Is nationalism ever a force for good?

1

Jared Diamond

Jared Diamond, a noted polymath, is Professor of Geography at the University of California, Los Angeles. Among his many awards are the U.S. National Medal of Science, Japan’s Cosmos Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, and election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He is the author of the international best-selling books Guns, Germs, and Steel; Collapse; Why Is Sex Fun?; The World Until Yesterday; and The Third Chimpanzee, and is the presenter of TV documentary series based on three of those books.

JARED DIAMOND: What about nationalism for a country? Is it good or is it harmful? Well, that’s like asking about self-confidence and ego strength for a person. If a person has confidence and ego strength, is that good or bad? You can have too much of it and it’s harmful if you are so full of yourself that you ignore other people. If, on the other hand, you lack confidence and you depend upon other people for your own image, then you don’t have the courage, you don’t have the identity, you don’t have the sentiment to deal with your own issues. With nationalism today, there are countries that seem to me that have a healthy nationalism. I regard Finland, a country that I love as having a healthy nationalism based on reality.

The Finns speak the Finnish language. Nobody else in the world speaks the Finnish language. It’s a beautiful, but very difficult language. It’s the root of Finnish national identity. The Finns have a national epic, the Kalevala, in the Finnish language. And every Finn can recite the Kalevala, Of Americans and English people can recite Shakespeare. So the Finns have a healthy national identity focused on their language, their culture, and also their history, and what they’ve been able to overcome. There are countries that have excessive national identity. There are for example, people who would regard Germany during the 1930s during the Hitler era, as having had excessive national identity. Today, it seems to me that Germany has a healthy national identity.

Germany’s national identity is not based on going out and conquering the world and acquiring [INAUDIBLE],, but recognizing that there are wonderful things about Germany that distinguish Germany from other countries. German’s long history with the German language, the language of Martin Luther, that unifies Germans Protestants and Catholics, the government support for the arts in Germany, the emphasis on the importance of the community in Germany as opposed to the rights of individuals. In the United States and Los Angeles, anybody can build a house with any architectural plan that you like. And so there’s no attractiveness to neighborhoods. In Germany, there is attractiveness in the neighborhoods. So it seems to me that Germany has a healthy national identity today. It did not in the 1930s. Chile has a healthy national identity. After Chile recovered from the trauma of a military government in 1990.

When a democratic government came back, it would have been so obvious for the democratic government to try to take revenge on the military government’s leaders who had tortured and killed so many Chileans. But the first speech by Chile’s new democratic government in 1990 was that he wanted to build a Chile for all Chileans, a wonderful expression. That’s real national identity. A Chile for all Chileans means a country where the tortured and their relatives can live together with the torturers. It sounds terrible, but that’s the only way that Chile could get out of the horrors of their military government. But that depended upon Chileans having a sense of national identity that transcended the horrible things that had happened in Chile.