Monday, March 3, 2014

Nationalism, "patriot," and language

From Ireland and Wales, Kohn has moved on to write of Holland, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. At this point I'm wondering if he'll get over to Asia at all. Though that seems especially unlikely.

What strikes me as the most dated feature of Kohn's writing, though, is his constant use of the word patriot.

When The Idea of Nationalism was first printed, in the 40s, the word stood for something to strive toward. A patriot was someone who expressed a desire to better the entire world through bettering his or her home nation. In modern usage, however, at least in North America, the word's gathered too many negative connotations to be taken seriously. Or to be regarded as a positive.

There's the infamous Patriot Act in the United States. And the general sense that a "patriot" isn't someone who stands up for some national good but who's fanatical about his or her country the same way that a football fan who paints himself and screams the whole game through is seen as fanatical about his team. In this age of irony where sincerity is seldom expressed, "patriot" is too strong a word to be of any good use.

Of course, that's not to say that there were no egos involved in the early nationalism that Kohn writes on. It seems like that's all it was - a country's population coming together to say "this country of ours sure is much greater than all those others."

In the case of Spain, for example, Spanish nationalism was fostered on the idea that Spanish literature was the only truly original European literature. Further, that the rest of Europe owed Spain a great deal in the literary field.

It was also thought that a country's language had to be pure for it to unite as one.

Given the way that English has fractured, maybe even to the point where "proper" English is where Latin was 100 years ago, it seems unlikely to unite anything much. Yet the bible, the book used to legitimize languages in the past, is being translated into LOLCat.

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