Saturday, March 14, 2009

Nationalism, Patriotism, and Nativism

A few terms often come up in discussions about citizenship and nationality: nativism (a term used in a derogatory way by open borders advocates), nationalism (a concept carried to extremes in Nazi Germany and WW II Japan), and patriotism (usually seen as a good thing). The similarities and distinctions among these terms, however, aren't always explicitly drawn.

Merriam-Webster provides the following definitions:

Nationalism: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one [nation] above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

Nativism: a policy of favoring native inhabitants as opposed to immigrants.[A "native" is generally defined as a person who is born in a particular region or place and who therefore linked to that place. If the archaeologists are to be believed, there was a time when there were no human inhabitants in North America. Therefore, the first arrivals as well as the last can be considered to be immigrants. Thus, natives are only those who were actually born in a particular place or region. Laws enacted by governments further define who is and who is not an immigrant and, implicitly, who is a native.]

Patriotism: love for or devotion to one's country.

According to immigration lawyer, Dave Bennion, "...the dictionary definition of nationalism incorporates the definitions of both nativism and patriotism. Likewise, in the immigration context, neither nativism nor patriotism can be fully understood without reference to nationalism. To properly examine nationalism, it's necessary to step outside the context of a particular country for a moment."

Political scientist Benedict Anderson discusses nations as socially constructed "imagined communities," so-called because "the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion." Although most Americans will never meet or even know the names of 99.99% of their co-nationals, they feel they are a part of a community because they study and read about them in the media and assume that those whom they do know are proxies for or representative of all of the other Americans. Americans are famously patriotic and most feel bound together by common ideals, and a common understanding of history, especially in the face of attack or criticism from outside and perceived internal threats resulting from the deadly consequences of immigrations unarmed invasion.

Patriotism in the U.S. as a positive value is rarely questioned in the public discourse, and when it is, the political damage is swift and quickly quarantined. It is not kosher in the U.S. to too closely examine the ways that nationalism and patriotism are connected. Nationalism in its normal manifestation, like patriotism, is a positive term that reflects national self-esteem, a positive quality.

As noted above,Germany and Japan are two countries where a particularly chauvinistic, aggressive form of patriotic nationalism found full expression during World War II. According to Bennion these countries now have two of the least patriotic societies in the world. "Until recently, Japanese schools were legally limited in the extent to which they could include patriotism in the public school curriculum. Germans still feel uncomfortable with demonstrative patriotism of the kind that is common in France, China, or the U.S." These vestiges of anti-nationalism derive directly from the atrocities committed by Germany and Japan during WWII. They are not likely to be a permanent because patriotism, nationalism, and pride in one's country is the natural state of affairs, a matter of national self-esteem.

Neither Germany nor Japan was a democratic polity during WWII. But lamentably, having a democratic government does not immunize a sovereign state from committing misdeeds abroad when there is no all powerful international governing body in place. Under the anarchic international political system, might makes right, as can be seen with the U.S. invasions of Vietnam and Iraq, Russia in Afghanistan and Georgia, or China in Tibet. In each case, a powerful country, disregarding the sovereign borders, invaded a weak country for reasons it believed to be in the national interest, curbing the spread of Communism in Viet Nam and removing the threat of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a despot in Iraq. Even in the cases Russia and China, the aggressive action was justified as a necessary defensive measure. In each case, as in the case of Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939, nothing was or could be done by the international community. In the case of the first Iraq War, some members of the international community saw fit to act as a powerful invasion force to push Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Middle East oil resources were seen to be in jeopardy and therefore action was considered necessary. If oil had not been an issue, Kuwait might now be a part of Iraq. In each case, nothing much was done or could be done to stop the powerful state or coalitions of states.

Since supranational bodies like the UN are supported in large part by contributions from its largest and most affluent members, undertaking military action against those members would surely destroy the supranational organization as a functioning body. It most cases, military action is not even feasible.

In wartime, domestic appeals to patriotism and the characterization of the enemy as inherently evil are essential to build and sustain public support, especially in the face of escalating costs and casualties. Those patriotic appeals are expressions of nationalism that serve the national interest, which have always been the primary concern of all nation states.

