The time for subtlety is long gone

I find nationalism and racism to be mostly indistinguishable — they’re both reductive and draw false connections and conclusions. At least I’ve got George Orwell to draw a line between patriotism and 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 labelled ‘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 recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

It’s so strange to live in a time and a place where many people are professing to be nationalists, as if it’s a good and honorable thing. They haven’t learned what it means!

Maybe this cartoon will help.

What’s even stranger is that some people like to argue that fascism is a legitimate political ideology. This cartoon is for them.

Do you think it’s too subtle?


  1. Dunc says

    What term should we use then for the desire for national independance and self-determination on the part of colonised or subjected nations? For example, Indian nationalism or Irish nationalism? Is nationalism on the part of the colonised perhaps different from nationalism on the part of the colonisers? (Perhaps worth bearing in mind here that Eric Blair aka George Orwell was an English Imperial policeman in Burma until 1928…)

  2. jo1storm says

    @3 Dunc

    Now we are having a 19th century arguments again: the right of peoples to self-determination. it lead to dissolution of multiple empires, over the course of multiple wars (like Balkans wars against Turkey, World War I lead to formation of multiple countries etc), calling them empires “Peoples dungeons”. It basically means that groups of people can determine if they want to be a part of a country or not, if they want to form a new country or not etc. That’s when the modern meaning of the term “nation” was even born (although some say that England was the first nation in 1600s) and tied nationality with the state territory .

  3. Dunc says

    Now we are having a 19th century arguments again: the right of peoples to self-determination.

    It’s hardly confined to the 19th century – have you seen how much the map of Europe has changed in the last 40 years? And it’s still very much a live issue, as a lot of people in places like Scotland or Catalonia will tell you. (Not to mentiont the Kurds…)

  4. awomanofnoimportance says

    I’ve always thought of patriotism as being similar to one’s family but on a larger scale. Of course I love my own family more than I love the people across the street, but that doesn’t mean I have any real interest in forcing them to live the way I think they should or exploiting them for my own material gain. Or that I view them as morally inferior to me.

  5. Walter Solomon says

    If your goal is to create an ethnostate, nationalism is your only choice. Your version of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité or E. Pluribus Unum is “Borders, Language, Culture.”

    Of course, revisionism will be utilized, we can’t have the past faults of the nation, not to mention the preferred ethnic group, taught in the schools. In fact, the education system will need to be reformed to further the cause of the nation.

    Finally, “freeze peach” will be championed…but only for those from the preferred group who are expressing the preferred talking points.

    This is what Project 2025 is all about.

  6. flex says

    #3, Dunc wrote,

    Perhaps worth bearing in mind here that Eric Blair aka George Orwell was an English Imperial policeman in Burma until 1928…

    And learned to hate both the English and Burmese nationalists during his 5 years of service in Burma. At least the nationalists who fit the definition he uses above. Your comment is “poisoning the well” when submitted as a pejorative without further explanation. Certainly Orwell’s experiences in Burma had an impact on his thoughts about nationalism and patriotism. In fact, I would submit that his observations during his time in Burma probably had a large impact on them. But the conclusions Orwell drew from that experience were not, as you seem to hint, contrary to what PZ quoted in the OP. Your obvious rejoinder is that you didn’t mean to insinuate anything negative, but that would also be disingenuous. You may not have said that Orwell cannot be relied on because he was a policeman in Burma during the English occupation of that nation, but that is exactly what you implied. Else, why bring it up at all?

    Further, the nationalist movements you brought up are descriptions of the desires of a collection of people. “Nationalism” in the sense of people wanting to found a nation is a very different meaning than the same word used to describe a single person. Words can have more than one meaning, and an intelligent, observant, reader can usually figure out which meaning is being discussed.

  7. raz says

    @8, something vaguely upsetting about comparing Junji Ito to Jack Chick. Like seeing a ballet and saying how it reminds you of that time you watched a drunk getting thrown out of a bar.

  8. raven says

    @8, something vaguely upsetting about comparing Junji Ito to Jack Chick.

    Besides the fact that the cartoon in the OP doesn’t look at all like it was drawn by Jack Chick.

    Different styles.
    Jack Chick’s style was a lot simpler drawings.
    His simple drawings also went along with…his simple thoughts.

  9. mordred says

    @11: Ah, Junji Ito, I knew this looked familiar. Thanks raz!

    And yeah, that comparison is weird.

