Monday, October 13, 2014

Whence patriotism?

Where does patriotism come from? On an evolutionary level, oe might try to trace it, as Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson did, to the aggressive loyalty that is seen in some other primates.
"Unfortunately, there appears something special about foreign policy in the hands of males. Among humans and chimpanzees, at least, male coalitionary groups often go beyond defense (typical of monkey matriarchies) to include unprovoked aggression, which suggests that our own intercommunity conflicts might be less terrible if they were conducted on behalf of women's rather than men's interests. Primate communities organized around male interests naturally tend to follow male strategies and, thanks to sexual selection, tend to seek power with an almost unbounded enthusiasm. In a nutshell: Patriotism breeds aggression."
As the U.S. Secretary of Defense once put it: "The Department of Defense is optimistic about the underlying patriotism of our youth in the face of national crisis." If the patriotism is "underlying," this may be due to cultural influences, but it may also be an evolutionary heritage and a common feature of the adolescent mind. Why, furthermore, would a military official feel "optimistic" about such an attitude? Perhaps because patriotism is the moral fuel of the war machine. "Therefore," Tolstoy said, "to destroy war, destroy patriotism."

Isak Dinesen suggested channeling that energy into caring for people in a way that is more universally applied.
"Now, while the concept of patriotism is still not a century old, humanity surely has courage and imagination enough to take the huge step of encompassing the race itself, the whole of humanity, with the same feeling of responsibility, the same burning desire to serve."


Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson. Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996. p 233.

Caspar W. Weinberger, Secretary of Defense, Foreword to Martin Anderson, The Military Draft, p xvi.

Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-violence. New York: Bergman Publishers, 1967. p 140.

Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]. On Modern Marriage and Other Observations (1924). Translated by Anne Born. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986. p. 87.

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