(un)common ground

a commonplace book

Orwell’s Definition of ‘Nationalism’

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently called ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly–and this is much more important–I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.

George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism” (1945)

For Orwell, this idea of “nationalism,” which by no means confines itself to the more common meaning of the word, comprises any behavior characterized by

  1. the practice of othering, and
  2. strong self-identification with a group.

I find the definition as it applies to nationalism as such to be extremely apt. For Orwell, nationalism is to be distinguished from patriotism by the fact that it targets others with its own measure, while patriotism is more or less passive, content to tout the values of its own nation while not insisting that other groups need be the same. However, I wonder if the two aren’t connected in practice. I can see patriotism and nationalism in a sort of dialectical relationship, overlapping in a sort of Venn diagram.

By “placing it beyond good and evil,” Orwell means that the object of nationalism is irrelevant to concerns of morality. It becomes a naturalized, ideological fact that the object of nationalism is as it is and criticism of it is simply out of the question. Those who do so are swiftly othered into oblivion.


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This entry was posted on February 5, 2016 by and tagged , , .
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