T Nation

Define

Over the past several years, there have been numerous claims by all sorts of parties claiming someone called them ‘unpatriotic’ with the usual response that dissent can be patriotic, etc.

But I am curious: what exactly is ‘unpatriotic’? Clearly, most of us agree that there must be some category of opinion that can be described as ‘unpatriotic’. So what is it?

Let me head off all attempts at being clever, such as “unpatriotic is not getting your information from FoxNews” - I think this is a worthy question. No doubt in mind dissent is patriotic - but what subcategory of dissent is not?

Patriotic has really no meaning I guess, simply because being as it means so many different things to so many people that it nullifies itself.

Me? I’d say it meant supporting fascist governments, theocracies, or any other form of government that didn’t value freedom of the individual and subjegated it’s people to punishments because of it.

I would say that this current administration is, in my view, extremely unpatriotic, based on such things as intertwining church and state, the limiting of personal freedoms in the name of “safety”, and a myriad of other things.

In America, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and individualism are staples of what I consider “patriotic”.

To take it from the other side, some people would have you believe that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

Yet, one could say that treason is the strongest form of dissent. Which would leave you with the idea that treason is the strongest, highest form of patriotism.

Can’t get too caught up in these things…

Or, for a more serious answer, we can appeal to authority. The dictionary definition of patriotism is “love and devotion to one’s country” or, alternatively, “love of one’s country and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the country.”

So “unpatriotic,” would be the opposite, in adjective form - loathing of one’s country, lack of devotion to one’s country, unwillingess to sacrifice for one’s country.

I think your question is getting more toward what would be examples of unpatriotic behavior or beliefs though – it’s a lot easier to agree on the definition than to apply it to specific examples.

For instance, I started a thread a long time ago pondering the question of at what point protest turns into giving aid and comfort to the enemy. On the one hand, protest is definitey a right, and one can be patriotic and dissent – on the other, one can’t deny the fact that public dissent, especially on a large scale, can both comfort the enemy and dishearten the troops. Patriotic? Hard call.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:

For instance, I started a thread a long time ago pondering the question of at what point protest turns into giving aid and comfort to the enemy. On the one hand, protest is definitey a right, and one can be patriotic and dissent – on the other, one can’t deny the fact that public dissent, especially on a large scale, can both comfort the enemy and dishearten the troops. Patriotic? Hard call.

[/quote]

I see what you’re saying.

However, if most of the populace is against the war, then is your enemy still really your enemy? That should say something about what’s going on- Vietnam, for instance.

Things get complmicated, and semantics is brought in pretty heavily. This is why I say that this, like those “Support the troops” bumper stickers, means nothing. When it means everything to everyone, it says nothing.

And I consider political dissent one of the highest forms of patriotism, although that’s an interesting idea about treason. Treason is another word, however, that is debatable on what it means.

I think, pretty obviously, unpatriotic means something different than an act that is not expressly patriotic.

I think that there is really only a small set of actions that can really be called unpatriotic. Some of them are going to be unpatriotic objectively, like treason, fighting against America, spying etc.

The rest I think are intentional acts. Protest is patriotic if its supposed to be part of a contructive dialectic- criticism to make the country better. If its intended to attack America or embolden the enemy, then it becomes unpatriotic e.g. Ho chi minh choruses in the 60’s.

It is a word that frightens me when it is used in public. Patriotism doesn’t need megaphones. If you work hard, raise a family, contribute to society by making it a decent place, for people like yourself and for people you disagree with, then you are a patriot, wherever you are, and at whatever geographical level you want to apply it. Otherwise, regarding the loud ones, I am with Dr. Johnson:

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”

Partiotism is just like the word romance in that it can never really be defined. It exists as an ideal within a persons own head.

To me it is patriotic to question the powers that be when one feels the powers are over stepping their mandate. Patriotic is standing up in defense of your country when you feel it has been hindered. Patriotic is not accepting easy answers from your leaders but holding them accountable to the veracity of their statements and actions. Partiotism is not backing the the virtues and values of the political party in power it is standing up for the values and virtues of ones country when that political party obstructs them.