Seen from a global perspective, as in the dictionary definitions, there is little to differentiate nationalism from patriotism. This has important implications for the immigration debate. Patriotism, or loyalty to country, is valuable to citizens of that country. Loyalty permits the government to collect taxes, build a public infrastructure, provide services, and defend itself. It facilitates a sense of common purpose that enables the incorporation into democratic government of existing trust networks based on religion or family or ethno-linguistic ties.

Unreserved loyalty to a democratic state usually has positive effects for citizens. Among other things, it enables elected representatives to deal more effectively and appropriately with non citizens, especially illegal aliens. Patriotism fosters national unity and focuses the citizens' attention on those who threaten national security, sovereignty, or the national interest. This loyalty has enabled effective action against immigrants from enemy nations who represented a potential internal security threat. Neolib-promoted official expressions of regret for episodes of domestic U.S. nationalist fervor triggered by legitimate concerns about national security have followed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Japanese-American internment, and the McCarthy hearings. In actuality, no apology was needed or justified for actions taken in the perceived national interest. Some compensation for economic losses property may have been appropriate. Neither the people of Viet Nam, Iraq, nor Afghanistan, nor Chinese-Americans (for the Chinese Exclusion Act) should expect an apology any time soon for actions that were deemed in the national interest at the time. The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese for 60 years from immigrating to the U.S. or naturalizing here. The "Yellow Peril" seemed real at the time and may have been an actual problem before less discriminatory immigration laws were put in place. Even in more recent times, there have been occasions of Chinese espionage and the betrayal of national secrets.

Americans love cheap labor except when it deprives them of their chance to earn a living, especially in desperate economic times. They also love having someone to do the stoop labor and other hard jobs, except when it threatens a total change in the culture, quality of life, and standard of living Americans expect to enjoy. In the past, the deportation of thousands of non citizens during periodic economic problems and the denial of entry to thousands under immigration laws were fully justified and legal and could not have occurred except pursuant to law.

Charges of disloyalty arise when one's behavior is contrary to the desires of fellow citizens and the national interest. There is something inherently disloyal when precedence is given to the interests of illegal aliens over those of one's fellow citizens. Such charges have also been an effective tactic used against political opponents since the U.S.'s founding, from the Alien and Sedition Acts used by the Federalist Party to target Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans to George W. Bush's politicized War on Terror. Since 9/11, immigration policy has been cast by the federal government as a key component of national security. Emblematic of this shift from the left wing approach that had prevailed from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s was the incorporation in 2003 of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the domestic agency charged with anti-terrorism efforts. Yet, the INS's efforts to curb illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and potential terrorist activity have been sporadic and ineffective because of the lack of political will and the necessary tools, staffing, infrastructure, and rules of engagement. Illegal immigration has been politicized and paralyzed by immigrant organizations with familial or ethnocentric ties to the illegal alien community and by the immigration lawyers who feed off from them.

Patriotism in the U.S., coming both from the native-born and from immigrants, means that the U.S. embraces a nationalism that transcends traditional allegiances to race, religion, or ethnicity. This is a singularly important and appealing, unifying idea. The universalism of American nationalism applies to both citizens and serious citizen wannabes. But there is and should be very real legal distinctions between citizens and non citizens and loyalty and patriotism demand that those distinctions be recognized and honored.

Like nationalism based on common principles, institutional religion can create a sense of community that transcends other divisions-race, gender, nationality, age, or political opinion. But in doing so, religious affiliation can also create what may be a more lasting, significant division: an ideological distinction of identity. Nationalism in the U.S. is similar to religion in that its adherents sometimes promote it as a unifying universal ideology. Participation in a community of faith and loyalty enriches people's lives in powerful ways, and has brought security and prosperity to its citizens. The legal distinctions between citizen and non citizen represent not just the ability (or inability) to come and go at will; legitimate differences in power and access to taxpayer resources and government services serve as a valid universal unifying ideology.

If patriotism is simply a form of nationalism, then nativists do not need to be forgiven for conflating patriotism and nativism. After all, together, these two concepts together comprise the dictionary definition of positive nationalism above. It is a long standing principle of government that citizens deserve certain rights and benefits that are properly denied to non citizens. Nothing could be more universally recognized than this principle. In an international political system comprised of sovereign states, an immigration policy cannot be based on anything other than national identity. Hence, nationalism, patriotism and nativism are an inevitable consequence of the international political system. All three will continue to be a part of the U.S. policies and the immigration debate.

Adapted from Dr. David Bennion's blog at,October 06, 2008

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