“I Don’t Love My Country”

“I Don’t Love My Country”

In one of the more remarkable posts I have read, Brian Tamanaha over at Balkinization loudly protests against the virtues of patriotism:

For many reasons, I feel fortunate to have been born in the United States, but I don’t love my country. It has no love for any of us. A cold, manipulative, object of affection, the state fans patriotism, then asks those who love it deeply to prove their love by dying or sacrificing their limbs for it. It will not happen in my lifetime, but I look forward to the day when states are no more.


I’m not sure where to begin. Brian you may not love your country, but your country loves you, even if you don’t know it. You are its raison d’être. The fundamental purpose of a democratic country like the United States is to serve you and your fellow citizens. Representative democracy means that our elected officials are trying (albeit imperfectly) to look out for your interests, your benefits, your needs, and your wants. Your country seeks to protect your safety, your economic well-being, your property, and your freedoms.

When a government official takes an oath of allegiance, the only oath he or she makes is to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. He doesn’t swear allegiance to an abstract entity called the United States. He swears allegiance to the values embodied in the Constitution. When a soldier fights to defend the country, he is not fighting for a cold, manipulative object of his affection. He is fighting to protect your freedom, including your freedom to profess disloyalty or infidelity.

In recent decades, your country and countries like it are diligently working together to improve the general welfare of a much broader constituency. This broader universal ethic recognizes the common humanity of everyone and is pursuing the basic rights, security, liberties, and interests of the larger international community. The progression of international law is in many respects the progress of universalizing the collective values that define these countries. This universal ethic is not at the expense of countries such as the United States, but because of them.

If there were no states, there would have to be some other collectivity to serve the function of the state. It might be a microcosm of a state, such as a tribal or feudal system, or a macrocosm of the nation-state, such as a world federation. But either way, a group of individuals, small or large, will gather together to look out for your interests and welfare. It might not engender a sense of loyalty or allegiance on your part for such collective efforts, but it will pursue them nonetheless.

So in response to Brian Tamanaha, I say that for many reasons I feel fortunate to have been born in the United States, and I do love my country. It is far from perfect. It is often demanding of its citizens. But it offers so much in return. For that, I am deeply grateful and I feel a strong sense of loyalty and allegiance.

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Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

In a comment to Brian’s post at Balkinization I said the following: “Might we make a distinction for some purposes between patriotism and nationalism? I feel some connection to this country and its institutions, but especially the Constitution. Moreover, given the choice and opportunity, I would choose to live here rather than anywhere else (although I admit to not being that knowledgeable about the intimate living conditions in many countries). This sentiment I would christen “patriotic,” whereas nationalism is a rather different beast, often dependent on a mythological politics of identity of some sort in which one’s peculiar form of identity trumps all others. More of course could be said, but suffice to say I’m concerned about any conflation of a reasonable patriotism with a xenophobic, particularist, racist, etc. nationalism that diminishes, demeans or denies the humanity of “the Other.” The patriotism I have in mind here would be perfectly compatible with a sophisticated sort of cosmpolitanism (e.g., Nussbaum or Caney). I too look forward to the withering away of the State, but for now I’m only a philosophical anarchist and the affection I have for my country is perfectily compatible with an equivalent sentiment by others for their country.… Read more »

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

I also want to comment on Roger’s important point that, “If there were no states, there would have to be some other collectivity to serve the function of the state. It might be a microcosm of a state, such as a tribal or feudal system, or a macrocosm of the nation-state, such as a world federation.” Indeed, the point is that the state is a solution to a coordination problem and, for now at any rate, remains the best practical and viable solution to this problem. Moreover, as Robert Goodin notes, “whereas compelling people to do their individual moral duties might be impermissible, it is perfectly permissible to compel people to play their necessary parts in discharging collective responsibilities. That permissibility of compulsion arises from the fact delinquents actually hinder others from discharging their own responsibilities under a coordination scheme.” As Roger implies above and Goodin makes explicit, “‘providing for the common defense’ and ‘promoting the general welfare’ represent two of the most central spheres of state activity.” So, for example, “if we take seriously the proposition that individuals have a moral duty (albeit an imperfect one) to protect others’ economic security, then it is their duty to create and… Read more »

Brian Tamanaha
Brian Tamanaha

Roger,

Among the standards I try to live up to as a scholar are these: pay close attention to the facts and try to scrutinize the stories we tell to insure that we are not being fooled by mystification.

You say to me that “your country loves you, even if you don’t know it. You are its raison d’etre.”

