Balkinization  

Monday, June 18, 2007

Blood on the Hands of the State

Brian Tamanaha

Sandy’s reflections below on states within Europe that might possibly break apart reminded me of two stunning historical books. Jonathan Glover’s Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (1999) presents a detailed catalogue of the unrelenting carnage that we inflicted upon one another in the 20th Century. Martin van Creveld’s The Rise and Decline of the State (1999) describes the emergence and consolidation of state power over several centuries, a tale dripping in the blood of innumerable people.

The State emerges as a primary villain in both histories. Whether in the name of some ideology, or some image of national purity or dominance, or in the name of religion, or simply to plunder, states have time and again massacred their own people, or conscripted their own people and flung them at others to kill and be killed. The number of human lives extinguished by states, and in the name of states, well exceeds a hundred million.

Learn this history and you will see the price patriotism exacts. For many reasons, I feel fortunate to have been born in the United States, but I don’t love my country. It has no love for any of us. A cold, manipulative, object of affection, the state fans patriotism, then asks those who love it deeply to prove their love by dying or sacrificing their limbs for it.

It will not happen in my lifetime, but I look forward to the day when states are no more. As difficult as it is to imagine what a political future without states might look like, the state system is a relatively recent innovation in human history and there is no reason to think we will be burdened with states forever.

Many contemporary political theorists write about the evident decline of states in this age of globalization. States are losing power at the top by subjecting themselves to transnational entities (EU, WTO), while internally dividing into smaller units (Sandy’s observations). States have already lost a great deal of power in economic affairs. Even internal policing, one of the original missions of the state, is giving over to private security, or acceding to urban pockets with uncontrolled anarchy or vigilante community enforcement of order.

If states do become obsolete or impotent and irrelevant, humanity will be better for it. We might still kill and maim one another, as human imperfection seems require at some level, but absent the state's capacity to mobilize populations, and to incite and channel slaughter with efficient killing technology, it won’t be done on such a massive scale.

Of course, it's not, in the end, states that do these horrific things to people, for states cannot act. A state is an abstraction that takes its concrete form in organized government bureaucracies. Those who kill, while keeping their hands free of blood and their bodies safe, are the people who control the levers of the state, those who revel in the will to power.

Comments:

Dude, *please* tell me that you have tenure, and that "I don't love my country" is not going to be quoted at any tenure review meetings.

I mean, arguably you wouldn't want to teach at a school that would hold that against you, but still.
 

I'm as hesitant to support an account of the "state" that begins at the Treaty of Westphalia as I am Anderson's (a different one, I believe?) account of the "nation" that begins with the printing press.

Of course, Clevald is talking about the "modern state," which makes me wonder whether the heartlessness and/or villainy lies more in the conditions of modernity than in the state organization itself. Good luck extricating those concepts from one another!
 

I guess I don't understand this. States aren't really any different, at some level, than any other human organization, from religion to sports team. The problem with any of these is not the loyalty and even love we give to them, per se, but the fact that sometimes people give that love unconditionally. That's a mistake we make with people too, but we don't, and shouldn't, stop loving them just because that love is sometimes abused. It seems to me better to guard against the abuse than to give up the emotion. As said in one of the best episodes of the best TV show ever:

"Angelus: (narrates) It hurts sometimes more than we can bear.
***
Angelus: (narrates) If we could live without passion, maybe we'd know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow.
***
Angelus: (narrates) Empty rooms, shuttered and dank...
***
Angelus: (narrates) Without passion, we'd be truly dead."
 

Brian,

Might we make a distinction for some purposes between patriotism and nationalism? I feel some connection to this country and its institutions, but especially the Constitution. Moreover, given the choice and opportunity, I would choose to live here rather than anywhere else (although I admit to not being that knowledgeable about the intimate living conditions in many countries). This sentiment I would christen "patriotic," whereas nationalism is a rather different beast, often dependent on a mythological politics of identity of some sort in which one's peculiar form of identity trumps all others. More of course could be said, but suffice to say I'm concerned about any conflation of a reasonable patriotism with a xenophobic, particularist, racist, etc. nationalism that diminishes, demeans or denies the humanity of "the Other." The patriotism I have in mind here would be perfectly compatible with a sophisticated sort of cosmpolitanism (e.g., Nussbaum or Caney). I too look forward to the withering away of the State, but for now I'm only a philosophical anarchist and the affection I have for my country is perfectily compatible with an equivalent sentiment by others for their country. And this affection for one's country does not entail any necessary endosement of this or that party or government in power.
 

Yes, I look forward to the rise of corporations as the sole political actors. They will have the foresight to cope with global warming and its geopolitical consequences.
If we could simply de-mobilize populations, your wish for the withering of the state might make sense. But the global flows of capitalism need to be checked by actors with at least token accountability to the population outside of the cash nexus. If you have an alternative in mind, let us know.
 

I agree with Mark and Partick, above.

Love of family leads to murders, too, but I don't look to the withering of parenthood.

That's a weak analogy, I know, but it's the same point that Mark makes-- the fact that love, or allegiance, leads to bad acts doesn't mean that all love, or all allegiance, is wrong.

I feel deep, deep allegiance to and love for this country because, in part, representative democracy and capitalism with social safety nets are the best system humans have yet hit upon for development and human freedom.

I am acutely aware of the grievous errors that we've made. A true patriot can never be too aware of his nation's flaws and mistakes.

But we have still been the most benevolent great power in world history and, despite the past 7 years, we retain the capacity to do good. And I'd rather be born into poverty in the US than in many other places (which doesn't, of course, mean that we should then ignore the issue of poverty). I can call the president a poopypants right here in public, in front of God and everybody, and not fear punishment.

When criticizing a given arrangement, it's always important to bear in mind, "but what is the alternative?" The end of history, and the end of the nation-state, are Hegelian abstractions at this point.

I guess you wouldn't necessarily disagree with any of that, Brian, but to me, it all adds up to a social construct that merits allegiance. Not "my country right or wrong, let's go kill us some foreigners" nationalism, but deep allegiance.
 

Bravo Professor Tamanaha,

your post echoes exactly the famous Twain maxim, loyalty to your country always, to your government when it deserves it.

you accurately point out that the State has become divorced from its original goal of providing a rule of law, social services and pertection.

as power corrupts, the State, which I would define as the government to separate it from the people it supposedly represents, has become the captive of rich, multi-national corporations.

the same corps. that donate to their campaigns, give them speaking engagements and hire them as lobbyists, consultants and board members.

so, what to do...

the founding father said the tree of liberty must be sprinkled from time to time with the blood of patriots.

sandy levinson thinks we need a constitutional convention...

basically, the people need to exercise their oversight of the STATE.

local decentralization is most likely in reaction to a power vacum on local issues combined with an effort to respond democratically to perceived deficiencies in State regulation of the environment, economy, health services and energy.

the pendulum is swinging the other way and I think populism is going to be a major force in the future whether SCOTUS goes along or not.

it is not unAmerican to criticize the State or the Country when it deviates from the ideals it professes to hold dear.

