Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. "Patriotism" is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by "patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare — never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship."
- Erich Fromm in "The Sane Society" (1955)
Some of my own ideas raised by the quote:
Having clear-cut political goals need not be the same thing as having some form of Utopian ideals. Life in a democracy would be impossible without goals and political ideals, but Utopians differ from other people in that they so very often believe in only one possible solution. What is most dangerous they very often refuse to compromise because of these absolute ideals.
A concrete example of practical goals that are married to higher ideals is the formation of European Union. The willingness to modify the structure of states is a part of quite normal political ideologies. Modern nation states are products of political ideologies and fusing them to work better together is a very pragmatic goal.
There need not be any Utopian dreams of coming happiness. On the other hand, people who are steeped in nationalistic thinking have a hard time adjusting themselves to this kind of new situation in which nations really work together instead of just driving selfish nationalistic goals.
The two world wars did show the limits and extreme dangers of the nationalistic Utopian visions. However, the legacy of this lost nationalist utopia does linger on in legal structures of these states. The modern West-European states are already wholly dependent on the other states of the continent in countless ways. This is the case even without any formal agreements.
This is the existing reality, not a dream; the real Utopia is the idea of sovereign European nations doing whatever they want and not caring about the well-being of their important trade-partners and neighbors in any way. Many people have difficulty in understanding that modern national states themselves are products of a Utopian nationalistic ideology. This new and untried ideology finally gained upper hand in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.
However, a fully independent nation state has always been just one possible (even if very popular) system of government. It is fast becoming more and more antiquated in networked and fully interconnected world.
Of course, the garden variety of nationalism is a quite pragmatic approach for handling certain things. Also most Utopian ideas ideas can be mellowed with time so that their more moderate followers are finally able to compromise and work with others. However, the idea of creating from a group of nation states larger economic, social and political entities, that can better handle new problems of a new age can also be a very pragmatic and practical solution.
It must also still be remembered that European Union was and still is also an extremely important peace project. It has build bridges between bitter old enemies and has worked excellently in this respect. It has created a strong economical area that has very strong common cultural heritage, common history and a lot of common values.
This process can of course also well still fail for many reasons. Most of all it can fail, if the old nationalistic values win in the long run.
Of course, the difference between just having strong ideas and being an irrational idealist is hair-thin at times. In fact, all idealism can become dangerous when forwarding the idea itself does become more important in ones mind than happiness and well-being of humans and their environment.
However, human ideas drive our societies forward, if only their followers just don't lose touch with reality and most of do not lose their ability to work and compromise with others who have different sets of ideals.
(This piece was refurbished on 12th of December, 2012)
"Erich Seligmann Fromm (March 23, 1900 – March 18, 1980) was a Jewish German-American social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. He was associated with what became known as the Frankfurt School of critical theory."