Nationalism and Internationalism: Essays Inscribed to Carlton J. H. Hayes

By Edward Mead Earle | Go to book overview

NATIONALISM AND HISTORY IN THE PRUSSIAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS UNDER WILLIAM II

WALTER CONSUELO LANGSAM

DURING the nineteenth century the rise of national consciousness among the peoples of the Western world and the increasing interest of governments in popular education were closely linked. Astute officials sensed in directed public education an effective stimulus of nationalism. With the advantage of hindsight, it is obvious today that this close relation between the instruction of youth and the development in it of a fervent national spirit may not always react to the benefit of mankind.

Nationalistic indoctrination seems generally to involve the planting and nurturing of pride in the national culture, the national historical background, the record of national achievement in the various fields of human endeavor, and the national destiny. In theory, such pride would seem to be a wholly legitimate and useful emotion. It would seem capable of imbuing its possessors with a virtuous desire to live up to the splendid traditions of the nationality, to cherish the national heritage and emulate worthy ancestors, to carry forward the civilizing influences and the cultural "unfinished business" of the forefathers.

In practice, therefore, it becomes vitally important which exploits and contributions of the past are emphasized to the youth by its teachers, which examples of past action are held up for veneration and imitation. Simultaneously, since no nationality lives by itself but each lives among others, it becomes important that due recognition be given to the parallel developments in other countries. The national story, in other words, should be presented in its appropriate international setting.

When, however, the practice involves the singling-out for praise of war and conquest, when it makes exaggerated claims of national superiority and belittles other peoples, when it glorifies ruthlessness and a disregard for the rights of others, then this practice would seem to bring evil to mankind rather than good. Then it would

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