Thanks again Professor for raising this issue. I wait for a day when we once again have a responsible government focussed on the hard job of making America the best place in the world to live for everybody.
 

I want to add that one of the reasons I despise Bush so much is that he's destroying something I love. If I didn't have that pre-existing emotion, I think my response to Bush would be much less intense, more detached, than what I actually feel.
 

Garth:

I fail to see how anything Mark Twain ever wrote or said translates to "I don’t love my country."
 

Points to Charles for showing the reason behind Anderson's post above.
 

I saw the same concept, elsewhere recently:

From Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly

We all know, from unending repetitions of Lord Acton's dictum, that power corrupts. We are less aware that it breeds folly; that the power to command frequently causes failure to think; that the responsibility of power often faddes as its exercise augments. The overall responsibility of power is to govern as reasonably as possible in the interest of the state and its citizens. A duty in that process is to keep well-informed, to heed information, to keep mind and judgment open and to resist the insidious spell of wooden-headedness. If the mind is open enough to perceive that a given policy is harming rather than serving self-interest, and self-confident enough to acknowledge it, and wise enough to reverse it, that is a summit in the art of government.

States, corporations, NGOs; all can be guilty of the above.
 

I agree with Fraud Guy. Fear of government is, in effect, fear of power. Government can be shrunk or even abolished; power cannot.

One reason the creation of states was so bloody was that the ruler was crushing rival centers of power (an armed and independent nobility). If the state withers away, power will simply be relocated elsewhere. Corporations and rival warlords are the main alternatives. Beware the danger that as power moves away from states, another round of bloodshed as other rivals fight for the power the state relignquished. (See, for instance, the former Soviet Union).

Also, I think it is a bit premature to count states out. Compare the size, scope and power of the state in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th century, and the trend is one of steady increase. We have a long way to go to shrink states back to what they were in, say, the 16th century. And when you look seriously at what that would entail, I am not sure anyone here except Brett would want to.
 

I disagree with the distinction some commenters make between "good" patriotism and "bad" nationalism. They are at base the same beast: conditioned, unreflective loyalty to one's state/nation/team. Think of the archetype of patriotic tradition in this country, kids standing with hands on hearts repeating "I pledge allegiance to the flag..." in unison every morning. This is not, in my view, a "sophisticated sort of cosmopolitanism" or even something very compatible therewith. It is exactly the opposite: creating in our citizens a conditioned reaction in support of our team instead of thoughtful, rational consideration of whether support or criticism is appropriate in any given instance. Perhaps it does more good than bad and we'd be worse off living without patriotism/nationalism, but I think we should be honest about why they are useful--and its not to foster thoughtful, sophisticated cosmopolitism.
 

What body would protect individual liberties in a post-State era?

What about preserving cultural diversity?
 

I disagree with the distinction some commenters make between "good" patriotism and "bad" nationalism. They are at base the same beast: conditioned, unreflective loyalty to one's state/nation/team. Think of the archetype of patriotic tradition in this country, kids standing with hands on hearts repeating "I pledge allegiance to the flag..." in unison every morning.

I see what you describe as exactly the "bad nationalism" that's been criticized.

creating in our citizens ... thoughtful, rational consideration of whether support or criticism is appropriate in any given instance.

And this is the "good patriotism" which I, at least, have in mind.
 

I think expecting school children to understand "thoughtful, rational consideration of whether support or criticism is appropriate in any given instance" or "thoughtful, sophisticated cosmopolitism" in elementary school is, after all, asking a lot.

I do agree that we should be teaching "thoughtful, rational consideration of whether support or criticism is appropriate in any given instance," and not just as an attitude toward government, but toward all things. But these traits take time and maturity to fully develop.
 

quitealarmed--

Most of the post state scenarios I have read (science fiction, the home of thinking about the future) tend towards one of three options: either a gritty personal struggle against corporate omnipresence, a stifling, stagnant bureaucratic superstate (a la EU), or the creation of a benevolent supervisory entity (usually AI based) which allows personal anarchy while operating the support system in the background.

Unfortunately, I think the first option is most likely, followed by a semi-status quo.
 

Patrick, Mark and others who defend patriotism,

I understand and have experienced the sentiment, of course. I still feel residual pride when the U.S. does something good, and embarassment and pain when it does something bad (often, lately). It's hard to free oneself from years of socialization and standing for the flag at events.

Here is my question for you: What good does "patriotism" as such bring?

I am not suggesting that we owe no obligations to the polity we live under--for example to pay taxes to support others in our community, and to provide for roads and security. My objection is that nothing special follows just because it is "our" polity, one that we identify with, and one that demands our love and affection.

I object because this affection has led to much death and destruction in the history of human kind.

Brian
 

Mark,

I'd be very pleased if patriotism existed as you say it does, but I think yours is a pretty idiosyncratic definition (or, then again, maybe mine is?). Your sense of patriotism seems to come from the "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" school, but I think that quote resonates with people precisely because it is contrary to what most people think of as patriotic behavior. Its about love, devotion, loyalty. Its visceral. It makes your spine tingle.

Maybe the meanings have evolved and I'm not accurately representing them, but etymologically, I thought the terms nationalism and patriotism developed as analogues for love and devotion for one's ethnic nation-state and love and devotion for one's political country. I really don't think patriotism is commonly understood as some kind of a "thinking-man's nationalism."

Patriotism and knowledge of its repercussions is what makes people like the first commenter gasp at hearing the professor say "I don't love my country."
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

What good does "patriotism" as such bring?

A commitment to defending, preserving, and advancing a country's positive attributes and actions.

When someone like Glenn Greenwald criticizes mistakes we've made, his passion for the subject comes through. He is driven to learn about, and defend, this country's positive attributes, because of his patriotism.

Maybe if we were starting a Sim World, you could make a case that patriotism should be a dirty word. But in this ever-changing world in which we live in, of diverse peoples and governments, some level of well-grounded commitment to one's country seems to be part of the deal.

It is always, always worth asking, "why is the patriotism you describe more moral than the patriotism that led the Soviets to supress dissidents and invade Poland and Czechoslovakia?" But given the utility, grounding, and seeming inescapability of patriotism, I can't see dismissing it altogether.
 

Brian Tamanaha @ 4:13 pm: "I am not suggesting that we owe no obligations to the polity we live under--for example to pay taxes to support others in our community, and to provide for roads and security. My objection is that nothing special follows just because it is "our" polity, one that we identify with, and one that demands our love and affection."

I'm still trying to pin down exactly what you're saying here. (My first attempt at commenting was obviously wrong after I had a chance to think a little harder.) Are you saying that members of polities do have obligations to those polities who do in fact benefit them, but those obligations don't extend as far as, well, the obligations people have traditionally identified as patriotic duties? Exactly what are those patriotic duties that fail to be justified, in your view? It can't be the obligation to provide for collective security (e.g. by, say, serving in the military), since you've included providing for security as one of the obligations members of polities DO have, in your view.

Perhaps I just lack the patriotic gene that everyone else has, but can you fill me in on what further obligations aren't justified under your view?
 

What good does "patriotism" as such bring?

This reminds me of the old question for utilitarians: of what use is a baby?

I think real patriotism -- not the phony, my-country-right-or-wrong, bullying conformism -- is just as natural as preferring one's own family to any other. In some sense, there's no "good" in me preferring my own children over all the others in the world. But I do.

The good this brings is the dedication to making it better:

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

As I suggested above, if I didn't have that emotional attachment, why should I really care what Bush does? If I felt as distant from America as I do from Saudi Arabia, I'd spend just as much time and energy trying to correct the flaws of the former as the latter.

I'd be very pleased if patriotism existed as you say it does, but I think yours is a pretty idiosyncratic definition (or, then again, maybe mine is?).

I have to agree that far too many people define "patriotism" to require reflexive, unthinking reaction to criticism. Some people define "love" as "obsession". The solution, it seems to me, is to do everything we can to correct the abuse, not throw the (unutilitarian) baby out with the bathwater.

Maybe the meanings have evolved and I'm not accurately representing them, but etymologically, I thought the terms nationalism and patriotism developed as analogues for love and devotion for one's ethnic nation-state and love and devotion for one's political country.

The modern use of "patriotism" dates, I believe, to the Tory-Whig disputes surrounding the English Revolution and its aftermath. A "patriot" was someone who was willing to place the interests of his country above his own personal interests. That seems to be how Bolingbroke meant it, anyway.

The Country ideology adapted that usage as an essential component of republican government. It's apparent, for example, in Montesquieu and in the widespread belief that republics could exist only where citizens had "virtue" ("virtue" in this context meant "patriotism").

Now, this certainly can be abused. In our more liberal era we can even doubt whether such "virtue" ever actually exists. But as I suggested above, I think there's a use for a less (as they would say in the Enlightenment) enthusiastic version of the concept.

I always associate nationalism with the 19th C and think of it as a bastard child of patriotism. To me, nationalism was born of the potential abuse of patriotism in conjunction with an emphasis on ethnic and cultural differences. That was unforgiveable, and I think it lingers in the form of pseudo-patriotism I described above.

That's a long-winded (and probably pedantic) way of saying that I agree with you that we need to curb the excesses. I just don't think we should, or even can, dispense with the emotion altogether.
 

Brian Tamanaha writes: Here is my question for you: What good does "patriotism" as such bring?

Cultural diversity.

Without a love of the unique customs and shared values of one's own state, the world will drift toward a uniform global culture. As you argue, that would reduce conflict and parochialism, but the price would be much of the richness of our world. There is value in having more than a Starbuck's and a McDonald's on every street corner.
 

QuiteAlarmed, the forces behind a drift towards a uniform global culture are either transnational in character or actively enabled by states (sometimes both). Starbucks and McDonald's are good evidence of this. So assuming that patriotism has something to do with devotion to states, I'm not sure whether patriotism really has much to do with the promotion of cultural diversity in the face of the forces you mention.
 

Professor Tamanaha,

Patriotism, proper patriotism, is a pride in the accomplishments of your country.

Patriotism, as is any other emotion, can be hijacked to nefarious ends. Jingoism, nationalism, war-mongering, medding, empire building, crusades... and the like.

Patriotism, like, respect must be earned. Pride in our government must be well-placed. Patriots are not taught. They come to that place through experience.

Pride in your government is not a default position.

There is no obligation to be proud of your government our your country. Nor is it unpatriotic.

As a nation, we have agreed to a framework of government that is supposed to administer to our country's social good. Instead of performing this necessary function as the representatives of the people, they have been captured by moneyed interests.

True patriots are those that continue to identify with the professed ideals of America, fairness, liberty and reason.

We are currently witnessing a power struggle between those who want to hijack American pride in their country to support a radical agenda and those who want to stop them.

Patriotism in support of these hijackers is the necessary price of freedom. As in the case of bad speech, the proper remedy is good speech from true patriots.
 

QuiteAlarmed & Mark Field,

Both of your posts brought to mind the start of a chain of thought.

Those who value their country via patriotism will want to improve it, and will celebrate its positive values while trying to correct its negative ones.

However, those who value an association higher than their country will advance the cause of that association over their country. Some potential examples: multinationals moving their headquarters and tax base overseas to increase corporate/shareholder profits; bloggers and blog commenters ranting about their opposition as opposed to conducting rational discourse.

Its just a seed of thought, but thank you for the insight.
 

how does your average joe come to be a patriot?

well, in some sense, by getting a fairly uncritical view of American history, it is easy to be a Patriot. The more white-washed the history, the easier it is to assume your government truly does adhere to its professed values of liberty, fairness and reason.

it's telling that many people will point to our treatment of the indians as evidence that our government does not always adhere to its code. even the relatively white-washed version causes sufficient thought and you develop people who point to it as proof you shouldn't be a patriot on one end of the spectrum and at the other end people who discount it entirely as relevant.

And then there are the demagogues who try to harness this respect for our government for their own ends.
 

fraud guy,

there are patriots who support what the bush administration is doing. they sincerely believe he is taking the proper steps consistent with our nation's history and see no hypocripsy.

they can be true patriots too, just misguided.

ultimately, patriotism is passion for your country whether it entails support or oppostion to your government. and as an emotion can often be dangerous and anti-thetical to reason.
 

I would agree with Mark Field. Patriotism (originally) meant identifying with one's country as something larger than one's self. At its best it can mean a noble sense of public spirit. At worst, a tribal sense of us versus them.

It may be compared with identifying with one's family, as in taking pride in the achievements of one's children, being embarrassed by the family eccentric, and regarding members who break the family's basic values as disgraces. This is not wholly irrational -- it means that members of a single family take responsibility for transmitting its values and holding each other to certain standards.

This, I think, is the answer to Professor Tamanaha's question. We support our polity with our taxes and often more. The ideology of democracy says that we have some say-so in what it does. That makes us in some part responsible for what our government does, good and bad. So long as we do not participate directly, that responsibility is small. But to emphasize just how small it is encourages disengagement and apathy, an attitude of "Don't blame me, I didn't vote for Bush." Exagerating one's importance leads to a sense of engagement, a wish to participate when our government does right and resist when it does wrong.

To the extent that it encourages activism, patriotism (in the sense of public spirit) might be considered one of the useful myths Professor Tamanaha discussed earlier.
 

the true problem with patriotism is that it is an enhancer.

if you lack the critical faculties, independendence or or moral fiber, you can be led by your patriotism to support bad things.

or patriotism can lead you to resist.
 

