Patriotism is a misunderstood concept

By By Deen Chatterjee

By Deen Chatterjee

Today, we live in a world where the moral consequences of global interdependence are all too obvious. Such a world calls for global citizenship that requires a cosmopolitan vision. But what does it mean? How does this idea relate to patriotic concerns? This is perhaps the most important question we can ask ourselves, which requires a critical appraisal of how we live our lives as good citizens.

For starters, it is fair to say that superpatriotism, which is parochial and anti-global, is more a disease than a virtue. Unfortunately, our country is seeped with this infection.

Any voice of reason and moderation that calls into question the pervasive national trend of greed, excess and violence is branded as leftist and anti-American. Any thoughtful concern about our militaristic foreign policy that is depleting our national resources and having a catastrophic effect on the global scene is branded as unpatriotic.

The poverty of American politics is that it is bereft of genuine ideological options. This is especially evident in the American public discourse on patriotism. The debate is construed so narrowly that anything that doesn’t conform to the prevailing far-right agenda is suspect. Because of this pitiful lack of political diversity in the American mainstream, political debate in the United States is so negative, divisive and lacking in substance.

Superpatriotism has an extremist religious overtone. It caters to intolerance and partisanship. This is not good for the country, nor is it good for the world. For better or worse, in our global world, our national fate is tied to the fate of the world.

The other extreme is political cynicism, but this is not patriotic, either. Though it is understandable why good people may turn toward cynicism and apathy-and while a little dose of cynicism may even be healthy-cynicism and apathy as a way of life cannot be justified. If we care for the collective well being of our country and the world, we have to get involved.

Not to do so would perpetuate and strengthen the status quo that the cynic finds alienating.

If the John Wayne-ism of the superpatriots is not the way to get involved, then what sort of involvement is patriotic? The demands of global citizenship require that we discard conventional patriotism, which often degenerates into nationalism. Nationalism does not carry democratic legitimacy in a global world.

Democratic legitimacy is the idea that, in a democracy, the affected parties have a say in the governance. This principle of affected interest indicates that in today’s interconnected world-in which the effects of national policies and individual actions have global impact-the domain of political legitimacy need not coincide with national boundaries.

The new global reality of overlapping jurisdictions of participation-based on the principle of affected interest-raises new and challenging questions about how to decide on the morality of political allegiance.

At the very least, we have to strike the right balance between our duties toward compatriots and our obligation to the world.

Patriotic ties, valuable as they are, should be limited by impartial demands of global justice, just as partiality toward our friends, though commendable in itself, should nonetheless be allowed only within the regulative principle of impartial morality. For instance, we shouldn’t show favoritism to a friend if that involves breaking an impartial moral rule.

Impartial moral demands take priority over special-ties partiality. Consequently, patriotic concerns should never supersede the higher demands of global justice. How to work out this nuanced relationship between the demands of global justice and the requirements of patriotic concerns is the exciting challenge of the new global age. This is what is meant by global citizenship. It requires a broader vision based on universal principles and an all consuming compassion for humanity.

Even unconditional love doesn’t mean uncritical love. If we truly love our country, it requires that we love her no matter what, but along with it comes the awesome responsibility of being informed citizens so that we appreciate her strength and are mindful of her shortcomings. This is what mature love demands.

America’s lofty peaks are many. Here I cite only a few. On the domestic front, America inspires with her secular Constitution and Jeffersonian democracy. In the global arena, the Wilsonian idealism of a collaborative international order based on diplomacy has been a shining beacon.

Along with this, there is the basic goodness of the American people-their kindness, openness, ethic of hard work and sense of fairness, as well as their reservoir of talent, ingenuity and their buoyant spirit.

All this and much more highlight the American tradition. How can we not appreciate all this and not be grateful that we live in this great country?

On the other hand, if there is good reason to believe that our national and foreign policies are causing massive discontent and deprivation at home and abroad, then as good citizens, it is our responsibility to point this out so that there can be a public debate about it. To stifle such criticism by branding it as unpatriotic is profoundly un-American, yet this is what the Bush administration is doing.

Democracy works on transparency, trust and cooperation. The Bush administration’s politics of fear, secrecy and half-truth have corrupted our democratic institutions. Bush has pursued a divisive and deceptive domestic agenda on such important matters as the federal budget, education, energy, environment, tax cuts, health care and more.

The way Bush rushed to war in Iraq illustrates this same pattern of deception and recklessness on a larger scale, which has turned the world against the United States and has brought much grief and strife in our polarized world. In his short time as president, Bush has seriously undermined international law, global cooperation and global justice.

All this is bad for America and the world. America needs a leader who is a responsible citizen in a global age. To point this out is not unpatriotic.

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