In proposing a toast to a group of dignitaries, Stephen Decatur, a United States naval officer who led raids against the Barbary Coast corsairs in North Africa, said, “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she be always in the right…” He then declared: “…but our country, right or wrong.” Almost 150 years later, the U.S. Third Army found out just how intoxicating ultra-nationalism can be when it liberated the concentration camp at Buchenwald. Over the main entrance to the camp, a place where medical experiments were done on inmates and worked and tortured to death, the Nazis had written: “My Country, Right or Wrong.”
The thirteen English colonies, which gained independence and formed a loose confederation of states, lost their freedoms to unrestrained nationalism. Even though the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation promoted self-determination and autonomy, the U.S. Constitution crushed such free-thinking and regional-political-economic independence. Instead of one branch of Government with limited powers, a Legislative consisting of elected representatives, the U.S. Constitution imposed three branches: a Legislative, Executive and Judicial. It would only be a matter of time before an activist Executive and Judiciary would usurp the increased powers of the Legislature.
Nationalism is another extreme faith, another ideological trap that reinforces the concept of sacrificing for what is thought to be a “greater good.” But the greater good is often the greater evil against others, specifically those who are not a part of the “in group” and tribe, or who have differing beliefs and lifestyles. Hyper-nationalists in the U.S. preached that it was a moral duty to hate Native Americans and Mexicans while enslaving blacks. Patriotism was measured by how much individuals were willing to sacrifice for the nation, including their lives. In the name of nationalism, Native Americans were either exterminated or relocated to reservations. In the name of nationalism, wars were initiated.
Nationalism concentrates enormous powers in the hands of a few. Nationalists then dominate institutions that people associate with, like education, religious, economic, cultural, political, and propagandistic. Adolf Hitler established schools for the purpose of training a Nazi elite in the ways of nationalism. Such education was to restore the type of schooling formerly given in the old Prussian academies and to obtain candidates for government posts of the Third Reich. Priority was given to Germans who were nationalistic. Millions came under the spell of “blood and iron,” and a soldierly spirit willing to sacrifice for Germany. Many graduates went directly into the armed forces.
Many in the Nazi elite also studied, learned from, and idolized the expansiveness of U.S. nationalism. Karl Deutch, a German-born immigrant to the U.S. and famous scholar at Harvard, warned of the dangers of nationalism. Not only did he think that nationalism rejected the values of national subgroups and societies, but it went against the transcendences of universal love and freedom. “Nationalism is an attitude of mind, a pattern of attention and desires,” wrote Deutch. He also believed extreme nationalists wanted only their people to have all the power, all the wealth, and all the well-being for which there is any competition.”
Democratic nationalism is absurd. The latter always rules the former, making a social contract socially contradictory. As the power of proximity increases in private matters but distances itself in political and economic policies, hyper-nationalists require a perfect nation, defining and choosing what and who is impure. Justice and domestic tranquility are imposed through extreme security measures, a vast propaganda apparatus, and by squashing popular movements and dissent. Common defense is an ever expanding and costly professional standing army, supporting the interests of its corporate backers and bankers. War is decided with a small nucleus of elites, presidential races by a 5-4 vote.
Securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity takes the shape of Manifest Destiny, Social Darwinism, Preemptive Wars, and remaking the world in the image of both liberal and conservative elitists. We the people becomes we the absolute nation. Nationalism monopolizes a person’s individuality and identity, something necessary for liberty to ever occur. On July 4, 1776, the thirteen colonies celebrated their independence with the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation. In 1789, the U.S. Constitution started to dismember self-determination and state autonomy. Thanks to nationalism, it was a very short-lived independence for the thirteen colonies.