The word unpatriotic is a little more difficult to answer because, I believe, not every one is capable of being patriotic–therefore, to call them unpatriotic is inaccurate.

Patriotism is a virtue that should always be scrutinized especially when people use it to describe one’s own actions in contrast to someone else’s. This is a virtue that I don’t believe one can ascribe to one’s self. It is not necessary to be partiotic to be a good citizen. Personally, I think this word is thrown around way too much in political arguments.

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

-Mark Twain

TQB,

[quote]TQB wrote:
It is a word that frightens me when it is used in public. Patriotism doesn’t need megaphones. If you work hard, raise a family, contribute to society by making it a decent place, for people like yourself and for people you disagree with, then you are a patriot, wherever you are, and at whatever geographical level you want to apply it. Otherwise, regarding the loud ones, I am with Dr. Johnson:

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”[/quote]

Best post so far.

Sometimes patriotism can be outright resistance against your government. Think of nazi Germany - the greatest patriots were not the soldiers who died senselessly following an obscure code of duty, but the few who resisted (I think of the Scholl siblings, Dietrich Bonhoefer, even Stauffenberg) and thus upheld the ideals of a civil society.

Makkun

[quote]makkun wrote:
TQB,

TQB wrote:
It is a word that frightens me when it is used in public. Patriotism doesn’t need megaphones. If you work hard, raise a family, contribute to society by making it a decent place, for people like yourself and for people you disagree with, then you are a patriot, wherever you are, and at whatever geographical level you want to apply it. Otherwise, regarding the loud ones, I am with Dr. Johnson:

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”

Best post so far.

Sometimes patriotism can be outright resistance against your government. Think of nazi Germany - the greatest patriots were not the soldiers who died senselessly following an obscure code of duty, but the few who resisted (I think of the Scholl siblings, Dietrich Bonhoefer, even Stauffenberg) and thus upheld the ideals of a civil society.

Makkun[/quote]

I don’t disagree with you, but I think Nazi Germany is too extreme of an example to derive any useful practical information from.

I think the underlying question is closer to what is the approriate way to express dissent with a government you recognize as legitimate, but disagree with on policy matters, and at what point does that turn to unpatriotic acts, treason etc.

It’s clear in a case with a totalitiarian government, resistance is right, but that doesn’t give you any insight to what to do with a government with which you vehemently disagree, but don’t want to overthrow.

ExNole,

[quote]ExNole wrote:
[…]

I don’t disagree with you, but I think Nazi Germany is too extreme of an example to derive any useful practical information from.[/quote]

I agree with you that it is a radical example, but it highlights the radical end of patriotism: nationalism (which I would define as not love for your own country, but contempt for others).

Any legal means possible is acceptable in a free society. A democracy must have the right to defend itself against outright treason - but that entails illegal subversive activity; chanting for Ho Chi Minh (an earlier example) was admittedly misguided and rather ridiculous, but if a society praises itself for freedom of speech, so be it.

Totalitarian governments often develop in little steps, and people subjected to them have often struggled to see the clear case - often they did too late.

I would argue that patriotism often is not a deliberate act (just as TQB implied), but living a decent life and defending the values on which the society is based peacefully. Normally that means speaking up, sometimes it means using every legal method to create awareness of the perceived breach of conduct by the state. That is definitely not treason.

Makkun

[quote]makkun wrote:
ExNole,
ExNole wrote:
[…]

I don’t disagree with you, but I think Nazi Germany is too extreme of an example to derive any useful practical information from.

I agree with you that it is a radical example, but it highlights the radical end of patriotism: nationalism (which I would define as not love for your own country, but contempt for others).

I think the underlying question is closer to what is the approriate way to express dissent with a government you recognize as legitimate, but disagree with on policy matters, and at what point does that turn to unpatriotic acts, treason etc.

