On the Morality of: Patriotism

With the American presidential inauguration soon to arrive, this seems like an opportune time to say some words on patriotism. Is love of country an emotion that can be felt by a freethinker? Is this an allegiance as irrational as the tribalisms of human prehistory, or can there be something about one’s country that makes it worth loving, even fighting or dying for?

I’ve written in the past about tribalism, the irrational loyalty to arbitrarily defined groups of people, and the havoc and destruction this tendency has wrought in human society. At first glance, patriotism might seem to be an emotion rooted strongly in tribalism. It’s hard to deny that this is at least partly true. After all, one’s home country is – for most of us, though not all of us – determined arbitrarily by place of birth. People from every corner of the world exalt their own nation and praise it as the ideal society, and clearly not all of them can be right. And patriotism, like the worst kinds of tribalism, often inspires extreme partisanship, hatred, demonization of outsiders as Other, and open warfare over disagreements that, ultimately, are about very little. Not for nothing did John Lennon sketch out utopia by inviting us to “imagine there’s no countries”.

And yet, there’s an opposing consideration, which I mentioned in my post on one-world government. As bad as excessive patriotism is, the alternative is worse.

Ultimately, countries are not patches of ground, but structures of ideas. What most defines a country is not its geographical borders: after all, we don’t consider ancient Rome and modern Italy to be the same nation, even though they occupied much of the same ground. What defines a country is its system of law and government, its way of organizing its people. The existence of separate countries allows the human race to test out a diversity of ideas on how best to govern ourselves, and when one succeeds, it stands as an example to all the rest. Just such an example was the American Revolution, which reawakened the spirit of democracy in the world and marked the beginning of the end for kings and tyrants. Lovers of liberty throughout the world can cite similar inspiring examples from their own histories.

Patriotism is what moved these revolutionaries to action, what gave them a vision to strive for. Their connection to their own land and their own people gave them a sense of resolve that, so far, the amorphous cause of “humanity in general” has failed to evoke. That is too vague a banner to rally behind – to move us, we need something more concrete and more definite.

The existence of countries aids moral progress in another way: it makes it possible to advance one step at a time. At this point in human history, if we were to try to unite the human race under one banner, the sure result would be either crippling stagnation or brutal autocracy. No other kind of government would be able to accommodate (or, in the case of autocracy, to trample over) the impossibly broad and complex range of desires and concerns among different groups of people. Having separate countries allows some issues to be tabled so that we can focus on the rest. (For an example of what happens when you try to take everyone’s wants into account at once, consider the United Nations, which is well-intentioned but mired in diplomatic gridlock on virtually every issue of importance.) As well, it limits the power of despots and demagogues, however successful they may be at home, by creating boundaries beyond which they hold no sway.

As I’ve said before, in the far distant future – when humanity’s moral outlook is more unified, and many of our sacred cows dispensed with – we might be able to think about dissolving political boundaries. But in the near term, we need separate countries so that moral progress can be achieved one region at a time, rather than having to change everything to change anything. With a free flow of immigration, the competition among nations rewards those that are freest, most prosperous, and have the strongest and fairest institutions, and sends an example to the rest of the world to do likewise. When those facts are considered, I believe it is justifiable even for atheists to be patriotic about their country, to want to improve it, and to be proud of its achievements.

Of course, like any other institution, patriotism can spin out of control and become blind, destructive partisanship. The ethic of “my country, right or wrong” has led to terrible evils – corruption and graft, secrecy, unjustified war, erosion of the rule of law, and loss of faith in the self-correcting nature of democracy. Rather than worship our home country unconditionally, we should favor it with a mature and responsible patriotism, one that does not overlook its flaws but rather seeks to correct them. With this realization in hand, we should bear in mind that those who criticize a country are not always its enemies, but can in the long run be its truest patriots and friends.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.atheistrev.com vjack

    Many good points here, and since patriotism has long been an interest of mine, I enjoyed it very much. I have a much less positive take on patriotism, but I appreciated your more balanced perspective.

    Unfortunately, the presence of growing numbers of Christian trolls on my blog has affected my judgment to the extent that I’d like to suggest one area of oversight in your post. As long as there are many countries with strong identities and patriotism, this will pose an obstacle to the global government which must be in place for the Antichrist’s return. Without the Antichrist’s return, there can be no return of Jee-zuhs and no rapture. Thus, I think you’ll have to agree that patriotism is bad, m’kay.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Tobe at A Load of Bright had a somewhat different take on patriotism. I fear I am more in his camp than yours on this. With patriotism goes jingoism, racism and delusions of superiority which I think we would all like to see the back of.

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com/ Cannonball Jones

    I’ve always been torn on the issue of patriotism – on the one side there’s the whole ‘virtue of the vicious’ thing and on the other there’s the love and passion I feel for Scotland. I have to clarify my patriotism though. There’s no way I’d lay down my life for this hunk of rock and the idea of killing another person for it makes me sick. I love the history, geography, culture and – believe it or not – the people of this land and would hate to see anything bad befall it. That said, I’m still considering emigrating to New Zealand and don’t see that as conflicting with my love of Scotland in any way.

