Patriotism is the love of the larger social unit, especially to one that has nurtured us and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude. The English word “patriot” comes from the Greek patris or fatherland. This larger unit is usually a nation, but it can be a region, a city, a tribe, a clan or even a family. We are willing to work for its betterment, to protect it, to volunteer for it or to do what we can to make it a more stable, just, organized and happy society.
Nationalism is quite different from patriotism. Nationalism has an element of separation from other nations. It is my nation as against other nations. In this sense, nationalism is divisive, and has been the cause of conflicts and wars for thousands of years. This of course is the result of social development in various periods of history. In the early periods the rules that govern human and social life are determined by a ruler who has the power to impose edicts or desires. There is insecurity and thus people need the protection by such powers against other powers. This leads to mutual fear and distrust, including the setting of physical boundaries between these groups, and a feeling of you versus us. These tribal feelings are but the precursor to national attitudes towards neighbors who are perceived as threats.
Muslims and Hindus have lived with each other in western India more or less peacefully for many centuries. Then in 1947, during the independence of India from the British, they decided to draw a boundary between themselves, leading to the deaths of thousands of people who were trying to cross such an invisible border which never existed before. Now India and Pakistan, people of the same nationality prior to 1947, became enemies and have engaged in intermittent wars and battles for the past half a century, both even developing nuclear weapons to “defend” themselves, as if anyone is going to win in a nuclear war. No wonder Albert Einstein wrote: “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
Within each country, we have provinces or states that have no restrictive borders. We don’t usually become “provincialistic” by asserting our loyalty to our province over or against other provinces. It is easy for us to become residents of other provinces or states. We will see that even if there are provincial or state boundaries, they do not become serious sources of animosity or hostility.
In the future, the world will have just one global government and the present nations will be like “global provinces” where we are free to cross boundaries and change residences. A semblance of such “international provinces” is happening to the European Union today, although nationalistic feelings are still strong due to historical and linguistic reasons. It is hoped that in future decades (or centuries?) it will be difficult to distinguish between a German, a French or a Czech as they are all Europeans. Thus national identities will blur, and former ethnic distrust and animosity will fade away.
National boundaries are inventions of the mind due to insecurity or greed. With modern communications, ease of travel, or globalized economies, we can no longer think of any country as an isolated island. We are one human family and can no longer make decisions based on purely nationalistic interests. The earth has become too small for distrust and bickering. Nations have absolutely become interdependent. The preservation of the Amazon forests is a global concern. The pollution of China or America will not just harm Chinese or Americans but may melt Antarctic ice shelves that can cause the rise of the sea level and submerge vast areas of Bangladesh. The Nile River as a water source is shared by at least four countries in North Africa. If Ethiopia, the source of the major tributary river will control the flow of water, it will affect Sudan and Egypt. In 1979, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said, “”The only matter that could take Egypt to war again is water.”
It will probably take a thousand years before mankind will outgrow nationalism and see themselves as brothers and sisters of one human family. But there is no other road. We must now espouse universal brotherhood. There is no other way. It is no longer just patriotism. It will no longer be nationalism, but a love of mankind. As Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, wrote: “In proportion as I advance in life, I grow more simple, and I become more and more patriotic for humanity.”