I have just came across two very good articles about Liberal Nationalism. They came from two different worlds but they share the same human values. One is from India and the other is from Britain. They both explain why Liberal Nationalism is the necessary healthy balance between Nationalism and Liberalism. Let me start with the article posted by IndianLiberals.org a year ago:
[I have extracted the following comment from one of my recent blog post discussion. A commentator took exception to the fact that I in some way appealed to certain communal sentiments and I am partly to take blame for it. For the article was addressed to the Hindus specifically and it is very easy to look at it from a “communal” angle. I have pasted a part of the comment below:
In your article I perceived a tone of ‘communal’ competition. Now, don’t get shocked by my use of ‘communal’ here! According to me, appealing to the sentiment of nationalism is exactly the same as appealing to the sentiment of religiosity or regional pride (“sons of the soil”-argument). [emphasis mine]
At the outset, I must clarify that I wasn’t appealing to anyone’s “communal” sentiment. But that’s not what this post is about. What stuck with me most was the commentator’s likening of nationalism with religiosity and regional pride. Again, I don’t blame the commentator for that. After all, that’s what nationalism has been reduced to these days!
I spent a good part of last week thinking about, and researching, the concept of nationalism. And after going through scores of references, I’ve come to realise that nationalism means many things. But since this is not an academic discussion on the meanings of nationalism, I will stick to *what I think* is the common man’s understanding of nationalism i.e. devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation!
As a liberal idealist, I dream of a world sans national borders – a world where every place belongs to everyone and where no one is an alien and no one the “son of the soil”! And I positively despise people who claim to love only a tiny piece of land on this great beautiful planet. My dislike of these people is not because they love their nation but because they claim to love their nation more than other nations. I fail to see the rationale behind it!
But at the same time, I love the place where I was born and feel a sense of attachment to it no matter where I live. Without doubt, I remain devoted to India and I wish to see India prosper and take its rightful place in the world. That, for me, is nationalism! And I am sure that many people across the world feel about their respective nations exactly the way I do about India.
Clearly, there’s a conflict between liberalism and nationalism, you would think. And sure enough, liberals and nationalists identify themselves in different groups. Having spent some time understanding these two concepts, however, I think that it need not necessarily be the case. The problem is not in the conceptualisation of liberalism and nationalism but in the interpretation of the two.
Nationalism in India
India has had many different interpretations of nationalism over the many years of our history. Prominent amongst them are Hindu nationalism, Muslim nationalism, socialist nationalism, and in the recent days, territorial nationalism.
Hindu nationalism is a form of cultural nationalism. It is a form of nationalism in which a nation is defined by a “shared culture, history and ancestry”. It implies that anyone who doesn’t share a certain culture, history or ancestry isn’t qualified to be a national of that country.
Muslims nationalism, as the name suggests, is founded upon the tenets of Islam. This religious nationalism gave way to the expression of Muslim separatism and statehood and continues to do so to a large extent in the troubled Kashmir region. Obviously, anyone who doesn’t belong to the religion of the state is at best treated as a secondary citizen of that country. Most of the Muslim nations are a testament to that.
Socialist nationalism, on the other hand, was made popular by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Although this form of nationalism has largely rejected the cultural and religious nationalism, it is still an extremely authoritarian form of nationalism. The command & control structure of the Indian National Congress should work as a very good example here. It is limited in its scope in that it is closely tied to left-wing politics.
And finally, the recent phenomenon is territorial nationalism. It idealises citizenship and assumes that all inhabitants of a particular nation owe allegiance to their country of birth or adoption. The growing Indian diaspora across the world reflects this form of nationalism exceedingly well. You would see an increase in this form of nationalistic sentiments even within India – Maharashtra for Marathis, for instance!
There are a few other forms of nationalism prevalent in India such as ethnic nationalism (Dravidian parties in the South) worth a mention. The problem with most of these forms of nationalism is that they are equally xenophobic, supremacist and diversity-intolerant. Unfortunately, prevalence of these interpretations, or of their combination, have necessitated most Indians to align their sense of patriotism with one or the other. So if you love your India, you will have to identify yourself as either a Hindu nationalist or a territorial nationalist. Unfortunately, a liberal is almost always branded anti-India, anti-national!
I think it need not be that way. I was certain that there had to be a reconciliation or my liberal values and my love for the nation. And that reconciliation is liberal nationalism!
Liberal nationalism is essentially a form of non-xenophobic nationalism compatible with the liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality and individual rights. It lies within the traditions of rationalism and liberalism but as a form of nationalism, it is contrasted with all the above forms I discussed.
Liberal nationalism views a nation as an assembly of free individuals who choose to live together. These people are not bound by culture, history, ancestry or territory but by, as Ernest Renan put it, “by their desire to live together… having done great things together and wishing to do more!” It is, according to him, a “daily plebiscite”, implying that people are free to be part of this nation and free to leave it.
Liberal nationalism is the only form of nationalism that respects an individual on his/her merits; not on that individual’s race, religion, ancestry or place of birth. It is the only form of nationalism that is inclusive instead of exclusive, extrovert instead of introvert, progressive instead of regressive, and fluid instead of stagnant.
