Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Patriotism and Nationalism

Matt, once again, writes what I've been meaning to write for a long time. Please go read Patriotism and Nationalism, I agree with it one hundred percent. (Well, except the part about New York, clearly they are just full of themselves and the Best Coast could kick the Least Coast's ass any day!!) Oh, and I really agree about the Republicans treating what they call patriotism the same way they treat sports. That's not patriatism, that's nationalism.
The nationalist doesn't just have a special concern for his country. He has a kind of irrational attitude toward it. Like how Red Sox fans will scream -- perfectly sincerely -- "Yankees suck!" even when the Yankees, in fact, are a very skilled baseball team. But sports fans don't take an attitude of rational scrutiny toward their favorite team and its historical adversary. It would be contrary to the spirit of fandom. Now of course you can turn to the Red Sox fan and say, "actually, the Yankees have won all these baseball games, they're a very good team" and he won't say you're wrong. He's not an idiot, or blind to the facts. But the facts are beside the point. The nationalist, similarly, isn't unaware of his country's problems. He just doesn't really care. It's besides the point. The patriot feels a deep sense of shame when he finds out about Abu Ghraib and associated wrongdoings. "This is my country and look what's becoming of us." The nationalist hastens to note that the Syrians are worse, the French are hypocrites, and the leftists are only complaining about this because they didn't like the war on the first place so can't we move on please it was only a few bad apples and whatever atrocities may have happened on Guadalcanal hardly shows World War Two was a bad idea so let's shut up and move on why do you care so much about protecting the rights of terrorists anyway.

It's an attitude that's harmless enough, on its own terms. Life would be dull without irrational attachment to sports teams. Irrational attachment to city, neighborhood, state, peculiar folkways, etc. lends coherence to the personality. I think relatively few of us would want to move to Singapore, teach at a university there, and raise our kids in postmodern East Asia, even if in the course of things it seemed to suggest itself as the rational course of action. But competition in sports is friendly and bounded by rules. Except for the occassional riot after a fan throws a cup at a player's head, no real harm is done and a good time is had by all. The disdain of the New Yorker for Washington, Boston, or the airheads of the west coast is just a part of life, like the Texas pride of my roommates. In the international sphere, though, people get hurt. We have a tendency to settle our differences with bombs and bullets and torture. Sometimes, this really is the way to go. I'm no pacifist. It's a Hobbesian jungle out there and sometimes you've got to fight, and you've always got to be ready to fight. But when mistakes are made the consequences are, shall we say, rather severe. Corpses and missing limbs and so forth. It's the sort of thing you want to be applying a rational scrutiny to. A scrutiny shaped by a special love for one's own country, sure. But not the kind of love that blinds.

Patriotism, not nationalism. Though, yes, the fact that liberals tend not to be nationalists in a country where most people are holds us back. To most Americans, what John Kerry did in those Senate hearings after coming back from the war was very distasteful. Not because anyone really thinks Vietnam was a fantastic war in which no atrocities were committed, but just because even so nationalists don't think such things should be done. Dragging our country's name through the mud while the troops are in the field. Not very "rah, rah," that. It's a real problem.
Go read the whole thing.