On Patriotism

Jeff Alworth

In common usage, "nationalism" is, as Oxford describes it "an extreme form of patriotism; chauvinism."  Patriotism, for which "nationalism" is often supplied as one definition, is used as a softer form of national pride--per Webster, "love for or devotion to one's country."  Yet their etymology suggests the reverse.  Patriot comes from the word meaning "father" in Greek (patrios, of one's fathers).  The word nation, however, comes from a far more metaphoric root--natus, "to be born." 

Those two senses--a tribal fidelity to the land of one's fathers versus conviction in something born, something new--are usually conflated or ignored altogether.  The result is that we live in a time of unchallenged nationalism, thanks in large part to the tragedy of 9/11.  Since that tragedy there has been a strong national impulse to circle the wagons and support the country at all costs.  This support has become the proxy for patriotism--it is the national declaration of unity--and yet it is nothing more than a fidelity to the land of our fathers.

The United States, more than any other country, comes closest to the metaphor suggested by the Latin root of "nation."  It really was something new, something born.  Until the discovery of the new world, nations were tribes.  They were defined by the language, culture, religion, and race of a group of people.  Empires sprawled across the globe, gobbling up nations, but the pride stayed with the tribe--those who spoke the same language and went to the same temples and looked the same.  America, diverse even at the time of its founding, was the first place where leaders could think of creating a nation of something other than race and language.  As a result, to be an American, even in the earliest days (and even in the still-racist first draft) meant to be a citizen who subscribed to a set of ideas, not one who came from the land of the fathers.

When Americans invest their devotion into the symbol or leaders of the nation, they sacrifice the ideas and revert to the petty pride of nationalism.  When we become nationalists instead of patriots, there is nothing we won't support so long as it's clothed in old glory.  Europe burned to the ground in the twentieth century because of nationalist fervor.  If the citizens of Germany and Italy had responded to their leaders with patriotism instead of nationalism, what horrors could they have averted?

In the post-9/11 period, our leaders have also asked us to respond with nationalism--that is, support for their policies--not patriotism.  Instead of asking how we can ensure that American ideals survive the challenge of terror, our leaders have too often imposed purity tests to gauge our loyalty. But patriotism, even in the time of war, must always reflect a passion for and belief in the ideals of America, not its leaders or symbols.  The greatest threat to those ideals is never external (surely Osama bin Laden cannot undo American democracy)--it is our own failure to recall and uphold them ourselves.

The fourth of July is always a time to reflect on our nation's birth.  Instead of blind flag-waving, perhaps 2005 will provide us an opportunity to think about the ideas that created the birth, and how we can ensure that they survive.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    So good, Jeff.

    Your line of thought goes through the point that a patriot is someone willing to defend their country against its government.

    And you cover the point that American culture is established in the idea it shall not be and have a culture but shall be and have all cultures. The respect of cultural plurality is our single uniting idea of currency -- we all know it: e pluribus unum, it's on all the money.

    But you have a few kinks and bent logic to straighten out which detour you around the vertex point where we change the way we were going. You parallel "If the citizens of Germany and Italy had responded to their leaders with patriotism instead of nationalism, what horrors could they have averted?," beside America, "In the post-9/11 period, our leaders have also asked us to respond with nationalism--that is, support for their policies--not patriotism." Yet avoid to say the respective leaders in each instance -- Hitler, Mussolini, Cheney -- also directed the events of the moment on which they laid plans for a nationalistic surgence into their policies.

    Just for your notice, there is no evidence foreign terrorists hijacked planes on 9/11 -- for example, none of the administration-released, media-reported hijacker names had (nor bought) tickets for the flights, and the airlines offered no manifest evidence they were on board. And conversely, there is much evidence Cheney planned and directed the 9/11 plane hijackings -- he alone had method, opportunity, and motive -- as documented in "Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil," by Michael Ruppert, [New Society Publishers, 2004], available at FromTheWilderness.com, NewSociety.com, Amazon.com, Powell's, Laughing Horse Books, &tc.

