Breaking the Paradigm | Questioning Patriotism
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Questioning Patriotism

Unraveling the Tensions between Allegiance and Critical Thinking

Questioning Patriotism

Unraveling the Tensions between Allegiance and Critical Thinking

By George Orbeladze
6.23.2023

Human aggression, the oldest and most dangerous enemy of mankind, attacks us today with renewed vigor, and it is imperative that we repel this enemy. Failing to overcome it will inevitably lead to our extinction as a species. Many of today's conflicts, whether it is the large-scale war between Ukraine and Russia, growing tensions between China and Taiwan, or the sharp polarization of political processes within a single country, can be traced back to a few archaic concepts. These concepts either directly stimulate aggression or fuel conflicts through different interpretations. One such concept that I consider to be prominent is patriotism.

To introduce the topic, I would like to recall two definitions of patriotism by one of the most brilliant minds: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel" and "Love of one's country; zeal for one's country." Scholars argue that the first phrase, attributed to Samuel Johnson (1704-1784), does not refer to patriotism in general but rather to "false" patriotism. Regardless of the validity of this interpretation, the concept, which the compiler of "A Dictionary of the English Language" presents with two fundamentally different definitions, warrants serious examination. In order to shed light on this concept, let us first explore its origins, evolution, utilization, and the consequences it has brought about.

Pericles and Cato the Elder: Ancient Pioneers of Patriotic Rhetoric

For centuries, politicians have adeptly employed our emotions to further their own agendas, and patriotism has firmly established itself on the long list of such subjects. One notable instance of such manipulation, known to me, is Pericles's Funeral Oration, delivered in 431 BC. It is astonishing how closely the language of a politician from 2500 years ago resembles that of their contemporary counterparts.

Within this speech, several intriguing and meaningful quotes can be found. Some extol the virtues of the country and its governance, stating, "Our government does not copy our neighbors', but is an example to them" and "for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few." These statements clearly underscore the insignificance of social differences in the fight for the country, as exemplified by the phrase, "Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition." A politician of such caliber is obligated to emphasize the rule of law, asserting that "we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws." Instead of burdening you with further quotations, I will simply add that the focus of the speech lies in highlighting the greatness of the country, its culture, openness, democracy, and equality before the law. It emphasizes that these values are worth fighting for—not just fighting, but even dying for. Permit me to present some undeniable facts about the war, where the first casualties were these very warriors: the war endured for the next twenty-five years, from 431 to 404 BC (a duration made possible, in my strong conviction, only through the manipulative prowess of Pericles and other brilliant strategists); it involved two traditionally opposing alliances—democratic countries and non-democratic countries; the cause of the war was the economic and military expansion of the central country within one of the alliances. All of this feels strikingly familiar, modern, and ought to provoke contemplation. This is where I intended to conclude my discussion on Pericles and the Peloponnesian War, but I recalled a statement from the "Funeral Oration" by a politician that I wish to share with you: "I would have you day by day fix your eyes upon the greatness of Athens, until you become filled with the love of her."

The subsequent phase in the development of patriotism is undeniably connected to Rome. While the ancient Romans did not originate patriotism, they reshaped and infused it with an aggressive ideology. The earliest documented example of aggressive patriotic fervor can be attributed to Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 BC), who dedicated his efforts to defending traditional values, shielding the youth from foreign influences, and purging state institutions of corruption. Cato famously concluded each speech with the words, "Ceterum (autem) censeo Carthaginem esse delendam" ("Furthermore, I believe that Carthage must be destroyed"). Different interpretations exist regarding the motivations behind the desire to annihilate Carthage. Personally, I share the view that Cato perceived a threat to Rome in the swift recovery of Carthage after a devastating war, marking the genesis of aggressive patriotic propaganda. The exact reason may be inconsequential; what matters is that from the rostrum of the highest legislative body, animosity toward another country was propagated under the guise of safeguarding one's own interests. This approach continues to find effective use in modern politics.

Carthage did meet its demise, and the Romans, proud of their country's conquests, cherished this fact for centuries to come. Today, patriots from various corners of the world continue to yearn for the restoration of their nations' former glory. They echo the sentiment of making their country great again—a slogan not exclusive to Mr. Trump, but one that resonates throughout human history.

Love of legal entity - too Roman and too Strange Concept That Continues to Resonate.

