Balkinization  

Friday, June 22, 2007

"Your Country Loves You" (More on the Dangers of Patriotism)

Brian Tamanaha

Earlier this week I wrote in a post: “I don’t love my country.” On the blogosphere, as I knew, that’s the equivalent of tossing red meat to a pack of hungry dogs, so I expected a sharp reaction would follow. What I did not expect was that a serious law professor, obviously piqued at my temerity, would write this response on the top international law blog:

Brian you may not love your country, but your country loves you, even if you don’t know it. You are its raison d’etre.

Ordinarily I would not single out a response, but the issues raised are too important to let go without elaboration. The point of my initial post was to highlight the fact that states have killed over 100 million people (their own citizens and others), and that patriotism is manipulated by government leaders in ways that lead to these horrific consequences. The miffed professor’s response to me illustrates the dangers of patriotism.

Let’s consider his assertion “your country loves you.” This is what I want to know: Does my country’s heart beat faster when it thinks of me? Does it miss me when I am away? Does my country worry when I am sick? Will it shed a tear for me when I die?

Need I go on?

Okay, I know he did not mean “your country loves you” literally (right?), although he did wax at length. But it is precisely talk like this that makes patriotism so dangerous, substituting metaphor and emotion for reason and careful evaluation. Much of his post consists of glorified abstractions of the state, slogans we repeat unthinkingly so often that they become truths in our mind (confirming my recent post that legal theorists often trade in myths and myth making).

Several Enlightenment thinkers worried that with the decline of religion people would not behave in a moral and orderly fashion, and they suggested that the solution was to replace worship of God with worship of the state and law. It is not a coincidence that “your country loves you” sounds a lot like “God loves you” or “Jesus loves you.” They create a sense of personal relationship, and all relationships have obligations. The difference is that, while I don't know whether God and Jesus love me, I know for certain that states have killed untold millions.

Perhaps this is all too abstract, so let’s make it real by harkening back to the period leading up to the Iraq War. I attended two anti-war marches (D.C. and New York), which felt like a pathetic and impotent act, but what else could I do to resist the war. Indeed, I thought I was doing my civic duty (although I feel no sense of patriotism, I embrace my civic responsibilities as a member of the community).

At the time, as everyone should recall, one of the charges often leveled against protestors was that we were unpatriotic (after the war began to go badly, the charge became: we don’t support the troops). Every true patriot, of course, supported the imminent war, because that’s the patriotic thing to do.

Notice that there is no reasoning going on here: it’s all emotion.

One of the signs I remember seeing held up by a group of counter-demonstrators draped in American flags was this: “AMERICA LOVES YOU”

I remember it because it was simple and yet powerful in its implicit, devastating accusation: “How could you, anti-war protestors, betray your country with your disloyalty, when your country loves you.”

I felt a tinge of guilt when reading that sign (it's far more subtle and effective than that blunt old favorite: "Love it or Leave it").

That is the power of patriotism. It is so powerful that “we the people” were swept up in it in our inexorable march to war. The President and his cabal played on our patriotism. Most of the Democrats in Congress, despite their reservations, supported the war in their burst of patriotic enthusiasm, or kept their objections silent for fear of being branded unpatriotic.

And now the war is a disaster: many tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead and injured, over 3500 American troops are dead and twenty thousand-plus more are maimed (14 more soldiers killed in the last two days), the U.S. has committed torture, world opinion of the U.S is at an all-time low, and many more terrorists with intense hatred for America are being recruited and trained.

Some good follows from patriotism, of course, but the bad that follows is supremely dangerous.

Those of you who think my assertion—I don’t love my country (there, I said it again)—is scandalous, before you tell me about the error and ingratitude of my ways, please reflect just for a moment on what patriotism is, on how it works purely at the level of emotion, and consider its abuses.

Comments:

A frequently-unexamined aspect of this issue is summed up neatly, I think, in a line from one of Wendell Berry's poems: "Denounce the government, and embrace the flag."
 

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a "party line." Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases -- bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder -- one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

"While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement."

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

excerpted from the essay by George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946.
 

Say what you will about the dangers of patriotism, but it inspires beautiful acts of resistance. Is there anyone who isn't moved by the Marseillaise scene in Casablanca?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFcQo_duyJU
 

Professor Tamanaha:

I would suggest that patriotism is a completely rational thought process which advances both the collective and individual self interest.