    @12: Some of the Chick Tracts weren’t actually drawn by Jack himself, recognisable by the much better style. In some cases including very detailed depictions of attractive topless guys…

  10. says

    Nationalism: “My country right or wrong!”

    That’s not the complete saying. The complete saying is: “My country, right or wrong: when right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be made right.” In other words, you have a duty to support your country when it’s right, and to take whatever action is necessary to make things right when it’s wrong. Withdrawing, seceding and running away aren’t options.

    I really think you’re overstating the evils of “nationalism,” as well as drawing a false distinction between “nationalism” and “patriotism.” Yes, tyrants and demagogues have caused a lot of death and suffering by appealing to “nationalist” sentiment; but nationalism originated as a response to other gross injustices, including (but not limited to) petty feudal disputes, class warfare, religious/sectarian warfare, and violent family feuds — all of which required a strong state to create order, stop the cycles of killing and revenge, and make laws to enforce compromises among all the disputant factions.

    The basic idea of nationalism is: “We, the people who happen to be living close to each other on this particular piece of land, will be best off by having one government and one set of laws for all of us, regardless of ethnicity, religious belief, class or any other differences that exist between us.” Loyalty to the nation or state was supposed to override/supersede all other loyalties, such as religion, tribe, family, class, etc.; and the state, in turn, was supposed to impose a peaceful order in which all disputes between people and groups would be resolved peacefully and everyone would be subject to the same laws. That, at least, is the theory; and of course it doesn’t always work out so well in practice — but history does show positive outcomes of nationalism as well as negative ones.

    One example: when Martin Luther King talked of dishonored checks and unfulfilled promises, that was a nationalist appeal: Americans are promised certain rights and freedoms, and Black Americans were entitled to all the same freedoms because they were Americans, and didn’t have to do anything else to “earn” or “qualify” for what their country had promised them.

    And further back, the US Civil War was a (relatively) advanced nation-state uniting to fight against reactionary, slave-owning, landed aristocracy.

    And even further back than that, there’s the Reformation, which saw huge chunks of Europe’s population killed off in deranged sectarian civil wars. That bloody experience led directly to the idea of secular state authority independent of any church or religious cult.

    We tend to think of Germany’s Third Reich as an example of how evil nationalism can get. But if you go back a bit and look at their SECOND Reich, it wasn’t a model of democracy, but it did benefit the German people by uniting a lot of small-to-middling feudal duchies under one state, which then launched an industrialization drive that brought its people a good bit forward from where they’d been before.

    Having said all that, I’ll also add that most forms of ETHNIC or RELIGIOUS nationalism (Hindu nationalism in India, White or Christian nationalism in America) tend to contradict the purpose and expected benefits of nationalism. Nationalism is supposed to unite people in a nation, but a nationalism co-opted by one religion or ethnic group tends to divide the people and force the “wrong” people into an underclass instead.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    I’m sorry, but even the flowery definition of “patriotism” offered here disgusts me as much as nationalism does.

    The USA CANNOT be fixed. It was rotten and evil from the beginning and has become nothing but a source of evil. America deserves to die.

    I’ll reconsider my position and become a “patriot” when you create a society that isn’t a colossal pile of capitalist, theistic shit! Since you insist that utopias aren’t possible, that’s not likely to ever happen.

  12. eastexsteve says

    @8-Looks a little like a Chick tract to me also.

    @16-The USA isn’t broke it’s just high-maintenance, and that requires participation.

  13. Hemidactylus says

    Raging Bee @15
    Thanks. I think of nationalism as a step toward a more united global order, maybe Kantian in leaning. I also think of some poorly applied Wilsonian ideal that left Vietnam out in WWI and after WWII and the ignored Vietnamese national aspirations that ignited a rebellion against France and then a war against the US based on our assumptions of containment and dominoes that didn’t take Vietnam’s centuries long conflict with China into account. There was also for better or worse forms of Arab nationalism juxtaposed with Nasserism, pan-Arabism, and also less savory Baathism in Iraq and Syria. Pre-Hamas Palestinian aspirations were a form of nationalism as was the array of Zionisms, some binational in preference (eg- Ihud).

  14. birgerjohansson says

    Cross-poste from the infinite thread.

    Republicans are deliberately starving elections of funding to create chaos and reduce the trust in the ability to have fsir elections. This paves the way for claiming the coming election is rigged.

