Patriotism and nationalism

I have never been able to explain to my own satisfaction why Leftists despise patriotism. And I think that the short answer is that they don't. I think it is only (or principally) a worm in the brain of the modern-day American Left. In America's "Progressive" era (late 19th and early 20th century) the Left were not only patriotic but outright nationalistic. The founder of America's "Progressive" party (Teddy Roosevelt) definitely put his trust in battleships and was instrumental in the invasions of first Cuba and then the Philippines. And the excuses mustered for both invasions were as threadbare as such excuses usually are. And under Woodrow Wilson (still a great hero to the Left for his sponsorship of the League of Nations) unpatriotic and antiwar utterances landed thousands of Americans in jail. A large slab of the modern American Left would now be in jail if Woodrow Wilson were still in charge.

Internationalism or Weltbuergertum (world-citizenship) as an ideal seems usually to be traced to Karl Marx and that aspect of Marx certainly inspires the small band of Trotskyists who still agitate away worldwide. Yet Marx's co-author, Friedrich Engels, was an unabashed and strident German nationalist. Go through the archives of my MarxWords blog if you doubt it. And Marx himself took sides in various wars of his day. So I think we must regard past Communist sponsorship of internationalism as no more than a ploy.

And the Left in countries outside the USA has generally been patriotic and continues to be so. No-one questions the patriotism of Australian Labor Party politicians, for instance, because there is no need to. They in general sincerely put Australia's interests first, according to their lights. American Democrat politicians, on the other hand, are super-sensitive to questioning of their patriotism because they know it to be well-founded and yet at the same time also know it to be electoral poison.

At this point I think I should digress a little to make a distinction between patriotism and nationalism. The concept of patriotism (love of one's country) is fairly unproblematic but nationalism is a much vaguer and more fluid concept. At its core, I think, is a claim of national superiority. But what follows from that varies. We can see nationalism in the form of invasion and domination of other countries (as in the "Progressive" assaults on Cuba and the Philippines) or we can see it in a non-aggressive form as in modern day France. The French continue to think that their national superiority is unquestionable and do their best to promote French Gloire, distinctiveness and independence but, after the tremendous loss of life that they endured under Napoleon, military adventurism has not been on their agenda to any significant extent at all.

I personally have no problem with either patriotism or non-aggressive nationalism. It is now a mainstream view among psychologists, despite their generally Leftist orientation, that patriotism is a normal and natural part of the human psyche and I myself have argued for that view at great length in the academic literature. Perhaps the most interesting finding that emanates from the psychological literature on the subject is that patriotism is in general totally unrelated to racial attitudes. It was for many years the dominant view among psychologists that patriotism and racial prejudice went together to form a syndrome of "ethnocentism" but careful research has repeatedly shown the two to be essentially unrelated. You can be proud of your country without at the same time looking down on particular racial or ethnic groups.

So why do modern-day American Leftists despise patriotism? I think it is clearly because they in fact despise America -- so anyone who loves America is anathema to them. And why do they despise America? Because they are haters. They hate and despise success and satisfaction in others. They disguise such motivations as a desire for "equality" but tearing down any contented society that exists is what gets their rocks off. And the USA has now become the world's most powerful, successful, important and generally pre-eminent society that there is. It is also a society that gives lots of ordinary people the experience of a full and contented life. And Leftists hate all that. They hate any pre-eminence but their own and they want to scratch the eyes out of all that contentment -- which they demonize as "complacency". So to Leftists worldwide, the USA is the epitome of all they hate and so it is on the USA that their hatred is focused -- whether they themselves are inhabitants of the USA or not.

In the "Progressive" era, of course, the world power was Britain and "British imperialism" was the great Leftist hate-object among the Left of that time, both in Britain and elsewhere.

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