Friday, October 05, 2007

Patriotism vs. Nationalism

I was reading this post earlier and it got me to thinking--what is the difference between patriotism and nationalism? So many people, especially on the left, confuse the two, which is why those on the left so often reject genuine patriotism and then wonder why we on the right question theirs.

I accept this definition of (American) patriotism: an optimistic civic creed that demonstrates respect for America's institutions, individual freedoms, and constitutional law. Given that definition, dissent is not necessarily patriotic, airing national dirty laundry for the world to see is most assuredly not patriotic, and bad-mouthing your country is not patriotic. I've long lacked a good definition of patriotism; what was always missing was the optimism component.

Patriotism is contrasted with nationalism, which, simply put, can be described as "My country, right or wrong." Too many lefties don't understand genuine patriotism and mistake what patriotism they do see as mere nationalism, which often can rightly be scorned.

And yes, given what passes as the mainstream of leftie thought these days, including Daily Kos (fawned over by the Democrat presidential candidates) and Huffington Post, I state categorically that they're lacking in patriotism. They're lacking not only optimism, but also respect for America's institutions, personal freedoms, and constitutional law. Using foul language and being angry and wanting your guys in charge instead of my guys is not patriotic; rather, it's closer to a puerile temper tantrum.

You didn't see those of us on the right sporting bumper stickers reading "He's not my president" from 1993-2001. You didn't see those of us on the right sporting bumper stickers reading "I love my country but I fear my government" from 1993-2001. You didn't see those of us on the right sporting bumper stickers reading "1-20-01, a new beginning" from 1993-2001, even though we did look forward to that day.

Being against President Bush doesn't make you patriotic. Instead, what you display is a perverse inverse of nationalism, "Your guy is always wrong" instead of "My country is always right".

It's not a thought process that serves anyone well.

Update, 10/6/07: My one commenter so far has likened patriotism to marriage. Here's a comparison to parenting.

I know two really bad parents. One is a couple that simply refuses to control their children; they love them totally, and so, they explain, they love everything they do. Unsurprisingly, they are raising two little monsters. The other is a single mother who explains that everything bad in her life is the fault of her child, and that everything he does is wrong. Unsurprisingly, her child is depressed, withdrawn and equally badly damaged.

I'll define patriotism as 'love of country'. Both the parents above (all three of them, actually) claim to 'love' their children. But to blindly smile and clean up when your child smashes plates on the floor is not an act of love. And blindly smiling and waving flags when your country does something wrong is not an act of patriotism.

But - there is a point where criticism, even offered in the guise of love, moves past the point of correction and to the point of destruction. It's a subtle line, but it exists. And my friend (who is less of a friend because I can't begin to deal with her fundamentally abusive parenting) is destroying her child. And there are liberals who have adopted an uncritically critical view of America. Who believe it to have been founded in genocide and theft, made wealthy on slave labor and mercantilist expropriation, to be a destroyer of minorities, women, the environment and ultimately they argue, itself.

I'm sorry but their profession of love for America is as hollow to me as that [bad] mother's profession of love for her son. Are those things true? As facts, they are an incomplete account of this country's history. As a worldview, they are destructive and self-consuming.


Update #2, 10/6/07: And here's some thought on the "dissent is patriotic" front.

The "dissent" school seems to acknowledge love not of the actual country, but the Country of the Future, once all the flaws are fixed, which is not only utopian but utterly quixotic, since no group of human beings can ever organize themselves in a fashion without problems. Moreover, it's a very subjective standard. You're dissenting on whatever the hell problem is your own hobby horse. Feminist A is upset about the state of women and is patriotically "dissenting"; Klansman B is upset about the state of white folk, and in his mind, he's equally patriotic in his "dissent".... [B]oth are equally ideological and neither is expressing a love of America qua America, but rather a love of what they think America should be.

Update #3, 10/7/07: Apparently, President Clinton would agree with me--and said as much in a graduation address at the University of Michigan in 1995.

I say to you, all of you, the members of the Class of 1995, there is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government. There is nothing heroic about turning your back on America, or ignoring your own responsibilities. If you want to preserve your own freedom, you must stand up for the freedom of others with whom you disagree. But you also must stand up for the rule of law. You cannot have one without the other.

He said more.

