Is there a logical or principled argument for ‘patriotism’? I can think of practical and emotional reasons: familiarity, tribal instinct, ignorance, and its value to a government that needs its people to fight for it. I can also think of reasons why anyone should feel fond of or even grateful to the country he or she was born and brought up in. (I do.) But as a reason for supporting that nation, come what may? And in preference to other identities: local, class, team, professional, gender, religious, racial (but only if your ‘race’ is being persecuted), or even humanity as a whole?
‘Patriotism’, of course, has traditionally been a slogan and requirement of the political Right; right up to the present day, with its appropriation in Britain by the ‘Brexit’ side of the current EU controversy, and by extreme nationalist organisations and parties all over, perhaps most notably in the USA (‘America First’). It is very much part of Theresa May’s ideological (or rhetorical) armoury: ‘if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere’ (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/oct/05/theresa-may-treads-the-brexit-path-of-empathy-and-righteousness); which, however true it may be in literal, legalistic terms, is deeply disturbing in the context of a rising – and, yes, proto-fascist – world-wide nationalism.
Opponents of patriotism often gleefully cite the conservative Dr Johnson’s famous dismissal of it as ‘the last refuge of the scoundrel’, but without fully understanding the context of the word at that time. In the later 18th century ‘patriots’, in America, France and Britain, were those who championed the people’s rights ahead of those of the governments that were imposed on them; and so were generally what today would be classed as left-wing radicals or democrats. That’s why Johnson disliked them. They were also ‘citizens of the world’, in the sense that they identified and expressed solidarity with similar radical patriots in other countries: American revolutionaries, for example; which is very different from the xenophobic chauvinism more commonly associated with ‘patriotism’ today, and which Theresa May was appealing to. I wish there was a similar ‘radical patriotism’ in our times: one that took most pride, for example, in Britain’s democratic advances (such as they are), and institutions like the BBC and the NHS, giving us a sense of international fraternity with countries and parties abroad that shared the same or similar ideals. Now that is a kind of ‘patriotism’ which could, I think, be defended ‘on principle’.
Where does that leave those of us – in Britain, but I know there are many in America – who are beginning to feel very unpatriotic towards their countries as they are presently developing: away, that is, from the principles which we thought justified our loyalty to them in the fairly recent past? I’m toying just now with the idea of uprooting from this dark, mean, hateful, Farageist Britain, as all the public signs – and certainly its public press – seem to be presenting it, and moving permanently to Sweden, as a means of escape, and in order to cure this deep political depression that hit me when I landed back at Gatwick last week. But wouldn’t that just be cowardly? There are millions who feel like me in Britain, and who are bravely resisting the coming oppression; should I be abandoning them at this hour of their need? Not that I think I can do very much for them (especially at my age and with an operation coming up at the time of the General Election); but it would make me feel a traitor to the kind of radical patriotism I favour. ‘Stay with your comrades and join in the fight.’ I don’t think I could throw that off. So in a way, if I don’t go, it will be ‘patriotism’ that holds me back.
Alternatively, perhaps I can be of more use to the cause in Sweden; exposing our sufferings in the local press, and perhaps enlisting some Swedish help for our side. Maybe with some support from ‘citizen-of-the-world’ patriots in Britain, I could encourage the Swedes to invade us, implant their principles here – which used to be ours, too – and then give us back us our independence; or as much as the USA will allow a Brexited UK. I wouldn’t complain. There are worse fates than becoming a colony, if it’s of a country as enlightened as Storsverige.