Emma Goldman and Patriotism…

I have been meaning to post something on patriotism for a while. I briefly explored it’s potential meaning and it’s relevance (if any) in my last blog where I reviewed a documentary regarding immigration, called Escape to Doncatraz:

On a more critical note, the documentary posits an interesting question regarding “what is British, and what does it mean to be British?”. For me, there is no straight forward answer, and the actual question per se raises interesting political concerns and issues. The question’s timing is interesting given the documentary was created at a time when Gordon Brown began a campaign of highlighting the ‘best of British’. For me, the documentary settles for advocating a reclamation of the British flag and what it means to be British – after all, it rightly points out the irony of the BNP utilising a flag that was used during the Second World War as symbolism of the defeat of the very fascism the BNP posses. However, in a world of increasingly interconnectedness, and in one where everyone regardless of their background should be treat as humans – has patriotism, country flags and national boundaries got a progressive place any more? Would localised, diverse identities with universal respect for basic rights be more appropriate? Rather than the constant battle for ‘supremacy’ amongst countries and their respective backgrounds?

Reading Emma Goldman’s What is Patriotism? has really clarified my concerns with patriotism as a concept, ideology and attempted practice. It breads division, competition and feeds nastily into the capitalist/neoliberal framing of the global system. This is something I mean to explore, but for now, I wanted to share part of Goldman’s essay on patriotism:

Indeed, conceit, arrogance and egotism are the essentials of patriotism. Let me illustrate. Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot consider themselves nobler, better, grander, more intelligent than those living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others.


6 thoughts on “Emma Goldman and Patriotism…

  1. “It breads division, competition and feeds nastily into the capitalist/neoliberal framing of the global system”.

    I completely agree. I have more in common, for example, with an office worker from the other side of the world both aspirationally and otherwise then I do with with a member of the House of Lords. Nationalism suggests otherwise.

  2. Hi Jane,
    I’ve never heard of Emma Goldman or read any of her writings.

    But I wish to say that, as a Lefty, I am proud to think of myself as a patriot.
    I believe in patriotism and internationalism, which I see as going hand in glove.
    Patriotism is about wanting and doing what’s best for one’s own country – a necessary part of which is a citizen duty to criticise one’s govt and hold politicians to account.
    Internationalism is about cooperating with other countries for mutual benefit.

    The enemy, as I see the situation, is the transnational corporate neo-liberal super-rich elite; a globalised compassion-less force which owes no loyalty to any country or to any people(s).

    Thus, in my opinion, the best bastion against neo-liberal damage and destruction is sovereign nation-states which have a [genuinely] social democratic govt, utilising a Keynesian approach to economics, and are strong through their size and stronger again through their internationalist cooperation.
    (problem currently is that electorates are not savvy to the threat and have been prepared to elect into power – very naively – political parties which support the neo-liberal corporate elite. Major reform of the press and television broadcasting is desperately required!).

    A worry for me is that if we went down the path of de-constructing nation states in favour of regional or local communities, there would be no strong bastion available against a destructive tide of neo-liberalism.

    As a great example of patriotism, I would cite the song, For America, by Jackson Browne.
    Written in 1986, when President Reagan was at the height of his powers, For America contains some very strong lyrics – which some folks don’t like because they’re left-wing.

    “as if freedom was a question of might,
    as if loyalty was black and white.
    You hear people say it all the time
    ‘My country, wrong or right’.”

    ” the thing I wonder about the Dads and Moms
    who send their sons to the Vietnams.
    Will they really think their way of life
    has been protected when the next war comes?”

    “The kid I was when I first left home
    was looking for his freedom and a life of his own
    but the freedom that he found wasn’t quite as sweet
    when the truth was known.
    I have prayed for America.
    I was made for America.
    I can’t let go till she comes around,
    until the land of the free
    is awake and can see
    and until her conscience has been found.”

    I would reject any notion which confuses or conflates real true patriotism with the appalling pseudo-nationalist parties who preach an aggressive, nasty, hateful, fearful, pessimistic, self-righteous, inverted form of nationalism.

    Ok, I will put my soapbox away again now.

  3. Thanks for your comments; I can understand your support behind patriotism but I think it is a key reason for why attacks upon migrants and other cultures create such hatred within and outside our country. It is central to why Wars take place, as we believe we can ‘civilise’ other countries etc.

    Yes, neoliberalism is a problem – and patriotism framed within this system is a massive problem. But would we really have patriotism as it is existent today, if we had a different kind of system where people’s national identities didn’t carry so much weight, that they are unable to gain access to certain land etc because of it?

    Nation states pretty much are fragile now anyway; the corporations internationally framed are the real concerns and power houses. Local power doesn’t mean post code lottery, switched off from others either, you can link it through confederations etc.

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