    “Five-alarm fire”: Attorney exposes Republican “national scandal”

  15. magistramarla says

    I’ve been contemplating patriotism and nationalism a lot lately, as my husband prepares to retire at the end of the year after
    43 years of service in the DOD (Active Duty, Reserve Officer and Civilian Employee combined).
    I’m sure that PZ is feeling much the same, with feeling pride in a son who is serving honorably in the military and great embarrassment at the actions of others in our government and even within the ranks of our military.
    We’ve always considered our lives as a military family to be a great advantage for our children. We had the advantage of being able to travel, and the kids were exposed to different people and different ways of thinking. After seeing a bit of the world myself, I’ve learned to consider myself a citizen of the world more than of one country.
    Our children were introduced to foods, traditions and cultures that many kids don’t get to see until they are adults, if ever.
    They learned to love the flavors of Mexican dishes by living in Texas and traveling in Mexico and learned about German Christmas traditions when their father traveled there. The commissaries carry foods from many nations, and I made good use of them to teach the kids about other cultures.
    The military that we knew was very strict about honoring diversity, so our children saw that our friends and colleagues were of many different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds. I watched and cheered as first women, then homosexuals, were accepted into the ranks. The kids knew that the higher ranking officer that Dad called “Sir” might be darker skinned, or that the officer that he called “ma’am” was in charge of his office. We had dear friends who were a lesbian couple who both served, and our kids called them “aunties”.
    We’ve both been appalled at the way that bigotry, racism, intolerance and nationalism in the worst sense of the word has now been tolerated among some of the members of our military, as well as among those serving in government.
    As I look at my husband and reflect on his proud military career, I think that he understands the true meaning of patriotism much better than those who are throwing the word around today.

  16. KG says

    By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. – George Orwell

    Why “which one believes to be the best in the world”? How does such a belief even make sense?

  17. Steve Morrison says

    @15: Actually, this is the original quote:

    “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.”

    It was a toast given by Stephen Decatur.

  18. John Morales says

    The terms patriotism and patriarchy share an origin.

    Some countries have a Fatherland, some have a Motherland; the former have patriots, the latter should have matriots, were the English language regular.

    (A duty to one’s father, to one’s mather)

  19. Allison says

    The OP appears to disagree that:

    …fascism is a legitimate political ideology…

    I don’t know what makes a political ideology “legitimate” vs. “illegitimate”

    From everything I can see, the core of fascism is the belief that might makes right. (The rest is just window-dressing, invented to impress the rubes.) This is IMHO a political ideology, whether you consider it “legitimate” or “illegitimate.”

  20. Allison says

    Raging Bee @15:

    The basic idea of nationalism is: “We, the people who happen to be living close to each other on this particular piece of land,….”

    That is not the way nationalism works in most cases. In most cases, it’s about a group of people who share an “ethnicity”, i.e., a common culture, history, and language (and usually a religion), and the belief that they

    will be best off by having one government and one set of laws for all of “us”

    (where “us” means your ethnic group and everybody else is “them.”)

    Which ends up meaning a government and laws, etc., that enshrines the values and prejudices of whatever “nation” is controlling things (and gives them advantages over non-members of the group in the piece of land they control — or claim.)

    This can more or less work if everyone in that piece of land is a member of the only ethnic group there, although even then, there’s a tendency for the group to fragment into different groups which each claim they are the True Ethnics and everyone else is a heretic.

    Where it really falls apart is when you have several ethnic groups in the same area. The nationalistic impulse leads each group to claim sovreignty over the area and to demand that things be done their way, and ultimately leads to “ethnic cleansing.” The best example of how this works in action is in the Balkans, a region which has a number of ethnic groups scattered over the same piece of land. Yugoslavia was an attempt to create a multi-ethnic state, so that all the ethnic groups could go on living there. But there were always nationalistic movements which attempted to tear it apart and which had to be suppressed. When Tito died, this fell apart in bloody genocidal wars. Towns where people from different groups had lived in peace for generations were suddenly torn apart by armed partisans of this or that group coming in and killing or driving out members of the “wrong” group.

    Another example is Greater Israel, which contains two “ethnic groups”: non-Jews who were living there when Israel was established, and the Jewish nationalists (a.k.a. Zionists) and their descendents.

  21. Hemidactylus says

    Equating nationalism and racism kinda sorta throws the history and impact of black nationalism under the bus. Marcus Garvey was a bit quirky and early Malcolm X different from what he would become after distancing himself from the NOI cult. The Black Panthers were an offshoot of black nationalism and Black Power itself was a black nationalism. Self-determination and liberationism right?

