There are many threats to society today that often get overlooked, but one that the average person doesn’t pay attention to is the sub-culture of nationalism. Nationalism is a dangerous means to get a large group of people to do what you want them to do if you can get them to identify with a nation (or your version of it) so deeply that they are willing to do anything for that nation. Many countries, including ours, are succumbing to nationalism. Have you noticed?
What Is Nationalism?
Nationalism is described as a whole country of people becoming so proud of their nation (patriotism) that they begin to feel superior to other countries. They believe their culture, values, and way of life is worth more than that of other countries, and therefore find themselves and their country to be more valuable than those from other countries.
Nationalism has been used as a means by the leader of a country to convince the country to go to war with other countries. Nationalism plays a direct role in authoritarianism. After feeling superior to other countries, you might be told by the powers at be that your way of life and existence in the greatest country in the world are being threatened by another country or people group, and that we need to do something to stop said person or people group from ever being able to take away the freedoms we so strongly cherish and worship here.
Many dictators rose to power through nationalism and authoritarian tactics. And we are beginning to see Nationalism take a new starring role in the development of not just America, but many countries around the world that is the start of a very dangerous world we find ourselves in.
The Effects Of Nationalism In History
This is not the first time we have seen a sudden rise in nationalism coupled with authoritarian behaviors.
As I said earlier, nationalism has been used throughout history as a means for starting wars. We have evidence of that in both of the great world wars.
Nationalism seemed to have played a major role in the start of World War I. Pre-war Europeans were very nationalistic and very much considered themselves superior to the rest of the world. Couple that with the strong patriotic, aggressive rhetoric in press reports of that time, which only fueled nationalism in the European society. There was also a strong sense of nationalism in the pop culture of that day through theatre, music, and literature. Leaders and politicians did very little to discourage such a mentality, while many actually contributed to its growth.
Nationalism gave citizens an inflated opinion of their nation and their military. Rhetoric was used that gave citizens the assurance that if war ever broke out, they would not only be ready and willing to fight, but that they would emerge victorious. Eventually they began using language that encouraged aggression towards other nations and painted other countries as a people that are less civilized, imperialistic, deceitful, and scheming for the demise of European nations. This eventually made war feel inevitable for Europe.
Germany’s quick rise as a nationalist society came after the unification of of the country in 1871. Germany became fixated on imperial expansion with the desire to secure their “place in the sun”, while becoming increasingly intolerant of the British and their empire. This set the stage for Nazism to come into play over the coming decades.
Fast forward to 1929 when the Wall Street Market crashed and the U.S. was forced to take back the money lent to Germany, effectively destroying the German economy. It is estimated that the Nazi movement was at around 178,000 members at this time. It is believed that it was at this juncture that nationalism rose rapidly, giving germans the sense that they needed to fight and take extreme measures to get their economy back.
By 1930, a scared and defensive Germany had elected their first Nazi Party members to leadership, and over a hundred seats were held in their government by Nazi members.
Through the early 30s, as nationalism skyrocketed, Germany saw a need to have a leader who spoke for the people. By the time Hitler rose up in the ranks and was elected chancellor, the Nazi movement had grown much larger, and it was felt that the common opinion of the people was the desire to have a leader that was willing to do anything for Germany, no matter the cost.
What followed was a series of killings of political leaders who opposed the Nazis, and Hitler seized power. At first, Hitler wasn’t that extreme. But with every decision, he would push the boundaries and then gauge the support of the people. Once he realized he was able to over step many boundaries as a leader, he began making extreme decisions. He began by limiting the rights of the Jews. He released a series of orders that stated Jews were not allowed to attend universities or medical school. Then he limited their ability to obtain travel visas. It wasn’t long before he waged war on the Jews and declared that they were not German citizens, but that they were also sub-human. It was at this point that the rest of the world directed their attention towards the growing hatred and power of a country that had spiraled out of control, being led by a megalomaniacal tyrant.
There is perhaps no cultural context in which nationalism is so prominent than in religion. Religious culture seems to be the perfect incubator for both nationalism and authoritarianism to not just co-exist, but also to grow rapidly and become intertwined with the very fabric of religious societies.
I have no firsthand experience with other religious contexts, therefore I’ve chosen to only speak from the perspective of Christianity, which I know intimately. But I will say first that there exists a form of nationalism in all religious contexts. Roman Catholics believe Rome is the center of the world. Jewish nationalism, or Zionism, is the belief that the chosen land of Israel is superior to the rest of the world.
Nationalism mixed with religion can be so dangerous simply because one will justify their opinions, fears, and desires with saying that it has been ordained by God, or a god. Leaders control people with authoritarianism and God. Many people ease their own insecurities and fears with using God as a medium for justification for actions or behavior. But when you put something as dangerous as nationalism in the mix, what you may find is a movement emerge that seeks to push the agenda of condemning those who are different than you or come from a different place. You find an irrational fear that someone or a people group is trying to take your land, your freedom, and your rights away. And you might see this group use God a lot in conversations about why their land is the best land and somehow better than everywhere else.
Up until the last few years, Christian Nationalism would’ve been defined more as a movement seeking to focus more on internal politics. We would see things like evangelicals trying to pass laws that further the cause or invoke the beliefs of Christianity on a country.
But then the Republican party had everything taken away from them for 8 years with democrats filling the White House. Couple that with an ever-growing fear of terrorism, a heavily manipulated influential push towards racism, especially towards Muslims, and this beast took on a new form and became personified in Donald J. Trump.