Patriotism is simply the basic concept of team spirit writ large for the nation state.

People voluntarily assemble into teams to accomplish goals all the time. In order to encourage team work to collectively accomplish a goal, leaders encourage team spirit. Without team spirit, team effort lags and teams often fall apart.

Patriotism is essentially team spirit for a nation.

Peoples assemble into nation states to accomplish goals which clans and tribes cannot. In order to encourage people to work together as a nation to collectively accomplish national goals, leaders encourage patriotism. Without patriotism, the national effort lags and countries often fall apart into parochial self interest.

Thus, in order to successfully unite and work together as a nation, we use tools like patriotism.

Given that the goal of patriotism is to unite and work together as a nation to accomplish goals, it makes no sense to argue that patriotism includes undermining the national war consensus to support the war effort in order to cause the nation to lose the war. That would appear to be the antithesis of patriotism.
 

bart,

what about when a group of people organize to attack a country that is no threat to it, pre-emptively, and then occupy it in a tremendous outpouring of blood, money and prestige?

we call that vigilantism.
 

the critical flaw in patriotism, nationalism or any ism for that matter is the element of uncritical thought.

the ism itself declares an obvious bias that the speaker should take great pains to explain away by justifying, logically, the course of action suggested.

what exactly does Bush mean when he says America is at war with terror?

utter nonsense.
 

Patriotism,....the last refuge of....the Bush Administration.
Patriotism....Kurt Vonnegut's ultimate "Grand Falloon".
I blame the folks who continued to make us listen to the Star Spangled Banner before althletic contests.
Mindless, soulless, easily led.
 

I prefer Bierce's take on patriotism:

Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.

In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.


BDP:Given that the goal of patriotism is to unite and work together as a nation to accomplish goals...

Why should that be a given? Patriotism, like all other -isms, has no goals. It is not an actor, it cannot plan the unity of the nation any more than it can do your laundry or pay your bills.

If you would simply acknowledge that there is agency and manipulation behind the evocation of patriotism, you might understand Brian's concerns.
 

I was a bit unfair to Bart. He did mention patriotism as a tool of leaders. It's just this leap at the end that trips me up:

...it makes no sense to argue that patriotism includes undermining the national war consensus to support the war effort in order to cause the nation to lose the war. That would appear to be the antithesis of patriotism.

1. This only works if there's a national war consensus. Many of us were against the war long before troops deployed, and we marched loudly in the streets, blocking traffic and engaging in all sorts of other questionable, but peaceful, behavior to make our opinions known.

2. If patriotism is a geographically dependent tool that is used to create a feeling of togetherness among fellow citizens of a given country, then it can legitimately be used by non-governmental or subaltern groups as a tool for effecting a broad change, WITHOUT there being anything antithetical about it. (This is one of my primary objections to James Scott's "Weapons of the Weak," namely that the weapons used by dominant and subordinate groups can be used by their opponents, as well. One doesn't have to look beyond Katharine Harris for an example of "work-to-rule" strategies as tools of domination.)

3. Following from #2, ideas like "withdrawing from Iraq means losing the war" and "supporting withdrawal is unpatriotic" are perfect examples of how an agent attempts to manipulate patriotic sentiment in order to achieve an end goal.

4. The peculiar aspect of patriotism is its dependence on a particular nation/state and its shared values. It is important to remember that such values are constantly under construction, and different people rank and construe them in different ways. It may "appear" that a statement or action is completely counter-current to one's own values, but that appearance (or even fact) does not by necessity negate the concurrence of that action with the actor's own, very American, values.

Extending justice to detainees, for instance, has been an argument of some heat on this board. "Justice for all" may extend to all people for a person see America as a world actor and history shaper. For another, "justice for all" may only extend to American citizens, and the rest of the world can either follow our lead or file for immigration visas. Can you call one side more patriotic than the other? Of course you can, but only because the definition of patriotism is contingent upon your personal set of values--a subset of the shared American whole.
 

Loved your post and glad to hear it's getting attention. Those screams you hear are from the same types who gasped when the little boy pointed out the emperor's nakedness.

I wanted to ask the Professor who wrote "When a government official takes an oath of allegiance, the only oath he or she makes is to support and defend the Constitution" as well as "allegiance to the values embodied in" it, how he feels about Bush's decision to suspend the requirements of the Constitution he swore to uphold "temporarily" during a wartime, which appears endless.

