Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed are solely of the writer. Warren Smith received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at BYU, a doctorate in technology strategy from the Harvard Business School and currently owns JETS: Japanese-English Technology Services in Durham, New Hampshire. He wrote this piece for the Deserter News.
While I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. John Armstrong that we must find a kind of patriotism that permits goodwill toward all people, I worry that this op-ed misses the point entirely about what “nationalism” is and is not (“Patriotism vs. nationalism in a Mormon context,” Oct. 10).
While Latter-day Saint teachings caution us against “nationalism” in terms of narrow-minded and ignorant tribalism, which is nothing more than an “us-versus-them” high school rivalry on an international level, it would be equally wrong to ignore the realities of America’s exceptional contribution to the world in terms of systems and technologies that have lifted untold millions (billions?) from literal starvation and abject poverty into relative well-being, and wrong to ignore the fact that the American impact on the world has been a reflection of our historic “American culture” where “culture” is defined as a predominant set of shared values and not superficial cultural markers such as tastes in food and entertainment, etc.
Space does not permit me to define the key aspects of the historical “American culture,” but it is what has enabled America to feed the world, create industry and infrastructure in nations around the globe, and to become by far the world’s largest humanitarian contributor as well.
It must be noted that even the oft-condemned American pseudo-Colonialism has resulted in the creation of infrastructures and systems that set the foundation for the success of many countries in post-Colonial independence, and this has been ultimately a blessing for the very countries that some would argue have been “exploited” by the American system.
Is it toxic “nationalism” to believe that America has (had?) a culture that is superior to most, or perhaps all, other cultures? Before that question can be answered, we must first ask whether it is possible for one culture to be better than another. The easiest way to address this is to ask if there such a thing as a “sick culture.” The answer is a resounding “yes.” The most cursory reading of scripture shows how cultures — not “races” or “nations” — can go through cultural changes that bring misery, where repentance — as a society — brings joy.
Much closer to home, any sociologist who dares can point to subcultures — and I do not mean races or classes — that are statistically characterized by chronic poverty, disregard for education, willing dependency on public assistance, rejection of parental responsibilities, involvement in crime (with concomitant incarceration), embracing of an exploitive drug culture, hatred of law-enforcement, perceived victimhood, vilification of others, and the like. Clearly, such a self-reinforcing set of values is a “sick culture.”
I am not arguing that a traditional Fourth of July celebration is in any way superior to, say, a French Bastille Day celebration, nor that hamburgers are superior to dim sum. On the contrary, these are merely superficial preferences. But there is a set of values that have defined, traditionally, the “American culture,” a set of values that is under extreme attack at present — values such as preferring liberty over security, embracing traditional virtues, belief in the market system, taking responsibility for one’s self and responsibility to care for friends and neighbors personally and not leaving it to the government, commitment to family values, freedom to succeed or fail, etc.
While, of course, in some form or other these values are found in other countries and cultures as well, if a rejection of “nationalism” somehow maps to a rejection of the traditional American culture — and value system — and, perhaps more to the point, of the responsibility that America has borne for the last 70 years in leading the world in lifting people out of hunger and poverty through being a beacon of industry, democracy, and free market competition, then this rejection is a decidedly bad thing.
While I completely agree that any definition of “nationalism” that involves hatred or dehumanizing of individuals of other nations or cultures is fundamentally wrong, I wholeheartedly embrace the view of “nationalism” (which is rightly called “patriotism”) that cherishes the American culture, acknowledges the unique role America has played – and must continue to play – as a force for good in world history. It would be tragic to abandon this “nationalism,” or patriotism, just because there are also some individuals (such as in Charlottesville) who embrace “nationalism” out of hatred or ignorance.
The bottom line is, despite the existence of hateful and ignorant people, for those people who can rise above petty enmity, embracing positive “nationalism” is a decidedly good thing, and I call upon all Americans to defend the values that have made this country great, and invite all people, American or not, to share in our traditional American values.