Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Corruption of Patriotism

Dr Sam C. Holliday, director of the Armiger Cromwell Center, following prior posts in these pages, "Effectively Communicating Jihad: a spade is a spade", "The Fable of the Knife" and its twin, "The Fable of the Water Buffalo and the Sparrow" in present essay is sharing with us his analysis on how Postmodernism has corrupted the American form of patriotism.

In Europe today - what is left of the concept - is actively being suppressed, together with all the other expressions of the nation state. Social pressure, also known as political correctness, is exerted to see it phased out: common folk raise the eye-brows, intellectual elites look down on it as vestiges from an unenlightened past.

Present article will be followed up next week with two more takes on the matter, one posting on the Postmodern version of patriotism by blogging psychologist Dr Sanity, and a commentary by our editors. But for now, enjoy Sam Holliday's views. (All emphasis is added.)

Since the 1960s many of those who opposed U.S. foreign policy have corrupted the word patriotism and have turned the concept upside down.

Barack Obama is correct when he claims that wearing an American flag on your lapel does not prove you are a patriot. Hillary Clinton has correctly noted that there are many ways to demonstrate your patriotism. However, both of them use a postmodern (PM) version of patriotism that is the opposite of the original meaning. Their version includes criticism of our operations against the Third Jihad, and this alters traditional patriotism.

The U.S. Constitution gives each citizen the right of free speech, and thus the right to criticize governmental policy. Yet, one of the purposes of patriotism is to place some limits, in the nation’s interests, on the exercise of that right. PM patriotism ignores any such limitation.


Patriotism is love, support and defense of ones country. A patriot willingly argues and labors to advance national interests. This requires service and sacrifice for one's country as well as loyalty to those in authority. A patriot supports structures and processes that provide political unity, a democratic polity, and economic success.

On the other hand, it is impossible to know with certainty who is patriotic and who is unpatriotic because it is impossible to read minds or know motivations. Are words and actions motivated by national interests, or by self-interests? Are the politicians using patriotism to generate the unity, esteem and support necessary for success and survival or to serve their own interests? Do words and actions give aid and comfort to enemies? How do loyal opponents (who have policy disputes with those making decisions yet are also seeking to advance national interests) differ from partisan politicians seeking power?

Patriot is a very old word; originally it meant "defender of the lands of our fathers". Throughout history all successful groups have found ways to create group identity and shared civic virtues to bind its members together during competition with others. The concept of patriotism has been instrumental in creating and maintaining (1) loyalty within the group, (2) respect for authority and the institutions of governance of the group, and (3) a sense of reverence for the group. All successful groups have valued their patriots, and shunned those deemed unpatriotic. Today groups who want to be successful should seek sovereign nationalism and patriotism, while avoiding integral nationalism, multiculturalism, chauvinism and PM patriotism.

Patriotism as a word gained its traditional meaning as nation-states became the major actors in world affairs and nationalism grew in importance. Prior to the 18th century loyalty was to the sovereign. With the rise of nation-states and the decline of the divine right of Kings it became necessary to shift loyalty from individuals to a nation, i.e. a collectivity of those with a common identity. Patriotism became the way (1) to express loyalty to a nation, (2) to teach respect for authority, and (3) to foster national esteem.

Patriotism made the nation-state the focus of loyalty. With the unifying absolutes associated with patriotism, which self-confident nation-states affirmed, Western Civilization dominated the world. Today, anyone who rejects the nation-state will also reject the traditional definition of patriotism and will favor PM patriotism.


PM patriotism corrupts the linkage between a state and loyalty of the people (nation) to that state. PM patriotism is a result of postmodern thought that seeks to deconstruct the concepts, institutions, roles, rules, and standards associated with nationalism. In addition to the elimination of nationalism postmodern thought seeks an ideal future that is universal, nonjudgmental, nondiscriminatory, gives advantages to the disadvantaged, and in which disagreements are resolved by discussion and compromise - but never by the use of force.