The psychologists are currently speaking out against those members of their profession who participated in torture. Perhaps its time for the legal profession to speak out against law professors like John Yoo who similarly enabled torture and eroded the rule of law.

The fact that your words about whether the state can love are generating as much if not more controversy to your colleagues than Scalia's lecture on Jack Bauer says a lot about the state of legal education in this country.
 

PMS_Chicago said...

I was a bit unfair to Bart. He did mention patriotism as a tool of leaders. It's just this leap at the end that trips me up:

...it makes no sense to argue that patriotism includes undermining the national war consensus to support the war effort in order to cause the nation to lose the war. That would appear to be the antithesis of patriotism.

1. This only works if there's a national war consensus. Many of us were against the war long before troops deployed, and we marched loudly in the streets, blocking traffic and engaging in all sorts of other questionable, but peaceful, behavior to make our opinions known.


A consensus does not require unanimity. The United States entered the war with heavy majorities of popular opinion and a heavy majority of Congress authorizing the war. That is more than enough for a national consensus on anything.

2. If patriotism is a geographically dependent tool that is used to create a feeling of togetherness among fellow citizens of a given country, then it can legitimately be used by non-governmental or subaltern groups as a tool for effecting a broad change, WITHOUT there being anything antithetical about it.

That depends on the change which you wish to bring about. My theory is that patriotism is a motivator to unite and accomplish a national goal. Your alternative is to unite in failing to accomplish a national goal - i.e. you wish to unite to lose rather than win the war.

3. Following from #2, ideas like "withdrawing from Iraq means losing the war" and "supporting withdrawal is unpatriotic" are perfect examples of how an agent attempts to manipulate patriotic sentiment in order to achieve an end goal.

I might agree with you if you could offer a cogent argument on how surrendering the battlefield in Iraq to the enemy in any way advances the goal of winning the war. Generally, surrendering territory to the enemy is recognized as losing a war.
 

My theory is that patriotism is a motivator to unite and accomplish a national goal.

But if the goal is truly a worthy one, people will unite behind it on the merits, not out of patriotism. It is difficult to see what patriotism brings to the table in that case.

If the goal is not worthy, then patriotism is being used precisely as Brian fears -- as an emotional cudgel for the promotion of illegitimate goals.
 

bart,

national consensus is get out of iraq.

the national goal American Citizens want is to get out of Iraq.

rightly or wrongly, they no longer wish to pay the price.

they disbelieve Herr Busch's assurances.

they dislike Congress's inability to rein in Herr Busch

and we are waiting for the court's to break the stalemate between them.

Dear Leader is stubbornly defying Public Opinion, National Goals and Congress.

I submit to you that it is Herr Busch who is being unpatriotic here.
 

A consensus does not require unanimity. - BDP


but even you would agree that a consensus requires at least a plurality greater than Laura and Barney?
 

The United States entered the war with heavy majorities of popular opinion and a heavy majority of Congress authorizing the war. That is more than enough for a national consensus on anything. - BDP

I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. - Wimpy
 

Bart DePalma said:

That depends on the change which you wish to bring about. My theory is that patriotism is a motivator to unite and accomplish a national goal. Your alternative is to unite in failing to accomplish a national goal - i.e. you wish to unite to lose rather than win the war.

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, DePalma. The goal is not to fail, but to change course. Since the vast majority of public opinion is against staying in Iraq, and a thin majority in the Congress, then the consensus is to get out. That's not surrender (get over Vietnam), but a realization that we are not helping matters there (get over Vietnam), are increasing the virulence of anti-American sentiment (get over Vietnam) and thus decreasing our influence around the world and increasing the danger to us as a country.

When the choice is between a disaster and something unpleasant, sometimes you have to swallow your jingoistic pride, hold your nose, and accept change, Bart. We already won the war and took Saddam down, Bart. The Iraqis now want us to go home; they want our permanent bases out, they want our walls out, they want our monolith on the Tigris out, they want our oil companies out, and they want our troops out, so they can rebuild their country.
 

Bart:

Given that the goal of patriotism is to unite and work together as a nation to accomplish goals, it makes no sense to argue that patriotism includes undermining the national war consensus to support the war effort in order to cause the nation to lose the war. That would appear to be the antithesis of patriotism.

