Reading history gave Jake Elson, 23, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Bunbury in Australia, insight into a political and social trend that he argues could threaten the democratic progress of past generations.
Not long ago, I began reading Zimbabwean politician David Coltart’s book The Struggle Continues. Whilst I am only at the beginning, it provides a fantastic insight into the Ian Smith premiership during UDI and the Rhodesian Republic.
Having also read Smith’s autobiography, Bitter Harvest – The Great Betrayal, Coltart gives insight into something Smith largely neglected – jingoism and the watering down of traditional English liberties that Commonwealth nations have inherited. However, after a few seconds I began to realise something: This is a spitting image of what is happening today across the western world.
It seems ironic that those who talk about defending freedom and talking up patriotism combined with individuality are actually in the process of watering down freedom. They are creating an atmosphere where herd mentality is prevalent and any genuine concerns of a nation’s destination is considered ‘unpatriotic’.
But this is the illogical world we now live in. Even in the UK, Australia and Canada, this mode of thinking, once considered anathema, is beginning to take hold on all sides of politics.
Of course there are differing types of jingoism, of which three are the most prominent: nationalist jingoism, ideological jingoism and religious jingoism.
All three differ in their focus, but share one uniting trend – adherents consider what they believe to be infallible to the point that reason and open-mindedness is non-existent and those who don’t conform are enemies. Every side has an element of jingoism to the point that reasonable discourse is crowded out.
When it comes to nationalism, one must immediately draw a line between it and patriotism. George Orwell described patriotism as individual love for a particular place and its way of life, whereas nationalism is a manner of making a country more powerful at the expense of the individual and their well-being.
As mentioned, this is achieved – ironically – by professing belief in those particular values being taking away. During Smith’s rule of Rhodesia, he often claimed he was defending democracy, western civilisation and Christianity. Yet his country was effectively a one-party dictatorship that behaved in a very anti-western and un-Christian manner. Opponents were routinely arrested or, at the very least, harassed by the state.
Religious jingoism is similar, though the relative demise of religion means that it a lesser presence than in previous decades. Yet it still has a prominent, though disproportionate, voice in decision-making and the media. More or less, it is about preserving social rights that, whilst relevant many years ago, are out of place in secular society. In the Christian world, it is common to hear shouts of ‘religious persecution’ every time a child is prevented from praying in a public school or religious references in law are omitted. To these voices, separation of church and state is irrelevant. Even if there is no particular majority of a faith in one country, jingoists are still happy to enforce their beliefs on non-believers.
It is often the case that Ideological jingoism ventures into hypocrisy, particularly when it comes to freedom of speech. For Australian politicians and commentators, it is common to cry freedom of speech whenever one of their fellow ideologues is attacked for saying something, yet the same voices openly support the limitations of such freedoms on their opponents.
This came to a head during two incidents from two different people – Bill Leak and Yassmin Abdel-Mageid. Leak made comments that enraged progressives, denouncing him as racist, and Abdel-Mageid made comments that were denounced as unpatriotic and offensive. In both cases, the hypocrisy on both sides was palpable yet ignored. The reason is that within the Australian media there is no middle ground. You are either Fairfax (progressive) or NewsCorp (conservative). Columnists can easily get away with writing inflammatory, one-sided op-eds, all with the aim of winning a political culture war.
There is also another concerning issue – authoritarianism hiding behind jingoism. Because jingoism is a common tool amongst populists to gather support, the ‘us-versus-them’ mentality becomes inevitable. It is also a good tool among those dictators who would rather hold on to power for their own benefit, or to hide incompetence. Hitler, Franco, and some more recent leaders of emerging nations have been masters of destroying freedom and democracy for self-preservation. For them, it was easier to distract the masses by turning the focus on other issues and scapegoating others.
Jingoism is still an issue in 21st century society, one that, with the election of Donald Trump and the wave of reactionary movements in the western world, is again becoming prominent. If it is allowed to continue to gain prominence, the result will be an illogical world where reason is trumped by emotion.
If liberal democracy is to be preserved, then jingoism must be removed from public discourse. Otherwise, the visions of Voltaire, Rousseau, Paine and Burke will just be dreams instead of reality.
About me: I am a history buff, but also am into soccer. I referee soccer, and would like to go FIFA one day. I’m currently studying politics and international relations at Edith Cowan University. My aim is to become a police officer in Western Australia, and I would like to be Prime Minister one day.
I am a Conservative and a Monarchist, and believe in the role of the Commonwealth as a tool for good.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
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