India, with it’s fascinating diversity, is best poised to be a liberal nation. Unfortunately, this same diversity is creating political rifts along religious, regional and ethnic lines and fostering undesirable chauvinistic nationalist sentiments. And such nationalistic sentiments could only take us down the road of destruction.
Hence my appeal to the liberals of India: before you surrender the concept of nationalism to the likes of Sangh parivar or the MNS or DMK or the Congress, ask yourselves what kind of an India you would want to build – an India of liberals or an India of bigots?]
More From Indian Liberals (IndianLiberals.org is an independent blog and is not associated with any formal or informal organisation.)
- A case against religion
- Individualism vs. collectivism
- Liberal values
- In defence of secularism
- The trouble with anarcho-capitalism
- Democracy and mob rule
The second article about Liberal Nationalism is from the National Liberal Party (NLP) of Britain:
[By the 20th Century Liberalism was seen as antagonistic to Nationalism. In crude terms Liberals placed the rights of individuals above all whilst Nationalists believed the group was everything. Thus Liberals and Nationalists were often locked in political conflict over the nature and function of the state. It wasn’t always so.
In the 19th century many (political) Liberals believed that the only way to create (in opposition to the multi-national monarchies/aristocratic rulers) and maintain (in a stable environment) individual freedom was within a community of equals. The nation (a people sharing a language, culture and history) was such a community. Nationalism was the pursuit of turning a ‘nation’ into a state. Thus such Liberals adopted nationalism as part of their creed and became known as National Liberals. Indeed many saw Nationalism as an aspect of Liberalism.
The end of history?
The success of people to craft out nations throughout Europe and largely create representative democracies within them boded well for the future. A commentator writing just before the Second World War (and fearful of the future) bemoaned the loss of an earlier age where Liberalism and Nationalism were working together towards a “completer humanity”. Further, it was felt “History…. was reaching, its final phrase, and increasing development of the rights of the individual and of democracy within Nation-States was all that the future would have to chronicle. The battle for liberty had been won at last; all the 20th century would need to do would be to garner the harvest.” Of course it never worked out that way.
The plethora of ‘nation-states’ after the First World War should have paved the way for peace rather than conflict but, since many of the states were bureaucratic constructs and the democracy forcibly implanted, Europe descended into war as Authoritarian and Totalitarian forces took over. Thus Nationalism and Liberalism became in conflict as adherents of the former increasingly rejected the latter as an obstacle to the ‘greater unity of the people’ whilst they in turn saw them as a threat to the ‘people’s freedom of choice.’ The ‘excesses’ of so-called Nationalists ultimately led to the pendulum swinging towards Liberalism and a suspicion of nation-states in general (at least in Europe). What then is the natural order of their relationship?
Both philosophies appeal to different aspects of Man. Nationalism is an emotion, a belief in a group loyalty that may require a sacrifice for the greater whole. In its basic sense it is the reason why we pay taxes the benefits of which we may not receive in return. Some theorists would say this is a ‘social contract’ i.e. we pay for peace of mind. We sacrifice our freedom of action towards laws and enforcement because it suits us e.g. a protection against the strong or the criminal. A Nationalist would say that it is our duty to make that sacrifice, being also a product of past and future generations i.e. we owe it to our families not just as a selfish choice. A National Liberal would say that an individuals family, community and nation require a proportionate form of sacrifice i.e. that which doesn’t also take away his individuality or liberty. In all senses the Nation represents Man’s heart. It is an emotional feeling that justifies sacrifice and duty. Mazzini says that it has a call upon the duties of man.
Liberalism on the other hand appeals to the intellect. We are born as individuals and we seek a way of life that allows us to enjoy its’ fruits. How we organise ourselves, how we interact with others is dictated by our mind e.g. we should be able to choose our form of governance whilst still maintaining at ‘arms-length’ the designs of the state. This freedom to choose is essential as is the freedom to limit the control that a state exercises upon our lives. Liberalism, or more properly Liberty, is represented by our head for we choose to be free. A National Liberal would say that liberty (from an omnipotent state) is crucial to Man’s well-being. Mazzini says that it is one of the rights of man.
The early revolts of the 19th century illustrate the differences of Man’s Dual nature (Heard or Heart). Such revolts were either Liberal or Nationalist in their nature (unlike the more National-Liberal revolts in 1848). Although mainly inspired by political liberalism (the head) the only successful revolt (in Portugal) was that inspired by nationalist impulses (the heart). Reaction in Europe was too powerful to be overthrown so whilst the masses might shout for liberty they would not fight (and inevitably die) for it. Where inspired by the heart i.e. nationalism they will do so even when the cause seems, in practical terms, lost.
A necessary balance of ‘Head & Heart’
Thus a vital Nationalism and Liberalism within society can be seen as a perquisite for a healthy people as a vital head and heart is for a healthy body. A National Liberal thus seeks to harness and maintain a balance between the needs of the nation and the individual as a doctor would between the needs of head and heart. One cannot be complete without the other.]
The NLP represents a third way. This is a reflection of being born out of the Third Way ‘Think Tank’ and our belief that they are the best alternative to the two main parties of left (Labour) and right (Conservative). They also believe that the ideology of National Liberalism to be a more viable alternative to Socialism/Marxism and Capitalism. At the head of the party is a National Executive and a National Secretary (Glen Maney). More articles are at the National Liberal Party website: