Persiflage, on 09 July 2011 - 02:33 PM, said:
Pardon me for adding a bit to this.
Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Defendant
, published in 1901. No one so far has pointed out that this essay should also be taken in context of Chesterton's strident anti-jingoism. In fact, Chesterton makes a point of distinguishing patriotism from jingoism AND he criticizes what he calls "nationalism" in England because he sees it as an inferior type of patriotism. See A Defense of Patriotism
- here's a few excerpts -
'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober' ... What we really need for the frustration and overthrow of a deaf and raucous Jingoism is a renascence of the love of the native land. When that comes, all shrill cries will cease suddenly. For the first of all the marks of love is seriousness ...
It may be taken generally that a man loves his own stock and environment, and that he will find something to praise in it; but whether it is the most praiseworthy thing or no will depend upon the man's enlightenment as to the facts. If the son of Thackeray, let us say, were brought up in ignorance of his father's fame and genius, it is not improbable that he would be proud of the fact that his father was over six feet high. It seems to me that we, as a nation, are precisely in the position of this hypothetical child of Thackeray's. We fall back upon gross and frivolous things for our patriotism, for a simple reason. We are the only people in the world who are not taught in childhood our own literature and our own history ...
The peculiar lack of any generosity or delicacy in the current English nationalism appears to have no other possible origin but in this fact of our unique neglect in education of the study of the national literature. An Englishman could not be silly enough to despise other nations if he once knew how much England had done for them. Great men of letters cannot avoid being humane and universal ...
Yikes. I like Chesterton; really I do. I just finished reading The Ball and the Cross
, which I enjoyed a great deal, and I've read a number of his other novels and theological works.
But the more I read of his political thinking, the more I dislike it. The excerpt above is a prime example of good ol' John Bull imperialism. Those poor, benighted natives ought to be grateful for the uplifting influence of English culture and civilization. And Englishmen ought to be proud of their cultural legacy, which they have generously exported around the world.
Bah. This was a bad idea in 1901, but at least it made some sense given the cultural context. It's a horrid idea in 2011.
As far as his cultural argument goes, the country that gave us Goethe, Schiller, and Beethoven also gave us Adolf Hitler. The presence of uplifting culture is no guarantee of any kind against barbarism.
Andy Whitman, on 08 July 2011 - 09:54 AM, said:
These days we don't fight wars because we value the uniqueness of the fruit of our native land, or the peculiar shape of its mountains, but because we covet the oil of somebody else's unique oilfields. "Our country is the best" thinking has been ruinous to many cultures historically, and certainly to the cultures that have come under the imperial clutches of such thinking. It also strikes me as a view that is indefensible from a Christian standpoint, which ought to uphold the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, regardless of where they live.
Saying that American fights its wars because she covets the natural resources of other countries is both misleading and unfair. The closest we've come to anything like that was the Mexican-American war during the times of Manifest Destiny. But no politician could survive today speaking in terms of Manifest Destiny. We didn't fight the world wars to prove we were better than other countries. We didn't fight our engagements during the Cold War with the Soviet Union for anyone's oil or natural resources. And, since 9/11, we are still struggling to put together the right interventionist policy around the world, one that will ultimately deter/prevent a World War III by some rogue third-country dictator or terrorist organization launching nuclear weapons. Whatever the extreme rhetoric of the modern day equivalent of jingoists happens to be, and whatever the waxing nostalgic for isolationism that Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann may encourage, the United States reasons for entering any war are extremely complicated, calculated and difficult - but also necessary. Read Henry Kissinger's Nuclear Weapons & Foreign Policy
or On China
We could go round and round about the political reasons for why the U.S. becomes involved in wars, but my main point is to refute Chesterton's notion that patriotism is all about valuing the little idiosyncratic natural features and flora and fauna that help define the native land. There's nothing wrong with valuing those things, of course. But that's not how people define and understand patriotism. Patriotism is about OUR country, and what it stands for (in other words, a political ideology), being the best. This is how people commonly understand the term. And thus we end up with a bunch of competing bests all over the world. Some countries are small and poor and relatively powerless, and can't really do much about enforcing their views. Others are large and rich and powerful, and tend to impose their will upon others.
