when he said; “If you are not with us, you are against us”, leaving no room for the civilized discourse that is the real trademark of democracy.
So I am a Canadian and a proud Canadian and I would die, if necesary to defend my country … but I am not a nationalist or a patriot in the narrow and modern sense of the word. I haven’t yet heard the term used in Canada yet, but I expect it any day now that we have a federal political campaign underway.