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What is Patriotism?

The world was not created with countries. In fact, at one time we had only extended family groups, then tribes, then cities, then city states, then empires, then countries. Nations are the most recent in a long line of ways to divide up the population and the territories they occupy. They are not natural divisions of humanity, nor natural divisions of geography, they are artificial constructions of humans, looking for ways to aggregate as groups and to govern themselves. Think of Star Trek. The Federation is some kind of interplanetary consortium, the members of which are planets, rather than countries. Planets (at least in science fiction) produce different racial groups and cultures and are easily distinguishable physical entities separate from other planets. Countries are social constructions.

If we owe our allegiance to our country, even to the point of sacrificing our lives to our country, is it because we were born there, or is there another reason? If nations are artificial ways of dividing up people and places, then to be willing to die for the one we happen to be born in seems unreasonable. If they are based on some kind of natural division among humans, then we might feel some innate allegiance to those who resemble us. If human divisions are based on cultural differences, then we might feel an allegiance to our familiar culture, though it may or may not coincide with the boundaries of a nation.

In the main, nations fall into the category of what are called institutional fictions. They exist as entities we have created and yet we act as if they had an existence above and beyond our own construction of them in our shared imaginations.

Our allegiance to a country should be not because we were born in it, or because it contains people who resemble us, but because it includes characteristics, which were created by its citizens as the rules by which the country operates, that exemplify the moral values we subscribe to. We should then owe equal allegiance to any other country that has created the same characteristics as the rules by which it operates. This gives us a moral compass to guide us in deciding what we value in our country and what we do not, and what we support or oppose in the way our country operates.

The attitude, “My country right or wrong,” is a perversion of any rational reason for supporting a country’s policies. “My country” is a social construction and my citizenship within it is, in many cases, a matter of happenstance, such as birthplace or place of refugee asylum. The only way that we give moral value to our allegiance to our country is by evaluating its actions, policies and values against a moral criterion that does not include deciding they are right simply because they are what our country does. If we find that our country is not fulfilling the moral requisites that we expect it to fulfill, then, if we want to remain supportive of it, we must strive to change its policies and behavior. If we cannot, then we must decide when the balance of moral versus immoral governmental behaviors has tipped so far that we can no longer maintain allegiance to the country. But doing everything we can do to shape the behavior of the nation in which we live, in hopes of bringing that behavior in line with our moral values is rational action. It is what is called being patriotic. Honoring every action of our country with blind allegiance is not patriotism, it is irresponsibility.

Casey Dorman, Editor, Lost Coast Review

Author of the political novel,2020, available on Amazon.

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