Patriotism, Ingredient Two

We continue with CS Lewis’ exposition of “Patriotism”:

The second ingredient is a particular attitude to our country’s past. I mean to that past as it lives in popular imagination; the great deeds of our ancestors.

This is a sensitive issue in these United States mainly because some are ashamed of “the great deeds of our ancestors.” Especially when these are thought to consist mainly of oppression and hypocrisy.

Lewis admits that “the actual history of every country is full of shabby and even shameful things” and the USA is of course, no exception (the treatment of Native Americans and blacks being the most notable examples, the murder of millions of unborn children in the name of “choice” being another).

Lewis continues,

I think it is possible to be strengthened by the image of the past without being either deceived or puffed up. The image becomes dangerous in the precise degree to which it is mistaken, or substituted, for serious and systematic historical study.

Thomas Jefferson drafted a document stating “all men are created equal” yet he owned slaves to the day of his death.

We like to think that Abe Lincoln fought to put an end to slavery because he was chiefly concerned with the plight of blacks, at least that’s what is told to us in grade school. Yet “systematic historical study” reveals that this was not Lincoln’s primary concern, keeping the country together was. Which leads me to the last of Lewis’ points discussed here,

What does seem to me poisonous, what breeds a type of patriotism that is pernicious if it lasts but not likely to last long in an educated adult, is the perfectly serious indoctrination of the young in knowably false or biased history–the heroic legend drably disguised as text-book fact


One Response to Patriotism, Ingredient Two

  1. kena says:

    without trying to be pro/con patriotism, i’d like to point out one thing. patriotism can only come from a deep sense of nationalism that doesnt have a lot to do with the country’s government itself.

    it comes from a shared sense of past, shared language and most importantly, a sense of community that must be imagined b/c of the sheer size of most nations. that’s the way nationalism has developed in most european countries. i’m excluding many colonized countries b/c many times, borders were put in place by europeans with no real regard to the existing strong nationalims already in place. i.e. iraq and the middle east in general.

    in the united states, it was particularly difficult cultivating this brand of nationalism b/c the settlers did not have a real shared past, they came from all over. There were many languages, etc. so what did they do? used democracy as a common ground. they could rally under that banner and from there produce a nationalist sentiment. the trouble is that people tend to lean toward the first kind of nationalism and so as time passed and new immigrants began flooding the country, that first kind of nationalism emerged and suddenly the native-born americans had a shared past, albeit short, but a past nonetheless. they also had settled on a shared language. so when italians, poles, latvians, russians, mexicans, syrians, etc. came, there was not much of an effort to acclimate them to either form of nationalism, they had to do so on their own. over generations they succeeded in most part. today, we see the same thing happening.

    for some reason people here believe that we built this country on that first type of nationalism and therefore immigrants dont have a place b/c of different language, etc. the reality is that by pretending like the u.s. is some secret club that immigrants can only be a part of once the first generation dies, creates a great deal of resentment. even the most potentially patriotic souls would be hard-pressed to feel patriotic about a country that has willingly kept them at arms length.

    but there is hope. not many other countries have the u.s. model. most have the first type. they have relied on a very long shared history. so in those countries, immigrants, i think, feel the exclusion even more acutely. they see that national identity and how it has no place for them. so what do they do? hold fast to their old allegiances and religions.

    its my belief that discrimination and covert exclusion leads to more zealous individuals. riots in france? ring a bell? violence b/c of the danish cartoons? we actually discussed in one of my classes why those cartoons would foster so much violence. its not simply b/c muslims are touchy. the imams in denmark wanted to protest against danish immigration policy, which is some of the most stringint in the world. the scandinavian countries are also struggling with the effects of immigration on their national identity. they too have built their countries upon old nationalisms and are now having to go back and rearrange their common values to allow for foreigners.

    thats it for now.

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