In the 1960s many blamed the suffering, destruction, horror, and death of war on nationalism. They were reacting to contradictory or deceitful interpretations of abstract ‘rights’ or imagined threats, while concealing selfish motives, by politicians seeking integral nationalism. And it is true that clever, self-centered, manipulative, and chauvinistic politicians have often abused their responsible to the people of many nations. Disapproval of integral nationalism was the heart of the anti-war movement in which PM patriotism was used to rationalize dissident and disrespect of authority, and then to justify civil disobedience and violence. However, the anti-war activists of the 1960s failed to distinguish between integral nationalism and sovereign nationalism - which is an expression of the human desire for freedom and self-government.

Many of those who avoided serving their country in Vietnam justified their opposition to the war as patriotic and condemned their country. Today those who developed their political attitudes in the anti-war movement dominate academe, the media, and the creative arts. They continue to undermine what they consider a militaristic, imperialist, racist, exploitative country. Those who accept PM patriotism share, to some extent, the same preconceptions.


Individuals have always had to balance interests and loyalties: self, family, ethnic group, institutions, economic and commercial interests, state, nation, ideology or belief system, world order, humanity, nature, and God. Achieving clarity on the best balance within a whole group is even more difficult. Nevertheless without agreement on policy decisions those required to implement those decisions hear only an ‘Uncertain Trumpet’. For over 300 years the solution to this dilemma, and the ability of governments to conduct foreign polices that advance national interests, has been accurately reflected by the extent the concept of patriotism has been accepted. PM patriotism negates that acceptance. It allows partisan politicians, and those who blame the ills of the world on the U.S., to hinder action in the name of a distortion of patriotism, i.e. PM patriotism.

What should we agree on in order to advance our national interests? We need to be judgmental in order to distinguish right from wrong. We must discriminate against those who give aid and comfort to our enemies and reward those who perform their duty. We must learn that prejudice can be either moral or immoral. We must realize that the use of force is often better than discussion and compromise. We must have the will to do the harder right rather than the easier wrong.

Also, without agreement on terminology reasoned discussion of important issues is difficult. The result is misunderstanding regarding decisions made, which in turn causes continuing debate during implementation. The resulting uncertainty always produces inefficiencies. The accurate use of words is a way to bring clarity to the discussion of alternatives prior to decisions. We need to agree on the meaning of patriot and traitor, patriotic and unpatriotic, performing ones duty and shunning ones obligations. Political convictions, preconceptions, and outrage - real or contrived - should not be allowed to prevent the accurate use of words.

Unfortunately the current lack of agreement on what we need to do and terminology hinders the development of foreign policy and its implementation.

When and how alternatives to policy are presented distinguishes the loyal political opponents from partisan politicians. The loyal opposition will argue for the alternative they favor before a decision is made and before implementation, and in a manner that will not give aid and comfort to those who want to weaken and destroy our country. However, if those in authority do not follow the recommendations that the loyal opposition favors they will still support the action - or remain invisible. On the other hand, partisan politicians will place no such restrictions on their words and actions; they will do whatever they believe will increase their power and weaken their domestic political rivals.

Just because integral nationalism and chauvinism have caused tragic outcomes does not mean that sovereign nationalism and patriotism should be avoided, slighted, ignored or belittled. All good things taken to the extreme can cause bad results. It is only necessary to understand how sovereign nationalism differs from both integral nationalism and multiculturalism and how patriotism differs from both chauvinism and PM patriotism. Unity, loyalty, respect for authority, group esteem, and moderation should be the goals.


It is fair to say that those who reject the traditional concept of patriotism in favor of PM patriotism are at least partisan politicians rather than members of the loyal opposition. They might even be useful idiots, traitors, or members of a ‘fifth column’ seeking to weaken and destroy. Are they patriots?

Sam C. Holliday is a graduate of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, a former director of Stability Studies at the Army War College, and a retired Army Colonel. He earned a Master's in Public Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh and a doctorate in International Relations from the University of South Carolina. Currently he is Director of The Armiger Cromwell Center, a small nonprofit Internet clearinghouse for thinking "outside of the box of conventional wisdom." By means of its online essays, the ACC seeks more effective foreign policies to achieve stability through equilibrium.

Copyright © 2007 Armiger Cromwell Center, 3750 Peachtree Road, NE, Suite 374, Atlanta, GA 30319-1322 Permission is granted to forward this essay to friends or colleagues, on a fair use basis. For reprint permission contact Armiger Cromwell Center.


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