Let me remind you once again that our best days as a nation still lie before us. But we must not give in to fear or use the frustrations of the moment as an excuse to walk from the obligations of citizenship...Make the most of the opportunities and freedoms America has given to you. Be optimistic; be strong. (emphasis mine--Darren)


Who am I to argue with Bill Clinton's words? In this case, he was absolutely correct. And based on the number of times he was interrupted by applause, the audience at UM agreed with him as well.

16 comments:

Mike said...

Here's a simple method of measuring patriotism: If the comments and actions of the person to be measured were applied to their spouse instead of America, would a reasonable person believe that they liked, to say nothing of loved, their spouse? If not, they are, by their own words and actions, decidely unpatriotic.

Not a valid comparison, some might say. On the contrary, most of us who truly love our spouses would die for them if necessary. True patriots would also die for America (and their spouses would understand, not blame America). I can think of few more direct and relevant comparisons.

Ellen K said...

I don't have a problem with dissent. But I was raised that you don't criticize a situation unless you have a solution. As I see it now, criticism for the sake of criticism has become a sort of mental exercise and social self-stimulation. It does nothing other that give the speaker the aura of being the Grand High Radical. It does nothing to change or improve the status quo. And sadly, even if they were given everything on their slate of desires, these same people would not be happy because they all want their pet projects, their petty desires and their needy egos stroked. You cannot fight with a mindset that wants every detail their own way. Even the Democrats are having mighty internal struggles with this. And it is only going to get worse.

Erica said...

Ellen, I was raised similarly to you I see. No complaining unless I was prepared to roll up my sleeves and fix it.

I wonder sometimes, of the "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" crowd, exactly which country are they being patriotic to? Usually turns out to be the EU.

Anonymous said...

Jacob told me you had an answer for my patriotism question, I figured it was on your blog. Yeah, i think this defintion addresses the problems of the last definition, it allows dissent but only with different and constuctive policy options. If I understand your view then, people who just say "Iraq war bad" are being unpatriotic but people who say "Iraq war bad and here is what i would do to end American invovlment and then design a policy" are patrotic. If thats the view than I agree. Hows the year going?

Evan

Darren said...

Good to hear from you, Evan!

You came close. "Iraq War is bad" isn't necessarily unpatriotic if it's supported by reasonable, reasoned facts. "Iraq War is stupid and wasteful, and George Bush is the worst president we've ever had" isn't patriotic by any reasonable definition of the term.

Remember, the key components are "optimism" and "love", not politics and hate. The comparisons to parenting and marriage were especially illuminating for me.

The year is going fine. I'm teaching Geometry, but that's how the ball bounces. Other than that, there isn't much new under the sun. If there is, you'll find it here on the blog!

Thanks for checking in.

PhillyChief said...

Was Rosa Parks a patriot? Dr. King? Susan B. Anthony and the Suffragettes? Frederick Douglas and the Abolitionists who ran the Underground Railroad?

Dissent is not AUTOMATICALLY patriotic, but nor is it automatically not patriotic. To dissent in hopes of bringing about a better America can be nobly patriotic and not simply a quixotic fantasy. Just as our forefathers dissented and openly revolted against the tyranny of King George, so to have great leaders dissented in our country, to help shape our nation to be more worthy of patriotic pride.

What your post here reeks of is the Alien & Sedition Acts. I have not read anything else on this blog, for this was an accidental find from a Google search, but I'm truly frightened to read more.

Darren said...

You're an idiot. I never said dissent was *not* patriotic, I said it is not *necessarily* patriotic. Then I defined patriotism as an optimistic creed, etc.

This post has nothing to do with the Alien and Sedition Acts. Nothing I've written here could be construed by a reasonable person as "My country, right or wrong", which I explicitly identified as nationalism (which I do not support).

As for the civil rights heroes, I'll just ask you to type "Rosa Parks" into the search field at the top of my blog page and see what you find. Rosa Parks, et. al., didn't badmouth or hate their country, they tried to improve it. They brought freedom to others; too many today on the left try to deny freedom and enforce their beliefs down the throats of others--see my 7/20/08 post called They Mean To Govern.

You read this post through the very heavy blinders of your own ideology. Should you come back, please read what I wrote instead of what you think I wrote.

Next!

Darren said...