    Scottish patriots, especially those like me who espouse independence, are often accused of being bigots, just narrow-minded fools who let some supposed centuries-old grudge against England cloud our judgment. I say that’s an incredibly weak and ill-thought out objection. As mentioned in your post countries are collections of ideas rather than arbitrary lines drawn in the sand. The national psyche of Scotland is so radically different from that of England that it makes no sense for us to be joined politically – the government is supposed to represent the will of the people but when your country only makes up about5-10% of the population then that’s as good as no representation at all. Put it this way – there’s a good chance that the Conservatives will win the next general election in the UK yet they hold barely any seats in Scotland at all. We would be subjected to rule by a party that the overwhelming majority of Scottish people actively despise.

    That’s turning into a bit of an independence rant so I’ll stop it but I was trying to illustrate that the part of Scotland I truly love is the ideals we stand for – equality, fairness, helping out the underdog, etc. We seem to be largely united in opposing nuclear weaponry, illegal wars and the like. Of course there are downsides – sectarianism is rife up here and shows no immediate signs of abating but we are aware of the problem and are working on it. We’re trying to improve and even just attempting this makes me proud.

    This is what I see as patriotism and I have no shame in it. If the majority of Scots were to suddenly change their minds and become a pack of slavering, bigoted, fundamentalist whack-jobs then I don’t think I could genuinely call myself a patriot any more.

  • http://cannonballjones.wordpress.com/ Cannonball Jones

    “With patriotism goes jingoism, racism and delusions of superiority”

    Steve,I think that’s a little unfair and a tad hypocritical. You are essentially saying that “all members of group X are Y” which is the core of the racism you dislike. I have not got a racist bone in my body and dislike the insinuation. I certainly don’t harbour any delusions of superiority and admit that Scotland and Scots in general have many problems which need to be ironed out. We were largely responsible for the formation of the KKK for god’s sake! Yes, there are many people who share all of these ugly attributes but it’s far too simplistic and intellectually lazy to automatically lump them together.

  • http://boomcoach.blogspot.com Alan

    Well spoken post. While, as Steve pointed out, patriotism can easily slip into jingoism, that is simply a way for some people to channel their personal idiocies. If the jingoists couldn’t look down on others over their nationality, they would find another reason to do so. Patriotism certainly does not end personal idiocy, but it brings many strengths.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Cannonball Jones

    Steve,I think that’s a little unfair and a tad hypocritical.

    Fair point. I guess I should have said with patriotism can come etc etc. However at the risk of falling into another generalisation, it tends to be the xenophobes who are quickest to praise the virtues of patriotism and claim it as their own. There is a parallel with religious fundementalism and (I suspect) in the U.S a strong correlation between fundemental religious belief and extreme expressions of patriotism which makes it difficult to express a moderate and rational loyalty to nation without endorsing them.

  • Mathew Wilder

    For some interesting reading on the topic, I suggest Martha Nussbaum’s little book on patriotism vs. Cosmopolitanism. I support the latter, but they aren’t necessarily complete opposites. I believe Thomas Paine called himself a “citizen of the world” but He was also an American patriot.

    I can’t remember who said it, but “My country right or wrong; if right, to be kept right, if wrong, to be made right.” I think it was a German immigrant who became a member of Congress.

    However, I usually feel “I won’t waste my love on a country” (a line from a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song). So my feelings are ambiguous, when it comes down to it.

  • nogrief

    Thanks for the clear and well expressed thoughts, ebon and commenters. Can someone give me equally valuable thoughts re: the US citizens who hid out in Canada to avoid the draft that was still in force during the Korean war? Wasn’t that unpatriotic? Although I did it grudgingly, I served the two years in the military as our nation’s law required.

  • Polly

    Very recently I was reminded why I despise the concept of patriotism. I will paraphrase:

    “If a nation is under attack, even if it requires wiping out an entire other nation to save 1 of its own citizens, it’s perfectly acceptable, and even incumbent upon its government to do so.”

    The idea being that human life outside the national boundaries has no value in comparison to that which dwells within. This was uttered, naturally, by a fellow American.

    Fuck patriotism. (sorry Ebon) Not because that statement was representative of all patriots, but because at its heart, this is perfectly consistent with what patriotism COULD demand and also how some (dare I say many) actually do view it.

    The fact is we don’t need a separate state-centered ethos, even while, unfortunately, we still require states for the time being. In fact, cold and heartless, freethinking skepticism applied to the state is the best way to produce good government. I see no need for patriotism, whatsoever. As long as humanist values are at the forefront and are promoted and guarded vigilantly, it matters very little which structure you choose. I have never seen love of country inspire anything but bloodshed. Love of freedom and equality and respect of the individual tend to create better conditions for masses of humanity.

    My understanding of the Revolution is a tad* different. I am proud of the thousands and thousands of mini-revolutions that took place afterward until today to enforce all the noble sounding ideas that the founding fathers waxed eloquent about but did very little to enforce once they secured their piece of the pie, or rather, the pie for themselves.

