Sunday, November 2, 2008


Patriotism is nothing more than tribal "us versus them" bigotry.

What does it mean to be patriotic? Most people will tell you it means to love your country, but that definition is not very helpful. What part of the country does one have to love in order to be patriotic? Loving the land -- the mountains, the valleys, the lakes -- is not patriotism. If it were, I would be patriotic to Peru, Japan, Scotland and Canada, among others. I suspect I would also be patriotic to Iran, if I had the chance to go there. Obviously, that is not what patriotism means.

Patriotism cannot mean loving the current government. As I write this, George W. Bush has an approval rating of 23%. Congress' approval rating is even lower. Yet, the overwhelming majority of Americans still claim to be patriotic. They obviously do not mean that they love their current government.

Patriotism cannot mean "loving the principals for which our country stands." No country lives by a fixed set of principals, at least not for long. The U.S. Constitution originally upheld slavery. Later, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed citizens of Japanese descent to be placed in concentration camps, without one ounce of evidence that they had done or were planning to do anything wrong. Today, the United States ignores its own constitution by imprisoning people in Guantanamo Bay for years without charging them with a crime. Yes, the United States government has done some wonderful things of the years, but it has also done some horrible things. Do people who claim to be patriotic actually think about all these things, and come to the conclusion that they love some alleged underlying principal behind this country? More to the point, do they think about other countries -- Great Britain, for example -- and decide that the principals behind our country are somehow better? Clearly not.

Patriotism cannot mean loving the people of a country. Again, if that were so, many of us would be equally patriotic to more than one country. Americans think that they are kinder, smarter, better people than the Swedes? Is that why Americans are so patriotic? Again, most Americans -- and especially those who tend to be most patriotic -- do not have the experience to make a judgment about whether Swedes tend to be more or less kind than Americans. When people say they are patriotic, they are not thinking of such things.

In the end, patriotism means loving your country more than other countries, simply because it is your country and for no other reason. Go team! Up us, down you! Patriotism in America is about liking America better than other countries because we are Americans. That is not only immoral, it is extremely dangerous.


review said...

Let me take a quick stab at an explanation/definition of patriotism
that can survive some scrutiny.

We love or have a disproportionate affinity for those we know -- our families, friends and community. We go out of our way to help and defend them, not because we can rationally claim that we've determined them to be "better" than others. We just develop a bond, a relationship that acquires its own value.

I think we do that for our country as well. Yes, it's also comparable to the affinity we develop for our home team, our college, etc. And
one can demean it for that reason. But I also think it's part of human
nature to attach added value to something that is "ours" and that we know, whether family, friends, community, sports team or nation.

Karen said...

I agree, Steven. To me, "Patriotism" is a word used to rationalize war as well as brainwash young men and women into putting their lives on the line for reasons with which they may or may not agree.

You can be accused of not showing love to your family or being loyal to your team but once you're accused of not being patriotic towards your country, WATCH OUT! I think that's U.S. specific, too, isn't it? Do other countries accuse their politicians and/or citizens of having a lack of patriotism in order to demonize or ostracize them?

Thanks for the distraction.

Lee J. said...
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Lee J. said...
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