Patriotism vs. nationalism – Why words matter


Dear Partners in thought,
While celebrating the end of WW1 in Paris among the longest list of heads of states, President Macron stressed a key note befitting the moment and our times. He stressed patriotism vs. nationalism making words matter as they should and giving the defenders of Western liberal values a crucial tool in the fight against the rise of populism. Words indeed matter. Patriotism is a positive and natural feeling reflecting the pride and love for one’s country’s history, culture and, yes, identity. Nationalism, especially in our times, while including some attributes of patriotism in the eyes of many of today’s nationalists and populists, also conveys feelings of isolationism, retranchement and xenophobia, all ingredients that do not bode well for any future and subtract rather than add to the “wealth of nations”.
Walter Russell Mead, the famed American historian just pointed out in the WSJ that patriotism was a Western European universal concept and that nationalism was a positive force at the end of WW1 in the creation of new countries in the midst of the falls of empires across Central & Eastern Europe. This is right and the Poles, Czechoslovaks and Lithuanians do remember. However it was 1918 and not 2018. Then nationalistic passions were necessary to reach a hard fought nationhood and had been much alive across the region as Alphonse Mucha’s beautiful Slav Epic shows us (on display in Prague’s City Hall until early 2019). Today nationalism is a force not for creating national communities but used very often for domestic political and electoral agendas and also bent on breaking the European project that has made European nations grow in peace and prosper, gradually together, as a community of partners since the 1950s. Nationalism today is also a phenomenon (some would also say a tool) much liked by certain countries that do not want to see Europe acting as a bloc while we live in an age of blocs while remaining patriots and proud of our own specific roots and history.
Macron struck the right tone, reminding us that words matter. He also gave a new and much revamped life to this old fashioned, often derided notion of patriotism.
We should all be patriots focused on the core values that made our nations if we are to succeed together and find a way to counter the easy rise of an ill-thought nationalism and its populist cousin.
Best regards,
Serge Desprat
PS: I think the dichotomy between patriotism vs. nationalism is also very apt for the “indispensable country” we all want to see back.


Serge Desprat- 14th November, 2018 (Prague)