Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, February 19th, 2006.


Patriotism v. Nationalism

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big picture stuff, conservatism, liberalism and progressivism

Do you remember Sydney Harris? He was a syndicated columnist who died in 1986. I used to love his column.

Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, “the greatest,” but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is. — Sydney J. Harris

I’ve been struggling with ideas about patriotism v. nationalism. And then I looked in Bartlett’s Quotations and rediscovered Sydney Harris.

The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.

I miss Sydney Harris. But here’s another good quote on patriotism and nationalism, from some other guy:

Patriotism is a lively sense of collective responsibility. Nationalism is a silly cock crowing on its own dunghill and calling for larger spurs and brighter beaks. I fear that nationalism is one of England’s many spurious gifts to the world. — Richard Aldington

“Responsibility” seems to be a common theme:

What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility … a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. — Adlai Stevenson

I’m sure by now you see where I’m going with this: Righties are not patriots, but nationalists. And I’m arguing that one of the basic differences between a patriot and a nationalist is that patriots value responsibility. This includes the citizen’s responsibility to his country, a country’s responsibility to its citizens, and the responsibility of a country and its citizens to the rest of the world.

Nationalists, on the other hand, do not value responsibility. They value loyalty, and their loyalty is a type of tribalism. The loyalty may not necessarily be to one’s fellow citizens, but only to members of their tribe. You know the righties feel absolutely no loyalty to us lefties, for example, even though we are fellow-citizens.

The right Americans are the right Americans because they’re not like the wrong Americans, who are not really Americans. — Eric J. Hobsbawm (b. 1917), British historian

Further, nationalists feel no sense of responsibility for the actions of their country. No matter what the country does, the nationalist will either justify it or deny it. Just speaking of the wrongdoing of one’s country is “disloyal” to a nationalist.

Cal Thomas is a nationalist, not a patriot. Recently he wrote,

Last Sunday, Gore spoke to the Jeddah Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia. … Gore told his audience, many of whom have been educated at American universities, that after 9/11 Arabs in the United States were “indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable.” … Gore also claimed there were “terrible abuses” of the detainees, but he failed to provide any examples, and media calls to his office produced none.

Thomas should have called the U.S. Department of Justice. In June 2003 the Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report of the results of an internal, but independent investigation. The report reveals that the FBI and immigration authorities seized hundreds of Arabs and South Asians after 9/11 and subjected them to severe prison conditions with barely a nod to due process. A summary of the report is here. The complete report, in PDF format, is here.

Amazing what three minutes of googling will turn up, isn’t it? You’d think a “journalist” like Cal Thomas would figure these things out. Anyway, Thomas continues,

For Gore to make his anti-American remarks in Saudi Arabia is at least as bad as what Nazi sympathizers said in this country and abroad leading up to and during World War II.

One definition of “treason” at dictionary.com is: Violation of allegiance toward one’s country or sovereign, especially the betrayal of one’s country by waging war against it or by consciously and purposely acting to aid its enemies. By any objective standard, Gore’s remarks in Saudi Arabia appear to fit the definition.

Does Thomas not realize an audience of U.S-educated Saudis must have known already about the rights violations detailed in the Justice Department report? Or does he think simple brown natives won’t find such things out unless we tell them? (Puh-leeze … )

What really ticked off Thomas was that, in his eyes, Gore’s admission to a pack of foreigners that America had done something wrong was an act of disloyalty. But acknowledging wrongdoing is an act of taking responsibility. Taking responsibility is what patriots do. Denying that one’s country is ever at fault is what nationalists do.

And if you really want to find an American aiding America’s enemies, Cal, take a look at the Oval Office.

Seems to me that the easiest way to tell a patriot from a nationalist is to apply the “responsibility” test. When the U.S. is at fault, a patriot considers it a duty to speak up and say so. But where a patriot sees responsibility, a nationalist just sees disloyalty. The nationalist will say something like “why are you tearing down your country? Why don’t you talk about this bad thing another country did?” I’m sure you’ve heard speeches like that, many times. And the answer is, because I’m not responsible for that other country. I’m responsible for my country. Nationalists don’t get that.

[Update: The Poor Man finds an example.]

This is from the late, great Erich Fromm:

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above humanity, above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with the nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare—never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.

Fromm puts patriotism in quotation marks; I assume he is using the word in an ironic sense. But speaking of idolatrous worship, last Thursday Dave Neiwert posted about “The Conservative faith” at Orcinus. Responding to Glenn Greenwald’s must-read post “Do Bush followers have a political ideology?” Dave argues that what passes for current “conservatism” is a kind of political religion, a critter defined this way by Wikipedia:

In the terminology of some scholars working in sociology, a political religion is a political ideology with cultural and political power equivalent to those of a religion, and often having many sociological and ideological similarities with religion. Quintessential examples are Marxism and Nazism, but totalitarianism is not a requirement (for example neo-liberalism can be analysed as a political religion).

… The term political religion is a sociological one, drawing on the sociological aspects of religion which can be often be found in certain secular ideologies. A political religion occupies much the same psychological and sociological space as a theistic religion, and as a result it often displaces or coopts existing religious organisations and beliefs; this is described as a “sacralisation” of politics. However, although a political religion may coopt existing religious structures or symbolism, it does not itself have any independent spiritual or theocratic elements – it is essentially secular, using religion only for political purposes, if it does not reject religious faith outright.

