Nationalism, Its Values and Its Evils
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 24 Oct 1929, p. 271-277
Gower-Rees, Rev. Canon A.P., Speaker
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Conditions necessary for world peace. What is meant by the term Nationalism. Examples of the difficulty of defining a term: a look at the terms "civilisation," "patriotism," and "nation." A look into the past and the way in which nationality emerged in the earlier centuries of the Christian era. National spirit. The result of an over-emphasis of a certain type of nationalism, with the example of Germany. How we can preserve a national spirit while avoiding its evil aspects. The true national spirit to which Nelson gave expression. Passing out of nationalism to reach internationalism.
Date of Original
24 Oct 1929
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Full Text
24th October, 1929

VICE-PRESIDENT CHARLES SYRETT introduced the speaker, who said: I chose my subject for this afternoon because I feel that it is the all-absorbing topic at the present moment among serious thinking men throughout the world. You know that the British Prime Minister has been over in the United States, and in all of his conversations you will discover a certain vision, a certain desire for world peace. But before we can arrive at that condition of world peace it is very necessary that every nation, every group of people, should realize their part in the larger whole; so it is necessary that we should be clear in our own mind as to what we mean by the term Nationalism.

Many of the controversies which sunder men derive their bitterness from misunderstanding about words. Words are labels for ideas, and as people grasp the ideas, which are ever changing, so the meaning of words also changes. Many of us, for instance, would agree upon the broader meaning of the term Nationalism, or about another word which we fling about with equal freedomPatriotism; or take another word which is in common use-a Nation.

I am perfectly certain that there are not many of us but have a vague notion that we realize their meaning, though we find it very difficult to get a definition for those terms. Take, for instance, the word civilization, which lies at the very root of the other ideas which are covered in those terms. We talk freely about our modern civilization. We speak of it in a comfortable sort of way when we refer to civilization, past and present, or as when we speak of the Egyptian or Roman or modern civilization. But that word civilization had no place, even in Dr. Johnson's dictionary; he preferred the word "civility" rather than civilization. When we regard the term civilization in an abstract way we are inclined to think of a condition that is opposed to barbarism, a condition which is produced by intelligence as opposed to ignorance, produced by culture rather than uncouthness, of refinement rather than coarseness; so the true meaning of the word lies just there-that it is a condition which is opposed to barbarism, and the fundamental idea which we find there is that it has reference to the relationships between communities or peoples. Thus we have there the communal idea, which involves the affairs of the community, so that civilization is the best inter-relationship between people.

Then to switch over to the word Patriotism. We have got to the time when we use that word rather freely, perhaps not wisely. What does that word mean even to a good many people still? Love of one's country, a love which may make a demand upon us for great sacrifices. Again, it is a love for one's country's honour while avoiding hatred of other people. Again, patriotism may mean the readiness to stand and defend one's country if at any time there is danger that it may be attacked; the readiness to stand by one's nation. Again, I believe that our Patriotism should amount to this as well-the readiness to speak the truth about our own nation; we should not be prepared to cover its wrongs, but rather to admit its wrongs, and confess them freely. You remember the fate of Lord North, who was pleading that England should not go to war with the United States. He at that time became very unpopular, and it nearly broke his heart, because he dared to tell his people that he felt that it was wrong. Again, John Bright, in connection with the Crimean War, said the same thing. They were true patriots. Patriotism, the love of one's country, the love of one's people, a grateful readiness to sacrifice, if need be, for the sake of one's country.

Then we come to the word Nation. What do we mean by Nation? I think it was Renan who gave us a definition which seems to cover the ground; that that which constitutes a nation is not merely the speaking of the same language, not only belonging to the same ethnic group, but having accomplished great things in the past together, and still cherishing the wish and desire to accomplish great things together in the future. There, I think, we have much to go upon to help us understand what we mean by a nation.

You know that when you and I look back upon the history of the past and think of the way in which nationality emerged we are forced back to the earlier centuries of the Christian era. When we think of the time when Christianity spread itself over the Empire, not over the nation, we discover that the Roman Empire included, absorbed in it, kingdoms and nations. They had become provinces within the empire, so that when Christianity entered into our western civilization it entered upon an empire, and it adapted itself to an empire rather than a nation; but when that empire broke up and its place was taken over by the church, the fond dream was realized of a Christian republic established by Charlemagne, in which it was discovered, or rather it was felt, that the question of nationalism did not arise-that it was possible for nations to live side by side and thereby, as it were, to have a central focus which unified the life of that empire; and that idea had an advocate in Rome. But when that church broke up, or its power broke down, then the nations gradually emerged-nations standing upon their own footing, nations claiming their own right, nations desiring a place in the sun, nations who cherished their own racial and national ambitions, nations who had their own dreams, nations that had visions of the possibility that they might secure a position of predominance over others.

So the nationalism gradually grew, and it is that national spirit that one finds so strong; and when you and I think of the national spirit we must not for a single moment imagine that it is a question of country or territory. Nationality is a spirit; it is a spirit that is to be found in the group or body of people, a spirit which seems to urge every single member of that community to contribute his best towards the welfare of that community.

