Can Liberals Also Be Nationalists?

Last year, in November, I wrote about potential changes on the world map where e.g. referenda will unify or divide countries that we now see as permanent. In that text I failed to mention the East African Federation, which has been taking steps towards a common market, freedom of movement and even a shared constitution throughout the 2010’s. I’ll get back to this later.

First, let’s talk about nationalism. The current trend in politics seems to have been shifted: instead of the traditional left–right division, there’s a new line diving us: the nationalist–globalist cleavage. Like with the old division, the new one is more complex than it looks. I remember when I was on a crash course about political ideology, the lecturer said that “try being a 100% racist. See? It’s not that easy, it’s actually impossible”.

This brings us to us liberals, who have long offered a counter-balance to the global nationalist movement, which apparently has been growing ever stronger nonetheless. But try as you might, it’s impossible to be 100% liberal. Nationalism has become a bit of a swear word after the rise of the global migrant crisis, Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election. We like to keep our distance to it and avoid talking about things based one’s nationality: a thing most people don’t get to choose but are still categorized based upon.

I’d argue that the problem isn’t the nationalism itself but how we choose to use it. Using nationalism to simply exclude people is bad. It’s taking pride of the things you haven’t done and hating people you don’t know, as the Internet put it a years ago. I could sum up my point by saying that it’s possible for liberals to be proud of their country without being a douchebag.

Luckily this kind of ideology has a name: civic nationalism or liberal nationalism. There’s a bit of debate about the exact name depending on what you do want to emphasise and whom you ask. Whatever you’re going to call it, it’s about inclusive nationalism but also the traditional liberal values like equality, tolerance and individualism. Key word: inclusive. In civic nationalism you don’t divide people into us and them and certainly don’t think that we are better than them. There’s also debate about whether or not this ideology includes patriotism and to which end. Is its sole function just to oppose the form of nationalism we usually think about?

For example, the Olympic games will take place in Tokyo this summer. Without any nationalism, the hosting countries wouldn’t have to compete for the honor of hosting because it could be decided e.g. in a lottery. Then as the games themselves are held, the hosts will do anything to make the stay of athletes and spectators as enjoyable as possible by projecting their best image. And we like to watch those opening ceremonies and people celebrating in a way that brings out very clearly who the hosting country is. And this is perfectly fine because the point of the Olympics is to bring people together regardless of where they come from.

Promoting your own culture, language and country of origin are things you should be proud of. These are also the first things your international friends most likely want to hear about. For example, I go to a group where exchange students have a chance to practice their Finnish, or Swedish, and ask questions about Finland. I’m eager to tell them about these things and promote Finland: I’m proud of e.g. our maternity package and educational system. But unlike the nationalist we usually think of, I’m not afraid to tell them that it’s not all about sunshine and rainbows in Finland… especially in February… please send some sunshine. I can send mämmi (see the pic above) in return because it’s in stores again.

And this is why I referenced to my older post. We shouldn’t think of nationalism as something that just separates us. It can also help us to build a sense of belonging, bring like-minded people together and offer a larger base, with more helping hands, to ensure peace and prosperity for the people. The fact that I forgot about the East African Federation just showed me that I myself failed to see that the globalist-nationalist division does not have to be either-or-thinking. So yes, a liberal can be a nationalist. Just remember that your home country is good but not better. And be open: answer sincerely to people’s questions and don’t cultivate a picture of a magical happy-land. It’s equally important to show genuine interest in other people’s home countries.

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