Defending Patriotism

Opinions on Debatable Issues #11

Patriotism, as defined by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, denotes a special attachment to a particular political community or the devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country. It includes four qualities:

  • Special affection for one’s own country
  • A sense of personal identification with the country
  • Special concern for the well-being of the country
  • Willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good

The controversy on whether patriotism is beneficial has always been a heatedly debated topic. Some argue that patriotism makes us who we are and unit us in the form of a national community. Others, however, contest that patriotism begets violence and suffering. Both sides’ arguments have some merit. Despite fueling some extremist groups to perpetuate harmful activities, the benefits of patriotism outweigh its harms.

The Psychology of Patriotism - Shepherd Express
Shepherd Express

Foremost, patriotism allows us to unite as a community, which is crucial to humankind. Being a part of a community can make us feel as though we are a part of something greater than ourselves. Also, Living in a community makes life easier, which is one major objective of the industrial revolution since the formation of nations. For instance, instead of manufacturing one product by one person completely, people nowadays collaborate through the production line. Also, by specializing in different areas in a community and sharing knowledge and yields with others, we make sure that humankind can thrive in all aspects while meeting each person’s basic needs. 

Since humans cannot live independently nor in a vacuum, we have to engage in some kind of interaction and community-building. The interconnectivity makes us indispensable parts of society. As a result, individual well-being inevitably becomes closely associated with the general welfare of the public. If society as a whole becomes better, developed, and safe, an individual’s life quality will improve accordingly. In today’s world where countries act as groups and communities that individuals identify with, we need patriotism to make the nation, the community that we engage in and identify with, great and strong so that we can live better lives. For instance, without patriotism, people would not be as willing to volunteer to join the army with the pride of guarding their nation’s border, protecting its citizens, and defending the nation’s glory. In a study that surveyed 2451 soldiers, researchers found that 47 percent joined the military service either out of patriotism or a sense of duty, which is almost half of the entire military force, showing the importance of patriotism. Without a stand-in army, a country is in jeopardy. Without national security is ensured, there is no way that people can live a quality life. 

What is Patriotism? (with pictures)

Some, countering my first argument, might argue that the need for the military is created by patriotism. They think, without the love for our country and the hatred for others, there will be no bloodshed. It is simply not true because violence and conflicts are results of human greediness and selfishness, which has nothing to do with patriotism. The reasoning behind this claim is simple: before nations are formed and we identify with our country, tribal conflicts and usurpation of lands owned by others were prevalent. If patriotism is the cause of all wars, then there should be no conflicts at all before the establishment of nations.

Greed, Commerce and Self-Interest: The Real Causes of War

In reality, wars are inevitable, with or without patriotic sentiments. Therefore, instead of breaking us apart, patriotism provides a sense of support and security that comfort us and give us hope when the defects of humanity incur suffering and conflicts. It is a remedy, not the culprit. 

Another benefit of patriotism is the competitiveness it evokes between nations. This ambition compels people to go above and beyond, contributing to the advancement of humankind. 

For instance, the Space Race between the US and Soviet Union in the 20th century was primarily fueled by patriotism to defend the mother country’s global power and political ideology. The result of this competition led to a huge jump in the human exploration of space. The creation of NASA, the establishment of the Apollo program, the first human to step on the moon, and the current, advanced satellites orbiting in space are all accelerated by Patriotism. We might still be able to achieve those things without patriotism in the future, but it is incontestable that, without this catalyst, it might be decades later.

Space Race - Classroom - BTN

Patriotism can indeed cause some people to deny the wrongful doings of their country or the defects of the political system they have. However, patriotism, when exercised by people with virtue and good manner, can redeem those past mistakes. Out of the love for one’s country and the nation’s future, individuals do the best for their country by acknowledging their mistakes justly and learn from the lesson. Ronald Reagan, a president with unquestionable patriotic sentiments, formally apologized to Japanese-Americans on behalf of the country for their unjust internment during World War II. This shows that It is not patriotism that is detrimental or drives bad faith, it is human selfishness, self-centeredness, or ego, that makes people unwilling to admit their faults. 

Unsurprisingly, some people object on the ground that patriotism incurs serious consequences, using the international example of Nazis, and the domestic example of Proud Boys. Both examples are a misrepresentation of the impacts of patriotism. In the case of Nazis, Germans were not driven by patriotism to eradicate Jews, as shown in their ideology of racial or ethnic superiority instead of national pride. They targeted Jews not because being Jewish is a national identity, but because Jews are identified as the “parasite” in the German racial hierarchy. They were targeting ethnicity. Thus, patriotism is not to be blamed.

Here is my response to the destruction brought by extremist groups, such as the Proud Boys: their mission is not to bring the country together and is not out of patriotism. According to SPLC Southern poverty law center, Proud Boys are “self-described ‘western chauvinists’ who adamantly deny any connection to the racist ‘alt-right'”. This affirms that those extremists that committed atrocities are not patriots, but radical racists and white supremacists.

Trump's Debate Answer Gave White Supremacists a Huge Win | Time
Time Magazine

Unlike those who harm others based on distorted values and national identity of the United States, true patriotism is showing loyalty towards our Constitution and its embedded values. As a result, the more patriotic Americans are, the more they uphold Equal voting rights, participate engagingly in the electoral system, respect others’ freedom of speech, religion, and press. This is how democracy flourishes, and I attribute that to patriotism.

Of course, patriotism is not above reproach; some conflicts are escalated due to the involvement of patriotic sentiments. Nevertheless, as William Galston, the director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, says, the fact that “zealous patriotism can have terrible consequences does not mean that reasonable and moderate patriotism does so.” Those extreme examples are outliers and should not wipe out all the pros of patriotism.

Lastly, keep in mind that those outliers only appears to have serious consequences that outweigh the benefits of patriotism because the benefits are much more subtle and distributive. Instead of causing some casualties that are very eye-catching, the benefits of patriotism, such as technological advancement, the support of our fellow citizens, the indomitable national security, are not as salient. But this does not mean they do not exist. They are still significant in terms of influencing our daily lives and future generations.

Conservative Christian, You Don't Own Patriotism-You Might Not Even  Understand It | Shane Phipps


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