That was the issue being debated on the BBC’s Moral Maze podcast. An appropriate topic given the current state of affairs in the Ukraine, where nationalism plays a central role.
Here is a description of the podcast from the BBC website:
This week the Moral Maze looks at the morality of nationalism. In Ukraine and the UK people are fighting and in the former case dying over the idea and the ideals of nationhood. Those are just the biggest headlines today; without pausing to think too hard you might add Syria, the Basque and Catalan regions of Spain and Tibet to the list and that’s just from the news in the last seven days – let alone going further back in history to the breakup of Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Chechnya and Ireland. Nationalism and the struggle for national identity is a complex moral puzzle. What makes nationalism such a powerful and morally problematic force in our lives is the interplay of old feelings of communal loyalty and relatively new beliefs about popular sovereignty. On the one hand it undoubtedly expresses something deep in human nature – a yearning for self-determination and justice. But it can also come with darker tribal undertones of “us” and “them” and has been seen all too often through ethnic cleansing and genocide. To what extent should people be permitted to act on the basis of loyalty to those to whom they are specially related by culture, race or language? Are there benign forms of nationalism? Should enlightened people repudiate nationalism? What value should we attach to cultural diversity? Given the current examples of how nationalism can sometimes seem to be a force for good, and sometimes a force for very great evil what are the moral underpinnings of nationalism?
Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Anne McElvoy, Matthew Taylor and Giles Fraser.
Witnesses are John Breuilly, Edward Lucas, Philippe Legrain and Gideon Calder