Monday, March 19, 2018

The counter French revolution

In the eyes of many historians, the French Revolution of 1789 was the trigger for the most powerful ideological agent of change in recent centuries, nationalism.  It spread from Europe reaching Asia in the mid-20th century and created massive change throughout the world. Before it, people identified with their region, religion or social class.  After it, people gradually began to identify and be loyal to a nation, which included others of different regions, religions or social classes.  In other words, nationalism at its source was an inclusive force. Traditional nationalism aimed to welcome people to its large fold as much as local tensions and geography allowed.

In the last 20 years, nationalism has not disappeared but seemingly taken on an inverse direction: it defines nations by rejecting others, especially their culture and values. Whether as a reaction to countries becoming ethnically heterogenic or the need of politicians to attain and hold on to power, today’s nationalism is extremely xenophobic, rejecting anybody or any value considering alien. Trump openly espouses “America First” and wants to deport the largest immigrant group in the country, regardless of their contribution to the country.  Putin rejects any Western political values and oppresses and discriminates against minorities. Erdogan promotes a Turkish and religious agenda, openly crushing any laic or European-oriented opposition. These are only the most prominent of the new populist leaders. What is significant is not their existence but their popularity.  While for support these and similar leaders is far from 100%, they have all been elected with respectable majorities.  In other words, their restrictive world view reflects that of their voters.  It is an “us against them” world.

While traditional nationalism also divided the world into friends and enemies, these were geographical distinctions created by borders and history.  The enmity between France and Germany or Viet Nam and China are examples.  Still, any person willing to adopt the nationality and accept loyalty to the nation was welcome.  Today, in too many places, if you don’t fit the exclusive definition of the right citizen, whether in terms of race, philosophy or religion, you are a potential fifth column. That point of view, in my eyes, is an attempt to rewind the clock, generally a violent and ultimately ineffective act. 

I believe that the words of the Marseillaise are still relevant:

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L'étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)

Or in English:
Arise, children of the Country,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny's
Bloody banner is raised, (repeat)

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