Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Patriotism. Virtue or vice?

Already you have made your decision based on your own judgments.  Indulge me, perhaps we could look closer?

I know a handful of people who take patriotism as an unmitigated good, talking often and boldly about their pride in America.  They will dismiss any criticism of America as foolish "liberal" talk, whelps who don't know or don't care that America was paid for in blood.  Anyone with any sense knows that America is the greatest country in the world and #&%* anyone who thinks different.

I also know many, many more people who sneer habitually at any flicker of American pride, seeing it as a reprehensible display akin to racism or homophobia: something in which our fathers sinfully indulged from some bygone age, an embarrassing family secret to be hidden from a concerned, thoughtful world.  We all know that our history is one heinous sin after another, and any good there might have been is propaganda wielded by the powerful to lull us into selling our souls into nationalist slavery.

[Author's note: I actually tried to exaggerate a bit there on both sides for rhetorical effect, but having read through it again several times, I find both fairly accurate descriptions of those at all passionate about the topic on both sides...]

Allow me to ask for a move to whatever dispassionate ground there might be in this discussion.  From the point of view of honest inquiry, allow me to ask:  is there no good to patriotism?  Is it always idolatry or parochialism or bigoted to love deeply one's country and the things for which it stands?  I wonder what we lose when we stand with those who seek to move beyond nationalism.  What does culture look like with no bonds larger than our private consumer tribe?  What do our lives become when the traditions of our fathers are left behind for no traditions at all?  Or perhaps more likely, for traditions we make up ourselves based on our tribal-trend of the moment, driven before media culture like chaff on the wind.  When the wind passes, what is left of us?

As usual, some friends over at First Things write thoughtfully on the subject:

" we all know, that our loves and loyalties can be cruel, jealous, and wicked. To a very great extent, what flies under the cosmopolitan banner of postmodernism represents a reaction against the bloody consequences of nationalism in the last century. Our multicultural therapists do not counsel moral relativism because they have closely studied questions of epistemology. They want us to be self-critical and non-judgmental so that we can all get along. Let us be lukewarm in our loyalties so that we will be soft in our hatreds. If nothing is worth fighting for, then nobody will fight.

It seems like a good outcome, but at what price? Social capital is a term developed by sociologists to describe the non-economic, non-coercive forces that bind people. Social capital pays out its dividends in all sorts of ways: in community service, in family life, and in often unreflective, habitual acts of courtesy and friendliness. If everything in our lives is run like the futures pit at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange or the local courtroom, then we have mean, miserable lives."  continue reading...

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