Why nationalism is necessary for internationalism
By Idrian Burgos, Contributor
Internationalism exists as a response to nationalism. More specifically, it exists as a response to nationalism’s perceived evils. With regards to ethnic and cultural exclusiveness and a low opinion of other ethnicities and cultures, internationalism advocates cosmopolitan attitudes and openness. With regards to the desire for ethnic-national supremacy over others, there’s the view of equality of all cultures and ethnicities, with no single culture dominating the rest. The world in its entirety is more important to the internationalist than just a single country, culture, or race. They dream of a world of peoples and cultures in equality and solidarity with each other; people interested in further understanding each other, and fostering respect, tolerance, and admiration of other cultures. For the internationalist, the world in all its variety, diversity, and complexity is to be commended and celebrated, while any type of thinking that promotes the exclusive greatness of a single culture or nation is to be rejected.
In this regard, the internationalist is right. That is, half-right. An exclusivist ideology that endorses one nation or culture as the best in the world to the detriment of the rest is justifiably worthy of rejection; however, this is seeing only one type of nationalism. There is another type of nationalism that internationalism needs if it’s ever going to be effective and relevant. This type of nationalism grew out of historical experiences of domination by other countries or empires. This nationalism sees the preservation of its identity from conquerors as important, yet it doesn’t wish itself to be a conqueror. What it desires, coming from past experiences, is the maintaining of distinct cultural identities against threats of extinction, either from subjugating identities or anti-nationalist ideas. It is not a nationalism of domination, but a nationalism of liberation; one that sees the free and uninhibited expression of ethnic distinctiveness as indispensable in a diverse world. It acknowledges the complexity and equality of all cultures, and the celebration of these differing cultures as an essential pillar to an internationalist world. This nationalist would even remind the internationalist that “internationalism” translates to “between nationalisms,” for mutual respect.
The problem with internationalism is its potential to lapse into universalization. Seeing all cultures as equal holds the danger of forgetting the unique particularities of each culture, melding them into a culture of a bland and imprecise nature. The tendency to generalize and conflate cultures without looking at their specific aspects can be found in internationalism. Moreover, it should be remembered that there are types of internationalism that are hostile to all forms of nationalism, and see the world as finally united based on a single characteristic, whether it be individualism or the working class. This latent inclination towards homogenizing and simplifying what is diverse and complex is seen in internationalism, and an inclusive nationalism is needed to prevent such homogenization from occurring.
In fact, nationalism and internationalism are necessary to one another’s existence as positive and helpful mind sets. To be diverse is necessary to prevent becoming narrow-minded, and to be particular is important to block one’s self from becoming too universalistic. A society that accepts and celebrates variety effectively needs the best of both -isms.