Only very skewed people use the term ‘patriot’ in this country – thank heaven. The word has a wretched and smelly history. It is a label and it is a source of division, if not hate. What crime is worse than that of Judas – betrayal? Charging someone with a lack of patriotism is commonly invoked by bullies with no brains to smear dissenters. Their real enemies are freedom and restraint. Senator McCarthy was their champion; Trump and Pence merely ape him. Even when used as a term of praise, the word smacks of pride in the nation, which is suspect, or glorifying government, which is much worse.
Patriotism and nationalism seem to be inseparable from a felt sense of superiority, the political version of original sin. We might get a harmless warm glow about a kid making a hundred in his first test, but after that it can get nasty. The English feel good about Nelson and Wellington – what about the people of Alabama and Lee, or of Japan and its war leaders – or, for that matter, Napoleon’s Tomb in Paris? What about the five million who died for his ego and la gloire de la France?
‘Nationalism’ has been a dirty word, at least since Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mao. People like Trump and Pence merely confirm its dirtiness. It is invoked by insecure people whose membership of the ‘nation’ is all they have and who see any incursion – even by refugees – as some kind of threat. These people are easy meat for snake-charmers who are prepared to lie down with dogs – that is to say, too many of those parading as politicians across what some fondly call – and with pride, no less – the Western world.
Historians from the Continent tend to speak in larger terms than English historians. They are therefore good for us to read. The Dutchman Johan Huizinga was a very learned and enlightening man, especially when writing about the middle ages and the Renaissance. (Like Pieter Geyl, he was imprisoned by the Nazis. Both were by their whole lives against everything Hitler stood for.) In his great book Men and Ideas, Huizinga has an essay, Patriotism and Nationalism. It is as well to notice what he says about these two menacing pests.
Whether or not I S claims authority from God, both England and the U S have claimed to be God’s chosen people at one time or another. It is very unattractive. As Huizinga says, if nationalism implies a drive to dominate, it is beyond the pale of Christianity. Or it should be – but at various times, ‘however contradictory it may seem, the Glory of Christian salvation was intermingled with the primitive pride of a barbaric tribal allegiance.’
Huizinga saw the beginning of nationalism in the split in Europe between Romance and Germanic peoples. He saw an ethnic split as early as 887. The phrase furor teutonicus was born – and would later be applied by losers to Michael Schumacher. Statutes of Oxford would see two nations in Britain – between the south and the north – in the middle ages.
But whether the relationship was large or small, the basis for the emotion embodied in ‘nation’ was the same everywhere; the primitive in-group that felt passionately united as soon as the others, outsiders in any way, seemed to threaten them or rival them. This feeling usually manifested itself as hostility and rarely as concord. The closer the contacts, the fiercer the hate.
That sums up people like Farage, Hansen, and Trump. And it indicates the problem such people have in attracting any sensible followers.
In 1793 in France an accusation of want of patriotism was a death sentence. The nation went mad. A weird man from Cleves, Anacharsis Cloots, wanted to suppress the word ‘French’ for ‘Germanic’ and he led a delegation of the ‘human species’ to be allowed to take part in a festival of liberty and fraternity.
Then came the Revolution, when the mouth still called out for the universal good of virtue and love of mankind, but the mailed fist struck for the fatherland and the nation, and the heart was with the fist. The factors ‘patrie’ and ‘nation’ had never had such an intense influence as in the years from 1789 to 1796. The fact merely confirms that nature constantly proves stronger than theory. Yet at the same time people constantly thought that they were acting in keeping with the theory. The National Assembly took it as its first task to formulate a Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Observe that man comes first and the citizen second. But as soon as one sets out to formulate the rights of man, the state appears to be required as the framework for his society. Humanity could not be the vehicle of the liberty desired so ardently. Its domain was the fatherland, and its subject the people. Hence from the outset, the French Revolution served pre-eminently to activate an enthusiastic patriotism and nationalism.
That piece was more English than European; and the French, in the name of liberty and fraternity, severed the head from the body of poor, silly Anacharsis Cloots. Mere humanity again trumped theory.
In a letter sent to former members, quickly leaked to the media, the prime minister acknowledges ‘some people have left our party for various reasons over recent years’ but says he believes in an Australia ‘where if you have a go, you get a fair go’.
Accordingly, he’s having a go at wooing them back. At least in New South Wales.
‘We need everyone who believes in our values to become energised members of our movement,’ he wrote to former NSW party members. ‘Very importantly, there is also a Shorten-led Labor party to defeat at the next election. To achieve this, we need you back.’
The Guardian, 1 February, 2018
Can we not hope for more than a talking head? What values about fairness were deployed by those, including this PM, who sought to block a Royal Commission into bank managers earning say $10 million a year to preside over insulting every one of us?
One thing Trump liked very much was that the audience frequently broke into the chant ‘USA! USA!’ No one can object to this, it’s hardly partisan, but it is a chant implicitly against identity politics because it celebrates universal national identity.
Greg Sheridan, The Australian, 7 February, 2018
I can and do object to the chant. Imagine our leaders responding to the Minister for Thongs by chanting ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!’ The chant was partisan – ‘Make America Great Again’. And the infatuation of that paper with ‘identity politics’ is mind crippling. Nationalism – say of Mussolini, Franco or Hitler – is a definitive brand of ‘identity politics.’ Mr Sheridan’s dream of ‘universal national identity’ is a perfect contradiction in terms. But, then, Mr Sheridan thought the State of Union Address was very good. Most saw it as complete bullshit.