A curious seeker and a regular reader of BahaiTeachings.org asked “While nationalism is obviously harmful, is patriotism a virtue?”
Here’s his full question:
While nationalism is obviously harmful, is patriotism a virtue? I have a great interest in world history and culture, so I’d like to add that while no culture should be placed on a pedestal above the others, is it wrong to have pride in your own culture/nation?
Baha’u’llah said that the role and purpose of the Baha’is “is to obliterate differences, and quench the flame of hatred and enmity, so that the whole earth may come to be viewed as one country.” – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 122.
Baha’is are patriots who love their own native countries and cultures, but love the world itself even more:
Let there be no misgivings as to the animating purpose of the world-wide Law of Baha’u’llah. Far from aiming at the subversion of the existing foundations of society, it seeks to broaden its basis, to remold its institutions in a manner consonant with the needs of an ever-changing world. It can conflict with no legitimate allegiances, nor can it undermine essential loyalties. Its purpose is neither to stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism in men’s hearts, nor to abolish the system of national autonomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided. It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race. It insists upon the subordination of national impulses and interests to the imperative claims of a unified world. It repudiates excessive centralization on one hand, and disclaims all attempts at uniformity on the other. Its watchword is unity in diversity … – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 41-42.
Purely nationalistic patriotism, the Baha’i teachings say, can turn into prejudice against other nations and cultures, and then become a severely destructive force in our globalized era:
As to the patriotic prejudice, this is also due to absolute ignorance, for the surface of the earth is one native land. Every one can live in any spot on the terrestrial globe. Therefore all the world is man’s birthplace. These boundaries and outlets have been devised by man. In the creation, such boundaries and outlets were not assigned. Europe is one continent, Asia is one continent, Africa is one continent, Australia is one continent, but some of the souls, from personal motives and selfish interests, have divided each one of these continents and considered a certain part as their own country. God has set up no frontier between France and Germany; they are continuous. Yea, in the first centuries, selfish souls, for the promotion of their own interests, have assigned boundaries and outlets and have, day by day, attached more importance to these, until this led to intense enmity, bloodshed and rapacity in subsequent centuries. In the same way this will continue indefinitely, and if this conception of patriotism remains limited within a certain circle, it will be the primary cause of the world’s destruction. No wise and just person will acknowledge these imaginary distinctions. Every limited area which we call our native country we regard as our mother-land, whereas the terrestrial globe is the mother-land of all, and not any restricted area. In short, for a few days we live on this earth and eventually we are buried in it, it is our eternal tomb. Is it worth while that we should engage in bloodshed and tear one another to pieces for this eternal tomb? Nay, far from it, neither is God pleased with such conduct nor would any sane man approve of it. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 300.
Instead, the Baha’i teachings say, we should all become patriots who feel love for the Earth itself, not just the country we happened to be born in:
This prejudice or limited patriotism is prevalent throughout the world, while man is blind to patriotism in the larger sense which includes all races and native lands. From every real standpoint there must and should be peace among all nations. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 354-355.
Eventually, the Baha’i teachings say, we will all recognize our inalienable world citizenship, and extend the love we feel for our countries to the entire community of nations:
Unbridled nationalism, as distinguished from a sane and legitimate patriotism, must give way to a wider loyalty, to the love of humanity as a whole. Baha’u’llah’s statement is: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”. The concept of world citizenship is a direct result of the contraction of the world into a single neighbourhood through scientific advances and of the indisputable interdependence of nations. Love of all the world’s peoples does not exclude love of one’s country. The advantage of the part in a world society is best served by promoting the advantage of the whole. Current international activities in various fields which nurture mutual affection and a sense of solidarity among peoples need greatly to be increased. – The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, October 1985, p. 11.
So to answer our reader’s question, Baha’is embrace a “sane and legitimate patriotism”—but believe we can best apply it to the whole world. We’re all citizens of this beautiful planet, and since human beings drew boundaries across it, we can also transcend those boundaries and love all countries, regions and peoples.