"States aren't really any different, at some level, than any other human organization, from religion to sports team."

I actually agree: Arm your average sports team with the ability to rob and kill with impunity, and it, too, would eventually get around to mass murder. Government wields powers which are abusive by their very nature, and corrupting. ANY institution granted those powers would do evil, unless it, improbably, refused to use them. Institutions like democracy and constitutions at best limit the damage.
 

All I can say, Brett, is that you can abolish government, but you can't abolish power. If government does not have the power to coerce then someone else, powerful corporations, local warlords, the guy down the street with the arsenal someone will. Democracy and constitutions are the best way we have found to restrain that power. I prefer them to anarchy.
 

Professor Tamanaha:

The State emerges as a primary villain in both histories. Whether in the name of some ideology, or some image of national purity or dominance, or in the name of religion, or simply to plunder, states have time and again massacred their own people, or conscripted their own people and flung them at others to kill and be killed. The number of human lives extinguished by states, and in the name of states, well exceeds a hundred million.

Learn this history and you will see the price patriotism exacts. For many reasons, I feel fortunate to have been born in the United States, but I don’t love my country. It has no love for any of us. A cold, manipulative, object of affection, the state fans patriotism, then asks those who love it deeply to prove their love by dying or sacrificing their limbs for it.


You are mistakenly coflating love of country (patriotism) with love of the government which rules the country (usually partisanism for the faction in power). America has never been about worship of the state. Rather, American patriotism has traditionally been about the worship of freedom, which is the absence of the state.

Love of a totalitarian government (communist or fascist) rather than love of Russia, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan by its citizens perpetrated nearly all of those 100 million murders. Indeed, a lion's share of those murders were perpetrated by governments against their own countries. This is hardly the stuff of what Americans would call patriotism.

I also find it ironic that you begin your post by noting the butchers bill of totalitarian governments seeking to rule the world and then use that fact to call for a more omnipotent world government. As President Reagan properly recognized, more government is the problem here, not the solution.

What is worse is that such a world government would be purchased at the sacrifice of the long and successful track record of freedom of our own Republic - a track record that was purchased by American patriots with their blood, sweat, limbs and lives.

Even if this world government was democratic, do you want the voters of say China, North Korea, the Middle East and Africa saying what freedoms Americans will enjoy? As the bumper sticker reads, not until they pry the gun from my cold dead hands.
 

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Bart,

I am certainly not advocating world government.

In your haste to render judgment, you failed to notice that my post did not specify any vision of what should succeed the state. That is a big subject about which I am uncertain. But if I had to say, I would prefer a decentralized system simply because that means less power is concentrated in any one locus.

Brian
 

Brian Tamanaha said...

I am certainly not advocating world government.

In your haste to render judgment, you failed to notice that my post did not specify any vision of what should succeed the state. That is a big subject about which I am uncertain. But if I had to say, I would prefer a decentralized system simply because that means less power is concentrated in any one locus.


I apologize for misinterpreting your discussion of national submission to transnational organizations as an advocacy of world government. However, I am having a hard time squaring your stated desire for a decentralized system with any submission of national government to centralized world organizations. I would suggest that, to achieve a more decentralized system, we should be limiting the power of nation state governments toward more local control rather than transnational control.
 

"Bart" DePalma said:

You are mistakenly coflating love of country (patriotism) with love of the government which rules the country (usually partisanism for the faction in power). America has never been about worship of the state. Rather, American patriotism has traditionally been about the worship of freedom, which is the absence of the state.

"Bart" is apparently unaware that this "coflation" [sic] is precisely the tactic used and encouraged by the gummints and "factions in power" to commit these many atrocities.

Samuel L. Clemens, one of the more sage writers of a century ago, tried to educate people on this distinction: "Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it."

Then we have today's Rethuglican party, who are doing their damnedest to muddy the waters and to make the "coflation" (see here for one such instance). "Watch what you do ... what you say", "you're either with us or you're with the enemy", and all.... But "Bart" is the biggest Dubya-sucking sycophant around. If there's anyone around here that is "cofuzed", it would be "Bart", but I don't think he is. I suspect he's simply dishonest.

Cheers,
 

Professor Tamanaha: This is not a topic that can be credibly discussed in a vacuum from the question of what comes next.

If you envision anarchy following the demise of states, then who will protect our individual liberties?

If you envision multiple non-geographically based entities performing the functions currently performed by states, then why wouldn't these new entities display the same bloody behaviors that you deplore in states?

If you envision a centralized, homogeneous world government emerging, then what about the value of cultural diversity?
 

E. L., You can't abolish power. You can, however, abolish power stripped of consequence.

You can't, feasibly, stop me from murdering or robbing. That doesn't mean I have to be allowed to get away with it. What makes government so nasty isn't that the government CAN rob and kill. It's that government can rob and kill, and get away with it.

And why can the government get away with it? It's because of this collective delusion the government itself takes care to foster, that taxation isn't extortion, that war isn't murder, that everything that is evil if done by somebody else is just peachy if done by government.

Power will always exist. The same can't be said of that delusion.
 

You can't, feasibly, stop me from murdering or robbing. That doesn't mean I have to be allowed to get away with it.

Sure, but the reason you can't get away with it is ......
the government. In the absence of government, we'd all "get away with it". Hobbes, ya know. Quis custodiet may be a problem with government, but much less of one than a war of all against all.
 

A little anthropology please.

There have been societies that have extinguished power. The method is very simple: anyone (anyone) who threatens to get power is declared a witch by the community and killed (often eaten).

It works quite well. There have been societies that have survived for more than 40k years without the formation of any significant power centers. Of course, you pay a price - the lack of excess production to power technological advancement, a requirement for every man to be a soldier, and a limitation of free movement and the polity to the local family.
 

Brett:
And why can the government get away with it? It's because of this collective delusion the government itself takes care to foster, that taxation isn't extortion, that war isn't murder, that everything that is evil if done by somebody else is just peachy if done by government.

The problem isn't taxation or murder by government per se. It's the delusion. Sometimes extortion is necessary - sometimes murder is the only option. That's life.

The problem is the delusion, which then creates the whiplash effect - since the delusion that it is "good" is bad, therefore it's always bad.

Government is like a guard-dog. A guard dog is a dangerous weapon; they'll tear the face of your children if you're not careful. On the other hand, a guard dog is a terribly useful weapon, self-guiding, aggressive, and independent. Just don't give it a long leash or it'll dominate you. But don't kill the guard dog - that is foolish as well, particularly when you live in a dangerous neighborhood where everyone else has a pit bull or worse.

We've been treating the guard dog like a Labrador Retriever for much too long (Greatest country in the World! BS and such). But both the left and right live with naive, utopic fantasies.
 

