How has nationalism affected the world?


People like to explain good democratic patriotism as an antidote to bad nationalism. But what is actually in these terms? Yves Bizeul follows the history of her ideas.


At present, "good" patriotism is often separated from "bad" nationalism in Germany. It is hoped that this will help to partially overcome the uncertainty in dealing with one's own nation that did not arise after the Second World War and to express one's affection for one's own country in politically correct language. Patriotism should also help to fill in the meaning and orientation gap that has arisen as a result of overcoming the major political ideologies and to strengthen social cohesion in a world characterized by individualization, globalization and a high rate of change. The patriotism that has become socially acceptable again in the Berlin Republic is - in contrast to the earlier aggressive nationalism - an enlightened, peaceful and democratic loyalty to the nation.

Indeed, patriotism has the great advantage of being an attitude or feeling that is compatible with a republican or democratic political culture in which the ideas of mutual solidarity and active political participation are upheld. [1] Otto Dann defines it as "a socio-political behavior", "in which the focus is not on one's own or group interests - as is usually the case in politics - but rather society as a whole, the state, the environment, ie in older terms: the 'bonum commune' (common good), the good of the fatherland (patria). "[2] Patriotism is a political virtue and passion at the same time, an active love for the political community (" caritas rei publicae ") and for other citizens (" caritas civium "), [3] which can only develop in a moral environment. [4] It is precisely this that makes it attractive in our world, in which the call for morality and virtue is echoing ever stronger.

Patriotism and nationalism can be distinguished from one another if, like Ernest Gellner, one understands nationalism to be "a form of political thinking" that is "based on the assumption that social ties depend on cultural agreement". [5] It is then a culturalist ideology that in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century - especially in non-republican countries or in non-republican milieus - displaced the earlier ideas of patriotism and cosmopolitanism. At that time, nationalism had distinctly mystical features. It was a replacement for the religions weakened by enlightenment and secularization, [6] before it was replaced or instrumentalized by totalitarian ideologies.

In the past, nationalism has led to outbreaks of irrational violence - directed from above or imploding from below - that have escalated to mass destruction and mass murders of unprecedented proportions. Nationalism, together with racism, also enabled a systematic "practice of exclusion" at home. [7] It is not without good reason that Peter Sloterdijk regards the nation as a community of stress and excitement generated by centrally controlled communication, which, with the help of hysteria and panics, constantly puts itself into the tension necessary for its survival. [8]

The definition of the nation as a homogeneous cultural unit creates a lot of stress. Historically, the nation has been less the product of a common culture or a common code than its prerequisite. The "invention of the nation" [9] set in motion a profound process of cultural integration, including the associated demarcation, [10] which brought about "overcoming kinship-shaped, box-shaped, patriarchal and class particularisms". [11] Autochthonous and immigrant cultural minorities were integrated - often under duress - into what Will Kymlicka calls the territorially condensed "dominant social culture"; and this not only in states with a pronounced assimilatory understanding of the national, such as France, but also in traditional immigration societies such as the United States of America or Australia. [12] As a rule, the individual members of society were expected to learn the majority language, internalize the collective memory of the nation - including its condensation in places of remembrance - and adapt to dominant values ​​and norms and behaviors. In the individual nation states, the melting pot of native and foreign cultures gradually developed into a constantly changing mixed majority culture that was mandatory for the inhabitants of a country. The resulting common code enabled extensive complementarity in social communication. [13] Cultural integration also turned out to be a basic prerequisite for solidarity, expressed in redistributive measures, between citizens living in different strata and regions with unequal economic power.

The advocates of the idea of ​​the cultural nation projected the common culture that arose in the course of nation building into a mythical past. [14] The nation was then understood as an original and self-contained cultural entity that was supposed to be protected against an outside world that always threatens to "contaminate" its uniqueness. Such a never-ending struggle to maintain or restore a mythical, original purity of one's own culture has made people susceptible to racist delusions. At the same time, one's own culture was often judged to be more original and grandiose than that of others, as a kind of secular remedy with which the whole world should heal.

It is no coincidence that the culturalist definition of the nation, which is deeply rooted in Germany, paved the way for the murderous National Socialism. The reasons for the German commitment to the subjective, linguistic-intellectual cultural nation, which later acquired both an objective and ultimately a racist dimension, are well known: After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, the Germans formed the German nation and the late implementation of the small German solution for a long time a "language community" without a state. As a result, Germany was a "belated nation" - or rather a belated nation-state. [15] The "clerics" and the intellectual advocates of the new nationalism were kept away from politics by an ailing aristocracy and for this reason adopted a particular view of the national. [16] In addition, a culture saturated by religion and myths was exaggerated.

Of course, German scientists such as Otto Kallscheuer and Claus Leggewie warn against oversimplifying this question. You see in Herder primarily an enlightened cosmopolitan and in Fichte a republican Jacobin and list the many German advocates of a cosmopolitan patriotism. At the end of their study, however, they too have to admit that there was a German "Sonderweg" in understanding what a nation was. [17]