Tag Archives: patriotism

The Value of Patriotism: A Rant

This is going to be a rant, brought about partially by the brain-draining ennui of the seemingly never-ending election season.  So bear with me for a second, please.

I believe it is important to own up to one’s ignorance on a topic, hence I have to admit that I don’t understand patriotism.  I can understand the desire individuals might have to closely associate to one group or another for the sake of feeling a greater level of security, or even just to provide some reference of possessing a “greater” identity.  I can also understand how this might develop into a sense of protectiveness towards one’s place of birth, which (after family) is usually the most common form of self-identity for a person.  But what I don’t understand is how acknowledgment of the fact that we are relatively dependent on the communities we reside in, translates into a perpetual need to proclaim the superiority of one’s arbitrary nation of origin over any other.  After all, no one chooses the place he or she–or one’s ancestors–will be born in.  The accomplishments that have been achieved by individuals who happen to reside within the same borders as you were done wholly independent of your existence (and even if you had a direct participation in some grand achievement, would it be fair to attribute your accomplishments to something as random as a place of birth?).

What perplexes me most about patriotic sentiments is the manner in which most people accept its value as a self-evident fact.  “You need to be proud of where you come from”, “My country, good or bad”, “Any man who does not love his land, and the land of his forefathers, is a man who does not love himself.”  The message propagated by all sides is one that denounced all who do not feel the fervor of patriotism as possessing some kind of defect in character.  That if you don’t show an innate defensiveness about your nationality, you are thought of as somehow deprived of a matter that is (for some reason or another) vital to a person’s psychological health.  This I don’t understand.  And simply repeating to me that it’s important to feel pride towards your country of origin is not an argument, it is a demand–worse yet, it is a command.  A call for assimilation, in favor of a value that can not be defended outside of baseless tautologies (i.e. “being patriotic is good, because it is good to be patriotic”).  I pay my taxes.  I follow the laws of the land.  So, why must I stand in union with the rest of you as you shout meaningless slogans, sing eccentric hymns, and salute pieces of cloths as if they were the very fabric holding the universe together?  Why must I prove that I deserve to be a part of this community through such flamboyant means, when I am already doing my all to keep society functioning at the individual level (the only level I have any authority on)?

I am not ashamed of either the country I was born in, nor the one I currently reside and identify with, but neither am I overtly proud.  In truth, I am forced to be neutral on it as a whole, since it holds no uniform identity from coast to coast, from city to city, from person to person.  Perhaps, the patriots are right, and my apathy is causing me to miss out on something spectacular here.  But then again, I can’t really miss that which I’ve never had.

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Nationalism vs Patriotism: A Challenge to George Orwell

In one of his essays, titled “Notes on Nationalism”, George Orwell drew a distinction between nationalism and patriotism by defining the latter as a passive adulation of one’s national/cultural heritage, and the former as an active attempt to enforce the will of one’s national/cultural identity onto others.  In other words, the patriot may look on his country of origin as the greatest place on earth, but he will do so with no interest to convince anyone else of the fact.  In contrast, the nationalist feels compelled not just to convince others of the greatness of his homeland, but to bring about the capitulation of all other nations under its great power.  As much as I respect Orwell as a writer, I find this attempt to conjure up a distinction between underlying mindset characterizing the two concepts unconvincing (to say the least).

If you hold the opinion that the country you happen to be born in (or identify with for other reasons) is the greatest in the world, then by logical extension you have to also hold the opinion of all of the other countries, in which all other persons reside, as simply subpar in comparison to your own.  And if you believe that other countries are substandard to your own, then you must also believe that the nation you identify with possesses something (strength, character, wealth, power, a particular model of governance, etc.) that makes it worthy of reverence.  From here, does it also not logically lead you to infer that whatever it is that makes your nation greater than every other, all the other nations who currently fail to measure up to its greatness would benefit if they too were to possess this particular trait/characteristic/resource/ideal/whatever?  Moreover, in this mode of reasoning, would you–the patriot– not be justified to believe that a great contribution your nation could do for the rest of the world is to bring it as close as possible to the better model under which your superior country operates under?

All else aside, affirmative responses for the above statements and inquiries would still place one merely as a patriot by Orwell’s criteria because one has still not taken an active step to impose one’s national will onto other states; hence, by the writer’s terms it would be incorrect to ascribe to the hypothetical individual the label of a nationalist since, up to this point, he displays no active desire to secure more power (presumably at the expense of other nations).  But to me this seems like a very flimsy distinction to be made, designed primarily to absolve patriotism from the ominous history created by 20th Century nationalism.  Yet, the reality remains that one cannot honestly have nationalism, sans the basic ingredient of patriotism.  And–following the conversation in the preceding paragraph–the factor that would separate a patriot from a nationalist appears to be more situational than ideological (i.e. it’s not the individual worldview that needs to change to lead a person from patriotism to nationalism, just a particular set of environmental circumstances; namely, how passionate, threatened or confident one feels about the current state of one’s country of origin).

If the redeeming distinction between patriotism and nationalism rests on the basis that unlike nationalism, patriotism has no desire to force itself on other people/nations, I have no choice but to protest the very premise on which such an argument is founded, on the grounds that the underlying reasoning in favor of patriotism are largely indistinguishable from the underlying reasoning applied by the nationalist.  The fundamental mentality–“my country is greater than your country”–is the same, and drawing distinctions of passivity vs. aggressiveness seem more aptly as representations of differing modes of expression of the same ideology, rather than opposing sides of differing/contrasting ideologies.  The simply truth (as it seems to me) is that, for the sake of consistency, whatever points one finds praiseworthy about patriotism, these same points can easily be extended to argue in favor of nationalism.  And whatever one finds undesirable about nationalism, one can just as easily extend to a critique of patriotism.  To split hairs between these things, just comes across like special pleading.