The Dark-Side of Patriotism

Our response to patriotism has many potential pitfalls. On the one hand we are expected to stand resolute, hand on heart and sing the national anthem or be branded a pariah Jeremy Corbyn style. On the other hand displays of patriotism attract anything from patronising ‘little England’ criticism, as in Emily Thornberry’s election blunder, right through to the connotations of racism attached to flying the England flag.

While I decry racism in all its forms and enjoy the association I have with immigrant friends (yes, this is usually the point where Op Ed writers clarify their personal position to make sure they don’t lose their audience) and while it is true that the flag of St. George has become a banner appropriated by distasteful groups such as the EDL, it is my view that the dark-side of patriotism is not limited to the brand of national pride particular to far right extremists (though that is dark indeed). Allow me to explain… According to the British Future think tank people are “too nervous” to celebrate St. George’s day as they think flying the flag comes across as racist, while at the same time the Scots are permitted to openly celebrate their nationalism, fly their flag, call for independence, while avoiding any accusation of ‘racism’ or being ‘little Scotland-ers’ on their part. On the surface this does seem contradictory, but once we peel back the carefully laid veneer of misdirection it becomes clear that there is no contradiction at all and that both positions are actually in full alignment with the real dark-side of patriotism.

What, then, is the real dark-side of patriotism? Surely it is when we abandon our own reason, will and conscience to state authority without question.

“Patriotism…” wrote Leo Tolstoy, “…is an immoral feeling, because, instead of confessing oneself a son of God, as Christianity teaches us, or even a free man guided by his own reason, each man under the influence of patriotism confesses himself the son of his fatherland and the slave of his government, and commits actions contrary to his reason and conscience.”

What, then, is the real dark-side of patriotism? Surely it is when we abandon our own reason, will and conscience to state authority without question.

It is this ‘unthinking loyalty’ brand of patriotism that governments really do want to foster – but for their own ends. The state does want your patriotic loyalty but only to its authority. If singing the national anthem rouses you to enlist to fight their wars (however illegal they may be), or vote for them, or embrace yet another loss of liberty, patriotic singing is to be encouraged or, better still, made mandatory. If waving the flag of St. George rouses you to an independent mind and to join the call to pull out of the EU, or to embrace any cause at odds with the state’s intended direction, patriotic flag-waving is to be discouraged – by associating it as much as possible with far right extremism the people will censor themselves and each other – blissful silence. A very pro-EU Scotland may be encouraged towards a patriotic independence knowing that the end result will not be independence at all, but in fact would represent piecemeal conversion of the UK towards the United States of Europe. Meanwhile you can bet the same politicians who oppose English national pride would work to build exactly that kind of pride in an EU-nationalism in its place.

As we have seen it is not patriotism per se that government hates, even as it buries the England flag, after all governments will even love nationalism if it achieves their ends. It is patriotism centred on some goal or cause other than its own which it hates. When it works towards its goals you can be sure patriotism is embraced with full vigour.

The real dark-side of patriotism is not whether it leans to the left or to the right, it is when it is used as a tool of manipulation, made possible when millions of individual people abandon their own reason and replace it with songs, rituals and a blind faith in state authority.

Loyal to this patriotic or unquestioning belief in the ‘authority’ of the state people have, as Tolstoy warned, time and time again “…[committed] actions contrary to [their] reason and conscience.”

With regard to this blind faith in state authority Libertarian writer Larken Rose had this to say:

“The belief in authority leads everybody, good people, bad people, everything in between to advocate and do things they wouldn’t otherwise do, bad things they wouldn’t otherwise do…

“…[people] are raised by their parents, by their school, by the government, by the culture, by all the authoritarian messages built into everything that this obedience is a virtue, and when you raise a culture to think that and you get some nasty psycho at the top who says ‘hey, go do bad stuff’ people say ‘well, I have to follow orders, I have to obey the law, I have to do as I’m told, because that’s a virtue’, and good people march off and do evil stuff.

“I’m not scared of the Maos and the Stalins and the Hitlers. I’m scared of the thousands or millions of people that hallucinate them to be authority and so do their bidding, and pay for their empires, and carry out their orders. I don’t care if there’s one loony with a stupid moustache, he’s not a threat if the people do not believe in authority.”
(YouTube Video, Statism: The Most Dangerous Religion (feat. Larken Rose), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6uVV2Dcqt0)

But we would never behave like this! Would we? Actually, we already have and do. In his well known article, Malevolent Voices That Despise our Freedoms, Philip Pullman wrote of some of the losses to our civil liberties which we have, as a nation, blindly accepted from the state as being good for us:

“It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

“Inconceivable.

“And those laws say:

“Sleep, you stinking cowards

“Sweating as you dream of rights and freedoms

“Freedom is too hard for you

“We shall decide what freedom is

“Sleep, you vermin

“Sleep, you scum.”

(Philip Pullman, Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms, The Times, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/law/columnists/article2048513.ece)

Patriotism does have a dark side and while it is true that some of that is manifest in the actions of racist right wing extremists and over-reaching left wing nanny staters, it is primarily manifest when good people put blind faith in state authority and go along with whatever they are told without question, without independent thought, without challenge and without the courage of individuals to simply say “No! I will not surrender that liberty” or “I’m not going along with that.”

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