National Prejudices, Oliver Goldsmith: Summary & Analysis

In the discourse titled "National Prejudices," the author profoundly laments our entrapment within the bounds of our national biases, preventing us from perceiving individuals beyond the confines of their national identities. The author's profound understanding of human nature allows him to identify the deep-seated causes of these prejudices. Ultimately, he vehemently advocates for the appellation of "A Citizen of the World" over any other title, emphasizing the universality of human existence and the limitations of national identities.

Causes of National Prejudices

The writer's reflections reveal that these prejudices stem from an excessive adoration for one's own nation, intertwining with the fervor of patriotism. The erosion of sentiments like brotherhood and neighborliness further contributes to this state of affairs. Consequently, emotions of jealousy, superiority, and pride have fostered the emergence of prejudiced attitudes, hindering a broader perspective of humanity. These deep-seated prejudices have permeated societal structures, cementing divisions among diverse communities and limiting the collective human experience.

Summary of the Essay

Observations of Diverse Characters

The writer, being a frequenter of public gathering places, had the opportunity to observe a diverse array of individuals. During one of his encounters, he engaged with a group engrossed in a spirited political debate, which gradually transitioned into a discussion about the distinguishing traits of various European nations. One of the gentlemen, assuming an air of superiority, proceeded to delineate the perceived virtues and vices of different nationalities, heavily favoring his own.

Confronting Preconceived Notions

Despite the general approval of the gentleman's views, the writer, choosing to maintain composure, refrained from openly challenging his opinion. However, the gentleman, unsatisfied with the writer's reserved stance, sought validation from him, leading to an exchange where the writer tactfully proposed a more balanced and impartial view, contrasting the gentleman's nationalistic biases.

Challenges to Nationalistic Notions

Following the writer's counterpoints, the company's attitude towards him turned disdainful, particularly that of the fervently patriotic gentleman. This incident prompted the writer to contemplate the prevalence of such national prejudices, which not only persist among common folk but also permeate the minds of the educated elite, highlighting the dangerous grip of such prejudices on society. It brings forth the urgent need to address and challenge these divisive notions to foster a more inclusive and empathetic human society.

Advocacy for a Global Perspective

The writer underscores the rarity of individuals who transcend such biases, lamenting the prevalent categorization of people based on their nationalities. He envisions a world where individuals see themselves as part of a universal community, acknowledging the interconnectedness of all humanity. The writer emphasizes that true nobility lies in transcending nationalistic prejudices, promoting a sense of brotherhood and humanity that transcends boundaries.

Comparative Perspectives on Patriotism

Upon contrasting Goldsmith's ideas with the concepts of patriotism presented by Max Eastman in "What Is Patriotism?" and Alexis de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America" (1835), it becomes evident that the notion of patriotism exists within a spectrum, from healthy national pride to exclusionary and detrimental nationalistic fervor. Goldsmith's emphasis on transcending national boundaries aligns with a broader call for a more inclusive and harmonious global society.

"Tribe of Mortals"

The writer's experiences as part of the "sauntering tribe of mortals" provide a poignant context for his observations on national prejudices. His encounters with diverse characters in public spaces offer invaluable insights into the complexities of human nature and societal biases. Through these encounters, the writer highlights the challenges inherent in confronting deeply entrenched societal prejudices, urging for a more empathetic and interconnected worldview.

Character of Nations

Examining the conversation among a group of gentlemen, the writer delves into the national characterizations offered by one particularly fervent individual. This exploration underscores the pervasive nature of nationalistic sentiments and the tendency to glorify one's own nation while undermining the qualities of others. It prompts critical reflection on the detrimental effects of these biases, especially when they are endorsed by influential members of society.

Judicious Remark

The author's discerning response to the gentleman's sweeping statements offers a contrasting perspective, one that urges for a more nuanced understanding of different national traits, without succumbing to overarching biases. The writer's courageous intervention serves as a reminder of the importance of challenging divisive narratives and fostering a more inclusive and harmonious societal discourse.

A Jealous Eye

The aftermath of the writer's intervention sheds light on the hostility that arises when challenging ingrained nationalistic beliefs. The incident serves as a reflection of the deeply entrenched nature of these prejudices and the challenges associated with addressing and confronting them in a society steeped in nationalistic fervor. It underscores the need for continuous dialogue and efforts towards fostering a more inclusive and empathetic collective consciousness.

