“…Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”
-John F. Kennedy
This is a quote from Kennedy’s inaugural address given by him after being sworn in as the president of USA. It is considered as an essential and cardinal statement describing a democracy. Furthermore this statement holds paramount importance as it effectively elucidates the contrast between individualism and nationalism and guides us to move beyond individualistic tendencies to a realm of nationalistic brotherhood.
INDIVIDULISM is an ideology that finds its basis in freedom of an individual from societal, political and moral norms thereby stressing on human independence, self-reliance and liberty. There are various dimensions, depths, differences, and divisions to individualism. Like any other ideology individualism too has both positive and negative connotations attached to it.
On one hand individualism means self-reliance, self-confidence and use of rational thinking: to be free from external influence and use one’s own mind to analyze and assess the morality and consequence of one’s actions and decisions. Therefore holding similarity to existentialism (which propagates importance of every single individual), liberalism, humanism and freedom.
On the other hand individualism can also mean narrow self-interest, selfishness, utter disregard for others life thereby leading to hedonism, anarchism and lawlessness.
NATIONALISM simply put is love for one’s nation. It is the feeling of belonging and a sense of devotion to one’s country. It is also a double-edged sword and a strong one indeed.
On one hand it (nationalism) was used by Gandhi to motivate Indian people into achieving freedom and embedding in our history a glorious and uncompromising allegiance to non-violence, shades of which we still see in our life and in our country’s policy. He (Gandhi) created a dent in the universe, as for the first time non-violence achieved independence for a nation, which in the history of time has only been done through violence. For the first time an imperialist power that ruled the world had to bow down to accept wishes of a man armed with nothing but his love and the love of millions of his followers towards their nation.
On the other hand Nationalism was used by Hitler to motivate people of Germany to join his cause. Alas in the garb of nationalism he architected a world-war and the most gruesome of genocides known to man the Holocaust. German people and soldiers did all the atrocities and wrong in the name of nationalism. He (Hitler) also created a dent in the universe as he showed how a nation and its people can be misguided into doing heinous acts justifying it only by means of nationalism. Hitler’s party was the “Nazi Party”, Nazi stands for Nationalsozialismus which when translated means Nationalist Socialist, both independently beautiful words but when put together paint a picture of tyranny and destruction.
Nationalism should be based on “love” for something rather than “hate” from another.
Nationalism and Individualism both if misused will be detrimental for any society. If Individualism exists without any feeling of nationalism it will result in corruption, disregard of law, exploitation, desecration and anarchism thereby leading to chaos.
If Nationalism exists without individualism in a society it will result in subversion of rights of people, loss of accountability, dictatorial regimes and loss of right to have a dissenting opinion, thus leading to exploitation, dehumanization and ultimately chaos.
We have to, need to, forge an intelligent and equitable balance between individualism and nationalism to ensure a healthy society and country.
We have to ensure the deliverance of rights of each individual at the same time instilling in them a sense of nationalism towards their country.
Every nation should ensure freedom (of thought speech and action)and liberty (of belief, faith and worship) to its citizens. It should not infringe upon the individuality of any person, thereby allowing people to have diverse culture and difference of opinion.
In the same manner all the people should respect and love their nation, though the degree of love and respect can vary. It lies within the duty of each individual to not be immersed in narrow self-interest but to move beyond oneself and strive for the higher collective good of the nation. Individuals should not abandon their individuality ortheir identities rather they should work together to bring about harmony between their individual identities and collective responsibilities.
In India this balance and harmony between individuality and nationalism is all the more important. India has an extremely diverse cultural demography, giving rise to a vast number of cultural identities. In order to stay together and stay strong we need to accept our national identity, which is that of an “Indian” as our primary identity, but we should also not forget or lose our cultural, religious or ethnic identities. Furthermore we should ensure that narrow selfish identities and entities do not malign the unity of our country.
In the same manner we as Indian’s should respect and accept our fellow citizens as Indians firsts rather than branding them on the bases of their religion, culture or ethnicity and harassing them for the same. In our spirit of Nationalism we should ensure not to infringe upon the right of any individual just because they have a different opinion or approach.
Nationalism without Individualism or Individualism without Nationalism both, are destined to fail and result in chaos. Nationalism is a wider application of the concept of individuality as it considers an entire nation as an individual entity. Therefore to pitch Nationalism against Individualism is not accurate.
Thus we see that a healthy camaraderie is to be developed between Individualism and Nationalism for a healthy society and a prosperous country, and more importantly the absence of any one of the two will certainly prove to be disastrous.