Since the mid-term elections, and my discovery of the outraged liberal blogosphere, I've been lurking from across the Atlantic on Balkinization and other shelters of enlightened discourse. Professor Tamanaha's most welcome post prompts me to make my first comment.

I'm British, I live in London, and, notwithstanding Tony Blair's peculiar valedictory assertion that Britain is 'the greatest nation on Earth', patriotism seems as quaint a notion to most of my peers as the Geneva convention apparently does to Alberto Gonazales. In London, a city built on the banks of a river once busy with the traffic of Empire, it's hard to disassociate patriotism from either an insipid imperial nostalgia, or a kind of panicked racism. It seems to betray a poverty of ethical and political imagination.

However, I suspect that at the heart of an extant empire, patriotism becomes a much more vital sentiment. Thus the 'patriotism' of the American right has always seemed comprehensible in an imperial context.

Yet I've been puzzled, disconcerted, by the the rhetoric of patriotism in the liberal left. It seems to play out as a struggle to define the 'true' patriot, to wrest her from the right. But I am deeply sceptical about the possibilities of a 'progressive patriotism'.

There seems to me something brittle about patriotism, something unwilling to admit of the possibilities of radical change or difference, because it is bound up with an object (the nation-state) whose coherence stems from a tremendous founding (and often, sustaining) violence (and surely patriotism is not merely an attachment to landscape, climate, or local custom – it is necessarily linked to the apparatus of state). For if it is so that nations are imagined, it is also so that they are fashioned - through expulsion, assimilation, indoctrination and extermination, as often as not. The nation states that modernity has fashioned have been the artefacts of massive and overwhelming violence. Why should we love these artefacts over other possible forms of collective life that we might be able to imagine together? For all the privilege that I enjoy as a citizen of the UK, why should I declare I love it only because much of the violence that sustains this privilege is externalized?

It seems to me that in patriotism there is a failure of recognition. For it is a sentiment that demands one feel something that is historical as natural and organic. That the nation state is not organic or natural can be gleaned merely by looking to the 'failed state'. But the 'failed' state, perversely, also illustrates that the nation state, despite the many claims of its decline, will be with us for a good while yet. For what states fear most is a non-state territory precisely because it threatens to overwhelm the integrity of borders. The nation state seems to be the most robust entity for managing scarce resources in limited territories. As climate change precipitates the displacement of massive aggregate populations driven by, say, the lack of sufficient water resources, it is the bordered nation state, and agreements between such, that will negotiate the subsequent contests for resources. Though, perhaps, oil, rather than water, is a resource that might bring the argument closer to whom for many in the West. The link between 'nation building' and maintenance, on the one hand, and control of resources, on the other, will become increasingly transparent. In these circumstances, the relationship between patriotism and the projection of power will also become increasingly apparent.

And so while the 'patriotism' of the right seems comprehensible, if objectionable, that of the progressive left remains puzzling and disconcerting. It seems too often (as the first comment in this thread, perhaps ironically, illustrates) to be merely an index of fear.

Finally, I'd just like to say thanks to all the contributors here, this is a wonderful and necessary resource. Oh, and though it may be impertinent to ask, truly I'm curious - is Bart a real person out there in the real world? I mean, he's remarkably consistent, but sometimes I imagine that he's a shared alias that you maintain for sport.
 

Enlightened, the problem IS the delusion, but it's not the backlash against it. Rather, the problem is that you've got this objectively horrible institution, government, which by it's very nature routinely does terrible things. It's existance can, to some extent, be justified, because it is the only way (We know of) to cope with some really nasty problems.

The nastiest of which, ironicly, is the existance of other governments.

Kind of like keeping Godzilla around because, although he leaves a trail of crushed bodies and smashed buildings everywhere he goes, he's the only way to cope with King Gidhira.

But here you have this inherently nasty institution, which you're keeping around for seemingly adequate reason, and you really don't like to think about how nasty it is. So you get to thinking, maybe it isn't really nasty. Maybe taxation IS different from theft, maybe war IS different from murder, rather than merely being theft and murder that you've done because the alternative was even worse.

And once you've made that jump, from necessary evil to non-evil, you start using government to do things which can't possibly justify the evil you're doing to accomplish them.. You justify government to keep Mexico from invading, (And make no mistake, Mexico WOULD invade this territory if we didn't have an army... To be met by Canada somewhere around Indiana, I expect.) And then use it to do things which either aren't terribly important, or which could be achieved in less evil ways. Eventually you just give up on looking for less evil ways to accomplish things, because government is so convenient, and you've decided that it isn't really evil.

And so, a government justified to keep Mexico from invading, and widows and orphans from starving, taxes people to build a museum to maintain Piss Christ on display. And locks away people who won't ante up. And shoot those who won't go along peacefully to be locked up.

And that's what comes of forgetting that government is evil.
 

Perhaps excessive taxation is theft, but so too is benefiting from common services, or consuming shared resources, without contributing to their expense. Commensurate taxation is certainly not theft; its absence would be.
 

@Brett: The backlash against the delusion is also a problem. It's an over-reaction. Instead of looking at government objectively, the recognition that most everyone is deluded about the nature of government tends to cause one to think irrationally about it.

We have real problems that can only be dealt with by force, and not just the force of other nations. The continued assault on the ecosystem by our technology is one such. Some solutions can be decentralized, but at the end of the day the game won't work if cheaters aren't stopped - it'll always be in the short term self-interest of many to destroy the environment. Short of destroying our industrial technology (which is a real, if not palatable solution), it's going to take guns and money.

The problem is delusion and "anti"-delusions. Government is a monster - but it's not the only monster. The world is full of 'em.

@miuw:
What you're seeing is the fact that the "liberal" left is also absorbed in fantasies of American empire. Of course, they want a good empire! Just look at the left in nineteenth century Britain - very few actually were against empire, they were just for a reformed,progressive empire. Did the Fabians advocate a dissolution of the British Empire? That is, until reality slapped everyone but the most recalcitrant right-wingers upside the head in the 20th century. And obviously Blair and a few others on the British left still nurse fantasies of some kind of Anglophonic hegemony.
 

Quite Alarmed, that's the philosophy of the "squeegee people": Give somebody a benefit, whether they want it or not, and you're entitled to force them to pay for it, or treat them as thieves.
 

Yet I've been puzzled, disconcerted, by the the rhetoric of patriotism in the liberal left. It seems to play out as a struggle to define the 'true' patriot, to wrest her from the right. But I am deeply sceptical about the possibilities of a 'progressive patriotism'.

I can't speak for everyone, of course, but I've always understood this debate as one about values. In my view, the idea of America consists of certain values, mostly those set forth in the Declaration of Independence, but others implicit or explicit in the Constitution.

