If you were asked to name a stereotype about America, there’s a good chance you’d say something to do with patriotism. In America, love of country is considered an essential virtue in both politics and civil life, as evidenced by the abundance of American flags that you can find in almost any populated place.
Also, a characteristic very much associated with American life is holding sacrosanct patriotism above all else. In almost every Republican campaign ad, you can find a reference to the candidate in question being a “true patriot” or “putting America first.” In response, the American left tends to defend its own patriotic virtues, proposing its patriotism as a more logical patriotism that puts people and justice first.
In a country where people are raised from birth to believe that patriotism is an objectively correct attitude, this is an understandable strategy to win over moderates. However, we have reached a point where it is time to address the issue that, when analyzing the issues of the attitudes of the people of a nation, “patriotism” and nationalism seem practically indistinguishable.
Nationalism is dangerous, as it has often been used as a tool by oppressive regimes to maintain power. This danger was demonstrated by the Axis powers in World War II and continues to be demonstrated today in places like Russia, China, Brazil, North Korea, and even the United States, just to name a few.
If your instinctive reaction to comparing nationalism and patriotism is to explain the difference and defend patriotism, I have a question I want to raise. If patriotism is defined as the love of one’s country and the desire to defend it, as found in the Oxford English Dictionary, why is this correct? Why should the interests of the United States be kept above all other countries? Why should the lives of people here have more value to us than those abroad? In other words, what makes us so special?
If your answer involves anything to do with the US being somehow inherently better than other countries, you’re a nationalist. If you’re having trouble finding an answer, you’ve identified the problem. None of this is to say that defending the interests of the American people is wrong, but that patriotism is not synonymous with that end. Patriotism is loyalty to the country; loyalty to the state. And that’s not good.
State loyalty is a path much of the world has gone down before, so you won’t find many examples of multiple national flags flying on a German street unless it’s World Cup time. It’s not just Germany, though. Patriotism in the United States is unique, and people in other countries often find it off-putting and strange. It’s not normal to swear allegiance to “the State” every day at school or before every big event.
If patriotism is abnormal comes as a surprise, you’ve likely fallen victim to its normalization given that its logical flaws are obvious. Patriotism essentially boils down to being loyal to the entity that has an arbitrary monopoly on violence and the use of force over you, and thinking that the people ruled by your entity are more important than the people ruled by others. It’s not about taking care of the American people, and it never has been.
Through this lens, those of us on the American left can identify the attitude that is a better path to productivity to improve people’s lives, whether here or anywhere else. The government has claimed a monopoly of force over the people residing within its pretended borders and has maintained sovereignty over them through nothing more than historical precedent and the use of force against other governments. So it seems to me that the ideal path is to hold the government accountable and oppose the oppressive tendencies of the state.
Therefore, it is pertinent to change your attitude about loyalty to your country. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about your fellow citizens, but you should recognize how arbitrary the lines that divide us globally really are. Unless a billionaire or politician somehow found my article, you have more in common with a poor person in any other country than you do with the people in power here. America is not special, but humanity is, and human beings are worth fighting for whether they live here or not.