Thursday, April 27, 2006

George Orwell’s distinction between patriotism and nationalism

Orwell wrote the essay “Notes on Nationalism” in 1945, just as the most cataclysmic war in human history was ending in Europe.

“By patriotism,” he wrote, “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 of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.”

Nationalism, as Orwell defined it, “is inseparable from the desire for power.... A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige.... His thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.” To Orwell, it was “power hunger tempered by self-deception,” a kind of moral insanity.

Presaging his masterpiece “1984,” Orwell was most alarmed by the fervid nationalist’s indifference to reality: “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage—torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians—which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.”

-- Courtesy of Gene Lyons, "Is our democracy sleepwalking into a nightmare," Little Rock Democrat Gazette

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