Any legal means possible is acceptable in a free society. A democracy must have the right to defend itself against outright treason - but that entails illegal subversive activity; chanting for Ho Chi Minh (an earlier example) was admittedly misguided and rather ridiculous, but if a society praises itself for freedom of speech, so be it.

It’s clear in a case with a totalitiarian government, resistance is right, but that doesn’t give you any insight to what to do with a government with which you vehemently disagree, but don’t want to overthrow.

Totalitarian governments often develop in little steps, and people subjected to them have often struggled to see the clear case - often they did too late.

I would argue that patriotism often is not a deliberate act (just as TQB implied), but living a decent life and defending the values on which the society is based peacefully. Normally that means speaking up, sometimes it means using every legal method to create awareness of the perceived breach of conduct by the state. That is definitely not treason.

Makkun[/quote]

I agree with you on all points here, and in my earlier post, I said that I thought most unpatriotic acts where decided by intent.

I think there is a really wide area of patriotic viewpoints that lie between the nationalistic and the treasonous.

I don’t think unpatriotic speech should be limited or censored. But I also think there are things which are, for lack of a better word, untactful, or inappropriate.

Flag burning is in almost all cases, clearly unpatriotic, but I don’t think it should be illegal.

My response wasn’t about what should be legal or illegal, but rather one of decorum. No matter how much I disagree with Bush on most of the issues, comparing him to Hitler is inappopriate. So is calling people who are against the war Al Queda sympathizers.

So I agree with you on almost all of your points, but, I think am arguing something slightly different.

ExNole,

[quote]ExNole wrote:
[…]

I agree with you on all points here, and in my earlier post, I said that I thought most unpatriotic acts where decided by intent.

I think there is a really wide area of patriotic viewpoints that lie between the nationalistic and the treasonous.

I don’t think unpatriotic speech should be limited or censored. But I also think there are things which are, for lack of a better word, untactful, or inappropriate.[/quote]

Oh sure, there’s lots of that.

I would agree with that - a flag is in the end only a piece of textile.

Absolutely. I agree with that. As I have said in many threads historical comparison sucks - and is in almost every case wrong, historical events have to be seen in context, and they can’t be transferred into another setting. And from this stems my view that as bad a president I think Bush is, and as disastrous many of his decisions have been, I wouldn’t compare him to anyone else than himself.

I think that’s accurate. I (hopefully carefully) used the 3rd Reich comparison to clarify that sometimes a patriotic act might come from the most unlikely of people: I once saw a group of punks (mostly teenagers) demonstrate against a neonazi party in my homecountry Germany. Bystanders (especially older people) would rather criticise the punks (who were peaceful overall) and their attire, rather than the real danger in the form of a neonazi assembly. I argued with a few bystanders that it was essentially the punks who were standing up more for their home country, democracy and freedom than the silent majority of passerbies. They had the guts to protest and showing the neonazis red cards (which I thought was quite inventive), while “normal citizens” just looked the other way.

I have to think of that whenever I hear claims about those hateful liberal lefties who demonstrate against something - they may sometimes be a bit shrill, but at least they make use of their right to peacefully demonstrate. And that’s patriotic in my book.

Makkun

Interesting article – not directly on point, but touching on the main idea:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/06/democrats_are_winning_except_a.html

There may well be something to the idea that perceptions of being “unpatriotic” hurt electorally.

Coincidentally, just saw this:

http://corner.nationalreview.com/post/?q=NGYxOGJjMjk5MWZhYmQ5MTE5ZGM2NDJlNjQzMjQzMWU=

Orwell on nationalism & patriotism [Iain Murray]
He’s not the great sage many claim him to be, of course, but in some cases, George Orwell got it spot on. In Notes on Nationalism (1945), he provides the following useful distinction:

By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly ? and this is much more important ? I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseperable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

Orwell, of course, wrote favorably about patriotism from the socialist left in his essays in “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius” (1941), most notably in England, Your England ( http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/e_eye ).