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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The Nature of Individual Rights: Short Notes

Bill of Rights - First Ten Amendments to the US ConstitutionSome short notes about the nature of genuine human rights. I start by clearing up some common misconceptions about rights, then discuss what rights actually are.

What Rights Are Not

  1. Rights do not come from religious texts, like the Bible. Biblical Commandments like “Thou shalt not murder,” and “Thou shalt not steal,” don’t provide an answer to what killing counts as murder, or what taking counts as stealing. In the Biblical book of Exodus, priests and leaders may kill those in their community who are not attacking them, and it is apparently not considered murder. (See: Exodus 32:27-29) Also, many early Christians eschewed private property and lived a communal lifestyle, with all things held in common. (Acts 2:42-45) The Judeo-Christian tradition relies on the arbitrary dictates of the Biblical God and does not provide a solid basis for rights to life, liberty and property.
  2. Rights are not moral duties or “side constraints” on purposeful action, as many academic libertarians believe. They don’t have their basis in some vague concept of “inherent human dignity.”
  3. Rights are not means to “general utility”–i.e. the “collective pleasure” of everyone in society–as John Stuart Mill thought.
  4. Rights do not protect need-based claims to goods or services to be provided by other people, such as food, shelter, healthcare, etc. Contra Bernie Sanders, healthcare is not a right.

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Why Facebook and Twitter Can’t Censor Speech

facebook-twitter-instagram-icons-png-social-media-iconsFacebook and Twitter have been banning a lot of conservatives and anti-social justice activists recently, like Paul Joseph Watson, Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin), Tommy Robinson, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Alex Jones. This has commonly been called “censorship” by them and others. But in this essay, I will argue that this is not censorship. It is something fundamentally different from censorship: moderation.

Censorship is always bad. Moderation can be good or bad. But even when it is bad, irrational and/or biased, it should not be regulated by law.

What is Censorship? What is Moderation?

According to Dictionary.com, a censor is “an official who examines books, plays, news reports, motion pictures, radio and television programs, letters, cablegrams, etc., for the purpose of suppressing parts deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds.”

“Suppressing” here means “suppressing by using the force of the government.” That is, this is the government punishing citizens and/or confiscating their property (the banned materials in question.)

This is fundamentally different than a citizen regulating the speech of another on his property, as a condition of using it. If someone comes into your house and starts denouncing your wife or mother as a slut, you are within your rights to demand that he leave and to assert your property rights by the force of the police. If you and an opponent have been invited to a debate on abortion, and your opponent, or someone in the crowd, starts screaming about how you’re just privileged and your view is invalid, that person can be asked to leave and forced out if necessary. If someone is continually talking loudly during a movie, again, the theater is within its rights to have that person removed.

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The Elements of Moral Philosophy on Ethical Egoism: A Critique

The Elements of Moral Philosophy - Sixth Edition CoverMany college philosophy classes today discuss ethical egoism. Many take as their main source the work of James and Stuart Rachels, in their book, The Elements of Moral Philosophy. The main philosopher referenced in the Rachels’ discussion of ethical egoism in Elements is Ayn Rand. But their account of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethical theory and their arguments against it are problematic. Their account of her theory is not entirely accurate, and their arguments against it miss important considerations.

Here, I will look at how they present ethical egoism, including the arguments they present for and against it. Where appropriate, I’ll use this discussion to show how their conception of Ayn Rand’s theory is faulty. (After this point, I will refer to “Rachels” in the singular. The reader can take it to refer to whichever Rachels is responsible for the essence of the content.)

Part 1: “Duty” and Ayn Rand’s Ethics

On page 63 of Elements (6th Ed.), Rachels says:

[Ethical Egoism] holds that our only duty is to do what is best for ourselves.

This is not a good way to talk about Ayn Rand’s ethical theory, because Rand doesn’t accept moral duties as legitimate. Rand only thought that there were moral obligations, not duties. This may seem like a minor issue of semantics, but it is actually a deeply revealing point about how Ayn Rand’s conception of ethics is different from most other philosophers’.

In the field of morality, a “duty” means a rule that one must allegedly follow, apart from one’s own interests or happiness. When we do something because we see that it will cause something else that we want for our own happiness, we do not call that “following our duty.” For example, if I work and earn money to buy a new gaming computer, my working is not following a duty. It’s doing something in order to get something else for myself. Or again, if I invest in a company to get a larger return on my investment later, we do not say that I am investing out of duty. If I help my wife because her happiness is important to my own, that is not following a duty, but doing something that improves my own life and promotes my happiness. I help her because I genuinely want to, not because I have a “duty” to.

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Video: Why Socialism is Morally Wrong: The Basis of Property Rights

I just published a video version of my essay, “Why Socialism is Morally Wrong: The Basis of Property Rights.” In it, I discuss the “purest” and “most economically reasonable” form of socialism, and I show why it’s immoral and impractical, by the standard of a morality that is pro-human life.

