Untrue Things People Believe
This is the fourth article addressing those things most people believe that are not true introduced in the article, "Most Of What You Believe Is Not True." To see all the articles, or any other one, please see the Index.
Most Americans identify themselves as patriotic Americans. They may not use the same word, but almost all people in whatever country they were born and raised identify themselves as patriotic, whether patriotic Greeks, or Thais, or Russians, or Koreans. (Perhaps not if they were born in North Korea, although publicly they better not admit it.)
The general meaning of patriotism is love for one's country, meaning a love for the place where one was born and grew up, and for all that growing up in that country one learns to love and enjoy. In its most simple meaning, it is the culture one experiences and becomes accustomed to that one loves: the language, the food, the clothing, the music and entertainment, and frequently religion, all that makes a culture what it is. In addition to the cultural aspects of a country, the geography, climate, and physical environment are often part of one's identification of "their country."
Whether a country's government is explicitly included in one's patriotic love for their country or not, it is inevitable that the government of a country influences the culture of a country, and is at least implicitly included in the idea of patriotism. In many western countries, the patriotic explicitly include their country's government in their patriotism.
If patriotism meant no more than love for one's country, it would be an innocent concept, identifying a sentiment that on the whole would be a good one consistent with appreciating the good one finds in the world. Unfortunately, patriotism is seldom used in this innocent sense.
Whether patriotism ever had the innocent meaning I have suggested is doubtful, because throughout history it has always been used to defend or promote things which are morally and rationally wrong.
My Country, Right or Wrong
Most patriots not only love their country, but are irrational about that love. Like parents who will excuse the child they love of any crime or wrong he does, refusing to see what he has become, "because it is their child;" most patriots refuse to see when their country's government has become a tyranny or the horrible crimes it commits against other countries and their people or even its own citizens, "because it is their country." A parent may continue to love a child, even when the child does wrong, but it will be in spite of the wrong, and they will recognize the wrong for what it is and despise it. One may continue to love their country for all that remains worth loving in it, even when its government becomes very bad, but it will be in spite of the government which the patriot will no longer support identifying and despising the evil things that government does.
Patriotism As Collectivism
What many people mean by patriotism is a kind of collectivism. I do not mean collectivism in the political sense, such as socialism or communism, I mean one of three collectivist views: 1. the view that one's one value is derived from what collective he belongs to, or, 2. the view that one's nationality makes them superior to those of other nationalities, or, 3. the view that a country is the equivalent of its society.
1. When someone's patriotism actually means their own value as a human being or even their identity is derived from some collective they are a member of it is not so much a matter of, "love of country," although they will certainly claim that, as it is a matter of false pride, a belief that there is some kind of honor simply because one is an American, or a Lithuanian, or an Indonesian or a Greek. This kind of false patriotism is demonstrated whenever one says, "I'm proud to be [some nationality]. What is there to be proud of? Unless they are a naturalized citizen, they had nothing to do with their being a citizen."
2. One's patriotism is similar to racism when they believe because they are a citizen of their country it makes them superior to citizens of other countries. Those who have this attitude are frequently the most worthless of a countries citizens. This form of patriotism is similar to some forms of nationalism discussed below.
3. The most blatantly evil form of patriotism as collectivism is based on the view that one's country is actually the state, which fuses government and society into a kind of pseudo-organism which is the purpose and end of all loyalties and values. This brand of patriot will willingly sacrifice any individual's life or interests to the cause of the state. The historic manifestations of this form of patriotism are Nazism, fascism, and communism.
Patriotism As Propaganda
When a government chooses to go to war, which most governments do perpetually, the chief means of stirring up the citizens of the country to convince them to support the war is the appeal to patriotism. Young men are induced to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the country they love, to save it from a host of false threats invented by the government. Patriots are almost always sentimentalists, and their actions are determined by their feelings of love-of-country and their sense of duty, not reason.
Patriotism As Nationalism
Nationalism generally means one of two things: 1. an attitude of loyalty to and pride in one's country and the belief that it is better and more important than other countries, and 2. a desire shared by a large number of people with a similar culture, religion, history, or language, for example, to form a separate and independent nation of their own, which if formed, adopts nationalism in its first meaning.
The two obvious historic examples of nationalism are the United States and Israel, which actually has a name for its nationalism, Zionism. I say these examples are obvious, but perhaps they are not. They will certainly not be obvious to those who are true patriots.