    *In space terms, a tad is about 100 million miles.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    As I’ve said before, in the far distant future – when humanity’s moral outlook is more unified, and many of our sacred cows dispensed with – we might be able to think about dissolving political boundaries.

    Hence, every step towards or preserving patriotism is (in theory at least) a step away from this. I tend to agree with Polly on this one, and like T. Paine, I consider myself a citizen of Earth. The tendency you describe doesn’t stop at the borderlines of countries, either. Some people from NorCal hate all people from SoCal, for example. In the case of gangs, ‘patriotism’ evolves into fighting over which side of the street is better. Of course, the question is, How do we get people who are prone to such silliness to realize they are prone to such silliness? One of my favorite lines from The Exorcism of Emily Rose was, “Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy.”

    nogrief,

    Can someone give me equally valuable thoughts re: the US citizens who hid out in Canada to avoid the draft that was still in force during the Korean war?

    My two cents’ in this matter basically boil down to: You consider yourself a moral individual, correct? A moral individual does not do immoral things simply because an authority asks demands that they do so. When one defies an immoral authority in an ethically responsible manner, IMO, they are acting quite morally.

  • john

    i’m all for patriotism, in small doses. my patriotism is to my country, but i rather pay it towards my family.
    also, good post.

    p.s.: am i the only one that at first glance thought that tribalism said tribadism? i’m just saying is all.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Well, I must disclose that I am patriotic, with genuine love and with my tongue in my cheek by turns (New Zealanders are all so patriotically proud of how we aren’t scarily patriotic like those Americans).

    The truth is I can’t live without patriotism and a sense of belonging: to my family, to my home city, my country, my university. Perhaps this gives me a responsibility to aim only for the good things that this can produce, using it to power action towards a more even and rational sense of the common good.

  • nogrief

    Cl
    Thanks for your comment.
    To the extent that it might serve to more tightly define the concept of patriotism in this thread, I want to press the issue further by asking you what ethical consideration should apply where some citizens deny their service to the nation at a time when the majority of others answer their country’s call in a time of national peril? I can anticipate a response questioning the extent of national peril but we don’t always have the luxury of knowing what our leaders may know and must simply follow along in trust.

  • Tom

    While I think Ebon is quite correct that humanity is not yet ready for a unified global government, I also think that will someday be our society’s final form. All the history of human civilisation has been driven by ever-increasing integration, from individuals to families, to tribes, to villages, to city-states, to countries, to alliances of countries, to unions of countries, to hopefully, one day, a single state. Any such progression is generally resisted by both arch-conservative and/or xenophobic attempts at regression, out of fear and distrust of change or what were formerly classed as outsiders, respectively, and patriots (or the respective stage’s equivalent of it) which, while resisting regression out of a love for the current system, nevertheless also tend to resist further progress for the same reason.

    I’ll modify that, for there seem to be two subtypes of patriotism; both support the current system as generally the best available, or at least something pretty damn good, but one variety (the one I’m talking about above) believes that the current state is the best possible under any circumstances, whereas the other recognises that, while it may be the best available at present, it could still be improved upon. The former variety, I feel, is dangerously close to fundamentalism, disturbingly widespread, and has the potential to do terrible damage to humanity, whereas the latter, while still potentially dangerous, is likely to be more reasonable and capable of exercising restraint, and also carries greater potential benefit.

    In short, “My country, right or wrong” is as dangerous as the dogmas of any fundamentalist religion. Say rather “My country, right or wrong, until I find something better – and I will always keep looking.”

    It rather reminds me of those who dogmatically cling to the teachings attributed to Jesus, or whatever other prophet or messiah is appropriate to their particular religion, because they were more moral and decent than anything that came before – sure, I’ll grant that in some cases that may even be true but, in case you hadn’t noticed, they’ve all been left behind in their turn as society moved on. For now and, I am certain, for many generations to come, it will be the height of arrogant folly, in any context, to say “this is the best that could ever be, it can never be improved upon, and so it will stand forever, everywhere.”

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Patriotism seems unresolvably opposed to an objective and rational government. The UN is only gridlocked because a large number of its members cannot agree on what constitutes basic human rights. And we know the answer to that question.

    Government, like morality should derive its legitimacy from how well it fulfills human needs. I do think this creates a built-in tension between result and principle. For example, free markets seem to work best for allocation of scarce resources. But they have their obvious drawbacks (inequality, corruption, cyclic breakdown). Whether the best way to fix those problems is through some form of legislative utilitarianism or by insisting on a true-cost-pricing market solution remains to be seen.

    So I think ideal objective government is a work in progress, and may never be realized. In the meantime, I see no point in cheerleading our particular imperfect implementation–other than to say, with Winston Churchill, that “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.”

    I don’t agree with your objection to world government. It’s not the size of the nation, it’s the degree of freedom that counts. You feel having different nations provides an escape hatch, I say it just allows bad governments a continued excuse for existence. An objectively humanist world government would never allow the kinds of hells on earth that are Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela or Cuba, for example. Pick your poison. I’d ban religious law, one-party rule, and impose representative democracy and constitutional guarantees of human rights, habeas corpus, etc. on them all. That would be a UN with teeth.