Now, of course, if your morality is against human life on Earth, socialism may be perfectly “moral,” according to your anti-human moral code. And indeed, as Ayn Rand argued in Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness, conventional altruism is one such anti-human moral code. It is the origin of the appeal of socialism to so many people in the past 200 years. This includes, not only Marxists, but utopian and Christian socialists as well.

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What Rationality Means in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy of Objectivism

Ayn Rand, novelist and philosopher of Objectivism, a philosophy for living on Earth.

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s idea of rationality is one of the most misunderstood concepts in her Objectivist philosophy. It seems that almost everyone just assumes they know exactly what rationality means. Then, upon learning that Rand advocates consistent rationality, tend to judge Rand’s philosophy by their preconceived notion of rationality, without realizing their understanding is deeply flawed.

Here I’ll explain what rationality means in Ayn Rand’s philosophy. I’ll quote Rand for a brief, positive explanation of her concept of rationality. Then, because misconceptions are so prevalent, my further explanation will largely take the form of a series of myths about rationality, with genuine rationality explained in contrast to the myths.

In her essay, “The Objectivist Ethics,” Ayn Rand describes rationality:

Rationality is man’s basic virtue, the source of all his other virtues. …

The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values and one’s only guide to action. It means one’s total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one’s waking hours. It means a commitment to the fullest perception of reality within one’s power and to the constant, active expansion of one’s perception, i.e., of one’s knowledge. It means a commitment to the reality of one’s own existence, i.e., to the principle that all of one’s goals, values and actions take place in reality and, therefore, that one must never place any value or consideration whatsoever above one’s perception of reality.  It means a commitment to the principle that all of one’s convictions, values, goals, desires and actions must be based on, derived from, chosen and validated by a process of thought—as precise and scrupulous a process of thought, directed by as ruthlessly strict an application of logic, as one’s fullest capacity permits.

So rationality consists of two components: a mental component and a physical component. It involves both thought and action. The thinking portion can be described as the rigorous application of objectivity in one’s own life. So when I discuss the myths about rationality, you should understand that what I say about the mental aspect of it applies to Ayn Rand’s concept of objectivity, as well. (Objectivity is frequently mischaracterized, along with rationality.)

Now to the myths:

Myth: Rationality means not making errors about facts.

Truth: Rationality means judging facts to the best of your ability on the basis of observation, rather than going by faith or feelings. Doing this is not a guarantee that you won’t make mistakes. Rational thought can still result in major errors about what the facts are.

The evidence may seem to point to one conclusion, because of limitations in what evidence you have access to. But there may be other evidence you’re not aware of that would lead you to a different conclusion. So long as you’re continually thinking and following the evidence to the best of your ability, you are acting rationally in regard to the facts.

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Philosophy of Perception: Naïve Realism vs. Representationalism vs. Direct Transformative Process Realism

Painting of a beautiful woman in a garden - Shows the richness of perceptionWithin epistemology, which is the branch of philosophy that studies human knowledge, one of the most fundamental topics is the nature of perception. Philosophers from the Ancient Greeks to the present have offered various theories of what perception is and how it occurs. Because it is a topic so fundamental to human knowledge, specialized natural science can’t answer the basics about it. Science relies on perceptual observations of reality. Thus science itself relies on the idea that perception allows us to be aware of an external reality. If perception does not give us awareness of external reality, then scientific study of the external world is not possible: We would always, at best, be inspecting the contents of our own minds.

Thus, it is the job of philosophy to answer the most basic question: Does perception give us an awareness of reality, and if so, at the most basic level, how?

In this essay, I’ll explain three different theories of perception. To the question of whether perception gives us an awareness of reality, all three of them attempt to answer, “Yes.” Where they disagree is on the “how,” or the basic nature of perception. The three basic theories are naïve realism, representative realism, and Direct Transformative Process Realism (DTPR.) (“Representative realism” here is a synonym for representationalism. Note that these theories are all variants of “realism” in perception. Theories that answer “No” to the question of whether we can observe mind-independent reality would be variants of “idealism.”)

Philosophers sometimes use “naïve realism” as a synonym for “direct realism,” and there are many different theories that could be called “direct realist.” But here I will take “naïve realism” to be one specific sort of direct realist theory: the sort of approach to perception exemplified by the Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Representationalism too has quite a few variants, but they all share a common thread. I will focus largely on the version of representationalism associated with the English philosopher, John Locke. Direct Transformative Process Realism (DTPR) is my term for the theory of perception put forward by Ayn Rand and Objectivist intellectuals after her. It’s a form of direct realism that is very different from Aristotle’s approach. I’ll explain this term in more detail when I explain this theory later in this essay.

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