Sorry, but those statements smack of pure mystification. Indeed, mush of what you wrote consists of abstractions glorifying the state.

Of course states provide important services, and I have an obligation to pay taxes and support others in the community, which I do willingly. But none of this requires loving my country.

Read about the history of the state–read the two books I mention in the post–and you will understand better my position.

Brian

Troy
Troy

Brian sounds like he believes there’s nothing worth dying for. That’s a nice sentiment to hold when others die to protect your family from crime, fires, and foreign enemies. Ingratitude is the greatest of sins and repugnant behavior.

Of course “countries” don’t love — only human beings “love” in that self-sacrificial way that makes love worthwhile. Anyone who thinks the UN or some other uber sovereign is any more enlightened than the US is drinking Lennon’s utopian Imagine Kool-Aid. States don’t kill people — people kill people. The state is just another weapon or tool that can be used for good or “evil” (or ill if “evil” makes your skin crawl — we do hate to judge). Given the chance (hypothetically of course) feudal lords, tribal chieftans, suzerains, sheikhs, et al. would’ve killed or cleansed or genocided or democided just as many with the tools of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution — there just wouldn’t have been as much bureaucracy to make it as efficient or count the bodies.

Quasi-reasonable
Quasi-reasonable

Having had Professor Tamanaha as my torts professor at St. John’s I have to say I admire his grasp of tort law, but deeply and passionately disagree with his position in this issue. I love this country and the opportunity it’s provided my family after escaping the ravages and tyranny of communism after WWII. Now, any reasonable person would acknowledge that the US has numerous and deep-seated problem and challenges, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth loving. When I tell my kids (when I can get them to listen) about Hamilton, Madison, the other Founders, the Federalist papers, the proper role of government and the rule of law, and our history I marvel at it all. I love the “idea” of America — the sense that this country, perhaps alone out of all the countries of the world looks not, fundamentally, at one’s race/religion/ethnicity in determining whether one is “an American” but at what one believes. So, while I wish the good Professor did love his country, I don’t begrudge him his ambiguity and lack of ardor. But there are things worth dying for, and this country, my country, for all its warts and problems is one of them… Read more »

Xanthippas

Patriotism is over-rated, and it’s frequently an excuse to get someone else to shut up or fall in line with some ridiculous adventure that politicians in power have dreamt up. The term is most frequently a substitute for “nationalism” in the mouths of those who use it so frequently. All too often patriotism is equted with getting killed for your country (see quasi-reasonable above), which frequently means getting killed in wars that have little or nothing to do with our nation’s vital interests. I’ll be more apt to respect the term and those who use it when patriotism includes acts like paying your taxes, voting, speaking out against injustice, following the news, arguing with your friends over the fate of our country, etc., etc., and more than just hanging a flag outside your doorway, putting your hand over your heart, or getting misty-eyed at the Star-spangled Banner. By the way Mr. Alford, you’re completely wrong about Mr. Tamahan. He’s not protesting the virtues of patriotism. He’s protesting it’s excesses, and the ease with which it slides of the tongues of those who don’t have the first idea of what it means. I’m not eager to see the state whither away,… Read more »

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

“By the way Mr. Alford, you’re completely wrong about Mr. Tamahan. He’s not protesting the virtues of patriotism.”

He’s not protesting them because he doesn’t believe there are any. Mr. Tamanaha [notice the spelling] does not appear to believe there are any virtues whatsoever with patriotism. That’s an important part of the argument, as the comments to his post attest. The duties or obligations of citizenship he refers to are severed from any notion of patriotism. I take that to be a central part of the argument.

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

Incidentally, in this country at any rate, if you pay your taxes and perform other obligations of citizenship you are not at all blameless for what politicians in power, agents of the state, etc. in fact do when they exercise power ostensibly on our behalf. Their power is in large measure given them and they are allowed to keep or increase it in large measure owing to what we consent (e.g., voting) or acquiesce to: by apathy or inaction, what have you. And it’s political ideologies: nationalism, fascism, Marxism-Leninism, Maoism, communalist religious identities, etc., and messianic foreign policies (from colonialism to the Monroe Doctrine, and beyond) that provide the essential fuels for the fire of violence: the State and its agencies allow access to the technologies of power that enable such violence to be that much more lethal, “efficient,” genocidal. After all, the nation-state was in significant part a response to the religious wars that wracked Europe; unfortunately, its consolidation saw the emergence of nationalism and later, other ideologies, which used the vehicle of the State for their own violent purposes and ends. Thus I think Brian’s focus or preoccupation with the State is misplaced, or, rather, he accords it… Read more »

Garth
Garth

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.” Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a… Read more »

Garth
Garth

the critical flaw in patriotism, nationalism or any ism for that matter is the element of uncritical thought.

the ism itself declares an obvious bias that the speaker should take great pains to explain away by justifying, logically, the course of action suggested.

what exactly does Bush mean when he says America is at war with terror?

utter nonsense.