    In the meantime, we in countries who do have some sort of rule of law should be happy about it, but not afraid to address the flaws. I do agree that is the highest form of patriotism. I see no reason why that process couldn’t continue with a single world administration. Most of our problems, including finance and the climate, are global in scope. And we are suffering continued dysfunction as closed borders keep people from being where they want to be.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    nogrief,

    …we don’t always have the luxury of knowing what our leaders may know and must simply follow along in trust.

    Absolutely. And to what extent should that trust be blind or absolute? Not incidentally, note that we also don’t always have the luxury of knowing our leaders’ true intentions, either. In fact, for a very short time after 9/11, and only due to the last shred of patriotism I had, I went against my better judgment and granted Bush 43 the very same trust you mention. It could very well have been that he was privy to genuine intelligence that justified going to war, but it didn’t take long at all for me to become convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that such trust was completely unfounded. If someone were to have asked me to sign up for Bush 43′s crusade (or Bush 41′s for that matter), I think it would have been quite moral to deny. And to those who would have denigrated my perceived lack of patriotism, I would reply that true pride in the ideals of democracy does not entail the unjust killing of innocent people to establish it. Such is a farce and reminiscent of Hitler’s pandering to Niemoller.

  • nogrief

    cl
    “…..must simply follow along in trust?” (followed by your answer) “Absolutely.”
    The balance of your response was further conclusions benefiting from hindsight. Sad, isn’t it, that we can’t accurately anticipate our hindsight when it’s still in the future.

  • Leum

    I think you’re posing a false dichotomy, Ebon. The choice is not between patriotism and global governance. You can also view your country as a purely utilitarian good, without any special love or liking for it.

    The idea that countries embody ideals is, while nice, only partially accurate. It fails because a country either embodies the ideals of an individual (monarchy/dictatorship), a group (oligarchy), or the people (democracy) at that time. The idea that a constitution can protect us from this has been shown in these last eight years to be foolish in the extreme. It is only the collective belief in those ideals that sustains them. If a majority of the people desired Bush to become the Autocrat-for-Life, he would become so, and nothing our constitution said could prevent it.

    It would be no different in a global government. A global government elected directly by the people in secret elections would be prey to all the same faults and problems of our local governments. The reason this form of global governance is impractical has far more to do with the difficulty of funding and conducting those elections.

  • http://liquidthinker.wordpress.com LiquidThinker

    Well written post. Also as an American, I certainly see here that we have an incredible mix of races and cultures. There is not a real national identity in that sense. But we do have a system of government based on Enlightenment principles. We have a built in system of checks and balances so that not one branch or person can accrue too much power, easily abused. We have a system that ensures individual liberty including criticism (and correction) of our government when it no longer follows the wishes of the people. I am patriotic for these ideals.

    Of course, things aren’t perfect. As the government is composed of humans, never perfect, we can expect things to not work as well as we might wish. There have been ample cases of corruption and graft. There have been grabs for power and deception to get us into an unnecessary war that benefits the wealthy. Some have recently tried to erode the system of checks and balances. In cases such as this, it is the duty of a patriot to speak out. To redress the problems and help contribute to steering us back towards the ideals.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    nogrief,

    …I want to press the issue further by asking you what ethical consideration should apply where some citizens deny their service to the nation at a time when the majority of others answer their country’s call in a time of national peril?

    and,

    The balance of your response was further conclusions benefiting from hindsight. Sad, isn’t it, that we can’t accurately anticipate our hindsight when it’s still in the future.

    The point is not post hoc reasoning here if that’s what you mean to imply. The point is that since time immemorial, history has shown that leaders of government have lied to their own people for the very purpose of pulling them into contrived and politically expedient wars and unjust occupations:

    “Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.” Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

    You SEEM (correct me if I’m wrong) to be equating an affirmative response to being drafted as service to the nation. I’m saying this is by no means an absolute rule. Sometimes such could be the moral and ethical response; other times not. In the case I brought up of Bush 43 and the war on Iraq, draft-dodging is arguably a moral and ethical response. Further, if your religion tells you not to murder, yet your leader tells you to murder, you have a dilemma, no? You SEEM (correct me if I’m wrong) to be telling me that we must always trust our government – and surely no intellectual with even a scant knowledge of history can make such a claim with a straight face.

    Leum,

    I think you’re posing a false dichotomy, Ebon. The choice is not between patriotism and global governance.

    I agreed from the getgo and was biting my tongue because, well… At any rate, such is further evidenced by,

    And yet, there’s an opposing consideration, which I mentioned in my post on one-world government. As bad as excessive patriotism is, the alternative is worse. (Ebonmuse, emph. mine)

    Classic false dichotomy. I wouldn’t have said anything at all, but since someone else offered such first, I’ll just state that I concur and leave it that.

