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Lukacs, Patriotism And Nationalism

Missing from my earlier discussions of patriotism has been a clear explanation of Prof. Lukacs’ important distinction and opposition between patriotism and nationalism.  As I said in my review of his recent book, George Kennan: A Study of Character:

The distinction—indeed opposition—between patriotism and nationalism is all-important here, for patriotism, according to Lukacs, “is the love of one’s land and its history” (which Kennan possessed in abundance), “while nationalism is a viscous cement that binds formless masses together.”

In his About Historical Factors (1968), included in the ISI Lukacs reader Remembered Past, Prof. Lukacs discusses the origins of nationalism:

While nationality, national ambitions, and national consciousness are discernible early in European history, nationalism, like the modern nation-state, is a more recent phenomenon, the result of the growing social homogenization of certain European peoples and the development of their historical consciousness–or, to put it perhaps in two other words in intellectual shorthand, democracy and romanticism. 

Lukacs also cited Orwell’s distinction between patriotism and nationalism:

By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one…has no wish to force upon 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 prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unity in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

I would add that it is typical of those individualists who confuse patriotism with nationalism that they think patriotism is antithetical to the individual, because they have mistaken it for this collectivist power-grab.  

After citing Orwell, Lukacs added:

During the nineteenth century nationalism became an ideology: the older patriotic sentiments were often replaced by ideological nationalism.  As Duff Cooper wrote, the jingo nationalist “is always the first to denounce his fellow countrymen as traitors”–a statement worthy of Dr. Johnson.  Adolf Hitler was to incarnate this tendency in the twentieth century..  “By the time I was fifteen” (in 1904), he wrote in Mein Kampf, “I understood the difference between dynastic patriotism and folkish nationalism, even then I was interested only in the latter….Germany could be safeguarded only by the destruction of Austria [Hitler’s native country]….[T]he national sentiment is in no sense identical with dynasties or with patriotism.”

What was startling and new in the twentieth century was the emergence of a certain antipatriotism in the name of nationalism.  In 1809 the peasant Andreas Hofer led the patriotic resistance of Tyrolean Austrians against Napoleon’s Frenchmen and their Bavarian allies; in 1938 a Tyrolean by the same name became Hitler’s Gauleiter.  Before and during World War II throughout Europe, “Nationalist” or “National Opposition” were often the names of those movements, blocs, and parties who worked against the legitimate governments of their countries, usually favoring an alignment of their country with Nazi Germany, and at times even the military occupation of their country by the latter.  Of course, there have always been all kinds of people, from traitors through ideological revolutionaries to persecuted minorities, who would welcome the occupation of their countries by another power.  But what is remarkable is the appearance of such tendencies in the form of a certain ideological nationalism, which was the result not only of modern nationalistic indoctrinaton but also of those conditions of modern society which make it possible for many people to be nationalists without being patriots [italics mine-DL].

There is more say about this, but for now I’ll let Lukacs’ words speak for themselves.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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