Nationalism is the way one identifies with and is attached to one’s nation. A nation is typically understood, at least at this time, as the country in which one resides. Our national identity is part of who we are. When we honor a nation’s flag, we honor what that nation values. We value its people, and the culture of those people. It’s about more than borders drawn on a map.
However, ideas of what constitutes a nation can change. If you research the definition of the word “nation” you’ll see that the concept is not so easy to pin down. A nation can be a group of people who share a particular culture or language. It can be a group of people represented by a formal government, which is the way we typically seem to understand it now.
|Image courtesy of http://flagburningworld.com.|
What does nationalism have to do with science fiction? I can’t help but notice that, living in the United States, I hear people talk fearfully about the idea of a world government. People have a genuine fear that a world government will not only come into being, but that such a government will inevitably change the way we live our lives. What strikes me as interesting is that a lot of science fiction that takes place in the future depicts us as living under a world government. Perhaps the writers simply didn’t want to get into the nitty gritty details of politics between individual nations, so they used single world government to simplify things. Or perhaps it is because, in the future, we have learned to resolve our petty disagreements and come together. Perhaps we have learned to see ourselves as one people who happen to have different traditions instead of different peoples altogether. This would be more in line with what we see in Star Trek.
If we were to meet an alien race, how would the politics play out if our planet is still a conglomeration of more than 200 individual nations? Who would have the right to speak for the world? What would happen if one country committed an act of aggression against our alien visitors? How would we interact with an otherworldly visitor without the benefit of a united front?
In Star Trek, we also see the Federation. The Federation allows for each member world to govern itself, but there are still overriding principles that member worlds must uphold. It could be seen as a nation of sorts, one that is defined by a group of core principles. If our world were to one day belong to such an organization, what would our national identity look like? We would surely identify heavily with our home world, but we would also be part of something beyond that, something that unites us with creatures who are much different than ourselves. Is this a desirable thing, or do we risk losing our culture altogether under such a scenario?
Nationalism is something that can both unite and divide us. Here’s a quote that I found quite interesting, as it highlights the divisive nature of nationalism that we’ve seen in our own world.
“Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”
Charles de Gaulle
Can the concept of nationalism be expansive enough to be useful in the future as times continue to change, or is it a concept that should be abandoned altogether? What new ways of identifying ourselves could potentially replace it?