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Nationalism is non-Western

In a story on November 18, 2002, the AP applied the nationalism yardstick in contrasting Romania and Bulgaria in their advancement on “Western values.” “Like neighboring Bulgaria, Romania is struggling to build a viable democratic society,” the narrative goes. “While Bulgaria has found a measure of stability under the premiership of its former king, Simeon Saxcoburggotski, Romanian voters have set off alarm bells by giving considerable support to Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a rabble-rousing nationalist.”

And there is this case from the Balkans. In December 2010, Croatia’s former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was arrested in Austria where he had fled following allegations of abuse of office. An AP news story on corruption in the Balkans (January 7, 2011) included coverage of Sanader’s fall. “Sanader was considered a symbol of Western values who broke with the kind of Croatian nationalism that contributed to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia,” the AP reported. In effect, Sanader became a symbol of Western values by parting with nationalism and he lost that status when he became tainted by corruption.

The coverage of Japanese politics similarly illustrates the nationalism storyline. Japan has, of course, been a democracy since World War II. And its ruggedly capitalist economy and close relationship with the West has long accorded its inclusion in the circles of Western values— at least in political matters. Even then, there is nationalist elements in Japan’s politics, and that is reported to be inimical to Western values.

The AP pursued that storyline in a story on Japan’s rising nationalism distributed on April 28, 2001. Among the evidence cited were “the government’s approval of a revisionist history textbook” and the popularity of “a wave of cartoons and movies glorifying Japan’s imperialist past.” The AP offered this summation: “Right-wingers say nationalism is a way to reclaim a bit of Japan’s heritage from the Western values it embraced after World War II.”

However, the quote that follows this summation makes no reference to Western values. It was apparently the reporter’s spin on the development. What Tadae Takubo, the author of the textbook, was reported as saying was, “We want to provoke a rebirth of patriotism in a nation where there’s too little of it.”

The closest thing to the mention of Western values by the nationalists came in the AP’s report that two of the popular comic books “present Japan’s conquest of Asia as ‘liberation from Western colonialism.’” The AP also reports that though regulatory authorities made the author remove incendiary passages from the textbook, the following excerpt left little doubt as to its objective: “Nationalism is our last fortress to resist the high-speed information age.”

To the AP reporter then, the right-wing nationalists were kicking against Western values. Their advocacy of a rebirth of patriotism was particularly indicting. It does not seem to matter that nationalist advocacy has been a driving force in European and American politics. It only gained steam during the Trumpian era. In the United States, the pressure for patriotic textbooks is mounted not by people deemed “nationalists” or “extremists,” but by mainstream conservatives.3


  • 1 “Pompeo uses Obama as foil in sweeping Middle East speech,” Washington Post, January 10, 2019. national-security/pompeo-uses-obama-as-foil-in-sweeping-middle-east-speech/2019/01/10/9f5b314e-b532-4171-973d-a36dc8548ec2_story. html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.3b9de744a49e
  • 2 Perry Anderson, The New Old World (London: Verso, 2009), 145.
  • 3 Michael S. Merry, “Patriotism, History and the Legitimate Aims of American Education,” Educational Philosophy and Theory, 41,4 (2009): 378-398.
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