  • http://chromiumoxidegreen.blogspot.com Maria

    In a class I’m taking now, we had a discussion about the nation-state concept, and that it’s really a new concept, only really going back to the nineteenth or eighteenth centuries, when European nations were becoming more economically powerful, and really unifying. Though aristocratic states existed before, most people would not think of themselves as belonging primarily to a nation, but to a smaller region, like a town or village. The modern nation-state is based at the same time on the idea that there is somehow a unified people, and on the central government that is supposed to represent these people. I understand your point that a reigonalized government is necessary purely as a practical measure, but I don’t think patriotism necessarily follows from it. Patriotism, to me, is too tied up with the nation-state concept, so by definition it includes an unnecessary and potentially harmful loyalty to the state. A love for the people of the nation, and an honest desire to make life better for these people, can be a perfectly good characteristic if it doesn’t include a negativity to those outside the country, but somehow I don’t think this can properly be labelled patriotism. At best it’s the same as any humanist based progressive movement, only working at a more manageable scale.

  • nogrief

    Cl,
    You had adequately answered my premise re: …”follow along in trust?” when you said, “Absolutely.” Why, then, go on throwing up straw men that turn the discussion away from the subject of patriotism that ebon offered.

  • http://thewarfareismental.typepad.com cl

    nogrief,

    Why, then, go on throwing up straw men that turn the discussion away from the subject of patriotism that ebon offered.

    Good grief, are you serious? First, I suggest learning the difference between a strawman and a red herring. Red herrings turn discussions away from their original topics; strawmen are misrepresentations of your opponent’s position. I’ve not misrepresented your argument here, and do not mean to offend your military service, which may very well be the pertinent subtext. You may have a very moral reason you did your service. I don’t know, and don’t care.

    Second, when you restated your statement I agreed with, did you quote it in its entirety? Yes or no? To refresh your memory,

    “…..must simply follow along in trust?” (followed by your answer) “Absolutely.”

    A bit disingenuous, no? I’m unsure if it’s possible to quote-mine oneself, but in reality, your statement that I responded, “Absolutely” to was:

    we don’t always have the luxury of knowing what our leaders may know and must simply follow along in trust. (emph. mine)

    And it is absolutely true that we don’t always have said luxury, so save it. Now, to grant you a pixel’s-width of ground, in the interest of absolute clarity, I could have also deleted the non-italicized words, because some people are simply bound to disregard context. However, my initial reply clearly stated that I do not think we should absolutely follow our leaders along in trust:

    A moral individual does not do immoral things simply because a (governmental) authority asks demands that they do so. When one defies an immoral authority in an ethically responsible manner, IMO, they are acting quite morally. (cl, *paren. added to avoid further confusion)

    You neglected to take context into consideration, and by making it appear as if absolute obedience was what I agreed to, and hence my position, when I clarified that it was not in my first response to you, guess what? Strawman.

  • Christopher

    cl,

    …we don’t always have the luxury of knowing what our leaders may know and must simply follow along in trust.

    Do you ever wonder why that is? What makes those called “leaders” privy to knowledge we don’t have? The answer: knowledge is the key to power – keep those below you in the dark and just tell the that whatever plans you have are “necissary” (regardless as to whether or not there’s any factual basis for that claim), the lower echelons will follow because they have no reason to object (due to being denied information).

    Hopefully, now that we’re in the information age, this exclusive controll over knowledge from those in the political class will be broken and that secrecy of government is destroyed: only if that should happen will individuals know just what kind of damage has been done to them by the political class – and then learn how to leverage that knowledge to their own advantage in the future…

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    nogrief,

    To clarify, I said:

    …strawmen are misrepresentations of your opponent’s position.

    I would like to amend to the following:

    …strawmen are misrepresentations of your opponent’s position that you argue against.

    Something tells me you’d take an opening like that.

  • nogrief

    Cl,
    Thanks for condescending to enlighten me about the difference between red herrings and strawmen. There’s always something new to be learned isn’t there? Frankly, I think you perpetrated both.

    I started this exchange with what I considered a reasonable and innocent query bearing on ebon’s thoughts on patriotism. Step by step, with tangential remarks and intimations, you conflated the matter into issues that contributed nothing that enlarged on ebon’s article.

    Ebon,
    I immensely benefit from reading your thoughtful articles and sincerely don’t wish to be a party to taking the subjects you raise down bunny trails.

  • valhar2000

    Nogrief, I would say that it is immoral to follow your leaders blindly into war. Though it is not hard to envision scenarios in which war will be justified and necessary, and one will want to fight, one should apply the greatest amount of skepticism possible to any claims by the rullers that this is so, and demand the best proof that can possibly be given that wart is necessary.

    As others here have alluded to, your government has lied to you, is lying to you, and will lie to you, and never as fragrantly as when it wants you to sacrifice your life for it. So, before going off to kill people you have never seen before, do your best to make sure that this time, for once, your government is telling you the truth.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    nogrief has a good question, so I’ll offer some thoughts:

    Can someone give me equally valuable thoughts re: the US citizens who hid out in Canada to avoid the draft that was still in force during the Korean war? Wasn’t that unpatriotic?

