(un)common ground

a commonplace book

The Blindness of Nationalism

All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. … Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage–torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians–which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.

George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism” (1945)

Orwell’s understanding of nationalism–broadly meaning any set of behaviors characterized by strong self-identification with a group or unit coupled with othering–here becomes in a more explicit way related to factors familiar to ideological analysis. The way Orwell’s nationalist is blind to his/her own inconsistency bespeaks a naturalization that ideology produces: assumptions implicit in a worldview become natural, their arbitrariness and artifice becoming invisible, as Eagleton puts it, an “Everybody knows that” sort of thing.

But of course the behavior Orwell here describes is dangerous in the way that it becomes unreasonable, irrational in its evaluative choices, unable to see relations between “similar sets of facts.” This happens all the time. It appears in little ways as favoritism and in bigger ways as patriotism. But the insidious thing about this type of behavior is the way that it wields the power of definition, of validation: moral determinations become arbitrary when one actor moves, as Orwell puts it, “beyond good and evil” to the point where it cannot even be implicated. The gaze is always outward, blind to itself and its own relation to others. The nationalist in this case heeds only his/her own definition of what is valid. The Other has no say in the matter.


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This entry was posted on February 6, 2016 by and tagged , , .
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