Oops, 7/19/08, not 7/20.

And did you read Bill Clinton's words, which I quoted in Update #3 (currently the last part of the post)?

PhillyChief said...

Well there's a great way to have a reasonable discussion, call people idiots. Very nice.

I won't be so rude as to call you an idiot, but your suggestion that "lefties" are against personal freedoms and Constitutional law is, well, grossly inaccurate. If your proof of this is Jerry Brown's efforts, you should quit now. It's the "lefties" that have been fighting against the present administration to defend the Constitution. Personal freedoms? Do you realize the "terrorist watch list" in our country is up to 1 million names? Does that not concern you of its efficacy or true intents?

Anyway, true, you did say "dissent is not necessarily patriotic", but your post and your following updates imply it is a negative, or at the very least offer nothing positive about it. Certainly #2 paints it unfavorably, and that's what vexed me enough to comment. Update #3 is also frightening if those students followed his advice. Now to defend Clinton, he could not of foreseen the Bush administration or this complacent Congress. I most certainly can love my country and hate this government, and that's because I also stand up for the freedom of others and stand up for the rule of law, which is something the current government does not exhibit.

Darren said...

Here we go again, it's all Bush's fault. What are you going to do when the Bush bugaboo is gone in a few months?

If you wanted rational and reasonable discourse, you didn't indicate it by your first comment. You didn't do any better in your last comment. I don't sense that you want discourse at all, just another venue for you to whine. I'm done providing that venue.

Christopher Fahey said...

I wonder what you'd say about patriotism and nationalism now, in 2009, given the American right's exact reproduction of the rhetoric of the American liberal critique of Bush, lock stock and barrel.

The foul and extreme language, the Hitler analogies, the denial of the President's legitimacy, the "I want my country back mentality". They're all back, but the other side is using them now.

Although this time there are literally GOP lawmakers -- by the hundreds, mind you, in the national and many state and even local legislatures -- who wish to (and have even succeeded in some localities) enact legislation questioning or even denying the President's legal occupancy of the office. Let's also throw in the secessionist movements that have sprung up in a half dozen states, including the elected GOP officials who have given credibility to those movements (including several Southern governors!). And for good measure, let's also include the brazen display of firearms by anti-Obama protestors, only a hundred feet from the President himself, and the disruptions of public forums, including a joint session of Congress.

It's hard for even the slightest shred of your argument to hold any water whatsoever now that the table has turned 180 degrees. If anything, the conservative side has shown itself exceedingly more than equal to your definition of "unpatriotic". I mean, claiming (or even entertaining the possibility for a second!) that the President is a socialist Muslim born in another country... how is that anything other than "airing our national dirty laundry", especially to someone who actually believes it? It's one thing to apologetically tell the world that we imprisoned Japanese citizens during WWII, it's another to tell the world we elected a spy and a fraud to the White House.

Which brings me to my point: It's not that I think the aforementioned conservatives are unpatriotic (well, the secessionists certainly are by any definition of the word). It's merely that I think that your argument is a pile of baloney -- a pile that I am confident that, upon fair-minded intellectual reflection on recent events, you would be happy to put between two slices of bread and eat.

Christopher Fahey said...

Your first paragraphs still mostly hold up: Nationalism *is* my country, right or wrong. It's just that, in a free democracy like ours, the idea of "my country" is so fluid that peaceniks, Klansmen, anti-abortion activists, environmentalists, tax-abolishers, immigrants, evangelists, gays and gay-haters, rural people and city people, and Democrats, Republicans, and independents can all sometimes feel like "their country" is under the thrall of something alien or abnormal: A madness of hatred, as it was in the Confederacy; a fear of Communism, as it was during the Cold War. People think that when they are not getting their way, when they are not in control, the other side must have cheated. And when the national government is a symbol of that cheating, people's patriotism wanes.

My definition of patriotism is simply this: Do you want to look out for your fellow Americans, or for yourself? How you go about doing this is open to interpretation -- criticising the government (or even joining it), joining the military, donating to charities, whatever. Nationalism is a form of patriotism, but without any of that dissent. In fact, Nationalism *depends* on the idea that there are traitors in our midst.

