Seldom are the oft-heard condemnations of nationalism accompanied by any kind of adequate definition. The meaning of the word, like that of the “social contract,” is as elastic—brace for mixed metaphor—as there are eyes in its beholders. And the elasticity is unavoidable because by nature the term is parametric, a parameter being a constant applied to variables. Take for example a defense budget of 5% GDP. If the GDP is $10 trillion, defense will get $500 billion; if $20 trillion, $1 trillion. Always and everywhere, the complexion of nationalism depends upon its context. At present, Russian nationalism is ravishing Ukraine, but Ukrainian nationalism is defending it. Only out of stupidity, opportunism, or expediency would someone conflate the two.

The definition of a nation is parametric as well, which leads to some interesting effects. Like H.G. Wells’s character, nationalism can become willfully invisible. The continuity of the tsarist and Soviet drive to empire would seem to suggest that the latter’s fervor for world revolution was largely nationalism in a Communist glove—a spectacular con job on the West’s useful idiots who, while reviling nationalism, were its unwitting agents.

And like Macbeth’s dagger, it can insubstantially appear to those whose inner needs compel them to see it. For example, for Donald Trump to be aware of—much less conform

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