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What is patriotism?

"Patriotism is another form of isolationistic practice where one group believes it is better than another," said Ralph Minogue. For Tolstoy:

It is quite possible that governments regard this sentiment [patriotism] as both useful and desirable, and of service to the unity of the State; but one must see that this sentiment is by no means elevated, but, on the contrary, very stupid and immoral. Stupid, because if every country were to consider itself superior to others, it is evident that all but one would be in error; and immoral because it leads all who possess it to aim at benefiting their own country or nation at the expense of every other--an inclination exactly at variance with the fundamental moral law, which all admit, 'Do not unto others as you would not wish them to do unto you.' * * * Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience, and a slavish enthralment to those in power. And as such it is recommended wherever it is preached. Patriotism is slavery.
The word patriotism itself "is not one of my words," said Oscar Wilde.

One of its perversions is the use of galvanizing symbols in place of arguments: "...Von Hoffman razzes what he called 'flagolatry,' a fetish employed in 'bamboozling the moron masses with showy irrationalities,'" said Eric Felten.

Bill Moyers bemoaned:

The flag's been hijacked and turned into a logo – the trademark of a monopoly on patriotism. On those Sunday morning talk shows, official chests appear adorned with the flag as if it is the good housekeeping seal of approval. During the State of the Union, did you notice Bush and Cheney wearing the flag? How come? No administration's patriotism is ever in doubt, only its policies. And the flag bestows no immunity from error. When I see flags sprouting on official lapels, I think of the time in China when I saw Mao's little red book on every official's desk, omnipresent and unread.

As the word "flagolatry" suggests, this can carry religious fervor. Paul Von Ward:

Leaders in the U.S. government in the 1950s wanted the phrase "under God" added to the American pledge of allegiance to evoke a supernatural religious archetype. Repeating the phrase on a regular basis energizes the sense of a chosen people whose leadership is blessed with divine power to carry out God's destiny for the country. People now resist the idea of removing it because they don't want to give up the feeling of psychological security or superiority evoked by the archetype.

Chris Hedges:

We all stoke and feed the fires of symbolic mythic narratives about our nation, our times and ourselves to give meaning, coherence, and purpose to our lives. The danger arises when the myths we tell about ourselves endow us with divine power, when we believe that it is our role to shape and direct human destiny, for then we seek to become gods. We can do this in the name of Jesus, Mohammed, or Western civilization. The result for those who defy us is the same: repression and often death.
Taking another perspective, Gandhi understood patriotism as the pursuit of a people's well-being.
My patriotism does not teach me that I am to allow people to be crushed under the heel of Indian princes if only the English retire. If I have the power, I should resist the tyranny of Indian princes just as much as that of the English. By patriotism I mean the welfare of the whole people, and if I could secure it at the hands of the English, I should bow down my head to them. If any Englishman dedicated his life to securing the freedom of India, resisting tyranny and serving the land, I should welcome that Englishman as an Indian.

If patriotism is not bad, neither is it sufficient substitute for other virtues. "Patriotism is not enough," said Edith Cowell. "I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.
" She was a nurse in World War I who treated everyone regardless of nationality.


Ralph Minogue. Responsibility To, Responsibility For. Baltimore: AmErica House, 2000. p 190.

Tolstoy's Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-violence. New York: Bergman Publishers, 1967. pp. 97, 103.

Oscar Wilde, quoted by Jonathan Glover in Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century. Yale University Press, 2001 (originally 1999). p 18.

Eric Felten. Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011. p. 240. Quoting Nicholas Von Hoffman, Hoax: Why Americans are Suckered by White House Lies (New York: Nation Books, 2004), pp. 36-37.

"A democracy can die of too many lies." An address given by Bill Moyers at the National Conference for Media Reform in 2005.

Paul Von Ward. Gods, Genes, and Consciousness: Nonhuman intervention in human history. Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads Publishing Co., 2004. p. 230.

Chris Hedges. I Don't Believe in Atheists. Audiobook. CD 1, Track 6.

Gandhi. Quoted by Sari Nusseibeh. What is a Palestinian State Worth? Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011. pp. 199-200.

Cowell made the statement in Brussels on Oct. 12, 1915. It is inscribed on a statue in St. Martin's Place, London.


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