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

In my opposition to the Bush administration’s war in Iraq (among other things) I understood my position to be well thought out, exemplifying both critical thinking and active opposition (signing petitions, joining protest marches, discussing reasons for opposition with others, etc.). At the same time, I understood it to be patriotic inasmuch as I was acting out of fidelity to the values and principles incarnate in our country’s Constitution. So, I would say it was part of my patriotic duty to oppose the war in Iraq. The war goes on not because of those whose reflexive patriotism is unthinking and purely emotional, because they wrap themselves in the flag and claim those who oppose the war are un-American. After all, polls would suggest such folks are a clear minority in this country and any explanation that blames these individuals is tantalizingly simplistic but misdirected. No, the war began and continues because too many people are preoccupied with their personal lives, don’t routinely listen to the news or read newspapers (yet they won’t miss Entertainment Tonight), care more about, as Cindy Sheehan noted, who will be the next American Idol or what’s the latest video game to hit the market, or… Read more »

Garth
Garth

Patrick,

I think you are being a little unfair on the great unwashed masses. The tide has turned against Bush. His approval ratings are in the dumps because of his policies. Congress’s approval ratings are in the dumps because they can’t rein in Bush.

Aside from voicing their disapproval of Bush, there’s not a lot that can be done when you have a President and VP stubbornly willing to buck the public and congress and the will of the people.

Also consider, the media competition and bias of so much that’s out there. The internet in some ways may have acted as a release valve for pent up anger against Bush, diverting activists on-line and away from the streets.

There is no doubt that Herr Bush has been a disaster for this country of historical proportions. Vote fraud, media manipulation, blatant fear mongering… I agree the voters are, always, ultimately responsible, but the deck has always been stacked against the Johnny Punch Clocks of this world.

Xanthippas

Thus I think Brian’s focus or preoccupation with the State is misplaced, or, rather, he accords it a centrality as a variable it does not deserve in an explanation of the kinds of violence that concern all of us.

Fair enough. But the ideologies you listed are rooted in far more fundamental human psychology, a psychology which is perhaps not best served by a political system wherein nation-states are the primary actors. I still find it hard to argue against the proposition that the state is a central problem, as the facillitator of intolerant ideologies. After all, a tribe of communists would be hardly as effective at killing people as a modern nation-state of communists. Tamahana’s point is that if you remove the machinery of the state, the death toll drops. Unless you’re arguing that intolerant and hostile ideologies will fade away before the state, then you’re not really arguing with his point.

Patrick S. O'Donnell
Patrick S. O'Donnell

We can’t do away with the machinery of the state (although state sovereignty is certainly not as strong as it once was) until such time as we have something to replace it. There is no evidence whatsoever available for the proposition that “if you remove the machinery of the state, the death toll drops,” as our world remains a world of nation-states, for better and worse. Meanwhile, other political structures that take us beyond a ‘purely statist world order’ and that possess some and/or different properties of sovereign states might be envisaged and constructed, including and perhaps most urgently, global political institutions. On the argument for this, please see Simon Caney’s Justice Beyond Borders: A Global Political Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), Chapter 5, “Political Structures,” pp. 148-188. Brian acknowledges the collective action problems (for the common good, public welfare, etc.) states address and solve, so any responsible critique of the state (like that of the better anarchists of yesteryear) must come up with some plausible proposal for alternative institutions to accomplish all of the positive things states do qua states. I think we need to go back and look at why states evolved in the first instance,… Read more »

ceuz del sur
ceuz del sur


Your country seeks to protect your safety, your economic well-being, your property, and your freedoms.

Yeah right!!! You tell it to us, those Americans who lived abroad. Those who Kissinger said it was OK to kill as long as it was done quickly and quietly. You tell that to sister Joan MacCarthy, who went to the US Embassy in Argentina to pleed for a fellow priest who had been kidnapped by the military and then the Embassy called the cops on her (A NUN).

Truth is our government does not really care of it’s people, unless it is someone important. Wake up!

r4d20
r4d20

When a soldier fights to defend the country, he is not fighting for a cold, manipulative object of his affection. He is fighting to protect your freedom, including your freedom to profess disloyalty or infidelity.

