The proper kind of nationalism

Views 21 | Time to read: 3 minutes | Uploaded: 2 - 6 - 2019 | By: Addie Michaelian


Hands are raised to a red, ominous flag, shuddering in the breeze, while expressions remain uniform and rigid. The devoted cry of “Heil Hitler!” reverberates with formidable intensity.

When we hear the word “nationalism,”we tend to think of Nazi Germany or some other extremist group. The multitude of negative connotations swirling around the term has obscured its meaning. Today nationalism is often percieved as viewing the other nations or minorities with disdain. We tend to shy away from displays of national sentiment because we do not have an understanding of proper nationalism.

In its most basic form, nationalism is necessary to maintain a sense of national consciousness. Nations break the world into smaller communities that can protect the interests of individuals far better than a distant, global government. I believe we have the responsibility to work towards the good of our nations to maintain the well-being of our neighbors and fellow citizens. Nationalism can inspire a sense of loyalty and devotion to the welfare of our nation, which is healthy and necessary.

However, the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr warns about blind, fervent loyalty. Our personal devotion and patriotic unselfishness has the potential to lead to national selfishness and a government lacking restraint. This kind of nationalism quickly descends into a chauvinism that involves blind patriotism and a sense of superiority. Niebuhr contends that true loyalty towards a nation will include criticism. A proper kind of nationalism is critical loyalty. If we truly want the best for our nation, we will fight for the best version it can be. This means critiquing our national policies, attitude, and history when necessary, and praising our successes and virtues. While it is often painful and uncomfortable to recognize the flaws of a nation we love, speaking truth is the deepest form of love and loyalty.

Understanding that nationalism benefits a nation when it inspires critical loyalty in her citizens without disintegrating into chauvinism has implications for how we read and tell our history, how we conduct national celebrations, and how we give ourselves to serve our country. It means listening in excitement and awe to the stories from our history, but lamenting when we hear about our failures and the times our nation has inflicted pain and injustice. It means jubilantly waving the flag on the Fourth of July and immediately falling to our knees, humbly asking God to continue to shape this country.

While a proper kind of nationalism is not blindly patriotic, neither does it criticize for criticism’s sake. Today’s culture has a tendency to degrade our country. A loyalty for our nation and a commitment to promoting its well-being should drive us to recognize failure. But this truth should not be spoken to downgrade our nation, rather it should be intended call our nation higher.

Critical loyalty is definitely not easy. Inevitably, we will always tend towards one extreme or the other. It is tempting to surrender to blind loyalty and close our eyes to our nation’s flaws as so many did in Nazi Germany. On the other hand critical loyalty can easily mutate into hostile critique. Yet if we truly want the best for our nation and our communities, then we must continue to persevere in the fight for this attitude.


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