    Seeing in you a love of books for keeping our thoughts straight, "Crossing the Rubicon" shows the shorter distance between points (Occam's razor) you go over. It's a good read (with a promotional tinfoil hat included in a dustjacket pocket) I think you and many readers could enjoy.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    The semantics of our present condition would be relevant if the Republicans had any respect for definitions. The Patriot Act has nothing in it that would resemble freedom. The Reich declares that "Freedom is on the March" and they endeavor to instill democracy at the point of a gun. They even get incensed that we would compare Guantanomo to a gulag when there are people being tortured. Cheney reports they have "everything they want." Would you like a beating with your chicken?

    Duly noted is the difference between patriotism and nationalism and I wholeheartedly agree that we need more patriots. But I would warn that not every one who declares themselves a patriot is one.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    The etymology is significant, however, the present Administration ignores definitions, even defies definition. The Patriot Act does nothing to enhance freedom. "No Child Left Behind" evidently will leave quite a few children behind. And "every thing they want" inluded torture in the tropical environs of Guantanomo Bay.

    Wholeheartedly do I agree that we need more patriots like Jeff, who will speak truth to power.

  • Gregor (unverified)

    Sorry for two postings. It did not seem that the first was successful, so I wrote the second.

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    On the WWII/leaders issue, I should also mention that I am making no comparison between fascist states in the 30s to our administration. Obviously a number of things are different, in scale and structure. The one thing that's relevant there is that populations sunk themselves when they allowed themselves to fall into a nationalist fervor. Germany following WWI looks nothing like the US now, and there are scads of citizens across the political spectrum who aren't susceptible to blind nationalism.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    I think you may exaggerate the differences between Germany and Italy [and how about Japan?] in the 1930's and the US now. There were many citizens of those countries who resisted fascist nationalism. They were overwhelmed.

    Of course, the present regime will not publicaly align intself with twentieth century fascists. They remain quite unpopular in today's world. That does not mean that the New American Century/Christian Nation crew is not ideologically and strategically linked to the Axis regimes.

  • Ed Bickford (unverified)

    Jeff rightly strives not to be lumped together with those who draw similes between Bush's administration and Hitler's Nazi regime solely to heap opprobrium on a political opponent. It is unfortunate that our administration's modus operandi so readily evokes the memory of the European Fascists.

    Why was it that the Europeans "sunk themselves when they allowed themselves to fall into a nationalist fervor"? (as Jeff said)

    They were desperate people who thought that their exigencies exempted them from the restraints of civil conduct.

    I think that we have become desperate to maintain our status as the premiere superpower in the face of erosion of our base of economic dominance and the rise of the power of nations such as China. The loss of reason in response to the 9/11 attacks are symptomatic of our deeper fears.

    No one fears losing their riches more than the titans of Big Oil, who see a shrinking supply ahead and potent competitors for the resource. Bush is therefore exactly the wrong guy to be setting the course for our nation.

    I can only hope this wave of patriotism will eventually lead people to "recall and uphold... the ideals of America, not its leaders or symbols."

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Jeff, sorry I'm pokey with the ball in my court. Cheap China-made computer crash-burned this weekend.

    At the risk of repeating myself, I pow-wow'ed with my state senator before the session and supplied him some documentation on peak oil, and the end of oil, and the administration's staging of the 9/11 trauma meant to so terrify and coward Americans under Bush's boot that we'd not stop his war-crime spree in our name, and with our citizen-soldiers, invading the Cradle of Civilization to steal the pusher's stash like the addict Bush is leading a nation of addicts. Here's what I may have said before: Senator looked at me and said "You're scaring me," in a tone of voice not saying the facts were wrong, or that I was irrational, rather, that it is impolite to scare people.

