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An Exceptional Nation : William Gladstone explains that a truly ‘exceptional nation’ respects the equality and rights of all nations.
An Exceptional Nation

From ‘Political Speeches in Scotland, November and December 1879’, by William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898).

In 1879, William Gladstone MP berated his rival Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister, for turning Russia into Europe’s bogeyman. Patriotism, Gladstone said, is a healthy thing, but it does not allow you claim for your country rights and dignities which you deny to others.

YOU may sympathize with one nation more than another. Nay, you must sympathize in certain circumstances with one nation more than another. You sympathize most with those nations, as a rule, with which you have the closest connection in language, in blood, and in religion, or whose circumstances at the time seem to give the strongest claim to sympathy.*

But in point of right all are equal, and you have no right to set up a system under which one of them is to be placed under moral suspicion or espionage, or to be made the constant subject of invective. If you do that, but especially if you claim for yourself a superiority, a Pharisaical superiority over the whole of them, then I say you may talk about your patriotism if you please,* but you are a misjudging friend of your country, and in undermining the basis of the esteem and respect of other people for your country you are in reality inflicting the severest injury upon it.

* Gladstone’s sympathies were entirely with Russia. In 1876, the Ottoman Turks had crushed uprisings among Christian Slavs in Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and Montenegro, then under Ottoman control, with a series of indiscriminate massacres. Disraeli’s government, fearing that Russia’s religious and ethnic ties with the rebels might be exploited by Tsar Alexander II as an excuse to expand the Russian Empire’s territories, tried to ignore the crimes, but Gladstone spoke out, and was rewarded with a second term as Prime Minister in April 1880.

* We do not invoke ‘patriotism’ today in this regard, but we do invoke humanitarianism, human rights, or national security to the same end: a world in which all countries are equal, but some are more equal than others.

From ‘Political Speeches in Scotland, November and December 1879’, by William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898).

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Picture: © Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov, Wikimedia Commons. Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0. View original
The Catherine Palace in St Petersburg, summer residence of the Tsars in the time of William Gladstone. Gladstone was inclined to side with Russia in the complex geopolitics of his day, feeling that Britain had more in common with Russia than Turkey. Nonetheless, he took the line that whatever one’s sympathies (and sympathies are both natural and proper) one should not shape foreign policy, any more than domestic policy, to benefit one’s pets or favourites.
By William Ewart Gladstone
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