Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

PATRIOTISM VERSUS NATIONALISM

Immigration foe Mark Krikorian has written graciously that "I know that there are patriots who support mass immigration." Perhaps it would be polite to return the favor and say that I know there are patriots who want to close the borders.

But I must admit that I don't personally understand how patriotism and opposition to immigration can be compatible. If you think something is cool, don't you want to show it to people? If I go see a movie and it's really good, I'll write to my friends and family and tell them to go see it. In the same way, if I love and admire America, I want as many people as possible to get a chance to experience it, enjoy it, participate in it.

A "patriotism" that wants to close the borders to immigrants is, I think, something else: nationalism.

Are patriotism and nationalism really different things, or just two words for the same thing, with different connotations and rhetorical uses? I doubt that there is a distinction that is universally understood, agreed upon, and observed in linguistic practice. Yet I think there are two quite different impulses that underlie patriotism/nationalism, and which justify an effort to sort the two out, and if possible to attach the word "patriotism" to one and "nationalism" to the other.

Nationalism is rooted in man's instinct to form gangs for the sake of protection: I watch your back, you watch mine. We don't necessarily love each other or even like each other; we might hate each other, but still find cooperation advantageous. In order to cement the bonds within the gang, it's useful to engage in psychological manipulation to foster love for, or any kind of emotional attachment to, insiders and hate or aversion for outsiders. Both feelings are equally useful.

Patriotism is rooted in man's faculty for admiration, which can also be directed towards individuals, but in the case of patriotism is directed towards the "collective personality" of a nation. Patriotism is the special case when the nation I admire happens to be my own. I can also admire other nations: I can be an Anglophile, or a Russophile, for example. I think the admiration of others is a very different emotion from admiration of oneself, but American patriotism, for an American, is not a fundamentally different emotion from the same American's (mine, for example) Anglophilia or Russophilia. Although I am aware that I am part of the American nation, I nonetheless experience patriotism as an admiration for something other than myself, for traditions which began long before I was born and will continue-- I hope-- long after I am gone, of whose greatness I have only a dim understanding. I feel humbled and, in a certain way, surprised that I am counted worthy to be part of this great enterprise.

Where nationalism is collective self-interest, patriotism is a disinterested love for one's country. A nationalist who was unjustly banished forever from his country would give up his nationalism. A patriot who was unjustly banished would be very sad, but remain a patriot.

Gang-loyalty, or nationalism, is a zero-sum game. I value the interests of my fellow gang-members above those of other gangs; I will do violence to other gangs if it is in my gang's interests. Patriotism, by contrast, is compatible with a broad-minded humanitarianism. Just as I can love both mountains and beaches, both Bach and Beethoven, so I can love America, England, and Russia.

It is a poor love that blinds itself to, or justifies, the beloved's faults. One should love the beloved despite the faults-- hate the sin, but love the sinner, hate the sin because one loves the sinner. A wise and steadfast lover strives to convert the beloved, to persuade him to mend his ways, for his own benefit. An American patriot should feel shame at some parts of our history: slavery, segregation, the internment of the Japanese during World War II, arming Saddam Hussein against Iran, forbidding the immigration of Jews in the 1930s, which could have largely prevented the Holocaust. And yet each of these past sins has a redeeming epilogue: we freed the slaves; we abolished segregation and largely purged our national culture of racism; we strengthened civil liberties for minorities so that, unlike the Japanese in World War II, Arabs during the war on terror have enjoyed full civil liberties; we were too late to save European Jews, tragically, but we did punish Hitler, and supported the creation of a Jewish homeland in Israel (though in the process we have sometimes been guilty of injustice to the Palestinians).

Today, the United States is applying mass coercion to prevent people from the Third World from coming to America for a better life. Hopefully, in time, we will repent of this evil, and future American, on future Fourths of July, will reflect patriotically on how the American Dream ceased to be the American-born-only dream; how patriotism triumphed over nationalism.

4 Comments:

  • Fine points for an intellectual. Sadly, most people don't understand the subtle distinction you're making. It seems Nationalism masquerades as Patriotism in this country for a great many people. So much so that an amendment to prohibit flag burning nearly acheived the votes necessary to pass congress and make it to the states. That's the sort of law that exists in states like North Korea, the former Iraq regime, and China. Ultimately, if you want people to honor the country and the flag, then you need to make people feel as if they have ownership of the country and the flag. The more you disenfranchise people, the less true Patriotism will there be, and consequently, the more the government will need to depend on Nationalistic impulses to remain strong. I look at the flag burning amendment as a canary-in-the-mine. When that canary dies (gets passed and ratified by the states), it's time to start worrying.

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 10:58 AM  

  • Fine points for an intellectual. Sadly, most people don't understand the subtle distinction you're making. It seems Nationalism masquerades as Patriotism in this country for a great many people. So much so that an amendment to prohibit flag burning nearly acheived the votes necessary to pass congress and make it to the states. That's the sort of law that exists in states like North Korea, the former Iraq regime, and China. Ultimately, if you want people to honor the country and the flag, then you need to make people feel as if they have ownership of the country and the flag. The more you disenfranchise people, the less true Patriotism will there be, and consequently, the more the government will need to depend on Nationalistic impulses to remain strong. I look at the flag burning amendment as a canary-in-the-mine. When that canary dies (gets passed and ratified by the states), it's time to start worrying.

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 10:58 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Thomas Reasoner, at 10:59 AM  

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