What justifies those values (to me) is their inclusiveness. The Declaration does not exclude anyone; it's universal in scope. That doesn't mean we should force those values on others, as the idiot neo-cons insist, but it does mean we can implement those values as an example. That implementation isn't a matter of a day or an hour, it's a project across centuries. I consider patriotism a commitment to that project; it's what ties me emotionally to Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, FDR, King, and so many others.
 

miuw: Professor Tamanaha's most welcome post prompts me to make my first comment.

Please don't let it be your last.
 

Mark Field:

Sure, but the reason you can't get away with it [murder, etc.] is ......
the government. In the absence of government, we'd all "get away with it". Hobbes, ya know.


Minor quibble: Not "all". Those that were murdered would not. Not that this state of affairs makes that alternative any more appealing in fact, that would seem to be one of the prime drawbacks.

Cheers,
 

Mark Field:

I consider patriotism a commitment to that project; it's what ties me emotionally to Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, FDR, King, and so many others.

And Gandhi. Despite the fact that he started his civil rights campaign in South Africa and was the "father of India".

Cheers,
 

"Sure, but the reason you can't get away with it [murder, etc.] is ......
the government. In the absence of government, we'd all "get away with it"."


One of the downsides of having a government around doing things, is that people gradually come to assume that anything that's done by the government HAS to be done by government, or it won't get done at all. For all the practical problems with libertarianism, that's one of it's strong points: A willingness to actually try to figure out ways to accomplish desirable ends without using government, instead of just assuming that it's the government or not at all.

And, in reality, in societies where the government does not effectively punish murder, the problem is not that murders get away with it. It's that murderers get tracked down and killed by friends and family of the victim, then friends and family of the murderer go after the people who killed him.. You get over-enforcement, feuds and vendettas, not under-enforcement.

The argument in favor of government law enforcement isn't that victimizers won't get punished otherwise, but that there's no end to the tit for tat without the government saying, "It ends here."
 

Brett: I consider myself fairly imaginative, but I find that I am unable to conceive of any person who could exist in the modern world without, in some way, benefiting from common services or consuming shared resources. Even the most isolated, self-defending, and subsistence-living hermit consumes a shared resource: the land on which he or she subsides. We all benefit from common services and consume shared resources; refusing to pay their cost would be theft.

As for your vigilante prosecution theory, I’d refer you to one of my favorite books: T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. You’ve got a “might is right,” as opposed to “might for right,” problem there.
 

And, in reality, in societies where the government does not effectively punish murder, the problem is not that murders get away with it. It's that murderers get tracked down and killed by friends and family of the victim, then friends and family of the murderer go after the people who killed him.. You get over-enforcement, feuds and vendettas, not under-enforcement.

The argument in favor of government law enforcement isn't that victimizers won't get punished otherwise, but that there's no end to the tit for tat without the government saying, "It ends here."


That was exactly my point.

For all the practical problems with libertarianism, that's one of it's strong points: A willingness to actually try to figure out ways to accomplish desirable ends without using government, instead of just assuming that it's the government or not at all.

That's not a strong point, that's an ideological trap. Democratic government isn't good because it's minimal; it's good because we share in it. It's a cooperative process of joint decision-making, not a selfish means of consumerism.
 

Karen Greenberg - Tom Dispatch on the Iranian detention of american academics.

The new American prisoners in Iran belong, in part, to a broader diplomatic game of chicken now raging between the two governments that began with the U.S. capture in January of five Iranian officials in Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, prisoners the U.S. continues to hold somewhere in Iraq without charges. The more telling context, however, is that of Bush administration detention policy from the moment in 2002 when it set up its prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, offshore from American justice, to this day.

At the inception of the war on terror, the Bush administration broke the very rules it now accuses the Iranians of breaking. As part of a high-stakes stand-off with countries associated with Islamic fundamentalism, it was the Bush administration that first collected individuals, some guilty of crimes, some simply swept up in the chaos -- initially off the Afghan battlefield and then off the global one. Often, they did so with very little knowledge of, or care about, whom they were rounding up. They incarcerated these prisoners for long periods without releasing their names or, often, their whereabouts; they refused to give them the established rights of prisoners of war; they defied the united protests of allies around the world; and they sought to justify this whole policy with the term "detainee."

In fact, uncomfortable parallels between notorious Guantanamo and grim Evin abound. At Gitmo, as at Evin, information about "detainees" has often been difficult to obtain. At Gitmo, as at Evin, the government has been a champion of denying prisoners access to lawyers. At Gitmo, as at Evin, "national security" concerns invariably trump the need to produce evidence or to indict prisoners. At Gitmo, as at Evin, there have been repeated reports of coercive interrogations and the mistreatment, as well as torture, of prisoners.

At Gitmo, as at Evin, authorities deny such accusations despite obvious evidence to the contrary. One year ago, journalists were invited to assess conditions at Evin for themselves. Allowed to see only the women's section of the prison, they were shown the medical facilities and told about the excellent food the prison serves -- self-evident proof of the fair treatment of prisoners. So, too, media tours of Guantanamo stress the quality of the food and the superior medical treatment available in the prison complex. At Gitmo, suicide is an ever-present threat. At Evin, according to a BBC journalist on the tour, authorities boasted of only one suicide in six months -- as if that were a record to be proud of. Iranian authorities refused to discuss "political prisoners" because "Iran does not recognize this as a category." So, too, the most suitable term for those held at Gitmo, "prisoner of war," has been forbidden on the premises.

In all these ways, but especially by wielding their chosen term "detainee," and by defining "detainees" as essentially without rights as Americans would understand them, the Bush administration has stripped the United States of its traditional standing as the foremost champion of human rights. It has relinquished its bona fides to express the kind of moral outrage that could indeed buttress international support and legal due process for Americans who have been illegally imprisoned. Even more surprising, when administration officials, including the President, denounce the Iranians, they are tin-eared. The hypocrisy in their own words just doesn't register. When George W. Bush shows his outrage at the imprisonment of Americans without cause, evidence, or due process, it's as if he has no sense that, in much of the rest of the world, these are exactly the charges that ring out against his own administration.

Essentially, a frantic, fear-filled, information-impoverished, but stubbornly defended policy has finally blown back on America's own citizens. This was something former Secretary of State Colin Powell -- who last weekend called for the closing of Guantanamo -- predicted in January 2002 might well happen to captive U.S. troops, if not citizens, if the United States refused to classify its detainees in the Global War on Terror as prisoners of war.
 

Mark Field wrote: I can't speak for everyone, of course, but I've always understood this debate as one about values. In my view, the idea of America consists of certain values, mostly those set forth in the Declaration of Independence, but others implicit or explicit in the Constitution.

One can hold a value set, however, without tying it to any particular state. I think the question posed above by Professor Tamanaha is: what benefit lies in patriotism -- i.e., associating a value set with a particular state -- as opposed to humanism -- i.e., holding a value set unassociated with any state. Putting aside the issue of the mechanism to uphold the value set, the only benefit that I see in tying our values to a particular state, as opposed to all of humanity, is preserving cultural diversity.

