Nationalism and patriotism
Message for the XXI Day of Judaism in the Catholic Church in Poland (17/01/2018)
On the occasion of the “Day of Judaism in the Catholic Church in Poland,” I would once again like to draw the attention of my compatriots to the dangers of nationalism and, at the same time, the beauty of patriotism.
The “Day of Judaism” naturally evokes the association with the category of the nation in a two-fold way. On the one hand, the Bible speaks of the “chosen people,” and on the other hand, it is difficult for us to forget the German national socialism, of which those confessing
Judaism became victims.
Nationalism—as a socio-political doctrine—presents itself in a large variety of forms. Its origins can be found in the Romantic period, when the community, the membership of one’s own nation, together with its culture and spiritual legacy, was set in the center of the human experience. Popular writers and poets worked for the promotion of such attitudes. At the end of the 19 th century, this became a political doctrine proclaiming the need to fight against others in the name of selfishly understood “national interest.” Nationalism, understood in this sense, grew on the foundation of social Darwinism, perceiving social life in terms of a ruthless struggle.
On the basis of social theories, four forms of nationalism sometimes appear: integral nationalism, Christian nationalism, secular nationalism, and neo-pagan nationalism (cf. J. Bartyzel, “Nacjonalizm,” in: Encyklopedia Katolicka, volume 13, Lublin, 2009, 622-624).
a. Integral nationalism perceives the nation as a multigenerational community, extending from past and future generations. Nations shape themselves, through history, within a specific geographical space. The borders of countries should be adapted to the requirements of their security and the natural conditions of the territory. The population’s ethnic diversity is not a major problem here. It is assumed, however, that every political issue is tied to the interest of the nation-state.
b. Christian nationalism—also proposed by some Catholics—is understood as the discovery of specific national values and acts in accordance with these values. Starting from a universalist perspective, it demands rights for its own nation and, at the same time, sets some limits. It is not hostile to other cultures, and what is national has to serve the universal good. In this case, the national aspect is accidental, while the religious dimension is a necessity. The aim of the nation’s life and action is to spread the Catholic faith.
c. Secular nationalism does not pay much attention to values and virtues in shaping national ties. While recognizing the existence of religion as a sociological and cultural fact, it does not, however, present explicitly religious lines in its program. Secular nationalism sometimes takes on an extremely anti-religious character, attempts to exclude religion and religious morality from the political sphere, introduces anti-religious propaganda and, sometimes, also a hostile separation between the State and the Church.
d. Neopagan nationalism, in turn, refers to certain dead pagan cults, cultural archetypes or
ethos proper to ancient beliefs, which it combines with resentment towards Christianity. Sometimes it uses neopaganism as a tool to fight against Christianity. At other times, it is accompanied by the vivid transgression of the norms of Christian ethics (cf. Msgr. G. Chomyszyn, Dwa królestwa, Krakow, 2017, 82).
e. Chauvinism is an extreme form of nationalism. In this case, solidarity in the nation is accompanied by a clear dislike for, or even hostility towards, both its own national minorities and other national communities. There is an attempt to realize the own “national interest” at the expense of other nations. Uncritical attachment to one’s own nation leads to ignoring or downsizing of its faults and flaws while denying the values to other nations and exaggerating their defects. As a result, own’s right to subordinate them is recognized.
f. This necessarily simplified presentation of nationalisms highlights one common feature, i.e., the belief that “the nation is the highest good.” Father Józef Bocheński writes: “Every nationalism contains two assertions: first, that a given nation is a kind of absolute, a deity that stands above all else, and therefore also above the individual, who should sacrifice everything for it; secondly, that a given nation is better, worthier, more valuable than other nations. (…) (Yet)—continues Father Bocheński—the nation is only one of the many groups to which a man belongs. Every person is, in fact, a member of his family, then of a region, a professional group, and a class. Beyond the nation’s boundaries, people belong to cultural and religious communities” (J. M. Bocheński, Sto Zabobonów, Krakow, 1992, 89-90).
g. The Catholic Church critically views nationalism, since putting the nation at the top of the hierarchy of values can lead to a kind of idolatry. Pope Pius XI warned against this error in 1937, when he wrote: “Whoever exalts race, or the people, or the State, or a particular form of State, or the depositories of power, or any other fundamental value of the human community – however necessary and honorable be their function in worldly things – whoever raises these notions above their standard value and divinizes them to an idolatrous level, distorts and perverts an order of the world planned and created by God; he is far from the true faith in God and from the concept of life which that faith upholds” (Pius XI, Mit brennender Sorge, 8).
