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The origin of the finish nation and its patriotism

Toward a Marxist Theory of American Patriotism: With the help of Marx's theories of the state and of alienation, we explore what is meant by "love" and "country" in this definition. Viewing society as a contradictory relation between a social community, that is based on the cooperation required by the existing division of labor, and an illusory community, that is dominated by the interests of the ruling economic class, it becomes apparent that the "country" which patriots love the social community is not the country they actually live in the illusory communityand that the "love" which they feel for it is akin to a yearning for the solidarity and mutual concern that exists within the social community but has no place in the illusory one.

Using patriotic symbols, and particularly the flag, the Government of the illusory community is able to redirect these sentiments into support for its political agenda.

Crucial to the success of this effort is the dual character of these symbols as both symbols and fetishes, where the alienated human powers used in the creation of these entities are viewed as the latter's own natural qualities to which the very people from whom they came must now respond. Is this too great a load for these fetishes to bear?

Rather than fault the officer or question the sense of the soldiers who wantonly committed suicide, the poet Tennyson famously wrote: Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the Valley of Death Rode the six hundred".

The message is clear: George Bernard Shaw once compared this attitude to "my mother, drunk or sober', which the philosopher, John Sommerville, rightly amended to "my mother's lawyer, drunk or sober", since the existing government is not the country but only an agent currently acting in its name. Taken together, Tennyson, Shaw and Sommerville offer a neat summary of what patriotism is and the more critical doubts it raises.

It also leads to the easy dismissal of our criticisms and can even threaten our jobs, friendships and personal security. All this, of course, is of long standing. Some have even suggested that patriotism among workers in the U. If this is an the origin of the finish nation and its patriotism, it is not a very big one. Obviously, we need to understand patriotism much better than we do. Patriotism is usually spoken of as "love of country".

Whence this love, and why is it so intense and, also, so pleasurable? Why do the origin of the finish nation and its patriotism, and especially the flag, play such a crucial role in evoking patriotic feelings, beliefs and actions? What gives the Government, and especially the President, their privileged role as interpreter of the meaning of these symbols?

What is the relation between patriotism and capitalism, particularly modern democratic capitalism? Why is American patriotism, especially today, more intense, more virulent and more effective than the patriotism found in other countries? How should we understand the difference between what Lenin called the "nationalism of the oppressed" and the "nationalism of the oppressors"?

I hope that my brief responses to these questions will help provoke the major Marxist study of patriotism that is so badly needed. My approach will be to examine what the Marxist theories of the state and of alienation have to teach us about the nature of patriotism.

There are, of course, at least two other Marxist inspired approaches that one could take to this subject. One passes through the study of the nation, its history and culture, and the peculiar identity it provides to those who live or lived in it. The other treats patriotism as ideology and examines where it distorts reality and how such distortions serve the interests of the ruling class. II The main focus of Marx's theory of the state is on the relation between the ruling economic class and the political means it uses, directly or indirectly, to rule.

For grasping patriotism, however, it is another, less known and much lesser used aspect of this theory that merits our attention.

This is Marx's view of the state as an illusory community. Marx believes that we all belong to two overlapping and intersecting communities: There is also an emotional side to this experience, which is the feeling of deep satisfaction and inner security that accompanies most forms of cooperation and being part of a community that treats helping others and being helped by them as matters of course.

Marx calls the second community to which we all belong the "illusory community". But here one class holds economic and political power and uses it to present its distinctive class interests as the general interests or, as we now say, the "national interests" or what is good for everyone.

This is why it is an "illusory" community, a society that seems to belong to everyone and to be concerned with all who contribute to it, but really belongs to its ruling class and is only concerned with them and those whose help they rely on to rule.

Here, the real interdependence, which continues to exist, gets shaped into various social, economic and political rules and institutions that privilege the special interests of this class.

The similarity exists, because any idea that is imagined or invented is also likely to be illusory, but Marx's notion of "illusory community" extends much further by including the alienated activities that produce and continue to reproduce it as well as its contradictory relation to the social community as essential parts of what it is. For all their many virtues, these are areas that neither Anderson nor Gellner has chosen to explore.

How best, then, to characterize patriotism as ideology?

  • Historically, patriotism served its purpose best in the age of rising nations;
  • Sadly, recent developments in the American state and among its most patriotic supporters have made the connotations carried by the term "nationalism" more relevant than ever, and argues for our using the terms "nationalism' and "nationalist" instead of "patriotism" and "patriot" whenever we can.