No he’s not – no one fights for his country – he fights for his buddies and the men next to him.

Liberty Mike
Liberty Mike

Patriotism is for losers. It is for all of those pathetic sheeple who have made the decision to trade their soul for some crumbs to be doled out by the state. Xanthippas is on the right track. Contrary to the assertions of those who submit that religion is the leading cause of war and has been resposible for the most murders in history, it is THE STATE that has unleashed the most savage degradtion of man. The state has certainly taken ownership of murder as it is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world when it comes to mass murder, genocide, making the world safe for democracy, fighting wars on terror, fighting wars on drugs, fighting wars on poverty and when it it just plain “enforcing the law.” The state is anti-thetical to civilization. We do not enjoy electricity becasue of the state. The nation state did not invent electrcity. Nor did it invent the radio or automobile. The state did not invent trains, although the vast majority of public high school histroy classes would suggest that, without the state’s subsidies and supervision, we would never have had a transcontinental railroad constructed. Does it not bother you “patriots” that the… Read more »

TimOh
TimOh

Okay. What do you mean by country? I walk down the street every day and see the people I live next to and I know which ones had the George Bush for president sign and I consider them my enemies, not my countrymen. They are for the destruction of habeus corpus, the torture of innocents, and they are mainly for the redistribution of my working hours (the conservatives call it wealth, but I call it the time of my life) to the utterly wealthy, of which they often imagine they are a part. But of course they aren’t. They are the dupes of these people. So the question comes? What country? This is certainly not the country I grew up in. Things have changed. When I was young, living in the Wichita, the rightwingers were those Birchers who rean the American Opinion bookstores (of which there were three in Wichita). We knew they were crackers, insane, off the deep end. Those days have gone away and now those people are, apparently, the people who pick the republican nominee for president. Mitt Romney wants to double the size of Guantanamo. And he’s the leading candidate in Iowa. Things have changed. I… Read more »

lc
lc

“Representative democracy means that our elected officials are trying (albeit imperfectly) to look out for your interests, your benefits, your needs, and your wants. Your country seeks to protect your safety, your economic well-being, your property, and your freedoms.”

I think most Conservatives would disagree with much of this. As near as I can tell, esp. from reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog, they believe that the only function any government should have is defense. They most particularly object to what they would describe as the “nanny” or “welfare” functions you list.

But, taking a larger view: Nationalism and patriotism are certainly responsible for at least as much violence as religion. Since, however, governments, of one kind or another, appear to be essential to human society, it is not unreasonable to ask what, if anything, we owe the government, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t apply the same criteria we use with respect to family,friends or acquaintances: only as much respect as it deserves based on its behavior. And there is little or nothing about the current government’s policies that deserves either respect or support.

Desider
Desider

Evaluating the state as a useful organizational tool vs. ascribing anthropomorphical qualities of “love” to it are quite different. As you note, public servants swear to uphold the Constitution, not the “state”, and even here we need laws and Congressional hearings to protect us from wholesale circumventing and raping of Constitutional mandates. “Love” from government officials? Let’s say there might be here and there a certain fondness and leave it forgivingly at that. Certainly some soldiers fight for duty and love of country, sometime meaning even those people they disagree with. But the “country” is not the “government”, nor is the “country” entirely rational or consistent in its outpouring of emotion. Ascribing a “universal ethic” to our “country” is one of the reasons we’re in our current mess – we act as if somehow our system is light years ahead of the selfishness of the rest, instead of the typically self-serving and only occasionally philanthropic interaction we have with both the rest of the world and our own citizens. You might say the “country” “loves” in fits – those intermittent periods when the population awakes and notices how its government is despoiling the nation and much of the world, and… Read more »

Tel
Tel

Like most qualities, patriotism (love of country and desire to sacrifice for it) is good in moderation. It becomes destructive in its excess and in its lack. Of course there is the need to move beyond self-interest, and expand the circle of people we accept as part of our country. A state, after all, is defined by the people who comprise it, along with the land they take up. If we can’t expand that sense to enough “others,” we have civil war and chaos of the sort that’s common to stateless parts of the world.

But if we have an excess of patriotism, all of professor Tamanaha’s critiques apply. The danger here is of allowing love of your fellow countrymen to blind you to rational thought. You end up with something like Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, or Iran.

The trick is maintaining a healthy balance. For myself, I love my country. I work on my relationship with it, talk to it, let it know I appreciate it. But I also don’t let it beat me, and won’t put up with it if cheats on me.