It was at the 100th anniversary of the Armistice Day which ended World War I in Europe on November 11, 1918, that French President Emmanuel Macron warned against the rising of “old demons” like the nationalist ideology of Nazism that the United States and other democracies fought in World War II.
He proceeded to speak about current world affairs in which certain nations, placing their own interests above those of others, carry out policies that could lead, he said, to new world conflicts. In the name of nationalism, he said, they are carrying out policies and decisions at the expense of the common good of all men.
Macron said: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By putting one’s own interests first, with no regard for others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what gives it grace – its moral values.”
For those of us who have long valued nationalism, these could be troubling words. For the national heroes we honor and revere today – like Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, and Del Pilar – were nationalists fighting foreign domination. They were leaders asserting the nationhood of their people against colonial oppressors.
Nationalism in this context cannot be denigrated or rejected. It is what drives a subjugated people to rise against a dominating nation. It was nationalism that moved the original American colonies to fight for their independence against the British. It was nationalism that moved the French and other European nations to fight the Nazis in World War II. It is nationalism that is moving many new nations in Africa today to assert themselves against their former colonial masters.
Surely, President Macron was not against this nationalism of people striving to throw off political and economic subjugation by other nations. He was really speaking against extreme nationalism that has little concern for the good of other nations, for the common good.
Many observers say his words at the Armistice anniversary rites were really a reference to the policies of United States President Donald Trump, whose “America First” policy could turn into an “America Only” one. The US today has increasingly discordant relations with other nations in Europe and in Asia because of this policy.
In this context, we can understand French President Macron’s negative views on nationalism. He had in mind one definition of nationalism as “excessive patriotism.” There is another definition – “devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation” – and that is what we continue to hold dear in our country as it applies to Rizal and our other national heroes and to the nationalist policies that we continue to push to overcome the obstacles that remain from our colonial past.