On Patriotism, Nationalism and Pride.

Consider this quote from Emma Goldman:

“Conceit, arrogance & egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who had fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all others.” (Emphasis my own)

Well how true is this exactly? It sure seems on the Alliance of the Libertarian Left’s Facebook Page that this quote has gotten a lot of support but that doesn’t necessitate its truth value by any means. Instead, let’s not look at the first sentence and the first one only,

“”Conceit, arrogance & egotism are the essentialsĀ of patriotism.”

Why only quote this portion? Well if this section can be proven false/right then the rest of the argument that expands upon this notion then the whole argument can either be seen as true or false. So what exactly is patriotism? Most anarchists know from Goldman’s essay on the subject that is it, “a menace to liberty” and “the last refuge of scoundrels”, etc. but are the essentials of patriotism such? Can patriotism only be such a concept? Or could it ever be something different?

Goldman says in her essay:

“We Americans claim to be a peace-loving people. We hate bloodshed; we are opposed to violence. Yet we go into spasms of joy over the possibility of projecting dynamite bombs from flying machines upon helpless citizens. We are ready to hang, electrocute, or lynch anyone, who, from economic necessity, will risk his own life in the attempt upon that of some industrial magnate. Yet our hearts swell with pride at the thought that America is becoming the most powerful nation on earth, and that it will eventually plant her iron foot on the necks of all other nations.

Such is the logic of patriotism.”

But is it fair to put all of the blame on patriotism? Certainly being proud of something is usually never enough in of itself (insofar as that pride does not become arrogance but more on that later) a reason for people to kill other people. If I am proud of my athletic prowess or my talents as an artist or perhaps something else this does not inspire me to kill other people. Indeed it seems this so called “pride in one’s birthplace” is something fairly benign. Or at least as one commenter on the Philosophy Bro’s post about patriotism suggested as much when he said,

“In early human societies, or so some theories go, survival was difficult enough that everyone needed to have each other’s back. There was no room to fuck around. Decide you don’t feel like pulling your weight today, the tribe may not have enough food for the winter. Get a girl pregnant before you’ve proved you can provide, you may be dooming the baby to death. Drink from the wrong watering hole, get poisoned and die.

So you get social codes that keep the tribe safe from stupidity. Support kin/country no matter what. Do what you’re told or get exiled, because otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll end up killing someone else. Even if you don’t understand the rules, they’ve helped your tribe survive for centuries and that’s worth some respect. This leads to the first type of patriotism I listed. When the alternative is death, it’s hard to argue.”

Now this is somewhat hard to argue with in some aspects of it. It seems to make sense to me that patriotism in its infancy was just benign mutual trust and respect in each other and in their tribes/communities, where they come from, etc. To me these sorts of arrangements seems perfectly fine and natural. So what then does patriotism have now that is different? Well for one as Goldman makes note of constantly the idea of having pride in where you came from are used to justify horrible things. Now does this necessitate the thing in question (having pride in where one came from) meaningless? I don’t think so. Indeed I’d argue that having a prideful spirit in what you are a part of, contribute towards the society etc.

But as comedians like Doug Stanhope and George Carlin have pointed out, why be proud of something you had no part in? Why, for example, as Carlin points out, should one be proud of genetic accidents?

Philosophy Bro quotes Carlin saying,

“I could never understand national or ethnic pride, because to me Pride should be reserved for something you achieve on your own. Being Irish isn’t a skill, it’s a fucking genetic accident. You wouldn’t be proud to be 5’11”. You wouldn’t be proud to have a pre-disposition for colon cancer.”

I think Carlin’s point is mostly spot on. I also never really understand these sorts of pride that people have. As Carlin points out though, you can be happy with what ethnicity you are or nationality you are but there’s no reason to be proud of it right? Well yes and no.

