In Melanies Share Your World prompt the other day, I adopted what I think was a forthright tone. She proposed a statement, and I said that yes, with a couple of modifications, I could happily go along with it.
Her original statement was:
In your opinion, does patriotism require the belief that one’s country is the greatest on earth?
and with my modifications, it became:
In your opinion, does patriotism require the desire that one’s country is the best it can possibly be?
It has made me think some since (, so just in those terms, it was an absolutely brilliant post). At the time, I gave a couple of examples, largely to do with fighting for changes to society in order to hit that best it can possibly be goal. While I still feel that is a perfectly valid example, I feel I should probably have also given an example of how patriotism might also mean protecting – again, fighting for – our societies against elements that would harm them.
As a Britisher, for example, I am in absolutely no doubt that somebody like Hitler would have harmed my society, if he had been able to do so. Not just my society, but all our societies. Passage of time has only made clearer exactly what he was about.
I could also not help thinking about Melanie’s word, believe, versus my word, desire. It is significant because just that one word made the difference between agree/disagree with her statement. It raises a bunch of questions for me.
First, if somebody believes their country to be the best, does that mean that it can do no wrong? Does that mean that everything there is already perfect, that nothing could be better? If we look around us, I would suggest that things are not perfect. That being the case, how do we highlight those things that are imperfect? Do we bother? Or, do we just suck it up and pretend everything is okay? If we all pretended, nothing would ever change. So if we do think things need to change, how do we go about that? If change is via the ballot box, what do we then do when the ballot box fails us? Where do we go?
Second, what exactly is their country? Well, that’s why we have politicians – to steer the country. So, the government chooses its diplomats to go out and represent the country in the big, wide world, or at the UN. Or at bilateral summits, say. Each time, the government is pulling the strings.
Governments are elected politicians, they can’t just want somewhere to be great, they must work out how to make it great, what buttons to push. And importantly, they are subject to periodic re-election; we will fire them if they are not up to scratch. So, given that the government might change, and given that the country is represented by its government, how comfortable are we just to say, sweepingly, I believe that my country is the greatest on earth?
I’m not, especially when my country might be run by a government I do not support, whose standards might be very different from my own. I am happy to decide on a case-by-case basis whether, in my opinion, my country is doing right or wrong, I am not at all happy to give a blanket affirmation that it always does right.
And I consider myself to be extremely patriotic.