Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nationalism vs. Patriotism in America

A strange phenomenon has been occurring in America, particularly since September 11. "Patriotism" has taken on a new meaning. It's come to mean the polar opposite of terrorist. You can only be one or the other; if you don't call yourself patriotic, you're a terrorist. Despite such an extreme connotation, patriotism itself doesn't require much from a patriot, particularly if you're conservative - even if you commit terrorist acts yourself, like, say, bombing abortion clinics and killing their employees and clients. If you're liberal, saying it isn't good enough. It's come to be a political buzzword, a dogwhistle, a word you tack on to someone when you want to flatter them. Or, conversely, you could call someone unpatriotic in order to cause question in their motives.

As soon as a liberal criticizes something about the (conservative) president, Congress, or the courts, the liberal is labeled as unpatriotic. There is irony, of course, in that dissent is the lifeblood of a successful democracy. That's why the right to free speech is so important. The founding fathers purposefully wrote protection for the minority into the Constitution, because the majority - "conventional wisdom" - isn't always right. Dissent is necessary. There should always be dissent. And to that end, I believe it was Thomas Jefferson that said that education is the heart of democracy that keeps the dissent pumping. Socrates (according to J. Peter Euben, via Wikipedia's article on patriotism) thought that "patriotism does not require one to agree with everything that his country does and would actually promote analytical questioning in a quest to make the country the best it possibly can be." From Socrates' definition, liberals are more patriotic than some conservatives!

In America, the neo-conservative's form of patriotism is actually nationalism. Nationalism is the chauvinistic belief that your country is superior to other countries, which justifies the "exportation" of your country's governing system. Which is what neo-cons are all about nowadays. As an example, the Nazis were nationalists. The British are patriots. Originally, conservatives were isolationist. It would surprise me if the American Republican Party splits up sometime in the near future, as traditional conservatives do not agree with the militant nationalism that neo-conservatives favor.

And so, patriotism has taken on a very negative connotations to me. Patriotism has become a manifestation of religious faith. Blind love for America causes conservatives to question another citizen's (usually a liberal) patriotism merely for questioning their country, or protesting an action, or even merely disagreeing with an action. Questioning someone's religion is approached in just the same way. Encouraging this behavior encourages division and fear. Division and fear encourage violence and heighten the value of security over rights, thereby giving the authority much more authority over the individual. Ben Franklin called it - "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." He was absolutely right. This blind faith allowed the Republican Party to steal the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections - how patriotic is that? This blind faith, coupled with fear, allowed the Patriot Act to pass, quickly and easily. This religious-like fervor scares me, as a liberal. I can't help but imagine how out-of-control it might get, based on how out-of-control it already is.


Renee said...

I think that you only view it this way because you are coming from inside American society. As an outsider who lives in a border town it has been my personal lived experience that this is not a new phenomenon at all. Americans have always been boastful people to a fault and to criticize are admit in any way that you are not completely in love with stars and stripes is to branded un American. If you look at the youth revolt in sixties you will find that charge used repeatedly as way to discipline dissent.

Nine said...

Most definitely. I meant this piece to only apply to the American versions of patriotism - which is why I titled the post the way I did.

However, having not lived through the sixties personally, I only meant to comment on what I have seen. What I would suppose, then, is that the definition of patriotism shifts when it is politically expedient. I did not hear the word patriotism outside of US History class before the towers fell. I did not see "Support Our Troops" ribbons on car bumpers before I saw Osama bin Laden's videos. Nor did opposing war necessarily mean that you did not support American soldiers. It was flooring to me for this all to happen almost overnight.

Thank you for widening my understanding!