  22. Hemidactylus says

    The baby and the bathwater?

    Fatah (/ˈfɑːtə, fəˈtɑː/ FAH-tə, fə-TAH; Arabic: فتح, romanized: Fatḥ, Palestinian pronunciation: [ˈfʌtɑħ]), formally the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (حركة التحرير الوطني الفلسطيني, Ḥarakat al-Taḥrīr al-Waṭanī l-Filasṭīnī),[23] is a Palestinian nationalist and social democratic political party.

    While throwing ideologies under the bus let’s include:

    As abhorrent as black nationalism?

  23. Reginald Selkirk says

    MAGA Senate Candidate Flamed for Hilarious Mistake on “Crime” Map

    Royce White, a Republican-backed candidate for Senate in Minnesota posted a map on X, formerly Twitter, claiming it showed all of the crime around Minneapolis in the hope that the mass of green, red, and yellow dots would demonstrate the widespread lawlessness that had befallen the Midwestern city.

    “Refund the Police!” he urged voters.

    But as Christopher Ingraham, a reporter for the Minnesota Reformer, quickly pointed out, the image White had selected was actually of drinking fountains at public parks around the metropolitan area…

    White wittily responded, “Shut your mouth you blue wave cuck.” …

  24. says

    That is not the way nationalism works in most cases. In most cases, it’s about a group of people who share an “ethnicity”, i.e., a common culture, history, and language (and usually a religion)…

    I’m not sure what you mean by “most cases,” but there are plenty of cases where a group of people share a common culture, history and language, while also being divided by tribe, religion, family/clan feuds, race/ethnic origins, etc.; and who support a unifying nation-state to bridge and manage those internal differences. (And even the most homogeneous group will always have class divisions to deal with.) The resulting laws and social order won’t necessarily be totally fair and equal, but it won’t inevitably drive out or oppress minority subgroups either.

    Equating nationalism and racism kinda sorta throws the history and impact of black nationalism under the bus.

    I agree. Many groups’ “nationalism” is a response to racism or oppression by other groups. And as I said before WRT MLK, people can sometimes appeal to nationalism to counteract racism or other divisive injustice. Also, “racism” and “nationalism” are each very different for different national groups with different histories and circumstances, which makes equating those two concepts even more problematic.

  25. says

    Nationalism is at its worst when the “nation” was/has been defined by other than those living there… and then subverts those living there. As a (horrifying) example on multiple levels, consider the “nation” of Rhodesia. Or Zimbabwe. Or the conglomeration of (IIRC) six distinct, centuries-old, frequently-at-war tribal cultures into a single administrative unit. With bonus archcolonial bigotry imposed from outside!

    Nationalism is always related to tribalism; what becomes “interesting” is how one defines the tribe. (I’m obviously from the thirteenth lost tribe — the Nerds.) Patriotism is an exploitable-for-power-enhancement outgrowth thereof, and can rather ironically and simultaneously both reinforce and subvert nationalism (for example, the DDR and Czechoslovakia). Perhaps Orwell’s best response to the entire argument was his rather pithily-titled essay “My Country Right or Left” (1940), which puts the most optimistic spin possible on “what we’ve got is an unjust, unfair, class-ridden mess dominated by idiots, but it’s only fascism-light — overt fascism is both worse and an immediate danger to the positive things that we do have.”

  26. StevoR says

    @29.Reginald Selkirk : “Refund the Police” – Royce White

    I think I get what he’s trying to say but it sounds weird and silly to me.

    Get a refund from them, Take them back and get your mioney back, get a new replacement better police force? LASs if thepolcie were defective goods. Aside from them not actually having been defunded much if at all anyhow right?

  27. StevoR says

    @ ^ As if the police were defective goods. (clarity fix.)

    I get that he was riffing off the “Defund the Police!”* BLM slogan in an attempt to troll African -Americans and vice-signal his bigotry to his base but, yeah, Royce White’s wording really doesn’t work well.


    I know Isaac Asimov is problematic given he was a sleazebag to women but I do really love his quote regarding nationalism / patriotism and reckon it still rings true :

    There are no nations! There is only Humanity. And if we don’t come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations because there will be no Humanity.

    Source : Page 421, ‘I Asimov :A Memoir’, Isaac Asimov,Bantam Books, 1994.