Neither is the national spirit coterminus with national boundaries, neither is it to be defined by its language and its traditions. It is a spirit to be found within a body, a spirit urged to make great sacrifices. So enormous is the value of the national spirit that it would have been a calamity had it not been produced, for the life of the nation depends largely upon that national spirit. Notwithstanding that in the twentieth century the doctrine was the doctrine of unfettered sovereignty, the war came and destroyed that, and brought about the collapse of that doctrine. A new vision came to men. They saw that that doctrine could only lead to catastrophe. They could see that that spirit, encouraged in any way, and allowed to spread further, would mean the suicide of the human family. In the twentieth century it has become a disease; it was an infection in Europe. It spread from the larger states to the smaller states, the twenty-three states of Europe that were seeking a place in the sun. The result was that there was conflict. That national spirit had received an undue accentuation during the nineteenth century, and the war came to correct it.

You know that when you and I go back to Renan's definition of a nation we can perhaps understand why Poland, torn asunder over two centuries, still remained a nation; why Bohemia and Hungary, though absorbed in the larger state, still remained a nation, still retained their national and their racial ambitions. We can understand, perhaps with more difficulty, why Ireland, though identified with Great Britain for over eight centuries, still remained a nation. The national spirit, as Mr. Simmons declares, is very much like religion. It is subjective psychologically. It is a spiritual thing of their thinking and feeling. It is something indescribable. It almost approaches the impenetrable, this national spirit. It has tremendous value, which rouses each member of a community or nation to action for that community; readiness to obey the will of the government; readiness, as it were, to fall in with others; bound together and unified by a common sympathy. It is a mighty power, and its value cannot be exaggerated.

But, instead of that, we have lived to see the result of an over-emphasis of that type of nationalism. Remember that until 1870 Germany was not a nation, but after 1870 it became a nation, and we know what the result was. When Germany became a nation it was moved to see the possibility that it might predominate others, might seek, as it were, to be the master spirit and mind amongst the nations of the world. So with Italy until the days of Garibaldi and of the influence of Victor Emmanuel and Mazzini, until the states of Italy were linked up into a nation. Then, thinking of the notable deeds that had been done upon its soil, thinking of the great things that had been uttered in its language, they looked forward to the possibility that some day Italy might dominate the rest of the world.

But that unfortunate over-emphasis of nationalism must lead to catastrophe, as we saw during the war. The question that then arises is just this: How can we preserve that national spirit, that spirit which has inspired the great products of our literature, that spirit which has done so much to make civilization possible, that spirit which has moved men to great deeds for their fellowmen-how can that be produced and yet its evils averted? Can it be done? How can we preserve its sacred possibilities for humanity and yet avoid the terrible result of the passions of the arrogant nationalism which were wakened up by the war? Can it be done? I believe it can.

To my mind it is very appropriate that we should speak upon this subject at this particular time; and when one thinks that last Monday was Trafalgar Day my mind goes across the Atlantic to two statues; one of the great admiral, and the message that he sent out on Trafalgar Day "England expects that every man this day will do his duty." Expects; is confident; England trusts, expects. That was the true national spirit, and Nelson gave expression to it. The national spirit of his day, like the religion of statesmen, and the soul of the man in the spirit a hundred years ago. Then I think of the other statue, that of Edith Cavell--she who, knowing the consequences, yet dared; who at the last gave utterance to that new nationalism, to that new vision, that new spirit that we must cultivate-"Patriotism is not enough; nationalism is not enough." You and I are called upon, as it were, to pass out of this nationalism till we reach that internationalism which, while it respects nationalism, transcends it; that internationalism which will mean that all nations of the world may co-operate; that we shall have in the future a co-partnership; and with that co-partnership the human family may safely and securely advance to its highest development.

That is what one feels at the present time as one of our needs. I believe that we need all the utterances of our great statesmen at the present time, and when we listen to those speeches of our statesmen in Europe at the moment and listen to the representatives of other nations out of Europe we discover that same desire, the desire of nations, those at least who have come to the recognition of the need of an understanding between the nations, that together they may contribute towards securing that condition, the only condition of survival which, by the aid of nations working together, will become common.

It has been said by Laviolette, the eminent Belgian socialist, that as the culture of a people advances, and as racial passion loses its power, international memories assume the place of the racial. And I believe it was Mill, in his Representative Government in 1862, who declared that what we have to remember today is that a people or a nation becomes possible when the people have a community of recollection; that is, that they are in possession of a national history. The same thing was said by Mr. Renan when he declared that a nation was a community that had accomplished great things in the past together, and they may have a unity of recollections; yes, they may have regrets and pleasures; they may have humiliations and pride in looking back upon incidents of the past together .

Here is our young country. Here we have a people made up of various races. To make up a nation is not necessary that there shall be an identity of races, but rather that they have together accomplished something, and thus we may create that true national spirit which will make a true advancement in this new country with all its possibilities and potentialities, that will ensure a future that seems very bright, if at this moment we can only keep our eyes clear to see what we might do in our day and generation to contribute towards the building up of that power which comes through and is produced by a true national spirit.

REV. DR. CODY voiced the thanks of the Club to Canon GowerRees.

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Nationalism, Its Values and Its Evils

Conditions necessary for world peace. What is meant by the term Nationalism. Examples of the difficulty of defining a term: a look at the terms "civilisation," "patriotism," and "nation." A look into the past and the way in which nationality emerged in the earlier centuries of the Christian era. National spirit. The result of an over-emphasis of a certain type of nationalism, with the example of Germany. How we can preserve a national spirit while avoiding its evil aspects. The true national spirit to which Nelson gave expression. Passing out of nationalism to reach internationalism.