French President Emmanuel Macron has urged world leaders marking the centenary of the World War One Armistice to reject nationalism.
In the present day and age this is a remarkable position for a national leader to take.
National leaders are expected to advance their nation’s interest, and most of them spend the best part of their time doing that to the best of their ability.
Still it is striking how many of the worlds central issues revolve around questions of national identity and/or interests versus wider considerations.
Brexit for example has to a considerable degree overshadowed previous political divisions in the UK . Brexit is basically a movement away from a multinational grouping . President Trump has spent much of his tenure as a sort of wrecking ball for multinational agreements of any and all sorts. It could be argued that the rise of Trump is a reaction to the relative success of Putin’s Russia in the International Arena, in particular his pursuit of Russia’s interest in the Ukraine and elsewhere without regard for International norms or agreements. China has been strengthening its position vis a vis the rest by a combination of economic and military measures for many years.
On that background the call of the French Leader for a repudiation of Nationalistic tendencies is somewhat revolutionary and may sound to some to be naive and/or unrealistic.
He does make a distinction between patriotism (good) and and nationalism (bad), in a manner which echoes to a considerable degree George Orwell’s writing on the subject.
Orwell made a distinction along the following lines “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.”
However this distinction may be somewhat artificial as Orwell himself recognized. The real question is one of degree to what extent and up to what point are nationalism and patriotism a positive force and when do they become overblown and negative.
Einstein was at least more consistent in saying “I am against any nationalism, even in the guise of mere patriotism. Privileges based on position and property have always seemed to me unjust and pernicious, as did any exaggerated personality cult. ”
To come back to the present world situation, Macron is distancing himself, at least rhetorically from the current crop of world leaders. Who knows he may turn out to be a consequential leader on the global stage in the long term.
For the fact of the matter is that many of the Worlds problems are insoluble on the national level specifically Global Warming and other Ecological matters and also Nuclear Proliferation.
Still to my mind nationalism is here to stay and is not going to be abolished anytime soon. Given the choice most people prefer that decisions are taken as close to home as possible, considering that people feel rightly that they have more influence on local decisions.
However there is an important role for leadership that is prepared to tell the truth to the public. In the present state of affairs the truth is that some decisions are better taken on a multinational or global level.
In that respect I think that the latest statement by Macron is a positive one and could be a preface to him establishing himself as a progressive and influential world leader in the years to come .