    As always, there are contrasting considerations to take into account. If your country has done right by you, I think you have an obligation to contribute to its defense if that should be necessary. On the other hand, it’s well known that the claim of just following orders is an inadequate defense, and certainly refusing to serve in an unjust war is the moral thing to do. (Whether a particular war is unjust is a matter for further debate, of course.)

    My conclusion is this: If you strongly believe a war is unjust, and you’re called upon to fight in it, then you have the moral right to refuse. But that is an act of civil disobedience, and if you choose to invoke that right, then you should willingly take the consequences, whatever they may be. Either joining the service to fight, or refusing to fight and accepting the consequences, is a courageous act either way. But refusing to fight, and also refusing to face the penalties for that refusal, is an act of moral cowardice.

  • Mathew Wilder

    then you have the moral right to refuse

    Shouldn’t that be a “moral duty to refuse”? I mean, it’s not like it’s a moral option to fight in an unjust war, right?

    I disagree also that it is cowardice to escape the consequences of civil disobedience. If there is a draft, and you think it is immoral to fight in a given war, and you are drafted, say, I don’t think you’re morally obligated to stay around and be put in jail for failing to report for duty. I think that is an injustice too, and so one isn’t obligated to put up with it.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @ Steve Bowen:
    So, let me get this straight: your main objection to “idea X” is that “group Y” is giving it a bad name? I mean, I’m not very fond of group Y, myself, but any idea X can be hijacked and abused by a sufficiently dedicated group Y. This is why group Y sucks. Screw those guys!

    More generally, I agree that the “my country, right or wrong” brand of patriotism is bad. But it’s not the only kind of patriotism, just as child-molesting Catholic priests are not the only kind of human. These are both some of the worst examples of their kinds. It’s a sad, contingent fact of our culture that there’s a strong correlation between “being a tribalist” and “being a patriot,” but let’s please remember that the two are not synonymous.

    Patriotism is love of country, and I love my country. I love my country like I love my parents: I don’t think they’re perfect, but they’re a damn sight better than a lot of parents I’ve heard of, and hey! I turned out all right, didn’t I? I plan on making some improvements to their general parenting plan in the event that I should raise young citizens of my own, but I plan on keeping the good bits, and I’m grateful to my parents for those. As I grow, I see more of their flaws, but I also see more of their strengths, and I also know that they’re just people like everyone else – but I still love them, even though I’ve been ashamed of them at times. Also, while it’s true that a few of the other neighborhood kids get too wrapped up in the “my dad could beat up your dad” one-up-manship nonsense, that doesn’t put me off loving my parents just ‘cuz some childish twits are doing it wrong.

  • qturn

    Interesting topic. It reminds me of George Carlin talking about bumber stickers that say “Proud to be an American”. He argues that you shouldn’t have pride in something you are a part of by circumstance. Instead, one should say “Happy to be an American” or similar. This seems relevant to me when talking about patriotism. The worst it can bring about in people perhaps, is false pride, a false sense of superiority and achievement, and all that such entails

  • Leum

    Shouldn’t that be a “moral duty to refuse”? I mean, it’s not like it’s a moral option to fight in an unjust war, right?

    Depends on how you look at it. Say I’m drafted in the upcoming War to Secure Peace and Prosperity in Iran (I’m draft-age and registered, after all). Now this war is, in my opinion, blatantly unjust and immoral. But if I refuse to fight, all I’m doing is ensuring some other poor chap will get drafted. My decision not to fight only gives me moral satisfaction, it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. If we accept Ebon’s Universal Utilitarianism, I’m not sure you can make a case that a personal decision to dodge the draft is moral or immoral. Being part of a massive draft-dodging protest, yes, individual dodging, not so much.

    To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to refuse to fight, just that I’m not sure fighting in an unjust war (as a result of compulsion, legal or circumstantial*) is immoral.

    *For some people, the military is the only way out of their situation in life.

  • http://dbzer0.com db0

    As others said before me, I believe you are setting up a false dichotomy. The alternative to many nation-states is not one world government necessarily. It’s also no state-government at all.

    Furthermore, even if a world government was necessary, it wouldn’t necessarily mean it would have to impose itself on the customs and progress of people, except when those acts were inhumane.

    IMO, nationalism and patriotism does far more harm than good. There’s no reason to separate people based on where they happened to be born in.

  • StaceyJW

    Life is short enough, if I’m refusing to fight in a war I feel is unjust, I don’t see any benefit in sitting in jail for refusing. If it means I’m a coward, so be it- this coward will be doing something positive with the years that would have otherwise been spent in jail. I think that conscientious objectors can actually do other things now, instead of going to jail. Still, if the country is engaged in aggression that is immoral, why you would want any part of it, I don’t know. It takes more than the army to wage a war, just because you are not in combat doesn’t mean you are not participating. But jail? I just don’t see the point of that.

