The Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin once pleaded with his readers to make a distinction between nationalism and patriotism. His words are still worth heeding today.
It is not difficult to see which of the two he discusses that the South falls into. Though she does suffer from a fair amount of pride, she ne’ertheless has always been able to appreciate and learn from other countries, whether the Spanish chivalry of the 16th century or the French poems of Froissart, or the classical literature of Greece and Rome, or the histories of ancient empires in China, India, and Egypt. The Southerner is the patriot.
However, the ‘chosen’ Puritans/Yankees of New England, with their vision of creating a new and better society based on a new revelation given them and them alone by their God, have tended to exalt their own culture over all others, to sneer at other societies past and present as backward, ignorant, oppressive, unprogressive, stuck in the past. The Yankee is the nationalist.
Sadly, it is all too obvious that a fair amount of the Yankee ghost has invaded the Southern soul, where much Red State, Make American Great Again, America Is the Greatest Nation Ever fervor is usually never far from eye nor ear.
Southerners have much to repent of, so let us read Mr Ilyin’s words with great care (translated by Nicholas Kotar):
True Patriotism is in no way self-delusion. The true patriot avoids all illusions about his own country. On the contrary, he is called to realistically look at things, to assess them and then act according to that assessment. He looks at things realistically, sees them as they are. The patriot sees both the strong and weak aspects of his people. He also sees the triumphs and mistakes of other nations.
. . .
Love cannot be blind. On the contrary, it must make the eye of the lover clear and piercing. There is no need to naively idealize one’s beloved people. After all, the patriot doesn’t need that! A true service to his people is found not in a demagogic glorification of the nation, nor in lies and nationalistic arrogance. The opposite is true. Love for country is a sober, objective assessment, especially a clear analysis of the nation’s mistakes and shortcomings.
. . .
There is a line of demarcation between national demagoguery and national prophecy. The demagogue is a poisoner of wells. The prophet is a mentor. National arrogance begins at the moment when the people have become stuck in the level of primitive self-consciousness, where their vices, ideologies, and instructors are not capable of illumining it. This primitive self-consciousness is seen when a person is chained by his own self-perception and can see nothing else.
His personal wants or needs take up all his attention and love. His “I” becomes a living and only center of his desires, his will, his efforts, and his joys. He has no doubt in his own reality… A psychologist might call it a kind of autism or even autoeroticism, while the philosopher calls it solipsism.
The national arrogance of the demagogue comes from being drunk with oneself. Once it appears, it feeds on two otherwise healthy sources–the instinct of self-preservation and the instinct of vanity.
. . .
If I love my people, I must know in detail their historical development, the uniqueness of their national character. I must learn the territorial, political, economic problems besetting my country. To study the structure of its spiritual “act.” In short, all its national virtues and vices, its accomplishments and its backwardness, everything that is proper to it and that it lacks. I must know all this thoroughly and assess it fairly.
I must hide nothing, nor must I aggrandize anything. The positives are good–they must grow and flourish. The negatives are evil–they must be overcome by a new education of my countrymen. Having come to know my people, I will not hide anything from them. I will justify the good, so that the people will know what is necessary to preserve. I will not remain silent about the evil.
More than that, I will uncover it, I will describe it and indicate it. After examining its reasons and sources, I will call my people to wake up, to begin self-purification, to start on the path of overcoming the evil.
. . .
Then the arrogance turns into real hubris. If the people and its prophets don’t have enough of a sense of moderate and cleansing self-deprecating humor, then they’ll swagger right over a cliff.
That’s the moment when you start to hear teachings about the historical exceptionalism of a nation and its mission in the world. And in comparison with this nation, all others are merely a series of obstacles to be plowed over.
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!