Commentary

Why not nationalism?

By Manuel Almario
Philippine Daily Inquirer

12:20 am | Saturday, March 15th, 2014

 

In his column, “The future of democracy” (3/1/14), Randy David examines the role of democracy in paring down poverty. “[W]hy expect democracy to end poverty?” he asks. “Rapid economic development and the distribution of assets have been more associated with authoritarian regimes than with democracies.”

 

Indeed, democracy is a process and not a solution. It is a means for translating the sentiments of the people into action through government. What is important, however, is the sentiment, principle, program, policy, or solutions that the people want to be implemented through the democratic process.

 

In a multiparty system, the democratic society expresses the policies which it wishes implemented through contending political parties and candidates in regular elections. Ideally, the society makes its choices through its citizens voting freely, so what comes out of the ballot box is their collective will.

 

Disturbed by recent events in Ukraine, where an elected government was overthrown by violent demonstrations, The Economist, an influential conservative magazine published in London, recently took a gloomy look at democracy in a long cover essay. It said, in part:

 

“Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.

 

“The two main reasons are the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the rise of China. The damage the crisis did was psychological as well as financial. It revealed fundamental weaknesses in the West’s political system…. Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress. Larry Summers, of Harvard University, observes that when America was growing fastest, it doubled living standards roughly every 30 years.  China has been doubling living standards roughly every decade for the past 30 years.”

 

The Economist did not mention the Philippines as one of those countries in which democracy has failed to meet public expectations. But it mentioned Iraq and Egypt where attempts to emplace democracy have failed. And even as we celebrated last Feb. 25 the “Edsa Revolution” that “restored” democracy after more than 20 years of dictatorship, a great many Filipinos moaned, “What did it all bring us, except more poverty and misery?”

 

The Economist admits that elections alone do not make up a democracy, especially when the voters and their elected representatives are swayed by the power of money wielded by corporations and oligarchs. As a remedy, the magazine proposes the further limitation of governmental power. This is what US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did through deregulation and privatization, but those did not stop the Great Recession of 2007-2008 from happening.

 

Damaged culture

 

In 1987, with the flush of the peaceful Edsa Revolution still infusing the world, the American magazine Atlantic Monthly ran an article by James Fallows on the Philippines, titled “A Damaged Culture.” Its subhead read: “Our Asia correspondent offers a dark view of a nation not only without nationalism, but also without much national pride.”

 

In his article, which he wrote after two months of traveling across the archipelago—during which he felt “angry at myself when I brushed off the latest platoon of child beggars, angry at the beggars when I did give in, angry at the rich Filipinos for living behind high walls and guardhouses in the fortified Makati compounds euphemistically called villages … angry at a society that had degenerated into a war of every man against every man”—

 

Fallows concluded:

“If the problem in the Philippines does not lie in the people themselves, or, it would seem, in their choice between capitalism and socialism, what is the problem? I think it is cultural and that it should be thought of as a failure of nationalism.”

According to the Concise Encylopedia, “Nationalism is loyalty and devotion to one’s nation or country, especially as above loyalty to other groups or to individual interests.” Thus, a nationalist identifies fully with his country, placing its interests above that of his class, community, region, clan, family and self.  He is personally humiliated when his country is humiliated.

 

A nationalist would want his country to be strong and prosperous, rather than weak and poor. The Encyclopedia adds: “In the 20th Century, Nationalist movements often arose in opposition to colonialism.” Jose Rizal was a nationalist because, although born in a family more fortunate materially than most of his countrymen, he abandoned his birthright to fight for their independence and freedom to strive for progress.

 

No nation has become prosperous without going through a phase of nationalism. The United States grew to be a wealthy and strong nation only after undergoing a nationalist revolution against England. Its founding fathers, from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were all ardent nationalists.

 

Nation-building

 

According to a US college textbook, World Civilizations, the rise of nations in Europe in the 19th century arose from a “complex combination of the forces of liberalism, nationalism and nation-building.” Nationalism is a necessary component of nation-building. A common characteristic of the economically successful nation states in Asia was the nationalism of their leaders and peoples, regardless of ideology.

 

Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Mahathir of Malaysia, Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, Park Chung Hee of South Korea, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiao Ping of China were all instilled with nationalism and driven by the desire to build a strong nation, subservient to none and equal to all.

 

We still have to find a leader who would place the nation above class, family and personal interests. We still have to find a leader who would protect and advance the national interest, even if it conflicts with those of other countries, and who would not divide their loyalty between our own country and other nations, despite shared historical and cultural relationships.

History shows that no nation has been built without its people imbibing the spirit of nationalism.

 

Manuel F. Almario (mfalmario@yahoo.com) is a veteran, semiretired journalist and spokesperson of the Movement for Truth in His

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March 16, 2014 · 5:09 am

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