From The Literary Hub:
George Orwell begins his essay “Notes on Nationalism” by admitting that nationalism is not really the right word, but something of an approximate term for what he means to be discussing. He explains:
By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly—and this is much more important—I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.
Elsewhere he describes nationalism more simply as “the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”
. . . .
“[T]he emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation. . . . It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.”
Within this framework, Orwell lists three “principal characteristics of nationalist thought”:
1. “Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit.” His special mission is to prove that his chosen nation is in all respects better than its rivals. Therefore, even to the outer limits of plausibility, any question may be traced back to this central issue. No detail is indifferent, no fact is neutral.
2. “Instability.” The content of the nationalist’s belief, and even the object of his devotion, is liable to change as circumstances do. “What remains constant in the nationalist is his own state of mind”—the relentless, reductive, uncompromising fervor. The point is to keep oneself always in a frenzied state concerning vicarious contests of honor, whether indulging in spasms of rage over perceived insults or in sadistic ecstasies celebrating some new triumph. It is the single-minded intensity that matters, not the ostensible cause.
3. “Indifference to Reality.” Nationalists achieve by instinct the kind of doublethink that the denizens of Airstrip One cultivated by conscious effort: “Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakably certain of being in the right.” His fundamental belief, he feels sure, must be true; therefore, the facts will have to be made to fit it.
. . . .
We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgment have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting [forward] a “case” with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends. . . One notices this in the case of people one disagrees with, such as Fascists or pacifists, but in fact everyone is the same, at least everyone who has definite opinions. Everyone is dishonest, and everyone is utterly heartless toward people who are outside the immediate range of his own interests and sympathies. What is most striking of all is the way sympathy can be turned on or off like a tap according to political expediency. . . . I am not thinking of lying for political ends, but of actual changes in subjective feeling. But is there no one who has both firm opinions and a balanced outlook? Actually there are plenty, but they are powerless. All power is in the hands of paranoiacs.
. . . .
Orwell analyzed the nationalist’s motives: “What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him.” Since both sides are, as a rule, equally “uninterested in what happens in the real world,” the outcome of such disputes “is always entirely inconclusive,” and “each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory.”
“Facts are selected or suppressed in order to make a case; if need be, the necessary facts are simply invented or, contrariwise, erased.”
. . . .
What worried Orwell most was that individual people—perhaps even millions of them—might come to draw their sense of integrity from the willing submission to shifting dogmas, rather than respect for the truth or the demands of one’s own conscience. They may then cease to recognize that such things as fabricating evidence and slandering your opponents were despicable—or even simply dishonest. He found the thought “frightening . . . because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world.”
Link to the rest at The Literary Hub
PG suggests that Orwell’s nationalism is a widespread phenomenon not limited to citizens of twentieth-century nation-states. The grouping of people into classes, interest groups, etc., and convincing them of group superiority or group persecution is an evergreen phenomenon both ancient and modern.
Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War records Pericles’ Funeral Oration praising the uniqueness of the city of Athens, its citizens, soldiers and form of government in comparison to their enemies, the Lacedaemonians.
Athens and Athenians are inherently distinct, different than any other city-state or group of people. The imperfections or faults of an individual Athenian will be more than offset by the importance of the group to which he belongs. It is honorable and virtuous to fight for such a cause and destroy the enemies who oppose it.
The same techniques were used to emphasize the differences between the Aryans and the Untermenschen in 1930’s Germany.
In twenty-first century America (and perhaps elsewhere) the term, “Othering” has arisen to describe the classification of an individual or group as “not one of us” and, thus, deserving of scorn and reproach. Additionally, groups and genders are classified and divided by their “Privilege” with privileged individuals deemed proper subjects for formal and informal discriminatory treatment.