Another essential element with regard to nationalism is the question of the criterion of belonging to a nation. Nationalism very often combines the category of a nation with a biological criterion. Only those who have common ancestors would be admitted to the national community. Of course, in the case of large communities, talking about common biological ancestors is a myth. In the teaching of the Church, beginning with Saint Augustine, the nation is treated as a spiritual community. The content of the national bond is love, which means that it is subjective, dependent on human reason and will. The nation is first and foremost a cultural product. Its essence is the cultural bond between people (cf. J. Majka, Etyka społeczna i polityczna, Warsaw 1993, 133). Saint John Paul II evoked this fact in a speech at the UNESCO forum: “The Nation exists “through” culture and “for” culture (…) I am the son of a Nation which has lived the greatest experience of history, which its neighbors have condemned to death several times, but which has survived and remained itself. It has kept its identity, and it has kept, in spite of partitions and foreign occupations, its national sovereignty, not by relying on the resources of physical power, but solely by relying on its culture . This culture turned out in the circumstances to be more powerful than all other forces” (Saint John Paul II, Address to UNESCO, Paris 2.06.1980, 14).
2. Internationalism and Cosmopolitanism
a. The opposite fault in relation to extreme nationalism is internationalism. It impedes a man to exercise the right to strive for the good of his nation because of the alleged priority of a class, or abstractly understood humanity. Internationalists sometimes even argue that anyone who dares to love their country more than others is a racist, and whoever gives priority to his fellow countryman is a racist criminal (cf. J. M. Bocheński, Sto zabobonów…, 89-90).
Yet, every man has a sacred right to take care of the people close to him, without even thinking about the superiority of this or that race or nationality. In the order of love, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, “On the second place, the principles of our being and government are our parents and our country, that have given us birth and nourishment. Consequently, man is debtor chiefly to his parents and his country, after God” (Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 101, a. 1). If, however, someone wanting to put his homeland first in the place of God would be committing idolatry by worshiping the creature instead of the Creator.
b. Much more common than nationalism is the second extreme of our time, which we call cosmopolitanism. A cosmopolitan—a citizen of the world—is someone who does not feel attached to his own homeland because he is convinced that he has no need of such a community. He does not feel the debt of gratitude mentioned by Saint Thomas Aquinas because he considers himself, and what he is as a person, for his own work (cf. C. Delsol, Nienawiść do świata. Totalitaryzmy i ponowoczesność, Warsaw 2017, pp. 28-67).
A certain form of cosmopolitanism is naively understood as “tolerance” and slogans about not imposing other cultures and traditions on other nations. Another one of its manifestations is the ideology of multiculturalism. This is not multiculturalism as a social fact but a policy aimed at making culturally homogeneous communities disappear. The postulate of mixing people from different civilizations results from the idea that culture is meaningless. Yet, just as it is impossible to love everyone, if we do not first learn to love ourselves and our relatives, we cannot be good citizens of the world without being good citizens of our own country, people maturely integrated into our own nation. “No place should be sweeter to you than your homeland,” Cicero wrote.
Patriotism must not be identified with nationalism, for unlike nationalism it is an attitude worthy of being nurtured.
The Fatherland—in Latin, patria—is the land of one’s fathers, the land of one’s family, and one’s place of birth; and the patriotikos is a compatriot, a fellow citizen. From the very beginning, Patria was understood to have two meanings. In the particular sense, Patria is the land of the fathers whom we love. In the universal sense, the world is a man’s home. These two visions of the homeland are not mutually opposed, but rather they complement one another. Love for one’s family—according to the social doctrine of the Church—should be connected with the love for humanity.
a. Upright and ordered love for our homeland cannot make us blind to the duty of embracing all people with love (cf. Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 75). We cannot forget about how much we owe to sources that are flowing beyond the borders of our homeland. We would not be who we are without the originality of Jewish thought, without the efforts of Greek thinkers and artists, the organizational order introduced by Roman law, and the sanctity of Italian and Irish missionaries. This was aptly described by Juliusz Słowacki:
“Tell me, God, where I am from
And whence I have so many hearts and cries in my words,
If not from the people – and not from martyrs,
If not from the Romans, if not from the Greeks,
If not from all those bygone ages
Am I being torn out? … from where?” (Samuel Zborowski, act V).
