Ideas have power. They inspire any conceivable action by the largest of nations. God, king and country,not to mention cultural revolution, hold the minds of millions of obedient soldiers and taxpayers.Conversely, power has ideas. Be they the divine right of the king, the sovereignty of the people or thespreading of freedom from dictatorship around the globe, the powerful use ideas to give their actionslegitimacy.It is not truth and facts that approve policy and fuel conflict but perceptions. We filter what we perceivethrough our biases as we come to understand and act on them. In our pick-your-own-truth world, it iscommon to assume one version of the truth without unequivocal evidence. The important question isnot how many people were killed and who did it, but how many people do they think and say werekilled and whom do they think and say did it. Our perceptions come in part from our socialisation into aculture. Perception is the difference between a martyr and a terrorist, a soldier and an occupier, a heroand a murderer. People or groups are capable of any amount of violence if they consider their motivesrighteous and justified.Through the various historical processes that shape a nation, the people take on certain assumptions
about the nation’s identity, such as its values and virtues. Nationalism is not awareness of a nation’s
identity but the belief in its exclusivity or superio
rity to the identities of others. “Nationalism…is a
language of fantasy and escape
,” explains Michael Ignatieff.
“We can begin to see how nationalist
rhetoric re-writes and re-creates the real world, turning it into a delusional realm of noble causes, tragicsacrifice and cruel necessity.
Governments spend enormous time and effort to garner support for their policies. Rulers tend to appeal
to either the basest fears or the highest aspirations of their constituents. Most or all “national values”
have been established long before the current president steps into office; which means, in the words of
Andrew Bacevich, “[r]ather than bending history to their will, presidents and those around them are
much more likely to dance to histo
In a democracy, only politicians willing to be unpopular (abrave few) will attempt to guide public opinion in directions it does not wish to travel. Beal andHinckley
argue that “opinion polls are at the core of presidential decision making.”
Elites may come upwith ideas but once they catch on, they have lost control of them. Elites continue to manipulate existingideas such as nationalism to build support for themselves and their policies, but in most cases thoseideas were latent in the culture, waiting for someone to come along and play with them. The people
Beal and Hinckley, 74.