Dave Neiwert continues to present, IMO, a solid case that current contemporary “conservatism” is more a nascent political religion than a political philosophy. And this explains much about the righties’ attitude toward American non-righties. We are not just the political opposition; we are apostate. We are blasphemers. We are heretics.

One of the most maddening traits of righties is that they cannot wrap their heads around the simple truth that those of us who oppose the Bush Administration have lots of reasons for doing so. How many times has a critic of Bush policy been dismissed as “just a Bush hater”? It doesn’t matter what facts or documentation the critic presents. It’s all swept away with the simple explanation — Bush hater. Or liberal. Which takes us back to Glenn Greenwald’s observation that anyone who criticises the Bush Regime becomes a “liberal” in the minds of righties, no matter if that individual is as politically conservative as cheesy eagle art. Glenn writes,

People who self-identify as “conservatives” and have always been considered to be conservatives become liberal heathens the moment they dissent, even on the most non-ideological grounds, from a Bush decree. That’s because “conservatism” is now a term used to describe personal loyalty to the leader (just as “liberal” is used to describe disloyalty to that leader), and no longer refers to a set of beliefs about government.

If you understand Bush cultism as a religious faith, then the behavior of Bush supporters becomes, if not understandable, at least recognizable. In their minds, whatever we say is blasphemy; through us, Satan himself speaks. The righteous must plug their ears and refuse to listen.

Religion and nationalism do tend to get mixed up together into the same toxic, warmongering soup. This is precisely what is going on in the Muslim world; Islam as nationalism. You can find examples of enmity sorting itself into religious/ethnic camps in many parts of Africa, Asia, and around the globe. Perhaps as nation-states become more multiethnic and religiously pluralistic, the urge to form enemies and make war is being driven out of the hands of governments and into the hands of charismatic religious/ethnic leaders, like Osama bin Laden. We should note that even though encyclopedias still define the word nationalism as “loyalty to a nation-state,” which would certainly apply to most 20th-century nationalist movements, nationalists can defy existing political boundaries and organize themselves around an ideal of “nation” that excludes existing borders and governments. But that’s a topic a bit too ambitious for Sunday morning.

Let’s go back to Cal Thomas for a moment. Last week Citizen K of DKos wrote a post called “Cal Thomas: the republican call for Leninism and blasphemy” in which the Citizen argued that righties like Thomas “illustrates the takeover of American discourse by Leninist ideology.” Citizen K quotes Lenin saying that anyone who vacillates from the positions worked out by Soviet political leaders “objectively can have only one result … helping the imperialists to provoke the Russian Soviet Republic into a battle that will obviously be to its disadvantage ….” And Citizen K compares this to Thomas’s “By any objective standard, Al Gore’s remarks in Saudi Arabia appear to fit the definition [of treason].” Citizen K concludes,

Because Lenin (and Cal Thomas) are omniscient, anyone who disagrees with them is “objectively” treasonous. The use of this language by Thomas is no coincidence – the neo-cons are a movement of Leninists. The essence of Leninism is Power. Lenin was happy to switch back and forth from capitalism (NEP) to communism, from elections to bullets, from a strong war policy to surrender as long as he retained and built power. The US leninists have the same flexibility. For them, political positions are simply valuable propaganda or not. Balanced budget/unbalanced budgets, gun control/gun banning, anti-choice/”moderation”, gay marriage bans/hiring Cheney’s daughter for gay/lesbian outreach and so on. The suckers who kept trying to find high minded socialism in Lenin were no more or less gullible than the “conservatives” who look for some “conservatism” in Bush/Cheney’s policies. The only consistency is Power.

In the Soviet Union, loyalty to the Communist Party and its leaders largely replaced religion. We aren’t anywhere close to that point here, of course. I do think it can be argued that, in America, the conservative political religion has largely co-opted (and corrupted) Christianity for its own purposes. And I think it can be argued that much of what passes for “Christianity” in America is a political-religious mythos that is Christian on the surface but something else entirely in its heart. But that’s another topic a bit too ambitious for Sunday morning.

Later, today or tomorrow, I plan to post something about politics and psychopathology that ties into this post. But I’ve gone on long enough for now.

Let’s close with some more quotes:

Nationalism is militant hatred. It is not love of our countrymen: that, which denotes good citizenship, philanthropy, practical religion, should go by the name of patriotism. Nationalism is passionate xenophobia. It is fanatical, as all forms of idol-worship are bound to be. And fanaticism—l’infame denounced by Voltaire—obliterates or reverses the distinction between good and evil. Patriotism, the desire to work for the common weal, can be, must be, reasonable: “My country, may she be right!” Nationalism spurns reason: “Right or wrong, my country.” — Albert L. Guerard

Nationalism … is the worship of the collective power of a local human community. Unlike the faith in progress through science, nationalism is not a new religion; it is a revival of an old one. This was the religion of the city-states of the pre-Christian Greco-Roman world. It was resuscitated in the West at the Renaissance, and this resuscitation of the Greco-Roman political religion has been far more effective than the resuscitation of the Greco-Roman style of literature, visual art, and architecture. Modern Western nationalism, inspired by Greco-Roman political ideals and institutions, has inherited the dynamism and fanaticism of Christianity. Translated into practice in the American and French Revolutions, it proved to be highly infectious. Today, fanatical nationalism is perhaps 90 percent of the religion of perhaps 90 percent of mankind. — A.J. Toynbee

Finally,

Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. — George Orwell

Update: See Digby, “Political Religion.

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