The Why of Patriotism

suribachi

 

Yes, I do have thoughts on people who don’t identify with any country, specifically. Not so much for those who don’t identify with any religion or company or other faction, but I suppose it could apply to those too.

Teddy Roosevelt said ‘The Man who loves another country as much as his own is morally equivalent to the Man who loves another woman as much as his own.” I think it follows that ‘The Man who loves no country is morally equivalent to the Man who loves no woman.’ 

(gender theorists, don’t even get started- “man” and “woman” can be replaced with “person” or “partner” or something gender-neutral and non-heteronormative and it will mean exactly the same thing. Not committing to something greater than yourself is the thing at stake here.)

Anyway, sorry for digressing. ‘The Man who loves no country is morally equivalent to the Man who loves no woman.’ ‘The man who loves no woman’ is probably not a bad man. He is probably a decent enough person, who works hard, doesn’t harm others, builds himself, and is a generally all-around good person. But he’s missing something from his life, and without the maturity and joy that flow from partnership, he remains a single individual- he does not go forth to create a family, and he cannot become a full man united in civilization by the social bonds of exclusive love. He does not become more than a man.

It is the same with the man who loves no country. He is probably a decent enough person, he probably works hard, he probably doesn’t harm others, and he probably builds himself and is a general all-around good person. But he’s missing something essential to human life- he’s missing the social bonds of exclusive love, and cannot become a full man united in civilization. He cannot become more than a man.

And again, gender theorists- you know precisely what I mean. A penis and a proclivity towards liking vaginas are not what I’m talking about. I say ‘man’ in the archaic sense- a full human being, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, depending not on first principles but on the choice to LIVE.

So, long story short, I don’t think non-patriots are bad people. I just don’t think they’re getting everything they could be getting out of life, and I don’t think they’re contributing to the higher purposes binding nations.

***

In response to your individual points:

Mindless nationalism- the kind you see at the world cup, the kind you see being peddled by demagogues to the mobs of democracy, the kind that inspires hatred and chauvinism- that is the caricature of nationalism which those who believe in cosmopolitanism have portrayed. And that is not nationalism or patriotism as it ought to be. Here is the CIA’s take. Bear in mind CIA officers can’t be jingos, can’t be Murica-sayers, can’t be flag-wavers and can’t be blatant nationalists. They display true patriotism as it ought best be displayed:
“We put country first and Agency before self. Quiet patriotism is our hallmark.”

You are right that it is ridiculous and dangerous to mindlessly hawk American ideals- but the key word here is mindlessly. 

And you are right that everything ought to be questioned. But that does not mean that we ought never have faith ever. Were we to have entire prudence, and were prudence the only necessary virtue for life, perhaps complete skepticism would be worthwhile. But the fact is, vigor is equally necessary for life, and from vigor sprouts faith, allegiance, and dedication to causes greater than self. It’s a paradox and it doesn’t make rational sense- and that’s what makes it human.

***

You are also right to question why anyone must bear allegiance to something they had no choice in affiliating with, though I must say that it seems to be a very adolescent perspective. The fact of the matter is that though Man has free will, Man is not born free. He is born with imperfect body, born into a torn and bloody world, born into an exclusive family, born to a historical epoch he had no choice in entering, born with DNA he did not design, born to a country he never chose. Oh yes, he has free will, and that is one of the most beautiful things about human life; but he is born with one foot in freedom and one in slavery to fate, one foot in choice and one foot in necessity, one foot in paradise, one in the waste. There’s no logical explanation, there’s no escape. The fact is: that’s the way things are. Men are born in and to times, families, countries, nations, and though the worst excesses of class and privilege can indeed be curbed, the fundamental reality of unchosen birth is a fact of human existence.

Might as well make best use of it. 

The nice thing about citizenship, though, is that it can be both born and chosen. The link between Man and the State is therefore one that transcends most paradigms and is truly an organic yet artificial relationship, one defined both by will and fate, a mystery that can never be solved. 

Part of the beauty of human life is those things which can’t be controlled- and that is why its beauty is fundamentally tragic, at its very core.

Anyhow, there are a multiplicity of identifications and factions and communities which we can enter, some of which are natural, others of which are artificial, all of which are communities. There’s no staying in one while avoiding the other. 

***

I will close with something that has made me feel guilty for the longest time.

Why do people sacrifice their lives, fortunes, and sacred honors for the idea of the nation? Why do soldiers, spies, and diplomats do what they do, and give what they give? It’s not rational. It’s not selfish, it’s not about self-expression, and it’s not about utilitarian sacrifice. It’s much more sublime, and much more beautiful.

I ask you, and everyone who questions the benefit of patriotism: Can you stand before the men and women of the United States Military, the National Clandestine Service, the United States Foreign Service, and all those other agencies and departments and services whose missions center on the preservation of the American republic against all enemies foreign and domestic- can you stand before these men and women who give so much, whose comrades so often make the ultimate sacrifice, and tell them that their ideals, their careers, their very lives, mean NOTHING? That they are part of the problem? That they are not noble, but despicable or otherwise misguided? That the country they fight for and its ideals are not worth defending, and that they instead ought to retire to their homes to “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we shall die?”

They are a different and greater breed of human than most of us, and there is something, I think, which every citizen ought to learn from them. Here is the Preamble to the American Legion’s constitution, in my opinion the greatest oath of citizenship ever pledged.

“FOR GOD AND COUNTRY WE ASSOCIATE OURSELVES TOGETHER
FOR THE FOLLOWING PURPOSES:
To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America;
To maintain law and order;
To foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism;
To preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars;
To inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation;
To combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses;
To make right the master of might;
To promote peace and goodwill on earth;
To safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy;
To consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.”

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