Nationalism and the misery of the unrealized happiness


Europe, that puzzling and permanent experiment, is changing once again. Germans are turning ever more nationalistic and French ever more opportunistic. Nationalism ruined th Balcans at the end of the 20th century and now is it menacing the entire construct of the European Union.

The anxieties and fears of the Germans remind me of this quote of Adam Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”:

“The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another. Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation. The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires. The slightest observation, however, might satisfy him, that, in all the ordinary situations of human life, a well-disposed mind may be equally calm, equally cheerful, and equally contented. Some of those situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others: but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardour which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice; or to corrupt the future tranquillity of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by remorse from the horror of our own injustice.”

This would be a perfect fit for nationalists of the 21st century. The powerful and rich, like the Germans who aim to retain their statu quo, and the poor and dejected, like the Kurds who struggle to be. The tragedy of nationalists is that they think that they do have a choice. They feel the call to change what seems an entropic situation -the tyranny of the alien- into an entalpic one: the freedom of ruling upon their own destiny.

As Dan Gilbert would put it, it is the overrated power of the natural happinness (independence and sovereignty) against the underrated accommodation of the synthetic happinness (domination by the aliens), as he explains in his talk “the surprising science of happiness“.

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