Friday, October 05, 2007

Patroit first. Nationalist last.

There was a discussion about Barack Obama deciding he wasn't going to wear a pin of the US flag any more, because he felt that it was better to show his patriotism by his actions, not by what he wears.

Which set off a whole burst of news articles around the net, from bloggers for and against his position. But that's not what I want to talk about. It was a comment I saw over on Digg that went like this:

Patriotism is a maguffin -- a thin disguise for destructive nationalism. People put too much stock in caring about their "country" rather than their ideas. What does it matter whether you're from America or England or Germany, Australia, Indonesia, Iraq, or Iran -- as long as you believe in inalienable human rights? When we become absorbed in the concept of patriotism, we put more stock in government than in individual liberties. Stop caring about whether the United States is the "greatest country in the world" and staring caring about diplomacy.
I'm a patriot. I love this country, even though that sentiment seems to be unpopular right now among the faux-intellectual set. I believe in inalienable human rights. I believe nationalism and patriotism are different things, and that one can be the former without being the latter. I think a lot of people who try to conflate patriotism with nationalism do it because they believe doing so makes them look like a sophisticated internationalist, or they hate or are ashamed of the country and don't want to say so in as many words. It saddens me to that think that one of the essential civic virtues has been turned into a vice by people who, in all likelihood, live in this country and have benefited from it.

Which got me to thinking: just what is the difference between patriotism and nationalism?

Here's my own take: the former is to ideas. The latter is to borders.

I am a patriot. I believe that the highest value is to a patriot to the United States. When the President swears the oath, he does not swear it to the country - he swears it to the Constitution, a collection of ideas that the country is run by the collective will of the people. When a soldier in the army raises their hand, they swear to protect the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic.

Lately, though, it seems that all people care about are the borders. If you're not a US citizen, well, torture rules don't apply to you. Democracy is great - unless you're sitting on oil that we want, then you don't need it that badly.

Now people are telling us we are a "Christian nation". What does that mean, anyway? It certainly doesn't mean that we help the poor and the sick, or else the SCHIP bill wouldn't have been vetoed. We certainly aren't doing what we can to really promote education and learning, or to ensure votes in all areas are counted. But we're great at lifting up foam fingers and shouting "U-S-A".

I'd much rather our soldiers be used to support patriots, and that supporting our troops wasn't by whether you wear a symbol on your chest, but by how well you protect the values they stand for: a nation by the people, and justice for all.

No matter *where* you fall under the borders lines.

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