The Nobel Prize and Love for Country

October 11th, 2009

Aayush Arya responded to my criticism of John Gruber, writing that

As much as I think Obama did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize just for having noble intentions, I do think that every American should be proud of it nevertheless. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Gruber’s statement.

I think that when the president of your country wins one of the most significant honours in the world, you stand up, thump your chest with pride, and cheer him on; you leave the discussions about whether or not it was deserved to the people of all the other countries in the world.

I think this highlights an important difference between two completely different forces — patriotism and nationalism — that are often confused to be the same thing. I’ll start with an analogy to make clear why I oppose Obama receiving the award.

You just started working for a company, and there’s a management position open. You and 120 others are competing for the position. You haven’t really accomplished much, besides showing a lot of promise. There are a number of others who have worked very hard and achieved many things directly relating to the position.

You win the position. But not because you deserved it based on what you’ve achieved, but because the hiring manager liked you and maybe even thought having you in that spot would benefit him in office politics. There are a number of others who very much deserved it but didn’t get it.

Would you really be that excited? I wouldn’t. Everyday I see the title next to my name, I would be reminded that I didn’t receive the position because I deserved it, but because I had an in with the hiring manager and I would be beneficial to him. It would be a constant reminder of shame for me, and a constant reminder that the organization is broken in a fundamental way: people don’t move up based on merit, but because of favoritism and politics.

Awards and other “victories” are only victories insofar as they reflect how much you deserve it. If you didn’t deserve it, then it’s a hollow victory; in fact, it’s just a reflection of your own failure. So that’s one reason I oppose it: it’s a hollow “victory” for the U.S., and just a sign that the Nobel Peace Prize has become a political award instead of one of merit.

The second reason is, because Obama didn’t deserve it, I must oppose him receiving it. There is a firm and paramount difference between patriotism and nationalism. Patriots love their country, and laude its positive attributes, but integrally, never hide its faults; in fact, they harshly critique them. They do this because they love their country and want it to be as good as it possibly can, and relentlessly identifying faults is the only way to do that.

Nationalists don’t do this. They laude their nation’s positives, and cover up its faults. They refuse to recognize their nation’s faults, because to them, their nation is in a race with the others, and any triumph over others is a victory. Anything that can be spun to the nation’s advantage, is. Misrepresentations and lies are held above reality.

Nationalism leads to the decay of nations, and in the worst cases, abuses of others, because faults and failures can be equivocated away. Patriotism is a force for good; reality is held above all else. Nationalism is a terrible force that must be resisted.

So, just as much as Gruber’s partisanship bothers me, the nationalism which underlies his statement —- any “victory” for our country must be cheered on, even if it is wrong, or else you don’t love your nation —- bothers me even more. The U.S., and all good nations, are built on patriotism, not nationalism, and we must insure that patriotism guides our actions.