Suppose we could see the myriad possible futures with enough clarity to choose a path for humanity. If we had a choice between (1) a “Star Trek” future in which humanity has agreed upon a universally shared value set or (2) an enclave future in which divided humanity continues to patriotically support differing value sets, then which should we choose? The “Star Trek” future would suffer less conflict but would be a blander tomorrow; the people of the enclave future would have more options on how to live their lives but also more bloodshed.
 

Mark Field: I think you may have been a bit too accomodating when you adopted Brett's vigilante theory as exactly your point. Surely, you see a problem beyond just "no end to tit for tat." Although the vigilante system outlined by Brett may provide for punishment, it offers no assurance that the people punished will be the victimizers. Thus, the "argument in favor of government law enforcement" very much is that victimizers won't get punished otherwise.
 

Although the vigilante system outlined by Brett may provide for punishment, it offers no assurance that the people punished will be the victimizers. Thus, the "argument in favor of government law enforcement" very much is that victimizers won't get punished otherwise.

Agreed. There are also a great many other flaws in his suggestion.

One can hold a value set, however, without tying it to any particular state. I think the question posed above by Professor Tamanaha is: what benefit lies in patriotism -- i.e., associating a value set with a particular state -- as opposed to humanism -- i.e., holding a value set unassociated with any state. Putting aside the issue of the mechanism to uphold the value set, the only benefit that I see in tying our values to a particular state, as opposed to all of humanity, is preserving cultural diversity.

I don't see how to separate these particular moral values from the US. They are, after all, the foundational values of our nation, expressed in our foundational document. They didn't arise out of the ether, they developed (and still are developing today) out of a particular historical background. They aren't the values, necessarily, of other countries, but the Declaration is, in Lincoln's words, "the father of all moral principle” in us. I'm enough of a historicist that I can't separate the two.
 

QuiteAlarmed: 'the only benefit that I see in tying our values to a particular state, as opposed to all of humanity, is preserving cultural diversity.'

Surely patriotic sentiment is no guarantee of cultural diversity? While the the British imperial principle of indirect rule tended to mean that the natives could keep their customs if they'd only part with their resources, the French colonial policy of assimilation sought to transform its subjects into 'citizens'. Of course, this policy was subverted and resisted, and thus gave rise to hybrid civilités. Nevertheless, the patriotic impulse here was toward conformity, and patriotism here bore the stamp of an enlightened universalism.

It should come as no surprise that patriotic sentiment and martial spectacle are so often coupled. Patriotism is in many ways a visceral alignment with power (this is why it tends to me more vigorous at the heart of empire and at sites of intense resistance to it); it is a folding into the fold.

It is not patriotic sentiment that ensures diversity, it is the fact that the world is big and wide and round. All the distance-destroying technologies our collective ingenuity can crank out will not change the fact that a human child will learn the language she splashes into at birth and which washes around her as she grows; and she will speak it with a regional accent. It rains more in Whales than in Chad; the morning sounds of native birds are different in Sussex and Vermont. Difference is inevitable, as is conversation across difference. And thus we need not fear that the persistence of difference condemns us to relativism. Because across difference we are able to recognize each other (whereas patriotism tends to find itself in identity), I can contest the prerogative of parents to mutilate the genitals of their children because it is their custom, without insisting that they teach it the same language as I speak or initiate it into this or that religion; I can contest the right of a state to kill its criminals (by lethal injection or by stoning), without insisting that it adopts the same laws as the state I belong to.

Patriotism, surely, is a conservative impulse. yet it seems clear that, collectively, we face the challenge of changing the ways in which we live, and now, when more than ever we have to find ways to imagine otherwise, I can't see how patriotism could be a creative sentiment.

Yes, RandomSequence, I think you are right, 'the "liberal" left is also absorbed in fantasies of American empire. Of course, they want a good empire! ' I think that Professor Tamanaha's declaration that he doesn't love his country poses a profound challenge to such fantasies.

(PMS, thank you, it won't be...)
 

Yes, RandomSequence, I think you are right, 'the "liberal" left is also absorbed in fantasies of American empire. Of course, they want a good empire!

Speaking only for myself, this is quite wrong. That's not to deny that a good many on the "left" fail to dispel those fantasies. Our leading presidential candidates come to mind....
 

So Mark, are you in favor of the removal of our overseas bases? Of negotiating an elimination of our nuclear arsenal? Of us following the same rules of international relationships that everyone else is held to?

I don't know what your personal positions on that are - you may personally be a completely non-imperial patriot. But ask most liberals whether we should bring all our military back home and stop occupying foreign countries. Ask most liberals whether we should be held to the same standards of international law. Ask most liberals whether or not "America is the Greatest Country in the World".

You will get a knee-jerk response. Most people don't even think about it for a second. Of course our occupation of foreign countries (excepting Iraq) is A Good Thing. Of course we generally use our power for Good, unlike those evil Russkies and Chinks.

Ahh, it's always the White Man's Burden, ain't it? Even when the men aren't white.
 

miuw:

An interesting linguistic fact: American accents are diverging, not converging as one would intuitively expect. The Great Lakes accent has been undergoing a vowel shift distinguishing it from the tradition midwest accent. Recordings from early in the century of Southern African Americans show less linguistic divergence from their European American cohabitants than their descendants in American cities have today.

Cultural convergence comes from the expansion of the centralized state. If it goes even steady-state, the natural forces of divergence seem to take hold.
 

So Mark, are you in favor of the removal of our overseas bases? Of negotiating an elimination of our nuclear arsenal? Of us following the same rules of international relationships that everyone else is held to?

In general, yes. I'd consider exceptions to the first; obviously, the second depends on the terms. In fact, I'd go further and support negotiations to end international arms sales. I strongly support the third.

But my personal position isn't really relevant to the basic issue miuw raised, namely the association between empire and patriotism. My denial of that association goes beyond these specifics. If there were such an association, we couldn't explain patriotism in small countries like Switzerland or Estonia, yet it surely exists there. While there's no doubt that patriotism is used to support American imperial ambitions, I believe it would exist even in the complete absence of those ambitions.

Ask most liberals whether or not "America is the Greatest Country in the World".

I don't have any problem with those who answer yes to this. I might have a problem depending on what they think the practical impact of this might be.
 

Mark,


But my personal position isn't really relevant to the basic issue miuw raised, namely the association between empire and patriotism. My denial of that association goes beyond these specifics. If there were such an association, we couldn't explain patriotism in small countries like Switzerland or Estonia, yet it surely exists there. While there's no doubt that patriotism is used to support American imperial ambitions, I believe it would exist even in the complete absence of those ambitions.


