Intellectual Self Defence

Brains are delicate things…

Patriotism versus Nationalism

Patriotism and militarism have become so hopelessly (and deliberately) mangled. Look at virtually any ‘national day’. There is a march and parade and fly-by of fighter jets. It’s largely a dick thing. These days it’s gotten so bad you could say that patriotism is the first refuge of scoundrels.
Whether there was ever a sweet and nice ‘patriotism’ that had no ‘out group’ for scape-goating and worse is another question.

Benedict Anderson admits nationalism’s “strong affinity with religious imaginings.” Toynbee went further, seeing nationalism as a replacement for Christianity, which had been vitiated by a soulless capitalist economy. But for the most part the relationship between nationalism and religion has been left as a sort of decorative analogy. Few, if any, have pressed the issue or found it useful to pursue the notion of nationalism as a religion, complete with its own deities, mythology, and rites.
One reason we hesitate to classify nationalism as a kind of religion is that nationalism is a thoroughly “modern” phenomenon. It emerges in Europe in the nineteenth century and is spread throughout the third world- largely in reaction to European imperialism- in the twentieth century. Our own modernist bias convinces us that things which are recent must also be “modern,” in the sense of being rational and “progressive.” On one side of that great historical divide identified as the Enlightenment lie superstition, oppression, and fanatically intolerant religions…

Barbara Ehrenreich Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War page 204-5

In the American vernacular, there is no such thing as American nationalism. Nationalism is a suspect category, an ism, like communism, and confined to other people- Serbs, Russians, Palestinians, Tamils. Americans who love their country and profess a willingness to die for it are not nationalists but something nobler and more native to their land. They are “patriots.”
In some ways, this is a justifiable distinction. If all nations are “imagined communities,” America is more imaginary than most. It has no Volk, only a conglomeration of ethnically and racially diverse peoples, and it has no feudal warrior tradition to serve as a model for an imaginary lineage the average citizen might imagine himself or herself a part of.

Ehrenreich op cit page 216-7

The neo-liberal upsurge of the last twenty years and the neo-liberal case against the welfare state has gained much of its emotional force from a sub-text which is highly gendered. Whereas social liberalism has contained the promise of more autonomy within the private sphere and more caring values in the public sphere, neo-liberalism depicts the results of social liberalism as a loss of self reliance- through ‘over-protection’ by the state in the public sphere and usurpation of male roles in the private sphere. The identification of the welfare state as female (the ‘nanny state’) helps fuel resentment on the part of those already confused by rapidly changing gender roles.
Marian Sawer (1996) Gender, Metaphor and the State Feminist Review No. 52p. 11-134

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