The question, at least within this particular forum and topic, is how a Christian ought to view such activity. And it really does come down terminology. If people want to cherish the particular details of their local existence, relish those little idiosyncratic details that make up the landscape of their daily lives, then more power to them. I'd like to think that this is part of what it means to be truly alive. But that's not patriotism. And that's all I'm saying. Chesterton is conflating the notion of thankfulness, being grateful for the specific blessings that come with being alive at any time in any place, with ideas that are necessarily political and ideological. One is a Christian virtue. The other is not, and has little or nothing to do with Christianity.
Andy Whitman, on 08 July 2011 - 11:53 AM, said:
I'm not sure how one can look at the history of the past 100 years and celebrate the "light side" of patriotism. Maybe The Producers and "Springtime for Hitler in Germany" was fun and frivolous, but that's about it. It's misplaced faith, in my opinion, to believe that humankind will somehow remain on the light side of that demonic line of demarcation.
The last hundred years? Let's see. Mehdi Karroubi is has been looking more and more like an example of the right sort of patriotism in Iran (look up the Iranian Green Movement, and also Abdolali Bazargan and Musa al-Sadr). Those Burmese Buddhist monks defiance of the ruling junta in Burma about four years ago. The "Jana Andolan" in Nepal, Ezzat Ebrahim-Nejad, Neda Agha-Soltan, Benazir Bhutto, Chen Guangcheng, that fiery group of young people in Tiananmen Square, Hu Jia, Liu Xianbin, Jennifer Zeng, Armando Valladares, Reinaldo Arenas, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, and oh yeah, Nelson Mandella, Hans & Sophie Scholl, Alexander Dubcek, and well ... this list could go on and on and on. Patriotism, particularly by those willing to die for the good things in their country that they believe in, is one of the most constant inspiring stories that the world has the offer. It almost always involves ultimate self-sacrifice for the sake of others.
All good stuff. Compare against 15,000,000 dead in World War I, and 50,000,000 dead in World War II, countless and untold millions dead in Stalinist Russia and Mao's cultural revolution and Pol Pot's Cambodia. And every one of those tyrannical regimes was led by a self-styled patriot who was only doing what was best for the Fatherland. If you can convince me that patriotism can be separated from nationalism, from political ideologies, then I'll grant your claims. Certainly there are good people in the world who are motivated by selflessness and love of country. They are not mutually incompatible ideas. But look at the fruits of the major conflicts on earth over the past century, and how quickly and easily they have degenerated into bloodbaths that look nothing like the noble ideals you espouse. From a Christian standpoint, patriotism still looks a lot like misplaced allegiance to me. And it bears bitter fruit.
Ideologies are powerful things, and they tend to get people killed, and turn them into killers. If a nation can simultaneously believe in and celebrate the goodness and uniqueness of itself while recognizing the goodness and uniqueness of other nations, then maybe Chesterton's ideas are viable.
In the above essay, Chesterton also writes -
We are, as a nation, in the truly extraordinary condition of not knowing our own merits. We have played a great and splendid part in the history of universal thought and sentiment; we have been among the foremost in that eternal and bloodless battle in which the blows do not slay, but create. In painting and music we are inferior to many other nations; but in literature, science, philosophy, and political eloquence, if history be taken as a whole, we can hold our own with any. But all this vast heritage of intellectual glory is kept from our schoolboys like a heresy; and they are left to live and die in the dull and infantile type of patriotism which they learnt from a box of tin soldiers.
Andy Whitman, on 08 July 2011 - 01:02 PM, said:
This may be a terminology issue, then. "Patriotism" is pretty much a swear word for me. I've seen it twisted by the Church, particularly the Evangelical Church, to mean a certain way of thinking, voting, etc. that I think has little to no relationship with Christianity. I've never seen it used in any way other than to define "in" and "out" groups. That's not the kind of Christianity I want to believe in or attempt to live.
Let's just say that, in the first place, evangelicals should not be allowed to determine what patriotism means.
No doubt. But I'm not convinced that Chesterton is a better authority, at least on this particular issue.
Edited by Andy Whitman, 10 July 2011 - 12:35 PM.