    I don’t think its right to avoid pitching in and fighting when it is necessary, but the last several of our (USA) military excursions have been anything but. The worst part of presidents like GWB is that they erode the public’s trust by crying wolf and sending people to die for something unnecessary. When there is a real threat, it will be tough to separate from the lies of the past.

    I agree with D, and don’t see anything wrong with Patriotism. There is nothing wrong with loving the place you live. Just because you love and appreciate a nation (or anything for that matter), doesn’t mean you agree with everything that goes on.

    StaceyJW

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    D

    So, let me get this straight: your main objection to “idea X” is that “group Y” is giving it a bad name?

    In a way yes. In the same way that I think the vast majority of moderately religious people allow fundementalism to make the public agenda, passive patriotism opens up the field for the jingoist. I am definately not saying that people shouldn’t respect their country, system of government, cultural heritage etc where it is deserving of such. But in a global society I feel that the emphasis should be on looking outwards and not in.

  • Virginia

    A lot to think about. Patriotism is a touchy subject here in Asia. China, suffered humiliation from Western Imperialism, hailed patriotism as though its a religion, and going to a point that some tried to resurrect very oppresive and feudelistic practices or dogmas — and labelling many ideas such as Egalitarianism, civil liberty, freedom of speech, democracy etc. as “Western”, and of course any views expressing sympathy, say to Tibetans voice, or Taiwanese say in their future is labelled as “unpatriotic”. In fact, patriotism serves to divide, incite hatred and violence more than uniting people

  • SASnSA

    The word patriotic these days, as well as it’s opposite, unpatriotic, is used as a tool these days to inspire trust with the former, and distrust or hatred with the latter. It seldom seems to actually have anything to do with what the individual or group has actually done for their country, but rather it’s whether their opinions and/or beliefs are the same.

    Former president George G W Bush has been quoted as saying in a private interview “No, I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.” I’m sorry Mr. Bush, but I served 21 years in the US military, including during both of your terms, retired with honor, and you’re going to say I’m not a patriot?! In fact, it shouldn’t even take that much to be considered a patriot, but I know religious tests aren’t required, or even allowed (Constitution, Article VI, Section 3).

    That brings me to something else: “This is one nation under God.” We’re seeing stuff like this quite a bit these days. “This is a Christian nation”. No, it’s not! This is a nation with Christians (among others) in it. Before the 1950s, this was “one nation, indivisible”. There was no “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance until people decided that the Russians must be some sort of vampires or demons that couldn’t say the word “God”. And finally, according to the Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11; this is not a Christian nation.

  • http://dominicself.co.uk Dominic Self

    I have to say, I don’t ‘love’ my country, nor do I think it represents one particular vision or idea. I’m rather emotionally fond of it, whatever ‘it’ means – though obviously its people exasperate as well as inspire. So I would agree with qturn: I’m very happy to be British, but I’m not ‘proud’ to be so as I can only really be proud of things I’ve actually done or contributed to?

  • nfpendleton

    EBON: “But refusing to fight, and also refusing to face the penalties for that refusal, is an act of moral cowardice.”

    To draw the “moral cowardice” argument out, wouldn’t you say then that those who’ve fled oppressive goverments on threat of imprisonment, torture, or death are exhibiting moral cowardice? By seeking asylum for youself, family or friends in a nation that will not imprison you or send you back to unbearable or unacceptable conditions? If this is the case, then Europe and the US are chockful of foreign national moral cowards. We also see a great deal of cowards drown between Florida and Cuba each year. Are Mexicans also considered cowards for fleeing their bleak environments in stifling vans or by crossing on foot parched deserts?

    Hell, if I moved away from my home state to another state because I didn’t agree with the new tax provisions, then would I be a moral coward too? And what about the history of goverments and paramilitary groups forcing boys into military service at the point of a gun? To flee into the jungle and live there like an animal – is this moral cowardice? Or just deep, crippling fear?

    If not a basic human right, it’s a basic human desire at least to flee oppressive circumstances. And some of the horrid shit these people have to endure to get away doesn’t seem very cowardly to me. Even if that means a 20-year-old guy thumbing a ride to Nova Scotia in 1971 to avoid being drafted into a war that will most likely expect him to slaughter the abject poor.

    Maybe I’ve interpreted your words incorrectly. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Please.

  • Virginia

    If I can comment the Pledge of Allegiance on the “one nation” phrase, I will prefer “one nation united by our democratic ideals”….

  • TommyP

    Very well said!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    To draw the “moral cowardice” argument out, wouldn’t you say then that those who’ve fled oppressive goverments on threat of imprisonment, torture, or death are exhibiting moral cowardice?

    No, those are completely different issues. To preserve one’s life or safety, for instance in a case like Ishmael Beah’s, of course it’s ethical to flee. To escape an oppressive or brutal government, the same holds true. But in a country with a rule of law and strong democratic institutions – as the United States has always been, even at its worst – then the logic of civil disobedience makes sense. It sends a message in an environment where that message will be heard and may inspire others to do the same. If you’re drafted into a war where the objective is, as you put it, to slaughter the abject poor, then doesn’t it make sense to demonstrate your resistance in the clearest and most unmistakable terms?