The influential orator Cicero played a significant role in shaping patriotism as a dangerous, aggressive, and destructive phenomenon. He divided the concept of the homeland, or Patria, into two distinct realms: alteram loci patriam and alteram iuris. In this division, he relegated the territorial homeland to a secondary role, associating it solely with provincials rather than Romans themselves. Instead, Cicero exalted the legal homeland, emphasizing its commonality and inspiring pride and sacrifice. However, I find myself questioning why we should reserve our love solely for kings, presidents, governments, ministers, or mayors, while disregarding our love for family, friends, and places where we find contentment. It perplexes me why I should love one mountain within the internationally recognized borders of my country while disregarding the mountain next to it, which has belonged to a neighboring nation since ancient times. Why should I rejoice in the success of someone who shares my national identity but not celebrate the achievements of a talented, compassionate individual living on the other side of the planet, from a different race or faith?

While I am prepared to defend my cherished homeland against any threat, I find no source of pride in such a fight, regardless of the outcome. There is nothing to be proud of in a conflict that offers no benefit to me or the ones I fight for, and certainly nothing to be proud of for future generations, whether they are my descendants or those of my adversary. Turning back to the history of patriotism's development, we must acknowledge the contributions of several highly talented individuals who perpetuated its present form. I hold great respect for each of them. In my view, William Shakespeare's play "Henry V" breathed new life into the harmful interpretation of patriotism. The St. Crispin's Day speech, often considered the epitome of aggressive patriotic propaganda, evokes intense emotions and noble sentiments. However, let us remember that the Battle of Agincourt occurred because two landlords couldn't share property and enlisted, convinced, or coerced countless individuals to fight for their interests. Naturally, Henry V must rally his soldiers and inspire them to take pride in their wounds. Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognize the paradoxical nature of the events at Agincourt. While the situation seems absurd and horrifying to us and the archers who fought there, it resonates with Henry as a natural course of action. Shakespeare's brilliance captivates us, stirring our blood and compelling us to mentally wield the sword in defense of king, country, and St. George. He skillfully crafted a narrative that romanticizes the ideals of heroism, casting a veil over the harsh realities of war and conquest. As observers, we often find ourselves swept up in these romanticized portrayals, idolizing rulers and warriors, and justifying acts of aggression. However, it is essential to critically examine the messages conveyed and question whether these narratives truly serve the greater good. By doing so, we can strive to transcend the archaic notions of patriotism and work towards a more compassionate and peaceful world.

Shakespeare may not have been the first, but from the sixteenth century onward, a destructive wave of patriotism engulfed the world. For nearly five centuries, geniuses from diverse countries, faiths, and races have inspired their compatriots with poetry, paintings, speeches, and more, extolling the virtues and necessity of sacrificing oneself for the homeland. Through their endeavors, they have successfully shaped the popular perception of patriotism as noble, organic, and beautiful. Today, it is nearly impossible to find anyone who would openly state that the readiness to fight for one's country also entails the willingness to destroy Carthage, eradicate its inhabitants, and obliterate the historical fabric of a vast region. No one dares challenge this prevailing narrative, for Cicero extols the virtues of a shared commonwealth, Shakespeare sings of heroes, Disraeli affirms our exceptionalism and entitlement to power, and Washington establishes an inseparable connection between freedom and sacrifice. This consolidated chorus of authoritative figures leaves us with no choice. Yet, as a planet and civilization, we must transcend these archaic notions, leaving patriotism behind in the annals of history as we forge ahead.

Drawing your own conclusions is paramount, and I have chosen to abandon traditional definitions and embrace a new perspective. I do not impose my opinion as the ultimate truth, but I reserve the right to hold my opinion on everything that, in one way or another, affects the environment in which I live. With that in mind, let us explore a redefined concept of patriotism:

Patriotism

noun
pa·​tri·​ot·​ism ˈpā-trē-ə-ˌtiz-əm
1.
A powerful, effective, and dangerous manipulative mechanism that enables governments or politicians to aggressively mobilize large segments of the population.
This mechanism exerts significant influence, serving their interests initially, but its inherent dangers become apparent over time. It has the potential to render the masses uncontrollable, leading to unpredictable outcomes. Moreover, it fosters isolationist attitudes and can contribute to societal degradation, posing risks in today's interconnected world.
2.
The psychological mechanism that enhances self-worth through identification and alignment with a legal entity, rooted in a sense of pride in its history and achievements.
The use of such mechanisms can lead to severe consequences for the individual. It may diminish incentives for self-development, as personal achievements are perceived as already accomplished collectively. Justifying inactivity, lack of principles, or failures based on the entity's achievements hinders personal growth and deepens existing problems, ultimately contributing to degradation.

I do not expect that even a small part of you will immediately accept my definition of patriotism. I just want to ask you, before you once again believe the politicians who borrow most of their words and motivations from colleagues of 2500 years ago, to remember: What ended the patriotic hysteria and the popularity of demagogues for Athens? How did the destruction of Carthage and the uncontrolled territorial growth of the Republic end for Rome? Remember and ask yourself: Is it worth it?

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