I agree that a patriot is, as you say, optimistic. A Nationalist is a patriot who has gone mad, who has lost the optimism and who sees enemies. I agree that many on the extreme left periodically, when they feel out of power, lose some of their sense of camaraderie with their fellow Americans who differ in opinion. What they do is turn to nihilism, a sense of useless complaint and misery, and occasionally angry. I would venture to say, however, that it is the extreme right who turns that feeling into nationalism, who allows the disempowerment to foment a sense of being betrayed, cheated, and to develop a narrative that foreign, insurgent, and tyrranical forces have stolen the country -- and that they deserve to be violently or radically opposed.

Note I said extreme. I think most liberals and conservatives in the mainstream don't fall prey to either nihilism or nationalism. They simply channel their patriotism into activism by blogging, campaigning, and speaking out, just as you do here.

Christopher Fahey said...

One more thought: About the marriage analogy. That is perfect.

Do couples fight? Sure they do. Sometimes it gets ugly, with name calling and raised tempers. That's normal.

When you see that your spouse is having extreme problems, your love can and should drive you to certain extraordinary but civil actions.

For example, an alcoholic or addicted spouse needs to be stopped, hard. They need to be told that they have problems. The people who enable those problems, no matter how beloved they are to your spouse, need to be separated from your spouse.

Airing dirty laundry? That's called an intervention. That's when you call in people you trust and who also love your spouse to help. A relationship with a spouse is not just between you and your spouse -- it's a community of family, churches, friends, colleagues.

Advocating secession and brandishing firearms? That's, respectively, divorce and spousal abuse. Not exactly "for better or worse".

What if your spouse is having affairs, stealing money, smoking crack? Well, if you blame those problems on other people instead of holding your spouse (and yourself!) accountable for those actions... Well, that's nationalism.

Darren said...

Chris, I stand by my points. Let's ignore the crazies on either side and just stick with normal people. I don't see conservatives "threatening" to move to Britain, hoping that we lose wars, and/or badmouthing our country. We object to the President's policies, not to the country. That's why we're *patriots*, we want what's best for the country.

Seems to me that many of you libs can't accept that, having spent 8 years hating a man *and* our country. That's why you like our Apologizer In Chief, who zips around the world offering mea culpas for everything America has ever done wrong whilst ignoring the towering list of what we've done right.

Christopher Fahey said...

So the Governor of Texas, who "threatened" secession is not a patriot?

I will agree that liberals who move to England in protest of their government's policies lack a certain patriotism, and I'll even concede that those who threaten to do so need to look a little harder at whether or not they love all their neighbors.

But how you can go from "ignore the crazies on either side" in one sentence, then claim that liberals, including me personally, "hate" our country and hope that we lose wars, is beyond me. I'd call you a hypocrite, but your 180 degree flip with your words speak for themselves.

I know about a thousand people who are liberals (and far fewer conservatives, admittedly). Gay-loving, tax-approving, socialist-health-care desiring, internment-condemning, Bush-hating, slavery-apologizing, dyed in the wool liberals. And not one of them hates this country, nor ever wanted to leave it, nor ever insulted the military. Not one ever used a gun to intimidate the President and his supporters, nor advocated secession, either. Not one ever said "this is not my country", (except maybe in a state of drunken melancholy!) or "I want my country back". Not one ever painted a Hilter moustache on any President Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan, or anyone. Not one of them.

And not one conservative I know ever did any of the above, either.

My point? That you know little to nothing about liberals beyond, apparently, a cartoonish stereotype. It's hard to be a patriot when you think that so many -- so very, very many millions of them -- of your fellow Americans are such awful, awful unpatriotic people. You are so jaded that you made assumptions about me even though you know nothing about me. I never even said anything about you personally.

I spent this morning surrounded by thousands of Firefighters from around the country, running to the World Trade Center site to commemorate 9/11. When Chuck Schumer came up to speak, they cheered their guts out. Make of that what you will.

Darren said...

I'm a teacher in California, and you think I don't know about liberals? I know one thing for sure, they *always* think they're superior--morally, intellectually, probably even physically--to conservatives. Of course, I don't know anything about liberals! How could I, as a stupid conservative?!

If you want to have a reasoned debate, fine. But please leave the self-congratulatory egotism behind. And check out this post:
http://rightontheleftcoast.blogspot.com/2008/06/patriotism.html
I even quote and agree with Bill Clinton in it.