As I write, patriotic thought is on the rise.
From the nationalist, anti-US current developing in Russia to the successes of far-right parties across the UK with the increase in foreign immigration, the country one belongs to surfaces more and more amongst other political issues. The reason behind this is probably due to a variety of factors, perhaps as a reaction against the political and economic unions of today, such as the EU, or in the form of national self-determination, opposing the rule of other nations, such as in Scotland or Kashmir. It would thus seem difficult to make assumptions or generalisations for such a vague and simple manner of political thought, though there is an underlying definition to be understood.
If you simply type in the word ‘patriotism’, here’s what Google will give you:
- the quality of being patriotic; vigorous support for one’s country.
“a highly decorated officer of unquestionable integrity and patriotism”
In the entry ‘Nationalism, Imperialism, and Communism’ I made clear my hatred for nationalism. Today, against the backdrop of increasingly-patriotic world, I’ll take that one step further and explain why I believe patriotic thought, even in casual circumstances, is unhealthy, damaging, and also completely irrational.
Take Russia for an example, a country in which ‘vigorous support for one’s country’ is actually able to translate itself into ‘hatred of another’. Is this not proof that patriotism is a corrupting manner of thought; one that is able to completely distort perceptions of the world? It would even be possible for any leader could cultivate such a force, using it to brainwash their population and justify inhumane actions ‘for the glory of the motherland’. Patriotism, capable of arising in any country under any regime, can serve to counteract the process of fair, logical decision-making, when an individual will side with their country no matter what. Even ‘weaker’ patriots, happy to draw limits on their support for the nation, fall into the same trap: if you belong to a country, if you believe in that country, then imagine how readily biased you’d be in the need to choose a side.
This can be clearly seen in the example of the Vietnam War, in which many atrocities, violations of international treaties, and inhumane acts of violence were committed by the United States in the invasion of an innocent country thousands of miles offshore. This war in particular suffered a great deal of internal opposition, yet a proportion of society managed to be persuaded, and that was enough. If these people were born without a nationality, without any reason to side with the U.S. government, I’m certain that fewer would chose to do so. Thus, many that could prevent authorities from committing such atrocities do not, merely because they blindly support the country of their birth, for no real reason whatsoever.
Yet this isn’t even the worst of it; to develop a true understanding of this idea, I believe it’s necessary to consult history, and what does this tell us?
Well, as you might have expected, it’s not good news…
The twentieth century saw the establishment of patriotism in its most extreme format, with the global rise of fascism. A fascist regime is an example of patriotism taken to the furthest extent possible, with nationalistic thought not only embedded in the regime, but existing as the basis upon which the government, the military and the economy all stand. The ideas that motivated Hitler, Mussolini or Franco were not only patriotic in nature, but they placed the idea of national glory where the communists of the day placed the achievement of a classless society. In other words, they valued their nation more than anything.
To reach conclusions, however, we must look at the regimes from which these movements arose, for a trend between fascist nations such as the Third Reich, Mussolini’s Italy or imperial Japan is clearly visable: each one of them quite simply formed out of a miserable society. This could be due to a disaster, such as the horrific earthquake experienced by Japan in the 1920’s, which has been thought to have sparked the rise of Japanese imperialism, or just a general want for change, such as that in post-1918 Germany. Either way (doubtless, there are also many other ways), we can see a trend developing here. Nationalism, like a political tumour, has a tendancy to arise out of chaos. It ties the people of a nation together using an already-existing middle ground, and gives them something to believe in when nothing else will. It isn’t surprising then, that Germany and Italy (two nations where nationalism burned as brightly as ever) were countries in which a revolution was most expected. Instead of staging one, however, the people resorted to an easier form of change, looking to nationalism as a ‘cheap’ alternative.
Whilst these three countries are obviously extreme examples, it says a great deal on patriotism in general. The idea develops as a creed the populace will turn to when they have nothing left to believe in, so they chose to place their faith in the most simple idea available, this being their own country. It has the potential to curb real political change and distracts the population from the truth of the matter, despite how appaling such truth may be. Just look at the military, who often endure horrific conditions whilst living in fear of their lives, and desperately need something to believe in, something to fight for, something which enables them to keep pushing on. It’s thus no surprise that patriotism is not only rife among the fighting forces but is implemented artifically by those in command.
I think I’ve made my point clear as to why such thought is far from healthy and should be considered dangerous, but I’d like to finish by pointing out the true nature of the idea, and why this is relevant in discussing the concept.
What does it mean to be a patriot?
For the simple definition of the term, the one given above is adequate, yet what a ‘vigorous support for one’s country’ actually consists of is an entirely different matter.
I’d consider it vital to understand that ‘one’s country’ consists of no more than several hundred square kilometres inside an artificially-drawn borderline, somewhere in which they live their life. It may sound like a romantic idea, yet the actuality is plainly ridiculous, despite how many continue to cling to it.
On that note, coming back to the UK, several informative leaflets on the United Kingdom’s Independence Party (UKIP) recently came through my door in the run-up to the General Election. Reading through what the party had to say, I noticed that the slogan ‘Believe in Britain’ was used (well, in fact it was proudly displayed in capitals).
‘Why?’ I found myself asking. ‘What is there to believe in about Britain? In itself, the United Kingdom is merely a relatively small nation-state off the North-western coast of Europe. Within this country there are many greats, yet there are also many wrongdoers, and I’m not too sure what makes the general spread of the population so special. Perhaps you should tell me to ‘Believe in UKIP’, but what is there to glorify about one country out of hundreds, which just so happens to be the one in which I live and which you intend to govern?’
It certainly seems odd. Surely we’re too intelligent a being to devote ourselves entirely to an area of land, simply because it was one we grew up on, or live in today.
Sadly though, this just isn’t true.
The image depicting an individual playing a brass instrument was provided by Wikimedia Commons, on which it was uploaded by the German Federal Archives under the following licence: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en