22 April 2019
C.Y. Leung’s appointment as chief executive sounded the first death knell for Hong Kong as people knew it. Photo: CNSA
C.Y. Leung’s appointment as chief executive sounded the first death knell for Hong Kong as people knew it. Photo: CNSA

Patriot or nationalist?

Charles de Gaulle defined patriotism as “when love of your own people comes first” and nationalism as “when hate for people other than your own comes first”.

George Orwell described patriotism as a positive emotion celebrating national institutions, traditions and values whereas nationalism is rooted in superiority and paranoia. I would add xenophobia.

Much of Eurasia and the United States are currently prisoner to the false prophets of nationalism, the demagogues who demand that their countrymen and women retreat behind closed borders and resist the impact of globalization.

By way of a further refinement, from Trump to Wilders to Erdogan and Le Pen, they exclude those who are racially or religiously distinct from the majorities.

These same doom merchants cloak themselves in false patriotism, appealing to a basic emotional instinct that fears foreigners and the effects of evolutionary change.

The absurdity of their arguments is immediately apparent when analysed rationally.

The United States, for example, is a country peopled by immigrants who, having ethnically cleansed the country of its indigenous population, then leveraged its commercial and industrial prosperity by way of imported African slaves, cheap Chinese railway workers and Hispanic labor.

The UK is a mélange of Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans, Jews, Huguenots, Celts, Picts, Scots, Irish and Caribbeans and any European telephone directory will quickly disclose the multinational origins of significant percentages of their populations.

Technical innovation, particularly computers and the internet, has accelerated both the speed of mechanization and communication, creating new forms of employment albeit at the expense of manual labor-intensive industry.

Similarly, foreign direct investment has been instrumental in providing employment in most if not all European countries, the UK having a long history of offering financial incentives to such as Japanese car manufacturers in industrially depressed regions.

We live in an interdependent world, not one that is perfect by any manner of means but one which has brought broad-based benefits by reason of that very interdependence.

All of which resonates in Hong Kong.

Whilst the Beijing fifth columnists bray about patriotism, actually what they are selling is xenophobic nationalism.

Hong Kong did not achieve its international standing as a financial centre by Communist Party legerdemain but by the synergy between Chinese and non-Chinese entrepreneurs, businessmen, financiers, lawyers and accountants. Indeed, it was also a major manufacturing base until Hong Kong businessmen relocated their factories to Shenzhen and beyond.

Hong Kong’s eclectic mixture of people prospered under a laissez faire, essentially benign capitalist and largely apolitical governance, administered in accord with the common law.

Give or take an error or two, this system continued for almost 14 years post the handover.

C.Y. Leung’s appointment as chief executive sounded the first doleful notes of the death knell of this recipe for success.

Increasingly and surreptitiously, the Chinese Communist Party is extending its woeful influence over Hong Kong under the guise of a call to Chinese patriotism.

I have yet to meet a Hong Kong Chinese who is not proud of being ethnically Chinese with its culture and traditions. Against which genuine patriotism, copious numbers reject the philosophy and tactics of the Chinese Communist Party’s nationalist propaganda which equates the country with the party.

The fact that Beijing cannot discern the difference between these two concepts is primarily because communism purblinds them to anything but unquestioning obeisance to its coruscating doctrine.

The autocrats of the world, irrespective of what label they wear, are intent on wielding power for its own sake. They never run out of a coterie of supporters who are attracted to the false light like moths to a flame, anxious to bathe vicariously in the adulation of the leader by the ignorant masses.

But these are the very hallmarks of fascism, a creed that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

The leitmotif of such leaders is “control”. The greater the level of control the greater the level of oppression.

It is no mere chance that the sinister leader in George Orwell’s “1984” was named “Control”.

Controllers cannot abide a difference of opinion, even gentle querying constitutes dissent punishable with imprisonment or worse.

I have no truck with stupid would-be politicians who insult the symbols of a nation or bleat about independence for Hong Kong. This must be distinguished from questioning the legitimacy or rationality of government actions, conduct essential to a healthy, equitable society and something guaranteed under the Basic Law.

An equitable society is not the outcome of universal suffrage since that, too, may lead to oppression but a society in which the interests of minorities are also protected.

All rights are, necessarily, circumscribed by practical consideration for others. Hence the maxim ascribed – possibly erroneously – to John Stuart Mill, that your right to swing your arms ends where my nose begins.

What is an election other than an entirely proper means for a society to combine to bring about the downfall of a government and replace it with an alternative.

This has to be contrasted with conduct aimed at destroying the very organs of the state by illegal means. Guy Fawkes’ choice of gunpowder instead of the ballot box rendered him guilty of treason.

Any future formulation of Article 23 must be equally clear when defining the distinction between lawful dissent and illegal means.

A true patriot may disagree with impunity whereas the bigoted nationalist may well fall foul of the law.

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Queen's Counsel

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