First, in empirical terms, strong patriotism is associated with militarism. Not being a sociologist, I don't have the ref's at hand - if it's in doubt, I'll find a window to search 'em out sometime.

Here's a paper on Swiss patriotism: http://www.jstor.org/view/0094033x/sp030003/03x0033g/0. It appears to be more tied with your constitutional patriotism than the more common breed of American patriotism.

However, in my experience strong national patriotism, whether in a small or large state belongs to a variety of imperialism. For the small state the equivalent is the repression of minorities, like you see in S. American countries where patriotism is often associated with repression and amnesia regarding Native American identity. That really is no different - even the smallest state has been formed by an imperial process, like the Chilean conquest of the Mapuches.


Ask most liberals whether or not "America is the Greatest Country in the World".

Mark:
I don't have any problem with those who answer yes to this. I might have a problem depending on what they think the practical impact of this might be.


The objective reality is that there is no "greatest" country on earth. The delusion that there is, is a rationalization of supremacy and imperialism. If someone were to say to me, "I think America is the greatest nation on earth, for me," I would have no problem with that. But to make it a universal statement, particularly in light of American history and Manifest destiny --- well, you have to be like Oedipus to miss it.

I'm not anti-American. I live here. I usually like it. It has a lot of great values, landscapes and cultural practices. But to say in essence, "America is better than everyone else, in all cases" is the equivalent of saying that "My culture is the greatest in the world!" We would all recognize the implications of that statement. It's perfectly fine to say, "I have a great culture which I value highly, and I prefer to be a member of it," that's perfectly sane and fair. But to go the next step forward... Well, Bad Things happen there.
 

Well, Mark, you are quite right of course, many small nations, apparently without imperial ambition, are marked by patriotism. Indeed, as patriotism is a sentiment specifically associated with the nation, perhaps all nations exhibit it to some degree.

But the necessary association of patriotism and the nation only gestures back toward the founding and sustaining violence of the nation-state (perhaps I over state here, but I can't think of a nation whose formation did not involve significant violence).

Moreover, I'd wager that intensities of patriotic sentiment increase at times of perceived national threat or during campaigns of expansion. In this respect patriotism is at least associated with xenophopia (or genophilia, if you prefer it that way) and militarism. Though, yes, it also involves a sense of pride in common rituals that don't necessarily involve killing and maiming, institutions that aren't necessarily geared for domination, colourful wildlife, and of course notions filed under 'freedom' and held to be universally applicable.

Perhaps in many ways it is a worthy sentiment. I wouldn't know, as I'm not sure I've ever been stirred by it. As I said, my initial post was prompted more by puzzlement at the perennial rhetoric of patriotism in the progressive left in the US. But, then, I live in London and no one goes to church here, either.

(Still, I can't help feeling that the first comment in this thread was telling, irony notwithstanding.)
 

However, in my experience strong national patriotism, whether in a small or large state belongs to a variety of imperialism. For the small state the equivalent is the repression of minorities, like you see in S. American countries where patriotism is often associated with repression and amnesia regarding Native American identity. That really is no different - even the smallest state has been formed by an imperial process, like the Chilean conquest of the Mapuches.

I agree with this and with miuw's similar point. Patriotism is subject to abuse, no question about it. I thought I had already agreed with that point previously in this thread.

But as I also said before, I don't think abuse of something necessarily justifies us in throwing it out. We need passion in our lives, and patriotism gives us that passion to improve our country. Without that passion, we'd have no reason to care.
 

As a child I cared passionately, desperately, about apartheid in South Africa. I so wanted to improve that country. Its regime so offended and distressed me, and I was not even subject to it. I have yet to even visit South Africa, yet I had great reason to care.

Mark, I hope I've caused no offense. It's delicate, one doesn't want to piss on someone's passion (unless pissing is ones passion). It is surely a worthy sentiment to want to improve ones country. I want to improve my countries (England and Nigeria). I also want to improve other people's countries. Sometimes one is able to do both at once - for example, one might improve the UK by discouraging it from selling arms to repressive regimes abroad, which might, in turn, improve those countries. I'm actually rather passionate about improving the US; I think that might improve a great many other countries. In that, we share a passion, even though I couldn't be called an American patriot.

And I'm glad to have had this exchange with you. Thanks
 

Mark,

Maybe we're having a confusion of terms. It appears that you're using patriotism to mean something like a commitment to principles that you believe are traditionally associated with your country, in addition to a general love of culture.

By those grounds, Germans are very patriotic. But Germans themselves will say they are not patriotic - because the more common meaning of patriotism is a love of country in an organic sense - not to the the culture, or principles, but to the country as an entity (if not the state, some state penumbra).

You are blurring the distinction between ideology and country to such an extent that your patriotism is more like a religious sentiment (not necessarily in a bad way), than the kind of thing most of us recognize as patriotism. It may be good that patriotism were to cease to be what is traditionally called patriotism, and become more ideological in that manner. On the other hand, I can see such an ideologization (??) of patriotism being dangerous itself, where disagreement on principle could open the door to accusations of treason (see the Soviets for an example of that take).

I personally see emotional investment in an over-abstraction as not productive. I can be committed to improving my community and the society radiating outward from it without an emotional attachment to one particular administrative unit. It seem like saying that loving the UN is a good motivating factor for a commitment to universal human rights; I would stick to a passion about human rights directly, and see the UN as a tactic (it almost seems silly to talk about a "passion" for the UN, but would that be any different from patriotism?)
 

Mark, I hope I've caused no offense.

Not in the slightest. I've enjoyed your posts.

Maybe we're having a confusion of terms. It appears that you're using patriotism to mean something like a commitment to principles that you believe are traditionally associated with your country, in addition to a general love of culture.

That's possible. I'm discussing it from a particularly American viewpoint. I happen to approve of the specific foundational principles. If I were living in a country whose basic principles I opposed, I might have to re-think it.

it almost seems silly to talk about a "passion" for the UN, but would that be any different from patriotism?

No sillier than a passion for a sports team. Maybe if the UN actually won something....
 

MArk said: Maybe if the UN actually won something....

Thus the UN is actually the Chicago Cubs of politics?
 

This provocative question seems designed for a game theorist. States cause problems but also solve them. The main purpose of a state is defense aka violence to protect the members of the state. It would be foolish for any state to voluntarily weaken itself. The fear of what other states would do to the remaining loose confederation would keep most of the elected and electors from making this leap.

I am not arguing that the massive power of organized violence cannot go astray. It has too much. But you also need it for defense. No state would rationally relinquish this power.

As an example, consider Native Americans and other indigenous peoples without strong state systems. They were at an immediate disadvantage to "setlers" from Europe.

The title of your post also illustrates the efficacy of the abstration of "state". I doubt you accept any blame for Iraq2.0. It is the state's fault (aka Bush/ Cheney) and the religious bumpkins who elected them. People like you need the distinction for their self-righteous indignation.
 

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