Patriotism, nationalism, and beyond
0 comment Friday, May 23, 2014 |
Joe Sobran, who recently passed away, wrote a piece on nationalism and patriotism. It was written not long after the 9/11 attacks, and it is written in the spirit of warning against the dangers of the blind patriotism that seemed, for a while, to be sweeping this country.
The subject of patriotism vs. nationalism is one that I have returned to periodically on this blog. It is a distinction that is hard to explain, and hard to discuss with others, because different people seem to have differing perceptions of what each of those terms means.
To me, the term 'patriotism' is what Sobran, in the linked essay, calls 'nationalism', in the jingoistic sense.
''This is a season of patriotism, but also of something that is easily mistaken for patriotism; namely, nationalism. The difference is vital.
G.K. Chesterton once observed that Rudyard Kipling, the great poet of British imperialism, suffered from a "lack of patriotism." He explained: "He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reasons. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English."
In the same way, many Americans admire America for being strong, not for being American. For them America has to be "the greatest country on earth" in order to be worthy of their devotion. If it were only the 2nd-greatest, or the 19th-greatest, or, heaven forbid, "a 3rd-rate power," it would be virtually worthless.
This is nationalism, not patriotism. Patriotism is like family love. You love your family just for being your family, not for being "the greatest family on earth" (whatever that might mean) or for being "better" than other families. You don�t feel threatened when other people love their families the same way. On the contrary, you respect their love, and you take comfort in knowing they respect yours. You don�t feel your family is enhanced by feuding with other families.
While patriotism is a form of affection, nationalism, it has often been said, is grounded in resentment and rivalry; it�s often defined by its enemies and traitors, real or supposed. It is militant by nature, and its typical style is belligerent. Patriotism, by contrast, is peaceful until forced to fight.
The patriot differs from the nationalist in this respect too: he can laugh at his country, the way members of a family can laugh at each other�s foibles. Affection takes for granted the imperfection of those it loves; the patriotic Irishman thinks Ireland is hilarious, whereas the Irish nationalist sees nothing to laugh about.
The nationalist has to prove his country is always right. He reduces his country to an idea, a perfect abstraction, rather than a mere home.''
My impression is that most Americans, especially those on the paleo-conservative end, as well as libertarians and leftists, associate patriotism with the blind jingoism and militarism. Witness how the slur ''patriotard'' is directed at those who tended to be pro-Iraq War and Islamo-skeptical. Most Republicans consider themselves patriotic, and their detractors on right and left call them ''patriotards''.
Likewise, the term nationalist is viewed with suspicion by most of the average American type; the media have assigned a derogatory meaning to ''nationalist'' as being associated with ''supremacists'' or Nazis or right-wing xenophobes (so-called.)
I don't know how we might untangle the contradictory and confused meanings and connotations of those two terms. Sobran makes a pretty effective case for his definitions, and for a humble kind of patriotism that does not go in for interventionism and militarism for its own sake.
''When it comes to war, the patriot realizes that the rest of the world can�t be turned into America, because his America is something specific and particular � the memories and traditions that can no more be transplanted than the mountains and the prairies. He seeks only contentment at home, and he is quick to compromise with an enemy. He wants his country to be just strong enough to defend itself.''
By Sobran's definitions, I would have to consider myself a patriot, but a patriot towards my people, not towards a regime or an ideology or a set of principles.
But this can get sticky in our ''post-American America.'' The ruling ideology in this country is insistent that everybody and anybody who takes up residence on American soil is one of my people, just by virtue of being here. Likewise everybody who is born here, even though they may be part an ethnic enclave and speak little English, is one of my people, an American. So we have to distinguish between loyalty based on geographic location and political boundaries, and loyalty based on blood kinship plus common culture and history.
I am reminded of this piece from 1996 to which I linked in a past blog entry.
And, of course, the American media are becoming less American, as Britons and others infiltrate their ranks. CNN epitomizes an emerging electronic life-form that is slowly becoming the eyes and ears of the world community. Members of the media, particularly foreign correspondents, are becoming what Mitchell Cohen, an editor at Dissent, calls "rooted cosmopolitans" -- people with several loyalties, standing "in many circles, but with common ground" in the form of a home base. Cohen's description evokes the turn-of-the-century essayist Randolph Bourne's idea of a transnational America -- of multiple-passport holders and dual citizens.
A new Manifest Destiny, in other words: We strip the world of its human ingenuity, attracting the most talented Asians, Africans, and so on to the United States. We anglicize them. Although they are not loyal to the degree that former immigrants were, they accept America as their base. We become the place where all the world's major cultures and economies meet, conquering the world as it conquers us. Blood-and-soil nationalism recedes.
Given that American politics has often been a series of peaceful evolutions, we may be in the midst of a transition so gradual that it cannot fit within the confines of the news. It will be apparent only after it happens. Tom Nairn, a social scientist, writes that nationalism is "an inwardly-determined social necessity, a 'growth-stage,' located somewhere in between . . . 'feudal societies' and a future where the factors of nationality will become less prominent." America, more than any other nation, may have been born to die.''
We are entering a new phase in which we will see which side prevails: the idea of ''transnational America'', which, to me, is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron, or the traditional nation, (which word, after all, denotes 'birth'). Human nature inclines us to kin loyalty; it does not incline us to the article writer's abomination of America as a congeries of ''rooted cosmopolitans'' of all races and creeds.
The two ideas are on a collision course, and we can only hope that human nature and tradition win out against social engineering and utopian ideology.

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