And how can the ruling class evoke beliefs and emotions associated with the social community from a populace whose daily lives are ordered by the illusory community? How can they do so without revealing their own narrow class interests? And how can the populace give vent to beliefs and feelings rooted in social connectedness without threatening the oppressive structures that have squelched it?

  1. Instead, its main efforts are directed to helping the class that rules over the economy reproduce the conditions of its existence as the ruling class. There is a great need for more "revisionist' histories of all of the state's main sources of legitimation.
  2. Patriotism helps satisfy this drive for recognition by substituting the country to which we belong for the individual, and the pride evoked by the country's achievements real or imagined for the absence of pride in our own. Abbie Hoffman was clearly onto something when he wore a shirt made out of the flag.
  3. How does my analysis affect the difference Lenin found between the "nationalism of the oppressed" and the "nationalism of the oppressors"?
  4. All of our real life experiences are missing.
  5. When it came out that the inspiration was his favorite Gilbert and Sullivan opera, the laughter that followed forced him to back down and removed a little bit of the awe with which most people regard the Supreme Court, an awe that is essential for the Court to play its legitimating role in our governmental system.

While patriotism is an amalgam of beliefs and emotions, it is the latter that deserves to be treated first, and not only because it is the site of most of the mysteries associated with this subject. Most patriotic ideas, after all, are largely rationalizations for feelings, and many patriots seem willing to act on these feelings in the absence of any serious attempt to make sense of them.

The Americanism Commander of the Wisconsin American Legion yes, there is such an officefor example, once assured me that even though he didn't know what the "American way of life" was, I should have no doubt about his willingness to die for it. What is the key emotion that triggers such patriotic reactions? Not "love", as ordinarily understood, and not pride, or anger, or fear, or hatred, though all of these are present to different degrees and in various combinations, depending on the individual and the occasion or provocation.

But underpinning all these feelings, providing the emotional fuel as it were for the entire process, is the drive for social connectedness, for community, the need to belong to a group in which one counts and for which one counts or thinks one doesand the pleasure we get when this need is satisfied.

What kind of things feel good? Well, generally things that serve a basic need that is not being met.

Patriotism Speech

Think of how good we feel when our pressing needs for food or sex are satisfied. At issue are the genuine human needs for fellowship and recognition that comes from our membership in the human species as well as a historically conditioned social need for solidarity that arises out of our experience of cooperation in the social community.

But patriotism can, and, in its peculiar way, does. For patriotism offers people the opportunity to vent their deepest communal emotions in all venues, twenty-four hours a day, in a socially acceptable, indeed, socially praiseworthy way. For the emotionally hungry, this is heady fare.

It is experienced as very pleasurable and returning to the table again and again for more is hard to resist. The human drive for recognition plays a similar role. It is not simply a matter of wanting others to know that we exist, but of respecting who we are and what we do.

When that happens, we feel pride, but when it doesn't we feel empty and even humiliated.

  1. Into the Valley of Death Rode the six hundred".
  2. The French philosopher, Pascal noted centuries ago that if you made children get on their knees to pray every day, even if they didn't believe in God at the start, it wouldn't be long before they did. You may join non-government-organisations NGOs and help the needy people.
  3. For many patriotism is surely little more than sticking the Stars and Stripes, large and small, everywhere -- on one's sleeve, on the windshield, on the porch, on the rooftop, and in the sky -- as we have witnessed amply in the months following the fall of Manhattan's Twin Towers.
  4. Imagine what happens when love of one's own family evolves into a hatred of some other families it considers an enemy and wages a feud, like the Capulet and the Montague, and there will be a tragedy among the loved ones in both families; we are familiar with this situation in the old time Sicily and in the Mafia, and in the legendary West of Hollywood Westerns. After laughing, people could not help but ask, "Who did Nixon think HE was, and, if he did, what does that make us?

But given the lives most people lead in our society, how often do they feel pride? How often do they feel humiliated? Patriotism helps satisfy this drive for recognition by substituting the country to which we belong for the individual, and the pride evoked by the country's achievements real or imagined for the absence of pride in our own. To prolong the pleasure they get from such recognition most people are ready to make all sorts of personal sacrifices.

When President Kennedy famously said to his fellow Americans, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country", he was tapping into this sentiment. As a mode of being that privileges feeling over thinking, patriotism also allows people to lose themselves in the moment, to "surrender" to their emotions, and stop thinking altogether.