If we try to deny the historical interdependencies between cultures, we stop understanding ourselves and we cannot answer the last question correctly. The desire to separate one’s own homeland from the larger community of nations is dangerous because this makes it lose its face. Polish culture is only a part of the world’s culture, undoubtedly great and weighty one, but it is meaningless without the general base.
An example of patriotism can be found in the attitude of St. John Paul II, who said: “Kissing Polish soil, however, has a special meaning for me. It is like a kiss placed on the hands of our mother—for our country is our motherland. Poland is a special mother. Her history has not been untroubled, especially over the last centuries. She is a mother who suffered a lot and continually suffers anew. Therefore, she has the right to special love” (Saint John Paul II, Welcome address at the Okęcie airport, Warsaw, 16/06/1983).
b. A Christian lives deeply involved in the lives of individual nations and is also a sign of the
Gospel in by being faithful to his homeland, his nation, and national culture, but always in the freedom that Christ brought to us (Saint John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 43) without feeling aversion towards other nations. An example of this attitude was the beatified Slovenian Bishop Antoni Marcin Slomška, about whom the Polish Pope said at his beatification: “The new blessed was also motivated by deep sentiments of patriotism. He was concerned for the Slovenian language, called for appropriate social reforms, promoted a higher level of national culture and did all he could to have his people occupy an honorable place in the concert of other European nations. And he did this without ever yielding to sentiments of short-sighted nationalism or selfish opposition to the aspirations of neighboring peoples. The new blessed is offered to you as a model of true patriotism (…) In turning my gaze to the beloved region of the Balkans, unfortunately, scarred in recent years by conflict and violence, extreme forms of nationalism, cruel ethnic cleansing and wars between peoples and cultures, I would like to call everyone’s attention to the witness of this new blessed. He shows that it is possible to be sincere patriots and with equal sincerity to coexist and cooperate with people of other nationalities, other cultures, and other religions. May his example and especially his intercession obtain solidarity and genuine peace for all the peoples of this vast area of Europe” (Saint John Paul II, Homily delivered during the beatification beat of Bishop Antoni Marcin Slomšek, Maribor 19.09.1999).
4. Contemporary challenges of patriotism
In this context, a question arises about the contemporary challenges of patriotism. In recent years, the Polish Bishops’ Conference has issued two documents on this matter.
In 2012, Polish bishops highlighted that patriotism becomes an element of order and peace when it is built on faith and the commandment to love one’s neighbor. Speaking of the “pedagogy of patriotism,” they pointed to the need to “educate the mind (through knowledge about the homeland in its historical and contemporary dimension), educate the imagination (associating the individual’s life with national symbols, especially through literature), inspiring feelings (which color patriotism and its expression at ceremonies, and respect for symbols), educate the will (to improve action in accordance with patriotic duty), through an essential examination (by avoiding anti-national discussion and behavior as well as ridiculing patriotism), and to educate respect for other nations” (Polish Bishops’ Conference, W trosce o człowieka i dobro wspólne, Warsaw 13/03/2012, 21).
Last year, the Polish Bishops’ Conference issued a document entitled The Christian Form of Patriotism. The Bishops one again focused attention, among others, on the fact that in the situation of deep political disagreement that divides Poland, it also seems to be a patriotic duty to “engage in the work of social reconciliation, by recalling the truth about the dignity of every human being, appeasing political exacerbation, indicating and expanding the fields of possible and necessary cooperation for Poland, beyond the disunions, and protection of public life against unnecessary politicization. (…) the measure of Christian and patriotic sensitivity today is the expression of one’s own opinions and beliefs with respect for all fellow citizens—including those with diverging ideas—, in a spirit of kindness and responsibility, without simplifications and harmful comparisons” (Polish Bishops’ Episcopate,
Chrześcijański kształt patriotyzmu, Warsaw 27.04.2017, 4).
In this context, the question arises of how one can characterize the new generation of Polish national environments that invoke the premises of pre-war national democracy? The question is not easy to answer because of the great diversity of the organizations that compose this national movement. On the one hand, we are dealing with people who truly hold nationalist views, in line with the slogan “Poland [only for Poles]” and, on the other hand, people whose patriotic views are ordinary. Therefore, further formation is needed.
I wish all my compatriots, in our country and abroad, that the 100th anniversary of Poland’s regained independence may strength our love for our homeland in the spirit of true patriotism.
+ Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki
President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference