Why Nationalism is Bad, But Patriotism Can Be Good: Nationalism is Collectivism, But Patriotism Can Be Individualist

“You know what I am? I’m a nationalist.” — Donald Trump

Nationalism has been making a resurgence in the US, Europe and around the world in recent years. Even President Donald Trump, the most powerful leader in the world, declared himself a nationalist.

But what is nationalism? Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or can it be either? In this essay I’ll explore what nationalism means, what its different forms are, and why it’s bad. I’ll discuss how nationalism is different from individualistic patriotism and from merely being an advocate for the nation-state form of government. Both of the latter can be good.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines nationalism as:

loyalty and devotion to a nation…especiallya sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups

More precisely, nationalism is an ideological commitment to one’s nation as an end in itself; that is, a commitment apart from one’s own interests and above any commitments to other groups. It is the idea that one must serve the interests of one’s nation, apart from the effects of this service on one’s own life, or on other groups like humanity as a whole. Thus, nationalism endorses the nation-state as the proper form for government to take, and the “nation as a whole” as the ultimate source of moral-political sovereignty. If you’re committed to a nation for some reason other than the “good of the whole nation” as an end in itself–say if you’re a mercenary being paid by it, or if you think the nation is otherwise good for you personally–you are obviously not a nationalist for it, and no one would call you one. So the question of whether you are a nationalist or not is not just a question of whether you’re devoted to a nation or not. It’s also a question of what you aim to achieve by being devoted to a nation. The nationalist does not aim to achieve anything beyond some vision of the “good” or “glory” or “prestige” of the “nation as a whole.”

Nationalism is often contrasted with localism and globalism. Localism, in this context, is the idea that the population of the local city-state, county, or feudal estate is the proper end in itself. It thus implies that local government should be politically independent, with sovereignty stemming from the local populace as a collective. Globalism is the idea that all of humanity should be served by individuals, and thus implies that all of humanity is collectively sovereign. One worldwide government is the appropriate expression of globalism.

All three of these ideas contrast with individualism, which can be described as the idea that there is no moral sovereignty in the individual’s life above himself. That is, the idea that there are no interests above the individual’s to be served, and thus no source of political sovereignty beyond the individuals who live within a nation. I’ll discuss individualism in more detail shortly.

The basic idea of nationalism was well expressed in a strong form by Adolf Hitler:

“It is thus necessary that the individual should finally come to realize that his own pride is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole; that pride and conceitedness, the feeling that the individual … is superior, so far from being merely laughable, involve great dangers for the existence of the community that is a nation; that above all the unity of a nation’s spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and the will of an individual; and that the higher interests involved in the life of the whole must here set the limits and lay down the duties of interests of the individual.”

“By [Nazi idealism] we understand only the individual’s capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow men.”

(For references, see Chapter 1, Footnote 1 of The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff.)

Nationalism comes in two major forms: civic nationalism and ethnic nationalism. My thesis here is that both are bad, because both are forms of collectivism, and collectivism is false and destructive. To understand this, we have to know what collectivism is. So to set the stage, let me briefly discuss the distinction between individualism and collectivism.

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Israel and the Palestinians: Disputed Land “Belongs” to Whichever Government is Better at Protecting Individual Rights

A female Hamas suicide bomber poses with the Qur'an before detonating herself and killing four Israelis.

A female Hamas suicide bomber poses with the Qur’an before detonating herself and killing four Israelis.

In the wake of each flare-up in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, people inevitably argue over the same question: “Who owns the territory that currently comprises Israel: the Arab Palestinians, or the Jews?” Then long debates ensue about the history of the two different groups in the region, who was there first, which group was the aggressor, which group has rightful title, etc.

But the Objectivist answer to the question of which ethnic group has the right to the land is: Neither. Land cannot belong to ethnic groups, social classes, or other categories of people, in any sense.

In The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand wrote:

A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations.

The reason that rights are individual is that the human mind is individual, the process of thought is individual, and human life is fundamentally individual. (For more on this, see: QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual.) Rights are the moral-political principles that protect individual human life and freedom of thought and action from the coercive depredations of other humans. (See Ayn Rand’s essays from The Virtue of Selfishness here: “Man’s Rights/The Nature of Government.”)

Land can only be owned by individuals, or by groups that are definite sets of individuals in a clear contractual arrangement, (such as a corporation.) Vague conglomerations of people have no singular identity and no collective mind, and thus cannot have rights to anything, as such.

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Israel and the Palestinians: Of War, Civilization and “Refugees”

Here is a sampling of audio, video and articles about the history of the Israeli/Palestinian-Muslim conflict and the current war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel:

An audio interview with Dr. Efraim Karsh, professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London on “The Arab-Israel Conflict and the Palestinian Refugees”:

(The original ARI page for this interview is here: “The Arab-Israel Conflict and the Palestinian Refugees”)

A video interview with Elan Journo about the current (2014) Israel/Hamas war:

Written articles:

Hamas and The Left’s Pretense about the Deaths of Innocents in Gaza

Israel and the Front Line of Civilization

Israel Has a Moral Right To Its Life

QuickPoint 4: It Is Not Racist to Judge One Culture Superior to Another

A culture is a set of ideas and practices that constitute a general way of thinking about the world and a typical way of life. Ideas can be correct or incorrect. Practices based on those ideas can be conducive to human life, or destructive of it. In short, ideas and practices can be objectively good or bad for people.

The judgment of certain cultures (ideas and practices) as better than other cultures is entirely separate from the phenomenon of racism. Racism, broadly, is the idea that one’s race, genetics, or ancestry is a determining factor in the content of his or her consciousness. Consequently, it is the idea that one can determine something about what someone believes by studying his genetic or ancestral lineage. This often takes the form of moral value judgments based on race or ethnicity.

There are some cultures that have historically been associated with large numbers of people in certain genetic groups, such as “Jewish culture” and “American Black culture.” But there is no necessary connection between genetics and culture. Anyone can be a part of any culture, according to his education and personal choices. Thus, a judgment of “American Black culture” as inferior to “Chinese-American culture” is not a judgment of an African lineage as inferior to a Chinese lineage. It is simply an acknowledgment of the fact that the cultural ideas and practices that have traditionally been accepted by large numbers of African-Americans are less conducive to human well-being than those that have traditionally been accepted by large numbers of Chinese-Americans. (It is this difference that is reflected in vastly different crime rates between the two groups.)

The irony here is that it is actually racist to consider a person’s culture to be determined by his genetics. Thus, it is actually racist to consider the evaluative ranking of cultures “racist.”


Related Posts:

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Values Are Relational But Not Subjective

Why Morality is Not “Evolved,” But Defined and Chosen

Why a Proper Ethics is Not a Set of Social Rules, But a Complete Way of Life

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

What Interdependence Means and Why Society Isn’t Interdependent

Morpheus on Society-WatermarkInterdependence is a state of a group in which removal or destruction of one portion (subset) of the group necessarily results in the destruction of all members of the group. (1)

One example of interdependence is the set of critical organs in a human body. Taken as units in themselves, the brain, heart and lungs are interdependent: removal or destruction of one of them necessitates the destruction of the others. Another example of interdependence is the caste system in eusocial insects like bees, ants and termites. The reproductive caste and worker caste are each needed to keep the hive (and thus the other) productive and alive.

A division-of-labor society of human beings takes on a superficial appearance of interdependence. Different people do different jobs and rely on those in other specialties for raw materials and general trade. But unlike real interdependent systems, individuals in a society can exercise independent judgment and change occupations. An individual’s job is not set for life in his genetics, but chosen by the individual. People can and do get promoted, change jobs, change career types, etc. Companies in a free market can and do expand into new fields of business.

If, in a hypothetical, laissez-faire capitalist society, all those who performed one sort of productive job were suddenly removed, then it is still possible for those in other professions to take over the job and maintain a similar division of labor. There might be great hardship for a while from such a sudden displacement, but since most other individuals would be able to adapt and survive, the society fails the test for interdependence. (This is to say nothing of the more realistic, gradual removal of people from an occupation, which a capitalist society can undergo with most people hardly noticing. In contrast, if lung tissue were gradually removed from your body, it would become harder and harder for your other organs to function, and your heart would not transform to replace the missing lung tissue.)

Moreover, not all activities undertaken by all other individuals in a society are valuable to a given individual. In fact, some are positively harmful, such as dishonest schemes, irresponsible investment plans, and theft. Since each individual has free will–the choice to think or not, to judge or not, and the capacity to behave destructively toward self and others–it is up to the independent judgment of each individual to determine friend from foe. Other people can’t be dissolved into an undifferentiated mass of beneficence, let alone all be considered critical to one’s own survival. (Easily observable facts refute this collectivist notion.)

If one individual is physically injured to the point of mental damage or paralysis, then that person can become genuinely dependent on other individuals who provide his care and sustenance. But this metaphysical dependence goes only one way: the injured is dependent on the uninjured, not vice versa. There is no “interdependence” here.