    .* A slogan I’m not a huge fan of although I can see where giving police less money for military grade toys would be a good thing. “Reform the police” would be a better idea and slogan in my view. I ‘spose saying police resources and funding should be reprioritised to focus on anti-racism and de-escalation training and helping not hurting the less well off and marginalised is not very catchy and too long even if it is – in my distant by-standers inexpert view what is most needed. Of course, the Black Lves Matter movement does get to say what its preferred option is & went with “defund the police” so moot anyhow.

  28. StevoR says

    @33. John Morales : Yeah I get that’s what Royce White intended by it. It just sounds odd to me given the other more commonly used meaning of refund.

  29. StevoR says

    @ ^ John Morales : Yes, “little” being the operative word as in really not much of one!

  30. says

    I don’t even think there should be anything wrong with openly stating opposition to unfettered “free speech”.

    Words that can do harm are a form of pollution; and the right to live in an unpolluted environment outweighs the right to pollute that environment. Other people’s right not to hear harmful words outweighs your right to utter them, just as other people’s right to breathe clean air outweighs your right to smoke cigarettes and pedestrians’ right not to be run over outweighs your right to drive on the pavement.

    It is absolutely right and proper for the state, which exists for the sake of the well-being of the general public, to protect the public from the worst excesses of hate speech; and, conversely, an abject dereliction of its duty to allow members of the public to be intimidated by those who delight in the harm they cause by spewing toxic words.

    (I would love to see a cartoonist depict “hate speech” as a choking cloud of toxic fumes ….. Maybe others who are blessed, or cursed, with synaesthesia understand …..)

  31. unclefrogy says


    I’ll reconsider my position and become a “patriot” when you create a society that isn’t a colossal pile of capitalist, theistic shit!

    I am not addressing you in particular but the idea as expressed by you which is not unique unfortunatly.
    if you are waiting for someone else to deliver freedom and justice to you you , you have not heard any of the freedom fighters of the last century like Malcolm X, MLK or Gandhi nor read the words of the US constitution starting with We the People. your going to have a long wait. The only way to make what you want is to be engaged in making it with all of us. If you only want it your way then to anyone who thinks different it will be just another form of despotism maybe benign in your view but despotism none the less.
    Those guys way back in the day did not make a perfect government but tried to address the realities of the day and the people and came up with a system that they hoped would make tyranny less possible. they knew that to make any form of government of men possible it would take and is based on agreement voluntarily given in the consent of the governed. That is something that is not a once and done thing but a continuous process.
    I like the last cartoon it shows all the cruel menace and hypocrisy very graphically

  32. Hemidactylus says

    It’s kinda frustrating that people were unthinkingly delegitimizing important forms of nationalism and Raging Bee was the only one who helped push back against that here. Sure white nationalism and Christian nationalism are illegitimate constructs as is white power but the Vietnamese, Palestinian and black struggles had a nationalist character too. And Black Power works because well white people already claimed power and have had the privilege. There is legitimate criticism to be made of certain forms of nationalism especially national “socialism”. But there have been legitimate nationalist movements, even if they too were subject to excess.

    I think nationalisms had a place in history to transcend very local tribalisms. Beyond that there’s the power differential of punching up versus down.

    But a worst case scenario of grievance politics in recent memory is Slobodan Milošević and going back to 1389:

    That didn’t end well!

  33. StevoR says

    @16. Akira MacKenzie :

    The USA CANNOT be fixed. It was rotten and evil from the beginning and has become nothing but a source of evil. America deserves to die. I’ll reconsider my position and become a “patriot” when you create a society that isn’t a colossal pile of capitalist, theistic shit! Since you insist that utopias aren’t possible, that’s not likely to ever happen.


    If America – or even the USA – dies thats going to have a lot of horrific consequences for alltehpeopel living there. Willit be replaced by something better? I wouldn’t bet on that.

  34. StevoR says

    @16. Akira MacKenzie : Also when “you” create a society? A society consists of everyone in it, you as well as me. So work together to try and make things improve, make things become fairer and kinder and give more people more opportunities and hope. Utopia may never be possible but we sure can get a lot closer to having one if we actually try and work towards it than if we shrug and say its somebody elses job, too hard so we giuve up and let the worst people in society dominate it.

  35. John Morales says


    StevoR, that’s not what Akira is about.

    A one in a trillion chance is better than one in a quintillion, right?
    A million times better.

    (So, one should feel hopeful that one has a one in a trillion chance, then?)


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