Against patriotism

I despise the entire concept of patriotism. I agree with Leo Tolstoy who wrote the following:

Patriotism in its simplest, clearest, and most indubitable signification is nothing else but a means of obtaining for the rulers their ambitions and covetous desires, and for the ruled the abdication of human dignity, reason, and conscience, and a slavish enthrallment to those in power. And as such it is recommended wherever it is preached. Patriotism is slavery.”

The US at present exhibits the worst aspects of this already terrible concept, using it as a cudgel to start wars, stifle dissent, and ridicule opponents. It has descended to a parody of itself, which is actually a good thing since it shows up the absurdity of the concept, as Jon Stewart demonstrates.

(This clip aired on September 25, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. smrnda says

    Patriotism. A virtue that would be automatically a vice for someone else. Tribalism is pretty dumb, though regrettably popular.

  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    Patriotism on my part, I guess, :), but I like Wilfred Owen’s take better;

    Dulce et Decorum est

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

    Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
    Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
    In all my dreams before my helpless sight
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
    Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
    And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
    His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin,
    If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
    Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
    Bitter as the cud
    Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

  3. Ed says

    Bush has less of an excuse. A dog, unlike a cup of coffee, is easy to put down and let it walk on its own (as much as I like holding dogs). Plus, at least Obama was standing up straight.

    Ideally he would have switched hands and for all we know, maybe he meant to but got to the place where he had to salute before he had a chance. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because it’s a f—ing cup of coffee that every other person is walking around with at every occasion!!!

    Unlike Fox News freaks, he actually has a lot of important issues on his mind and can’t always think about every little trivial, random thing.

  4. Chiroptera says

    I still don’t think civilians should be saluting military personnel. Maybe I’ll make an exception for retired military personnel, though.

  5. Mano Singham says


    I don’t think civilians are expected to salute military personnel. But the president, while a civilian, is also Commander-in-CHief of the Armed Forces and that makes his saluting status different from you or me.

  6. mnb0 says

    Hmmmm -- I tend to be patriottic in sports games. One reason that I support FC Twente is that I was born not too far away. And at championships I support Oranje.
    But there was a championship -- I have forgotten which one exactly, but it’s from the last 12 years -- where Germany played like I would Oranje see to play while Oranje played the way I used to hate the German teams for. That shook my loyalty at its foundations.
    Otherwise I’m one of the least unpatriottic people you can imagine. The best thing The Netherlands can do at the moment is becoming the 17th State of the German Federal Republic. That will immediately improve Dutch economic policy, education policy, environment policy, science policy and cultural policy. As long as we can keep our language, our national sports teams (for Dutch identity) and our king (for folklore). Bavaria being a Free State and Germans being nice people there shouldn’t be any problems.

  7. Mano Singham says


    I don’t think supporting a sports team necessarily is based on patriotism. Sports fandom is more fun if you have a team to cheer for (or against) and the reasons for choosing one are pretty arbitrary but usually based on proximity or residency.

  8. dogfightwithdogma says

    I share your revulsion toward the idea of patriotism. I have always liked Samuel Johnson’s attitude toward it.

    Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel

    On the issue of saluting, it is improper for a civilian to salute a person in military uniform. Whether the president should or should not salute is less clear. The practice of president’s saluting military personnel is actually relatively recent. Ronald Reagan was the first president to do so. Prior to him there was no practice or tradition of presidents saluting military personnel. Even Dwight Eisenhower never saluted military personnel while he was president. A president is not obligated under military protocol to salute. It is more of a personal choice, though every president since Reagan has done so. So it would appear that Reagan set in motion a practice that could very well become a tradition, if not already established as such.

  9. Ze Madmax says

    Another great take on patriotism comes from anarchist Emma Goldman, in a speech given in San Francisco in 1908:

    Conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves nobler, better, grander, more intelligent than those living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.

    [Full text]

  10. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    The military salute is a part of the uniform. If you are in civilian clothes, you don’t salute, not even if you are a general in active service.

    When a civilian and a military meet, they shake hands. The military can do a salute first, but is not obliged to do so. The civilian does not return it.

  11. flex says

    Well, if we are doing patriotism quotes, we can’t leave out Ambrose Bierce:

    PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.

    PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.
    In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.

  12. lorn says

    The president can salute, or not, as he/she sees fit. Historically the president did not salute. It isn’t clear if this had to do with an emphasis on civilian control over the military, or if it was just how it played out. Eisenhower, a five star general when in the military, did not return salutes once elected president.

    I note that Obama looks to have something going on with his left hand. Hard to tell but he might have been texting a message. For all we know it may have been a military matter. Not that it matters.

    I suspect hat it really doesn’t matter what Obama does because the haters are going to throw a fit anyway. IMHO Obama should let his freak flag fly without consideration for what they might say. He could wear tie-dye tee shirts, sandals and grow his hair into a fro and the noise wouldn’t be any louder. At some point you have to just let them scream.

    That said I think someone should have schooled him on military etiquette and suggested that his best move was to simply walk past salutes in as dignified a manner as is possible. Essentially the same way he was instructed on how to enter any formal gathering. It is the prudent option because it involves doing less. Any time you can get good or better results by doing less it is always your best option.

  13. says

    Flag waving fascism isn’t limited to the US. After the recent shootings in Canada, people played it up like it was a “national tragedy perpetrated by a foreign country” rather than isolated local shootings by three fanatics. People are banging the war drums when there’s no imminent threat -- though there will be if Canadian soldiers are sent to the middle east.

    On a related note, November 11th is coming up. I don’t object to people choosing to wear poppies and calling it “supporting/remembering the troops”. But those who want to wear poppies certainly object to those who don’t and won’t wear one, and some are becoming openly hostile about it. Flag waving nationalism has led to open verbal attacks (and in some cases, physical attacks) on people in Canada and England who choose not to wear poppies. It’s not a legal requirement to wear one just as aping American fanaticism isn’t a legal requirement.

  14. kraut says

    “Bavaria being a Free State and Germans being nice people there shouldn’t be any problems.”

    Yeah, exactly because Germans are such nice people was the reason why I left the fucking country.

  15. david73 says

    Another comment from Aldous Huxley:
    One of the great attractions of patriotism -- it fulfills our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what’s more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous.
    Aldous Huxley

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