The Virtue in Nationalism

Recently Malta has again been hit by the controversial issue of immigration. This issue has spurred various forms of xenophobic and racist comments on social media from a vast number of people.

Although I condemn any form of hatred of people due to skin colour, I also think it is not fair to bin nationalism just because there are idiots who say stupid race-based things on social media, as that does not represent what nationalism truly is. Nationalism is not a code for racism, nor is it something bad.

Nationalism is old, natural and powerful. Take Joan of Arc, for instance, an 18-year-old girl who had a vision that she would liberate her country from the English. She kicks out the English, restores the French heir to the throne. She was eventually burned at the stake by the English, but her memory never goes away. She becomes a symbol of France and the nation’s independence, in fact, years later during the German occupation, the free French forces use Joan of Arc`s symbol, the Cross of Lorraine”, on their flag. That`s just an example of how powerful a national feeling is.

The Maltese Flag was the main symbol in the mass anti-government protests in December 2019

As an ideology, it is dangerous in the same way that all ideologies are dangerous. It occupies the space vacated by religion, and in doing so excites the true believer both to worship the national idea and to seek in it for what it cannot provide –the way to redemption and the consolation for all our woes. The nation means the historical identity and continuing allegiance that unites a people. Sentiments of national identity may be inflamed by war, civil agitation and ideology, but in their normal form these sentiments are not just peaceful in themselves, but a form of peace between neighbours.

Democracies need national rather than religious or ethnic `we`. The nation state, as we now conceive it, is the by-product of human neighbourliness, shaped by an `invisible hand` from the countless agreements between people who speak the same language and live side by side. Its law is territorial rather than religious and invokes no source of authority higher than the intangible assets that its people share.

The Maltese Flag used in an anti-immigration protest by ultra-right-wing groups

Unlike common belief, nationalism and patriotism are not opposites but the true opposite to nationalism is internationalism, the idea that all human beings share similar values, and that borders and national interests are irrelevant. But that idea is just utterly foolish and also dangerous. The footage of thousands of radical Muslims marching in Pakistan to protest the acquittal of a Christian woman from charges of blasphemy is enough for me to realise that not all peoples believe the same things.

Unless and until people identify themselves with the country, its territory and its cultural inheritance – in something like the way people identify themselves with a family – the politics of compromise will not emerge. Wherever people identify themselves in terms that are not shared by their neighbours then the state falls apart at the first crack – as has happened in the former Yugoslavia. Only when law derives from national sovereignty can it adapt to the changing conditions of the people.

There is nothing wrong with being a nationalist, nothing wrong with having pride in who we are. All nations have the duty to put the interests of their own people first. A nation is like a family just on a larger scale, there are occasional arguments and disagreements between members, but in the end, they are bound to put all that aside for the good of the family.

Written by: Jake Muscat

(This article was originally posted on


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