This past week, Professor Arnout Van Demeer, come to discuss the origins of nationalism in Southeast Asia. While I could summarize the tale of Soemarsono igniting change and deconstruct the analogy of the oil lamp, I feel more compelled to search for our origins of nationalism. Now, to be clear, “our” refers to the American origins of nationalism, and that in itself contains a number of complications. So I care to ask, just as I have scrawled in my notes: can we be nationalistic despite not being a native. Yet, though not a native American (note how I’m not capitalizing native), I am still an American national. This of course, opens a further can of worms, stemming from questions of national identity. Thus, I’ll start at the root: ‘nat’.
‘Nat’, as in nation, nationalism, and native directly means ‘to be born’ or ‘to spring forth’. Yet, the majority of our country has familial roots spanning multiple nations, thus ‘international’ and ‘internationalism’ seem a better. Therefore I question that, unless you are indeed a native American, wouldn’t it be better to refer to your nationalism as internationalism. With such a minute percentage of native Americans, isn’t then nationalism re-branded internationalism under the guise of a unifying umbrella nation? Perhaps the suffix clarifies this ambiguous derivation…
The suffix ‘al’ is simple, meaning “of a kind or pertaining to”; therefore ‘national’ means ‘concerned with or pertaining to a nation’.1(<<apparently I cannot superscript) Does that not therefore deem my previous assessment of nationalism invalid? The final suffix, ‘ism’, is merely means “the distinctive doctrine or theory of”. Therefore, nationalism is the doctrine pertaining to a nation, and I care to argue that my previous logic is actually backwards. Instead of nationalism being exclusive to those tied to the nation from birth, perhaps nationalism, in a way, ties those who share the unifying ideals of a nation regardless of birthplace as ‘nat’ suggests. Of course, this is only an etymological view of nationalism, but it seems to suggest that anyone — immigrant, national, or otherwise — is as much as an American as those born in America*.2
Now where does this fit in with the larger theme of origins? I’m not sure if it does…yet
With such a large uprising in “nationalism” surrounding the recent elections, it’s hard not to notice the hypocritical rhetoric that helped our president into Washington. Threats of deportation and slogans of “make America great again” don’t exactly mix with the idea that Americans are any people who agree with core “American values” (and yes I do put this in quotations because, I believe, ideals of equality and freedom aren’t exclusively American). However, I do believe that we, as Americans, in the upcoming years must bring this issue of inclusive nationalism to light, and find order in our self-referential chaos.
* The fine print here being: as long as they share the ideals of the nation as a whole.
- Sidenote: Notice how ‘foreign national’ is one who does not belong to the nation where they preside. Yet, when taking the root ‘nat’ literally, every immigrant, citizen or not, is a foreign national.
- Revisiting the preceding footnote: With the understanding of national and nationalism I have just derived and ignoring legal classifications, a ‘foreign national’, is not so different from ‘immigrant’. More reading here: https://medium.com/reportedly/the-language-we-use-foreign-vs-immigrant-4e70f955f56b