If going to war means reliquishing any moral right of dissent and imposes a moral obligation to march lock-step behind the government in blind obedience, one would hope that the decision to go to war would be undertaken only after the most serious, in-depth debate, with the clear understanding of just what we are giving up. Consider, however, what Bart has previously said about the decision to go to war:

Soldiers go through intense training to make them killers. Part of this is dehumanizing the enemy as the pro-abortion folks attempt to dehumanize unborn children. Likewise, when a government attempts to rally a citizenry to go to war, it demonizes the enemy to prove that they deserve killing. This is the reality of war and is a requirement if we are to defend ourselves in a war.

This amounts to an acknowledgement that in the runup to war government manipulates public opinion to manufacture consent, and Bart appears to approve.

Peoples assemble into nation states to accomplish goals which clans and tribes cannot. In order to encourage people to work together as a nation to collectively accomplish national goals, leaders encourage patriotism.

I have not problem with the concept of working together to achieve goals. However, the goals government promotes are not restricted to wars. They include many domestic initiatives, all too often using martial imagery (war on drugs, war on poverty and so forth). Bart's view, taken to its logical conclusion, would make it unpatriotic to oppose any government policy, domestic or foreign.

And finally, give some thought to whether this obligation of lockstep blind obedience applies to other countries as well as the US. In instances like the outbreak of WWI, Bart's theory of patriotism would require the people in all beligerent countries to join the general rush to madness. More dissent and independent thought might have stopped the disaster that was WWI and the horrors of its aftermath.
 

GlennNYC said...

BD: My theory is that patriotism is a motivator to unite and accomplish a national goal.

But if the goal is truly a worthy one, people will unite behind it on the merits, not out of patriotism. It is difficult to see what patriotism brings to the table in that case.


People are reluctant to make personal sacrifices for collective goals without the prospect of short term return. Leadership is the art of convincing people to do what they otherwise would not and patriotism is a tool in that art. This is especially true in war, which imposes far higher costs than peacetime endeavors.
 

Bart makes more sense with a little editing."The United States entered the war",i.e. attacked an Iraq that represented no immediate threat to our safety "with heavy majorities of popular opinion" that had been carefully manipulated by conflation of bad actors and stovepiped intelligence.
It's getting tiresome reading the same people who've been right about the criminal folly of this invasion since 2002 defend themselves against charges of being unpatriotic by the likes of fools like Bart,who not only was wrong in 2002 but would continue to throw good money and lives after bad so we can 'win',whatever the fuck that means at this point.
You're patriotic alright,Bart.In fact,born in another place or time,you'd have been the patriot cheering German armies into Poland or Iraqi armies into Kuwait.
 

Leadership is the art of convincing people to do what they otherwise would not and patriotism is a tool in that art. This is especially true in war, which imposes far higher costs than peacetime endeavors.

You are assuming that our leaders are always right. Evidence suggests otherwise, that our leaders often make mistakes, and that the country is better off for having those mistakes pointed out.
 

A consensus does not require unanimity. The United States entered the war with heavy majorities of popular opinion and a heavy majority of Congress authorizing the war. That is more than enough for a national consensus on anything.

And people were telling those of us who objected that we needed to roll over and play dead in the face of that "heavy majority," just accept the war as inevitable, and be considered unpatriotic if we didn't before Congress had even voted on the matter. Every darn time that a President proposes a war, there's a bunch of people ready to tell me that I'm unpatriotic if I don't line up and support the darn thing before Congress has even voted.

Now, being Quaker, I don't support war period, so I suppose, by your standard, that guarantees that I'm just plain not a patriot. So be it. But still, even people way more accepting of war than me get tarred with the "unpatriotic" brush, before wars even get voted on at all.

As for me, I'm unsure whether I love my country. I love a number of the people in it, I love its landscape, I love some of its institutions, and I love the Bill of Rights. But if being a patriot means I never get to argue against the "national consensus" on any course of action, regardless of how destructive it may look to me, I guess I'll have to count myself out.

Lynn
 

Not to beat a dead horse, but Bart said: People are reluctant to make personal sacrifices for collective goals without the prospect of short term return. Leadership is the art of convincing people to do what they otherwise would not and patriotism is a tool in that art. This is especially true in war, which imposes far higher costs than peacetime endeavors.

