An Anti-Nationalist Defends National Pride

On 11/21/2020, center-left content creator Hunter Avallone tweeted out the following:

Pride in the country you were born in makes no sense. Why take pride in something you have no control over? You cannot take pride in the country while simultaneously refusing to hold yourself accountable for it’s flaws. Nationalism is cringe.

Hunter got a massive backlash for this tweet, some accused him of believing national pride is bad but gay/non-binary/black pride is okay (he doesn’t and has criticized the “gay pride” movement many times on this reasoning), and most others just called him gay. My favorite replies were the ones that accused him of being part of some conspiracy to turn the United States into an “economic zone” — by twitting something once.

As one of the most vocal critics of nationalism, you’d think I’d be with Hunter regarding the idea of “national pride” being silly — well, I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, it has been used in a number of silly ways — turning the United States founding into a Broadway musical where the founding fathers rap, for example, is rather silly. However, for one even if that is silly I would struggle to call it bad if it gets more people interested in the founding of this nation, and for two I would argue that good things are sometimes rather silly.

In my mind, there are two kinds of “national pride” that a person can have. The first one is basically just national pride is passing, they quote famous figures and pay reference to history, however — either through ignorance or malice — have no interest in actually living out the ideas of the people they’re quoting. The Communist Party dropping a banner of Abraham Lincoln during their 1938 convention would be an example of this. While they paid reference to Lincoln, it’s rather hard to argue that the Communist Party would be implementing the policies Lincoln would have approved us. This is what Harrison Salisbury had in mind when he said:

Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling “The Star Spangled Banner.”

You might remember my absolute frustration during the debates around tearing down statues of former Confederates because I felt the statues, if anything, encouraged this. We were warned that if these statues were removed, history itself would be erased — as if the only way to learn about history is through a portrait with a name and date underneath. It was a way of learning about history for the lazy and nothing more, and should not have been seen as any more important than a fun fact on a Snapple cap.

Thinking about it further, it’s hard to call what these people have “pride.” It’s much closer to call it “a passing familiarity,” although it’s the most common form of “national pride” seen in the United States.

The second form, the one I do endorse, is also not so much “national pride” but instead a form of “national inspiration.” Specifically, being inspired by the accomplishments of your ancestors and wishing to build on what they did.

For example, coming from someone who lives in a Union state, I would be doing a disservice to my ancestors if I did not call out the unfair treatment of African Americans when I see it today. I have family who fought in World War Two, and it would be nothing short of disrespectful if I let fascism rise in the United States. My country was founded on the principals of liberty against unjustified authority, and it would be nothing short of urinating on their graves if I let the authoritarians of today go forward without a fight.

This is the positive change I recommend people take, looking towards the past not as some blob to quote, but of men with ideas that should be valued and talked about. Even if these men were far from perfect, many of their ideas can still be applied in a modern context when needed.

This kind of “national pride” does not even need to be limited to people from this nation. Christopher Hitchens was born in the United Kingdom and immigrated to the United States, and yet he showed more pride in the ideas of his chosen home than did many Americans I know. He wanted to build upon the ideas of men like Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, showing pride in living in the same nation as these great men.

Pride is fine when you’re using it as inspiration, by itself however, it is meaningless. Feeling “national pride” while doing nothing with it is functionally the same as just not feeling it — in fact, at least the person who doesn’t have any is being honest about where he stands.