Who says nationalism must be intolerant?

Nationalism merely expresses the civilisational values of the nation

Waldemar Hanasz’s “Toward Global Citizenship?”, one of the readings prescribed for next week’s Liberty Fund Colloquium at Neemrana, organised by Centre for Civil Society, says “contemporary republications realise that today the only form of passionate patriotism is nationalism, which is often incompatible with toleration and pluralism.”

This negative view of nationalism pervades the Western political discourse. A few years ago, a European friend argued that he was sceptical of nationalism because of the crimes and violence that were perpetrated in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. In a way this is like the contemporary connotation of the swastika in the West. The Nazis appropriation of an ancient symbol sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and people of many other Indian faiths has resulted in the swastika becoming a taboo sign, not just among the ignorant, but also among the politically correct knowledgeable.

Mr Hanasz phrases his sentence carefully but in popular discourse, nationalism is automatically equated with intolerance. This is wrong.

The political expression of nationalism depends on the values of the nation concerned (the nation being an “imagined community” that has cultural kinship). If nationalism in twentieth-century Europe resulted in intolerance and violence it is because the intolerant and violent values of Europe’s nations were dominant. There is no reason to believe that this will happen everywhere else.

Indian nationalism since the middle of the nineteenth century was informed by the quintessentially Hindu values of tolerance and pluralism. As long as Indian nationalism continues to be driven by these dominant Hindu values, we need not worry too much about the colours with which Western discourse paints it with.

The politics of liberal nationalism is not only possible but presents modern society with a enlightened way to manage its affairs. Actually, this has been the way in India for much of history, with the exceptions being Islamic and European attempts to impose religious intolerance in some parts during some periods. These attempts largely failed except in 1947. Even so, the outcome of Partition showed that systems that reject the values of tolerance and pluralism will come to grief.

10 thoughts on “Who says nationalism must be intolerant?”

  1. “… by the quintessentially Hindu values of tolerance and pluralism”
    that would be a slight error in the choice of words. A more apt expression would be:
    “… by the quintessentially Hindu values of mutual respect and pluralism”

    Hinduism goes beyond tolerance and offers mutual respect. Merely tolerating people of another faith is relatively easy to do, though many countries outside india don’t even do that.

  2. In Europe and the US, nationalism has been pride in the accomplishments of one’s linguistic and ethnic group. Germans, who spoke German, intermarried with other Germans, and thought that Germans were better than other people were German nationalists, for example. World Wars I and II did a lot to reduce enthusiasm for nationalism among Europeans.

    The US is strongly nationalistic, and Americans sometimes irritate Indians by thinking that everything American is awe inspiring.

    Pride in India is not nationalistic in this sense. If a Gujarati believed that Gujarat under Modi was better run and developing more quickly than the rest of India, and therefore other Indians should defer to Gujaratis, learn the language of Gujarat, etc, that would be nationalism. Gujarati nationalism. The impression I get is that Punjabis, Bengalis, Maharastans and Tamils would not be amused.

  3. A delicate issue has been handled very beautifully. Nationalism has become an enigma to many intellectuals. Intellectualism has been caught in the clutches of western dictum. The long history of India is to be studied in the new light of revelations. The Indian Dictum is to be spread well all over the world and for which an intense effort is essential. But a constant exertion is going on to distract the India Dictum from within and outside the country. The forces who are call themselves as ‘Marginals’ are actually trying to marginalize the Indian Dictum. I like these ‘marginal forces’; because they are actually giving a scope to bring fore the Indian Dictum. Nationalism is the core item of confrontation for the so called ‘marginal elements’. A fierce debate may unleash in India as well as in the world in a near future. The developments in Egypt, Sudan and other countries also influence this debate.

  4. Nationalism tends to be viewed a less negatively in the United States outside academia (in my opinion obviously). We don’t have the history of Europe and so don’t perceive nationalism in the same way. In fact, I wager it is one of the key differences between our two corners of “the West.”

    Plus, our Republic is based on the idea of a citizen. I am a first generation immigrant and think of myself as completely American and I am accepted as such. My ethnicity doesn’t figure into it.

    I think the nationalism of Americans and Indians is quite similar in some respects. It represents pride in the respective constitutions, and institutions of governance – in addition to the cultures of secularism and liberty.

    Nationalism tends to irritate “outsiders” to the system so that American pride in America may be perceived as irritating to others (America is the best!) and Indian pride in India the same way (India is the best!).

    As long as the nationalism is not tinged with xenophobia or overt aggression toward neighbors I don’t see the problem.

    Of course, different peoples will have a different idea of aggression.

    And so it goes.

  5. The danger of nationalism is two fold. One, a person who is extremely “nationalistic” might get the feeling that their country is better than everyone else’s. Ultimately, there is nothing superior about India, or the US, or China. We’re all humans and we’re all the same.

    The second is they start to determine for themselves what it means to belong to that country and then treat everyone who doesn’t fit those parameters as a threat. Religion for example is one of the first defining factors. Even in the US, there are people who strongly feel that the US is a “Christian” nation and that Christan values must guide the country.

    Similarly, nationalistic people in India might get the idea that India is a “Hindu” nation and anyone not hindu is somehow an outsider. It’s happened too many times in too many countries for too long for us to ignore the dangers of rampant nationalism.

  6. I see comrade Park is here to repeat his nonsense.
    No other nation gives so much to its’ minorities and has them behave in this fashion.
    It is also significant that the Commie parties follow this line and endorse it in JNU.
    JNU has many “professors” who actively campaign and endorse this garbage, which is why they have such a stranglehold on distorted history in this country. The “secular” Kkkangress tacitly supports this ideology.
    Nationalism for us is critical and must be strongly endorsed at all levels.

  7. I believe in this post nationalism has been confused with patriotism. While the feeling of patriotism should pervade all hearts, an overtly feeling of love for one’s nation is damaging, reasons for which have already been voiced by Mr Park in his comments. The intolerance of nationalists also is showcased in the comment just below Dr Park’s.

    Extremism in any form is deplorable. When a feeling of love, reverence and loyalty for one’s nation forces one to believe his/her nation is Godly, danger creeps in.

    About nationalism in India, i can say that while love for the country can be channelised for the nation’s progress, largely the “feeling of nationalism” has been wasted on figurative and symbolic acts like singing a particular song or respecting a particular culture.

    True Nationalism (which i believe is no different from patriotism) will endorse the multi cultural identity of India and not root for any particular ethnicity or lineage (which most self confessed nationalists do).

    In conclusion i would say that we should emulate the Bard Rabindranath Tagore and rise above our nationalities to become global citizens and not narrow our vision only to our nation. We must love our nation and should not stop at that.

  8. Broadly agree with Bhagwad (but also cricfan). Mutual respect is of prime importance, it is the foundation for an equal relationship not tolerance. I think Hindu worldview has it from a philosophical PoV. The hindutva wingnuts bashing up ppl in pubs etc. certainly dont; it’d be great progress for them to get to tolerance first.

    The absolute epitome of respect of course is for us to not treat faith as a matter of any consequence. ie. somebody that tom-toms loudly and repeatedly their faith’s tolerance is on the threshold of not being very tolerant or may have a problem with said tolerance IMO.


Comments are closed.