Ordinary, healthy, adult human beings are fundamentally independent creatures, and assertions to the contrary are spurious. I have only ever heard vague assertions of “interdependence” from people. I have never heard “interdependence” defined, even though such a definition is a prerequisite to any rational argument about whether or not a society of human beings is “interdependent.” (2)


(1) This is existential interdependence–i.e. interdependence for continued existence as entities of a certain class. The common definitions of “interdependence” and “dependence” are philosophically vacuous.

(2) Dictionary definitions are unhelpful: interdependent – mutually dependent; depending on each other.”

dependent – relying on someone or something else for aid, support, etc.” [Webster’s College Dictionary, 1996]

Relying, in what way? Aid from whom? What happens if the support doesn’t come from whomever? This definition is useless philosophically, since it can encompass everything from an appointment with one doctor out of many to have a wart removed, to being fed through a tube because you’re paralyzed for life. The required definition is one of metaphysical (inter-)dependence, which is philosophically significant, and is the definition I gave at the start of this article.


Related Posts:

America Before The Entitlement State

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

On Fairness and Justice: Their Meanings, Scopes, and How They Are Not the Same

Values Are Relational But Not Subjective

The REAL Fiscal Cliff

While politicians and the mainstream media in the US have been busy talking about the tax laws that expire at the end of 2012, we are approaching the real “fiscal cliff” very rapidly. This cliff is further in the future and no one knows exactly when we will fall over it, but the US will fall over it if it doesn’t change direction immediately and drastically.

The US Federal debt currently stands at over $16.3 trillion and is rising by about $1 million every 40 seconds. The CBO projects massive annual deficits for the next 10 years.

The economist, Peter Schiff, spells out the harsh reality of the situation the US is getting itself into in the following set of videos:

QE stands for “Quantitative Easing,” where the the Federal Reserve creates new money and uses it to buy financial assets directly from banks. QE generates an increase in the money supply.

To paraphrase Ayn Rand: The majority of people in the US can ignore reality, but they can’t escape the consequences of ignoring reality.

The Federal Reserve is setting the US economy up for another huge crash and a round of hyperinflation. Yet, given our history, it is not hard to predict that when the big crash happens, “scheming businessmen” and/or “unscrupulous financial traders” will take the blame from the mainstream media and dominant public opinion.

This Objective Standard article describes the deeper philosophical problem: The Moral Cliff


Related Posts:

What Caused the Financial Crisis: It Wasn’t Capitalism or Deregulation

QuickPoint 1: Thinking is Individual

There are some people who say that ideas are products of a culture as a whole–that no one stands apart from the collective.

But where do ideas come from originally? Before an idea could be in many minds, it had to be in one mind. Thus, ideas come from individual thought. People can and do learn a great deal from others through their experience, but the process of thinking is a fundamentally, inescapably individual process. Learning from others does not mean parroting word sounds, but thinking about the material you are given. Before an idea can be taught, it must be thought of by an individual. Innovative individuals are those who use their own minds to think of new ideas, and thus move the “knowledge of the culture” (i.e. the sum of the knowledge of the network of communicating individuals) forward.

When people work to solve problems as a team, any individual who isn’t thinking on his own, with his physically separate brain, will not contribute to the discussion and will not make any breakthroughs.


Note: At some point, I will likely write a longer article on this issue.

The DIM Hypothesis by Dr. Leonard Peikoff

Dr. Peikoff’s last work of philosophy/historical analysis,The DIM Hypothesis was released today.

From the Amazon description:

With his groundbreaking and controversial DIM hypothesis, Dr. Leonard Peikoff casts a penetrating new light on the process of human thought, and thereby on Western culture and history.

In this far-reaching study, Peikoff identifies the three methods people use to integrate concrete data into a whole, as when connecting diverse experiments by a scientific theory, or separate laws into a Constitution, or single events into a story. The first method, in which data is integrated through rational means, he calls Integration. The second, which employs non-rational means, he calls Misintegration. The third is Disintegration—which is nihilism, the desire to tear things apart.

In The DIM Hypothesis Peikoff demonstrates the power of these three methods in shaping the West, by using the categories to examine the culturally representative fields of literature, physics, education, and politics. His analysis illustrates how the historical trends in each field have been dominated by one of these three categories, not only today but during the whole progression of Western culture from its beginning in Ancient Greece.

Extrapolating from the historical pattern he identifies, Peikoff concludes by explaining why the lights of the West are going out—and predicts the most likely future for the United States.

Available now from Amazon:

The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out