    Jeff, the parallels, ('similes' ? -- like, NOT !) ... heck, even 'parallels' is too weak, it is a freakin' re-enactment going on now of the nazis driven mad for and by power, behind a driver every bit as non-compos-mentis psychotic as Adolph-boy. What part of 'he will take your life and millions more to megalo his mania' don't you understand? You think he's even counting any more? Notching his pistol grip? C'mon, man, (ladies and gents), you (all) are smarter than that. You know Bush is murderously practiced, and an addictive personality at that. So ... what, it's not polite to scare people?

    Your. Life. Is. At. Stake.

    'Scuse my rude-savage impoliteness, but could you explain how dying while blissed on ignorance is a preferred dead?

    Even the least coincidence between the 1918-32 provoked turmoil, (which Hitler exploited to terrify 'scads of (good German) citizens across the political spectrum'), and the provoked turmoil nowadays, is too perfect to be a coincidence. Britain invaded Mesopotamia, (read: Iraq), c. 1917, 'to keep the oil out of enemy hands,' (read: oil for us), and bogussed a League o'Nations illicit 'mandate' to militarily occupy the place indefinitely, (read: as long as the oil does well). When (1939) rebellious Iraqi army officials, (read: the counterinsurgency), moved to befriend their enemy's (Britain's) enemy (Germany), British forces in-country murdured and exiled Iraqi leadership and framed the Iraqi rank and file for it. And then claimed Iraq was aligned with Britain and was democratically decent. I mean, this is only a sideshow to naziism rising's main event, yet we are moving now not merely in parallel but in the identical damned worn rut.

    Wait, it gets worse. I understand people are busy -- job, family, rat-race wheel; too busy to learn history. But ... some priorities are higher priority -- like not getting dead, for example, swept away in a lemming mass not questioning their pie-eyed piper from Hamlin, Berlin, Crawford, whatever. Anyway, somehow, read a short book. Here is the preface:

    " Who controls the past controls the future... ...who controls the present controls the past." -- George Orwell, from "1984" War is Peace (War for the masses = Peace for the elite) Freedom is Slavery (Slavery for the masses = Freedom for the elite) Ignorance is Strength (Ignorance for the masses = Strength for the elite)
    Which links to a list of backgrounds of organizations. The one to direct your attention to is this: Secrets of the Federal Reserve, The history, organization and controlling interests behind the Federal Reserve -- by Eustace Mullins, 1985. In it, we find Prescott Bush, (Jughead's old grandad), in his central role as agent provocative, in the 1910's, of the Russian revolution and WW I, (selling arms to both sides), and in the later 1930's, provocative of Hitler's war-crazed nazi foment, (selling arms, again, and shipping steel & sundry, and selling the buyer the financing ! for it all).

    There is not space here for full development showing 1930's naziism in 2000's neo-conism. The countries' moods are the same: hubristically terrified, which you probably already know so I skipped over it. The very people and places are the same, which I illustrated above. Whatever. There are also differences to see and here's where it gets much much worse. For us. Imagine Hitler and nazis with the bomb. And jet aircraft. And cruise missiles. And spy satellites. And computers. And chemical weapons. And television fantasy brainwashing media. And so forth. People today cannot imagine what all these things mean, I guess because we don't understand them in their workings. Perhaps what scares people is not the things themselves, but that: we can not imagine. Knowing these materiels would scare us and knowing a mental retard is handling them would scare us to death. So what is patriotism when it doesn't know its patrimony? I aver and history shows it is death worship.

    Another difference now from then is measured in oil -- 'then' it was just starting, 'now' it is just ending. Others also study these things. Real smart experts combined with teams of researchers. Let me finish by sharing an excerpt from a recent, nicely brief summary survey of such topics as "Threats of Peak Oil to the Global Food Supply." And, back to you ....

    We have very little time and all ... are encouraged to start planning for a winter that may include inflation, blackouts, fuel shortages, and even possibly rationing.


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