Philosophers of Antiquity

Reflecting on the wisdom of ancient philosophers, the writer underscores the significance of transcending national boundaries and embracing a more inclusive, global identity. This ideal is contrasted with the prevalent realities of the writer's contemporary society, where national affiliations often overshadow a broader sense of human kinship. The writer's advocacy for a universal identity resonates with timeless philosophical ideals that emphasize the interconnectedness of humanity beyond geographical and cultural boundaries.

Correcting Prejudices

The writer contends that the prevalence of national prejudices, even among the educated elite, is an impediment to true nobility. He emphasizes the need to shed such biases and embrace a more inclusive and humanistic outlook that recognizes the inherent interconnectedness of all individuals. The call for correction and introspection stands as a powerful plea for societal transformation and the cultivation of a more empathetic and unified global community.

Love of Country

The author challenges the notion that national prejudice is an inevitable outgrowth of love for one's country. Instead, he posits that such prejudices are detrimental and can be overcome without compromising one's affection for their homeland. He draws attention to the importance of distinguishing between healthy patriotism and damaging nationalistic biases, emphasizing the need for a more nuanced and critical understanding of the relationship between national identity and inclusive human kinship.

Citizen of the World

Concluding his discourse, the writer passionately advocates for the identity of a "citizen of the world," emphasizing the importance of transcending narrow national affiliations and embracing a broader sense of global unity. This vision of a borderless and inclusive world stands as a powerful testament to the writer's call for a more enlightened and empathetic human society. His plea for a universal identity serves as an enduring reminder of the significance of fostering compassion, empathy, and understanding across all human communities.

Critical Analysis of "National Prejudices" by Oliver Goldsmith


In the essay "National Prejudices," Oliver Goldsmith laments the constraints posed by national biases, which hinder our ability to perceive one another beyond national identities. Through his insightful understanding of human nature, he conducts a masterful examination of the factors contributing to these prejudices. Goldsmith's profound observations of various social encounters and national biases serve as a foundational backdrop for his critique, culminating in his advocacy for a universal identity as a "Citizen of the World."

Thought - Content:

Goldsmith's vivid accounts of his interactions in different social settings underscore his keen interest in understanding human behavior. His thorough analysis of the origins and consequences of national prejudices emphasizes the divisive impact of excessive patriotism. His nuanced exploration of contemporary societal partiality sheds light on the pervasive nature of biases grounded in national affiliations. His profound insights into the complex interplay between societal constructs and individual biases highlight the challenges inherent in fostering a more inclusive and empathetic human society.

The Use of Anecdote:

Goldsmith employs vivid anecdotes, notably recounting a chance encounter with a group of opinionated gentlemen engaged in a fervent political debate. Through this narrative, he skillfully portrays the prevalence of nationalistic sentiments and the challenges associated with confronting deeply ingrained biases. Goldsmith's strategic silence during the conversation serves to accentuate the complexities of addressing entrenched prejudices within society. His insightful use of anecdotal experiences effectively conveys the intricacies of societal prejudices and the necessity for a more nuanced and empathetic understanding of human differences.

Style and Language:

Goldsmith's writing style seamlessly blends an informal, conversational tone with a sophisticated and elegant use of language. His integration of rich vocabulary and elaborate, thought-provoking sentences demonstrates his literary finesse. By incorporating powerful metaphors to depict the behavior of different nationalities, Goldsmith captivates readers with a vivid portrayal of societal prejudices. The strategic use of rhetorical devices, including aporia and metaphors, prompts readers to engage critically with prevailing biases and societal constructs, urging a more introspective and empathetic approach to human interaction and understanding.

Goldsmith's profound insights and eloquent prose establish him as a distinguished essayist, adept at conveying complex ideas while maintaining a captivating narrative. His unique fusion of narrative storytelling and philosophical discourse solidifies his position as a prominent literary figure, making a significant contribution to the exploration of societal prejudices and human relationships. His eloquent and persuasive writing style effectively communicates the urgency of transcending narrow nationalistic constructs and fostering a more inclusive and empathetic global community.

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