Patriotism is a concept that many people think is a good thing but it just doesn’t stand up under close scrutiny, usually ending up in ‘my country, right or wrong’ and defending the actions of a government even when it commits the most outrageous crimes against its own people or those of other countries. Most frequently it is used as a cudgel against those who point out a nation’s flaws, in order to shut them up and as a means of diverting their attention away from global isues of justice.. I agree with Leo Tolstoy who wrote:
“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.”
So I was encouraged to read that young people in the US are becoming less patriotic. The article points to studies that show that the number of people in the 18-33 year age group who say they are ‘proud to be American’ has decreased from about 55% in 2013 to about 33% today.
When it comes to the flag as a symbol, a public opinion poll conducted by the Foundation for Liberty and American Greatness suggests that young people see the flag less as a symbol to be proud of and more as a symbol of what is wrong with the country. If more students are associating the flag with flaws in the system, it would explain why some students opt out of standing for the pledge of allegiance or other celebratory acts.
The author of the article tries to salvage the idea that patriotism is declining by suggesting that it needs to be redefined and that young people view patriotism in different ways, as evidenced by more of them being engaged with politics and showing up for elections.
In the end, it’s too simplistic to say that young people who are dissatisfied with the U.S. at present aren’t patriotic. It’s likely that the very students who are refusing to stand for the pledge are exhibiting their patriotism by demanding a better tomorrow, as was seen in the student protest movements of the 1960s and other current student-led protests.
My feeling is that this decline in patriotism is to be welcomed rather than salvaged through redefinition. The less people identify with things like their flag, their country, their anthems, and their tribal loyalties and the more they identify with universal principles of justice and human rights, the better.
For the record, the entire quoted slogan was “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right”. That’s from (German-born) U.S. Senator Carl Schurz (1829-1906). It’s an example of a patriotism I could get behind.
I’ve always distinguished between patriotism, which to me means that you care about the condition of the people who live in your country and the state of your society, and nationalism, which means that you think that the people of your country are in some way better than those in other countries. I realize that lots of people don’t recognize that distinction.
So young people are voting at higher rates and more engaged with politics than previous generations were at the same age, while skipping the Pledge of Allegiance? So which generation is going to have a more meaningful impact on the country?
Andreas Avester says
At school I was indoctrinated to be patriotic. Glorification of “war heroes,” worshipping the flag and other national symbols, mandatory participation in various nationalistic holidays, you name it.
None of this worked—nowadays I despise patriotism.
Andreas Avester says
It seems unreasonable for me to prioritize the wellbeing of those people who live within some arbitrarily drawn borders on a map. I do not segregate people into those who live in the same country as me versus those who live somewhere else. Personally, I care about the condition of all the people living on this planet (and also the condition of non-human animals, they are also sentient creatures, and their wellbeing also matters).
@Petern, No. 2…
The 1872 Schurz quote is an derivation from of the original attributed to Commodore Stephen Decatur in an after-dinner toast of 1816–1820:
Andreas: One has to start somewhere, and caring about people who live within an “arbitrary” boundary may not be ideal, but it is a start. Certainly better than caring only about one’s family, or immediate local neighborhood, or religious cult sect, or social class. Plus, in many cases, those boundaries are not all that arbitrary. While suspicious of too much rah, rah, it is not unusual to respect/honor.be interested in a history, culture, etc.. It may be tribalism, but it is too much to ask most people to care all that much about those living a long way across the world. Such universalism may not be powerful, but actually enervated.
(I am NOT nationalist and am very indifferent if not hostile to standard tropes of patriotism, especially militarism. But your universalist position can easily be reduced to solipsism, even if you do not feel that you are there yet….no man is an island).
As a trinational, I have always found the concept kind of baffling. Sure, I have an emotional attachment to the countries of which I am a citizen, but I’ve never truly understood what patriotism is even supposed to mean (this may be because, as a trinational, I probably conceptualise nationality and national identity differently to those with a single nationality).
Those who most loudly proclaim their love for their country tend to be those who also loudly proclaim their disgust at the reality of their country. They don’t love what their country is, they love the idea of what they think their country ought to be (generally, populated entirely by people who think, act and look like themselves).
If patriotism is love of one’s country, then the USA (other than Native Americans) was founded by people who abandoned their prior country to come here and colonize. So the USA has a 99% tradition of being NOT patriotic.