Therefore, terrorism is also part of the leadership tool box, since its application forces not only the people you live among to avoid helping the occupiers of your country (and/or leave your turf if you don't like them), but also goads your enemies to overreact against innocents and help drive themselves out of your country.

Let's also add suspension of habeus corpus at executive whim, because those who do not support us are against us, and must be suppressed.

Let's also add (arguably)unconstitutional and illegal wiretaps, so your friends and enemies don't (or do if you play your cards right) know what you know about them.

Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, because it apparently can be used to justify anything; if it so used, in the end it means nothing, because it can also be used to undermine the society it claims to support.

I guess, at its best, patriotism is a subset of humanitarianism, a common bond with part of humanity. But it needs to be taken beyond that in order to have meaning.
 

It seems that "patriotism" in this discussion could also fall under the rubrick of "oppositional nation-building". By using this terminology as a descriptor of the build-up to the Iraq war and all the events surrounding this, I feel that we may be able to see the difference between true patriotism and what everyone here seems to be discussing.
But this interpretation relies on my underlying values as to what being a patriot means and therefore may not be applied universally. By relying on my understanding of patriotism- that is the defense of fundamental constructs of liberty, freedom, self-determination etc that this country was essentially built upon- then I would consider those who stood against the drive to war as embodying true patriotism as well. Further, I think that those who fell prey to the push for nation building as a reactionary emotion against extremism could as easily be declared un-patriotic as they have enabled this country and its administrators to engage in behavior that is antithetical to our most cherished rights and ideals.
 

It seems to be your understanding of the word love that is too tied up in emotion and not reason, Brian. You should be asking different questions to determine whether your country loves you...

Instead of asking whether its heart will beat faster when it thinks of you, ask whether it secures you the freedom to think and act on whatever it is that causes your heart to beat faster.

Instead of asking whether it will miss you when you are away, ask whether it will even ALLOW you to go away, or whether it gives you any reason to want to stay? (It could instead attempt to kill you as you climb over a wall to leave, or turn from you uncaringly as you dig under a fence and face death in the desert or jump into a boat and face death on the sea just so you can go to a neighboring country that is prosperous and free.)

Instead of asking if it worried when you are sick, ask whether it has the medical care that can heal your sickness. (It could instead worry but require that you travel, sick as you are, to another country to get the special care that you need to be healed, or it could just worry and leave you sick and unhealed, and left to suffer a long unhealthy miserable life.)

Instead of asking whether it will shed a tear for you when you die, ask whether its laws will honor and protect your life, liberty and pursuit of happiness while you live, and whether those you leave behind will be free to commemorate your life in any type of religious or non-religious ceremony they choose.

You should try living in a foreign country whose answers to the above questions are 'no' (you would have many to choose from!), and then see whether you feel appreciation and admiration for this country, even if you don't feel the emotions that you ascribe to love.

The US does a better job than most at putting love of its citizens into action, and it can do so only because there have been, thankfully, men and women more noble and brave than I fear you will ever be who have given their lives so that others may live in freedom and have the opportunity for prosperity. The US is not perfect and can be made better, but only by those who love her enough to make the effort and, when necessary, the ultimate sacrifice.
 

I'm a cubs fan. I live in the Chicago area. That's a good reason, isn't it? Garth is a terrible blowhard.

And that scene with the marseilles is terribly effective in Casablanca, functionally equivalent to the scene in the beer garden in Cabaret, Tomorrow Belongs to Me. Those are the people on NRO you know. Yes, you can jerk the chain and make people dance. Listen to Rusty Limbaugh any day of the week (I knew somebody who went to high school with him and yes it is/was "Rusty"; what a tool). There will always be propagandists. Welcome to the human world. Get a clue, back off and try try to think things through for yourself. But, but, being a patsy is so much fun! Here's another twelve hundred dollars for that George W. Bush fella. He's a guy I'd like to have a beer with. We are doomed, folks. Doomed. Look at your neighbors. Your fellow "citizens". They wouldnt knw the constitution if you hit them with it. And they won't agree with most of it.

Twenty percent of Americans believe that most of the 9/11 bombers were "iraqis". Nuff said.
 

>>I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. - Wimpy

Classic. Belongs in the Cooperstown of blog comments.
 

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