Thursday, June 27, 2013

Andrew Jackson and Nationalism

As I read my biography of Andrew Jackson tonight, I realized that his foreign policy was characteristically nationalist. That is to say, he shares much with the typical nationalist of the twentieth century. Yet, is there such a thing as a typical nationalist?

From the book, regarding the removal of Indians from their land in Florida, "Jackson believed in removal with all his heart, and by refusing to entertain any other scenario, he was as ferocious in inflicting harm on a people as he often was in defending the rights of those he thought of as the people." Jackson was also predictably a bit racist in his justification for removal, but that can be ignored in favor of his nationalism. It is clear that he thought of Americans only - all other races and peoples were obstacles in the way of his people's growth. To remove whole tribes of Indians, then, was preferable to the stifling of a single pioneer's development.

In some ways, this is parallel to the nationalism that has been dragged through the dirt by the middle school education I received. That is, the civics class that began in middle school, but continued on through college. Nationalism, at least in the twentieth century, is blamed for two world wars and a host of unfriendly governments. Perhaps that is partially true. But I feel that Jackson's nationalism is different. Jackson was not focused on the betterment of his people at the expense of other peoples. Rather, he was focused on the betterment of his people. Period. His nationalism was a sense of family rather than a sense of entitlement or superiority. He genuinely believed his people was his family, and thus should be lifted up - much as one might wish for his own actual family to succeed.

I share Jackson's philosophy, in this regard at least. I have no wishes or designs against other nations of the world. But I will root for the American team until the end. Seeing peers of mine with less ardent support for the flag distresses me in a rather unique way; my feeling would most aptly be described as consternation. For, what right do they have to disregard the hand that feeds them? There is a reason I have been and continue to be willing to self-flagellate for my country. This is something I feel Jackson would readily understand. Not that this is a unique or even particularly noteworthy characteristic, of course.

Examining nationalism from philosophy, does it make sense? I am afraid to say I doubt it. I suspect nationalism is psychological and little else. A utilitarian case could be made for patriotism, mostly in the sense that supporting one's country enables one's country to provide support. Yet in the overwhelming majority of cases I would say people stand to lose far more than they might gain. Nationalism requires a keen sense of altruism. For what reason would a person rally against their twin for the sole reason they were born across a border? For what reason would a battle for competing national-level interests be justified on an individual level? Questions like this accompany nationalism and cannot be separated.

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