First the yes. I’d have to say that it’s pretty pointless to take pride in things you had little or nothing to do with. You couldn’t exactly tell your parents to fuck when you weren’t even born yet right? So it doesn’t seem to make any sense that you would take pride in your parents just happened to be in some arbitrary nation-state/location and happened to have certain genes and then happened to have sex. What’s there to be proud of exactly in this whole thing?

But second the no. I’d also have to say however that certain people share common or at least similar goals, interests, likes, desires and wants, etc. So this also means that I think if you improve on these sorts of things in a way conducive to a freer society I don’t find any harm in taking pride in what you are doing about these things. If, on the other hand, you’re just putting up bumper stickers, waving the damn flag and calling for the bombing of brown people because they can’t speak the language then I definitely have a problem with you.

But what about pride? What exactly is pride anyways?

Pride, for me, seems to be a sense of accomplishment or something along those lines in something that you’ve accomplished. So this is why, if, for example, you’re building on the community spirit of helping each other out in hard times I think that’s something to be commended and be prideful of even. What I don’t say is that as Goldman says that entitles you to,

“…consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all others.”

I don’t think that’s nearly as commendable and probably not commendable at all.

So what then about nationalism? Well nationalism, since I think nation-states are a bad idea I’m not one for pride in something like a nation. Consider what the individualist anarchist and writer Charles Johnson says about borders in these two posts here and here.

These sorts of acts seem to me as an anarchist are clearly wrong. But it’s not pride at the root of things that is to fault. It is, and perhaps Goldman and others could redefine what they mean, I think state-induced pride in the state itself. Of course as anarchists there’s nothing to be prideful of in the state’s actions, what it stands for, what it is and so on. The state is only the manifestation of the ruling class’s interest in subjugating the people so called “below” them through tribute (taxation) and telling them that defending them is in their best interest (aka dying in unjustified wars).

It seems then that when the state gets involved, when culture is distorted by a lens of authoritarianism in an even larger scope than just the scope society (that is, those individuals who decide to socialize together in a voluntaristic manner for mutual benefit) seems to become more and more submissive to the state and less autonomous.

Is Miss. Goldman right then? That these are the essentials of the patriotism? I think I must answer this question before closing. I think this is the case but only insofar as patriotism stands right now. And how it stands now is (and Goldman provides ample evidence in her wonderful essay, that, for it’s flaws I recommend just as an anarchist classic essay alone) in defense of murder. Pure and simple. The subjugation of immigrants, free roamers, people with different cultures and ideas may be less stifled if patriotism as it is now along with nationalism and the distorted pride of the day would be a lot less prevalent if these ideas along with statism and more are outcompeted with better ones.

I think all of these questions bring us to a few ending statements as the Philosophy Bro post makes note of:

“Is the existence of Athens or America or Italy or any state a good thing, something that we can justly contribute to or participate in? This in turn raises difficult questions about what exactly a state is. Is America its current government? Is it the body of institutions that comprise that government? Is it the set of values ostensibly enshrined in the founding documents? Is it the laws, or the enforcement of those laws? Some of these are more worth contributing to than others.”

And finally an interesting questions for anarchists to consider,

“Look at it this way: if I was born and grew up in a successful anarchist colony that was surrounded by giant capitalist systems, would I be justified in being proud that our colony has survived? I was raised as an anarchist, and my entire culture was anarchist. Of course I would think anarchy is something worth furthering. But that doesn’t mean that anarchy is meritless, or that I don’t have grounds for believing that it is something worth furthering. It’s possible some of my fellow anarchists have rejected anarchy and gone to live in capitalist society, the pigs, just as it is the case that some of my peers who were taught the same “American values” I was taught have rejected those values; my predisposition, whether to anarchism or America, does not render me incapable of overthrowing those values, and it does not render the act of retaining those values completely insignificant.”

As the Philosophy Bro post points out, it’s not made to answer all the questions but its hope is to open up the discussion a bit more and make things clearer. I can only hope to do the same.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 8th, 2011 at 1:49 pm and is filed under Uncategorized.

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