Columns / Discourse / September 23, 2010

Notes on:

“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.”

-George Bernard Shaw

As it currently stands, the concept of patriotism is centered around a citizen’s proud dedication to their nation. When concerning a modern nation-state operating under democracy, this dedication has never been based upon a non-questioning of that state but rather a constant critique of it. As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.”

I won’t argue about the supposed superiority of democracy as a social doctrine but the point remains valid all the same. Democracy, as a form of government (government being something that is inherently flawed via its reliance on coercion), is in a constant state of failure unless redefined and justified every moment by forward momentum in the socio-political sphere. But here in the United States, the concept of democracy has blended with national identity, creating a massive political-cultural system, which is hailed as unwavering, monolithic in its capabilities and omnipresent in its righteousness. Patriotism has come to mean a dedication to the applied socio-political system, despite its very real and inherent problems.

The largest of and most glaring social problem is the one of inequality. This can concern class, sex, race and a variety of other things. Often, critics of other forms of government, such as communism, decry what they call ‘mass rule,’ that is, the domination of the masses over a minority. They hold up the American model as an example of a power balance, where action through the political system equates equality. The writers of our Constitution placed safeguards to create an environment of intellectual security, freedom of expression and individuality in which any socio-political group was protected. However, again and again in the contemporary democracies do we see the ostracizing of certain disempowered groups. The recent deportation of the Roma from France or migrant workers from Israel are just two examples. The maltreatment and deportation of Hispanics from this nation along with its increasing intolerance to Arabs and persons of the Islamic faith and its continued plutocratic socio-economic policies are evidence of our own democracy’s hypocrisy. All of these injustices are done in the name of a nationalist image, floating on a thin and often transparent glaze of democratic theory.

Obviously, reality is not a keen source for pride for the contemporary democrat. So where can we look to for patriotic inspiration? How can we justify our national image? Do we look at symbols such as bald eagles and waving flags, marines with M-16s and tall skyscrapers for evidence of our nations goodness? Do we see it in our abundant material wealth or globe-spanning military capabilities? In these images we will find nothing prideful. These things are hollow because they are only things. Our morality and dedication to democracy’s central point, equality, has been lost in them, obscured by the merging of nationalism and consumerism.

Voltaire said, “It is lamentable that to be a good patriot, one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.” It may be that we can only be good patriots once we give up our dedications to the nation-state and its allegory for self in the citizen. When we can look past symbols and wealth as explanations for our own superiority and as justification for our place in a socio-economic hierarchy, then can we embrace fully the realization of equality epitomized by democracy.

Democracy must represent a whole of society, not just the aspirations, wealth or prejudices of a single portion. We have not succeeded in forming a true democracy until the entirety of the society can come together to move ahead as a whole. If we must all now be poor together for this to happen, then so be it, for it will make us all that much richer in the long run. The patriot cannot focus on the superiority of the present, the beautiful and opiating lies of the states image, he or she must always remain the dissident and the optimist, wanting and struggling for a humanist utopia that may never come. Only then can the inspiration of democracy hold true.

Abraham Diekhans-Mears


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