There is, of course, also a tragic dimension to patriotism, for it is not only about people's willingness to sacrifice on behalf of the "country" but about making a connection to those who have already made the "ultimate sacrifice".

The community that patriotic people strive to realize then stretches back to include our fallen soldiers, and an attempt is made to identify with their cause and the commitment they are supposed to have brought to it. Soldiers in time of war offer us an exaggerated form of patriotism, but it is also the ideal form put forward for everyone to emulate in times of peace.

  • If my interpretation of patriotism gives so much weight to patriotic symbols, it is because I consider them much more than symbols representations, signs, or indications;
  • Most of the people who have turned the flag into ties, hats, underwear, bathing suits, trousers, coffee mugs, coats for their dog, and backdrops that cover the entire wall for Bush's and even some of Kerry's speeches and these are just the things I've seen in the last couple of years do not share Abbie's politics, but they are contributing to the same trivializing effect;
  • Under these circumstances, many on the Left continue to wonder how capitalist parties in which I include the Social Democrats that offer voters so much less than they want can keep on winning all the elections.

Military funerals, memorials and cemeteries all testify to the importance our culture gives to establishing these bonds and to building a popular reflex upon the military model. But can patriotic ceremonies create a sense of community with the dead? It can probably do as much and as little in this regard as religion with which funerary patriotism is usually mixed or any other mystical medium used for this purpose. Apparently that is enough, however, to satisfy many people, especially families who have lost a son or daughter to war and former soldiers who have lost friends, and who need to be reassured that the patriotic response of their loved ones was justified and that they didn't die in vain.

So it is that patriotism can, on occasion, evoke tears as well as pleasure, but, in the absence of any alternative, that too can be satisfying if it provides some relief for the mourner's pain. From the point of view of the emotions involved, then, patriotism would appear to be like a simmering volcano with periodic eruptions, some of which are powerful enough to destroy everything in its path. However, none of this occurs, or can occur, without the help of symbols, like the flag, the anthem, the pledge of allegiance, various monuments, and so on.

They arouse patriotism, they promote it, they channel it, they give it a language, traditions, ceremonies. All of our real life experiences are missing. And the reason for this should be obvious. No soldier is going to run toward machine gun fire on behalf of the flesh and blood people who live across town from him. Too many are of the wrong color, go to the wrong church, or speak with the wrong accent.

He also doesn't like a great deal about his "way of life" whether at home, in school or at work. None of this is worth killing or dying for, so all the details that allow us to recall the personal experiences that usually serve as the basis for our actions have to be erased. This is the country at which all our patriotic symbols point. Voided of all specifics regarding who is doing what to whom and why, the country, so understood, retains all its secrets, and the illusory community remains as mystified and, therefore, as secure as ever.

On the other hand, the very vagueness of the notion of "country" allows people to conflate it with the social community, the origin of the finish nation and its patriotism to react to the patriotic symbols put forward by the former as if they were true expressions of the latter.

Protected by a bad case of mistaken identity, patriotic symbols can now be the bridge over which the positive emotions generated by the social community pass over into actually existing class society. If my interpretation of patriotism gives so much weight to patriotic symbols, it is because I consider them much more than symbols representations, signs, or indications.

They are also "products", products of alienated political activity. To pursue this point, we must turn to Marx's theory of alienation. For the flag, the anthem, and the various monuments would not succeed so well in their symbolic work if they did not also embody some of the powers that people have lost through their alienated political activity. III The English poet, Wordsworth, offers one of the best brief summaries of Marx's theory of alienation when he writes, "Things are in the saddle and they ride mankind".

Marx was chiefly concerned to demonstrate how this worked in the economic sphere of our lives where, under conditions of capitalism, the origin of the finish nation and its patriotism workers' sale of their labor power leave them without any control over its use and final product.

This is most evident in the case of money, the exchange form of commodities, or general means by which value circulates among those who have a legal claim to some part of it.

On one occasion, Marx calls money, "the alienated ability of mankind". The German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, from whom Marx borrowed the basic structure for his theory of alienation, said something very similar about religion. They are then thought to contain the same powers lost in creating god, and religious people react to them accordingly. They use their control over the various forms of value in one case and of god-objects in the other to determine what are the acceptable ways of dealing with them using money to "buy" what one needs, "praying" with a Bible in church when that proves insufficient, and so on.