Western European modern nation-states were founded on a basis of ethnic identity, forged in conflict with one another (see “The modern nation-state” 8/14/2013). Popular identification with the nation and popular sentiments of affection and loyalty to the nation were exploited by the elite to obtain popular participation in wars that were in its interests. Because of this shameful exploitation of patriotic sentiments, European Marxist and Leftist movements sought to replace patriotism with a sentiment of international solidarity among all workers of the world (see “Revolutionary patriotism” 8/15/2013).
In contrast to Europe, the United States was founded not on ethnic identification but on a common political philosophy of democracy and on the concept that all citizens have equal rights. In spite of this difference, the US Left inherited from Europe a skepticism toward patriotic sentiments, believing that the people should not blindly march to war in the name of patriotism.
In contrast to the European and US Left, the Latin American Left considers patriotism a virtue, and it views the symbols of the nation as sacred. In moving toward the taking of power in the wake of the popular rejection of the neoliberal project, popular movement leaders accused the national elite of being unpatriotic, as having betrayed the nation by cooperating with the international corporations in the implementation of the neoliberal project, instead of defending the sovereignty and dignity of the nation. As Chávez proclaimed with much effect, “They are on their knees before the neocolonial power.”
The Latin American approach to patriotic sentiments is part of a general Third World phenomenon, in which anti-colonial movements have appropriated the Western theory and practice of the nation-state, but in contrast to the West, envisioning nation-states as the pillar of a world-system composed of equal and sovereign nations. In this transformation of the concept of the nation-state, the meaning of patriotism also was transformed. In the West, patriotism legitimates conquest, military interventions, and imperialist policies. In the Third World, patriotic sentiments are invoked in the defense of the genuine sovereignty of the nation, and it is coupled with international solidarity in support of the sovereignty and dignity of all nations and peoples (see “Revolutionary patriotism” 8/15/2013).
What if the US Left defined patriotism as a virtue, and called upon the people to be patriotic and to defend the values upon which the nation was founded? On this premise, the Left could denounce the elite for being unpatriotic and for betraying the nation when it led the people in an expansionist project of aggression against the indigenous nations; when it legitimated African-American slavery; when it sanctioned the system of Jim Crow in the South; when it launched an imperialist project at the beginning of the twentieth century, seeking markets, raw materials, and cheap labor in other lands; when it created a Cold War in the post-World War II era, seeking to expand the military-industrial complex; when it created a consumer society, converting citizens into consumers; and when it launch the neoliberal economic war against the poor after 1980, placing profit over people. All of these policies were violations of the democratic values on which the nations is founded, and as such they have wounded the soul and undermined the spiritual wellbeing of the nation.
I will reflect further on this theme of spirituality in the next post.
Key words: patriotism, nation-state, revolution, Left, nationalism