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Notes on Nationalism: George Orwell’s Definition of Nationalism

Notes on Nationalism: George Orwell’s Definition of Nationalism


The Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari, states in his book, ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ that we, the 21st-century citizens have an important question to ask ourselves, ‘Are we being too blind or deluded to see the truth of the reality?’, while talking about the concept of Post-Truth. This is not the first time somebody has raised a question about the nature of our reality, especially the one that is so focused on the political aspect. George Orwell’s work, the novel 1984, was a brilliant piece of literature that in a true sense started the fire against blind nationalism.  

You may have come across this essay by George Orwell in your school but this essay hits you differently at different times whenever you read it. That’s one of the traits of a timeless article. After 1984, Orwell focused on writing political essays. He wanted to make political writing an art. Although he wasn’t the first romantic to want to do something like that, preceded by Voltaire and Rousseau, his Notes on Nationalism, is a thought-provoking piece of writing. He carries the same philosophy of Nationalism (the one against it, actually) which he wrote about in 1984. He defines nationalism as: 

“By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly, I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interest.”  


But while talking about patriotism, Orwell states that it is a completely different concept, one that is in contrast to nationalism. Unlike a nationalist, a patriot doesn’t force his views about his country on his compatriots. A patriot rather uses this adornment for the betterment of his country in a way that does not possess any harm to others. 

An interesting part of this definition is that the nationalism Orwell talks of isn’t bound by geographical boundaries. It is a concept that is applicable to any sort of group that mindlessly follows a particular ideology, be it a religious extremist or someone who follows a politician religiously. Orwell says he’s using the word nationalism simply at a lack of a better.   

Finally, he adds to his definition of nationalism a factor of blindness. Not of the physical sort, but blindness towards the reality. For instance, nationalism isn’t ganging up on the stronger side, rather,  a nationalist believes his side to be stronger and capable of achieving great feats despite the actual conditions of its surrounding. It’s easy to find such kind of a person, look for the ones still reminiscent in glorious history rather than being focused on the current issues one faces.    

In conclusion, a nationalist is someone who is blind towards reality, who is obsessed with the idea he supports, and most importantly a nationalist is someone whose support to his ideology is with such an intensity that the obvious reality seems like a perceived farce. A nationalist cannot bear a word against his opinions because often he simply doesn’t know how to counter it. A nationalist feels offended even at a slight jab at his ideology and of course a counter argument that very well explains his stand cannot be counted as an offence! 

This is a tool, Orwell provides us that one can use to keep oneself in check, whether the things one sees are really the way they are is a concern dealt in the ‘Post-Truth’ concept. But before that, one must keep in check whether one falls into the above-mentioned categories. So the next time I’ll be covering the idea of post-truth.  

Till then, stay home, stay safe and stay tuned. 


Mukul Joshi 

The author can be reached here:

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