  • Leum

    Continuing on your thought, Ebon, one of the fundamental principles of Gandhi’s civil disobedience is:

    When any person in authority seeks to arrest a civil resister, he will voluntarily submit to the arrest, and he will not resist the attachment or removal of his own property, if any, when it is sought to be confiscated by authorities. (link)

    The idea being that being imprisoned is part of the resistance and can be used to incite public or even international outrage and disapproval of the regime being protested.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Indeed. And if the government does come to arrest you for your refusal to fight, then they’ll have to put you on trial – which is like extending you an open invitation to explain to the public why you won’t go along with the draft. I can’t imagine a more effective way to resist an unjust war.

  • http://www.thewarfareismental.info cl

    To these last comments I would add that Jesus neither fled from nor condoned attack on the authorities who came to arrest, demonstrating civil disobedience as defined here.

  • Samuel Skinner

    “The existence of separate countries allows the human race to test out a diversity of ideas on how best to govern ourselves, and when one succeeds, it stands as an example to all the rest.”

    So Congo exists so we can see how crappy government works? That seems extremely inhumane. We don’t do medical testing on such a basis- why should we do something that affects billions this way?

    “Just such an example was the American Revolution, which reawakened the spirit of democracy in the world and marked the beginning of the end for kings and tyrants. Lovers of liberty throughout the world can cite similar inspiring examples from their own histories.”

    Ah yes, the freedom to opress others more efficiently.

    “That is too vague a banner to rally behind – to move us, we need something more concrete and more definite.”

    The communists rallied behind it easily enough. They got what- almost two-fifths in post war Europe?

    “At this point in human history, if we were to try to unite the human race under one banner, the sure result would be either crippling stagnation or brutal autocracy.”

    Which is different from the present situation… how exactly? Oh yeah, in our nice pleasent enclaves we can ignore it. Sure, a one world government would be bad for alot of us- but it would be beneficial for alot more. What makes you think it would have to be ruthlessly totalitarian? It could go Federal State style.

    ” No other kind of government would be able to accommodate (or, in the case of autocracy, to trample over) the impossibly broad and complex range of desires and concerns among different groups of people. ”

    And not having a world government has the same exact effect. Funny how these things work out?

    ” (For an example of what happens when you try to take everyone’s wants into account at once, consider the United Nations, which is well-intentioned but mired in diplomatic gridlock on virtually every issue of importance.) ”

    That is a red herring and you know it- the UN doesn’t work for the same reason 18th century Poland didn’t- each member has veto power and only one vote. Vote by population as a world government would be alot more smooth as the China/India/Nigeria block would sway the day.

    “As well, it limits the power of despots and demagogues, however successful they may be at home, by creating boundaries beyond which they hold no sway.”

    Or you could just try federalism.

    ” But in the near term, we need separate countries so that moral progress can be achieved one region at a time, rather than having to change everything to change anything.”

    You can’t do it one piece at a time! Try that and the problems flow in from surrounding countries.

    “With a free flow of immigration, the competition among nations rewards those that are freest, most prosperous, and have the strongest and fairest institutions, and sends an example to the rest of the world to do likewise. ”

    Which is why China has the fastest growing economy on Earth? Also, how does this cause change? North Korea is still a closed state- apparently you need the specter of war to keep nations in touch with reality. They might change… because their new leader feels it will help them compete more effectively. Not politically though. Which is what we are aiming for…

    “The national psyche of Scotland is so radically different from that of England that it makes no sense for us to be joined politically – the government is supposed to represent the will of the people but when your country only makes up about5-10% of the population then that’s as good as no representation at all. Put it this way – there’s a good chance that the Conservatives will win the next general election in the UK yet they hold barely any seats in Scotland at all. We would be subjected to rule by a party that the overwhelming majority of Scottish people actively despise.”

    The same applies to the entire US- particularly the urban/rural split. We live with it and despite our crazies, our unity gives us strength.

    “While I think Ebon is quite correct that humanity is not yet ready for a unified global government, ”

    Humanity isn’t ready for the alternative- I’d rather live in Tito’s Yugoslavia than in the 1990s version. Or post-Stalin USSR than modern Russia. Sure, they were despotic, but the alternative wasn’t democracy- it was anarchy and war… like what we have know. We can have a brutal state that kills hundred of thousands… or we can have now where we get to watch much of Africa die slowly.

    “I also think that will someday be our society’s final form.”

    Why? States only give up autonomy due to outside threats.

    “To these last comments I would add that Jesus neither fled from nor condoned attack on the authorities who came to arrest, demonstrating civil disobedience as defined here.”

    Yeah. And he died exceddingly painfully and pointlessly. Palestine didn’t get to be an independent state until 1948.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I am patriotic — to the ideas ensconced in the Bill of Rights. I’d gladly give my life in their defense. And I do love the country which formalized them. But true patriotism is like true friendship. A true friend isn’t one who tells you what you wish to hear, but rather what you need to hear. And so it is with my patriotism.


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