The most painful irony of Christian Nationalism is its direct contradiction to literally everything Christianity stands for. But people act on their fears. If you tell someone long enough that their rights and their way of life is being infringed upon by outsiders, spit out some “alternative facts” about unemployment, the economy, racism, crime rates, and demonize entire people groups or countries and paint them as the problem, eventually people will start to believe it. Trump has done this unwaveringly for two years as loud as possible. It helped clear the path for him directly to the Oval Office. But make no mistake, he rode in on the horses of Christian Nationalism and Authoritarianism. It’s the only way someone like him can convince people to act against their belief systems and best interests.
These days I find it increasingly more difficult to identify with Christianity as a whole, because it does not look the way it should. The character and beliefs of Jesus I can get behind, but the problem is that those who claim Christianity as their faith largely don’t seem to be aware of who Jesus was while He was on earth. Therefore, it became quite easy for something as poisonous and evil as fundamentalism to rise in the ranks and corrupt everything it touched. A fundamentalist can easily be defined as one who is intolerant of anyone who believes differently than they do. Christian fundamentalism expands to the idea that you put first God, family, and country. The good christian fundamentalist will hold these things to be equally a priority, but it won’t really play out that way.
Today, it’s hard to tell the difference between fundamentalists, authoritarians, and nationalists. The lines are blurred together to create one giant movement.
- Is primarily for the success and advancement of their race (white)
- Is against immigration
- Believes that the poor are lazy
- Is against homosexuality and is intolerant of anyone who “chooses” the lifestyle
- Is against other religions and believes their truth is the only real truth
- Often shames others for not living up to their standard of living
There are more things to add to this list, but I think you get the idea.
When it comes down to it, this movement directly opposes everything that Christianity ever stood for. And now this movement has a leader, or at least they think they do. Christian nationalists genuinely believe that President Trump will be their advocate and their instrument for progressing their agenda. But Donald Trump has always been a man who lives for himself. Every decision he makes, every thought and desire he has will be to ultimately benefit himself. But right now the Christian nationalist doesn’t seem to care because the agenda moves forward.
If you are finding yourself wondering if you are a Christian nationalist, or even just a nationalist in general, its somewhat easy to begin the process of identifying it. Simply answer the question “How would you identify yourself?” Or another way of putting it is “Where do you ultimately find your identity?”
It doesn’t matter what else you may put in the blank space. Father. Mother. Husband. Wife. Daughter. Son. Christian. White. Black. Man. Woman. Republican. Democrat.
If you identify as an American above any other label, you might be more of a nationalist than you might think. The person who finds their identity in their nation is, by definition, a nationalist. Its where you go from there that is extremely important.
Why We Should Be Worried
Nationalism has risen as a consistent and very evident facet of society in U.S. for sure. But a greater reality is coming to fruition around the world. There are elections taking place throughout 2017 that will determine the direction of society on a global level that I feel we may be missing here in the U.S.
There are people running for leadership of countries that share eerily similar views to Donald Trump on policy and government that are actually now slated to win in polls thanks to Trump’s win here in the U.S. along with his very strong influence throughout his campaign that has swayed the hearts and minds of people all around the world.
Elections to take note of in the coming months:
- The Chief Executive Election in Hong Kong on March 26th. The former British colony has been a special administrative region in China since 1997, governed by a chief executive who is elected by a committee of more than 1,000 Chinese government-appointed officials.Over the last few years, the people of Hong Kong have been increasingly calling for freedom and liberation from the system of leadership they have experienced. Movements like the Umbrella Revolution in 2014, which in and of itself wasn’t a bad thing from what I can tell, demanding reform in the electoral system which was widely regarded as too restrictive and defined by the former Communist party. But what this started was a movement to take control back of their nation and make it stronger and better than other nations. Over the last few years that sentiment has grown and there is a candidate who fits the description of the kind of leader this movement is seeking. Because Leung Chun-ying has said he will not be seeking re-election, it has pitted the candidates against the Beijing New People’s Party’s primary candidate; Regina Ip.
- Presidential Election in France on April 23rd with run-off between top two candidates on May 7th. While many political scientists and analysts have called the Netherlands’ election the proverbial “Canary in the coal mine” for determining the course of this year’s election results, a major election to pay close attention to will be that of France’s presidential election. Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front party is a self-proclaimed “Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant” candidate that seems to be set up to directly benefit from the growth and progress of recent nationalist movements in the U.S. and around the world and certainly has strong potential to have a great effect on the political landscape in Europe. After being spotted just this past January leaving Trump Tower (yes, you read that right), Le Pen has said she is strongly in favor of what she calls “Frexit” and seems to have plans to implement a departure from the EU on the front end of her tenure as President, which would very well endanger the stabilization of the whole establishment.
Many other countries are holding elections this year, including Iran, Rwanda, China, Honduras, and South Korea, who are all in danger of having candidates with strong nationalist and populist ties. Germany is also holding an election this year and has a candidate that is not only nationalist, but also has a strong anti-EU stance.
At best, we very well may be watching the unraveling of Democracy itself around the world over the next few years. At worst, we may be in danger of a new and very massive war between many countries that all ultimately think they are the best country and deserve to rule over the rest. Nationalism has been used to start wars all throughout history. Its not that far-fetched of an idea today.
We as individuals must continue to educate ourselves of world of politics, leadership, and the over all circumstances of the world, fight for globalization for the benefit of all humanity, fight against all racism, fascism, sexism, and all forms of inequality or injustice that it may take in our society, and vote in every election you are able!
We have so many opportunities to vote intelligent, balanced, well-meaning leaders into office who will have the interests of the people at the forefront of their mind and have the ability to represent us well. We must vote at the state level and below so that we may fight against what may be ahead of us on a national level.
If we unite with all people regardless of race, gender, or nationality to achieve what is beneficial for all of humanity, we just might survive this world that has been built on the foundation of poison and rot that has filled the hearts and minds of those in power.
And maybe, just maybe, if we are lucky enough, we will get a chance to build a better one.