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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Patriotism by jove « Previous | |Next »
April 9, 2003

I have just come across Gerard Henderson's piece on patriotism called Rallying around the flag is no jingoism.It starts off well. He recycles George Orwell, who, in his Notes on Nationalism, defines patriotism as involving:

"...devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force upon other people".

Gerard codes this as love of country and says that it is one of the phenomena which hold modern democratic societies together. I basically concur with this conception of patriotism. What Gerard needed to do next was to ask himself two questions:

can those who are criticise Australia's involvement in the war be patriots? You know all those Western intelligentsia types such as writers, actors, professionals, even journalists who deeply oppose the Bush-Blair-Howard position. And,

can the Iraqi's resisting the Americans be patriots?

The second question never gets a look in. The first one is sidestepped. But the implies no they cannot in this paragraph:

"But they [the intellectuals] conflict with the basic patriotism of the vast majority of Australians. Most citizens proudly support their fellow citizens when representing their country."

It's good ole smoke and mirrors. I can love my country (the landscape, the institutions and the people) and still oppose the war on Iraq. I will support the troops and hope they come home safe and sound, but I will not rally around the flag used to justify a war on Iraq. Mine is a tough love. Edmund Burke, that good old conservative boy, puts it well when he says, "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely."

That's tough love.

The upshot is that the right does not have a monopoly on patriotism. There is patriotism and patriotism as you can see from this jumble.

See Henderson's smoke and mirrors trick? We start off with love of country and we end up rallying the flag of war. In between the two there is an abyss. I won't say anymore.

Suffice to say that I will leave Gerard's odd remarks on nationalism for another post.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:43 AM | | Comments (18)


The issue isn't left patriotism vs right patriotism.

The left have a patriotic vision of Australia that is very different to the the vision of Australia that conservative people have.

So the question isn't 'my country right or wrong' but 'who's country? ours or theirs?'

Keep in mind that Mr Henderson recently got worked up on Radio National's AM over PNAC -- basically denied it. His "patriotism" is heavily tinged by his appeasement of his US masters.

'theirs' and 'ours'?

I thought Australia was a liberal society and right and left shared that.

Aren't you talking about 'theirs' and 'ours' nation?

Patriotism is for the birds. It is a rattling old skeleton the neocons have dragged out from under the stairs for us to rally round while we recolonise/liberate Iraq and all stops east and west. It's a wartime trick. Once peace and business are back on top of the agenda we'll all be asked to internationalise our workforce and globalise our finances and look for economic guidance from the IMF and open up our markets to Hollywood. Patriotism will be put back to gather cobwebs until the next time they need to set our hearts aflame with the desire to crush Johhny Turk or Charlie Chan.
Some, like Gerard have just started to believe the house propaganda at the moment. He'll return to his senses eventually. Some people have obviously been spending far too much time reading American thinktank rubbish and their brains have gone all gooey.


Define 'liberal'?

William's remarks demonstrate my point- to him, Gerard's patriotism is false, and of course, it is, because Gerard's idea of Australia is totally different to Williams.

There's no 'common idea' of Australia or what it should be like. We don't have a 1776 or a French Revolution to fall back on.

I don't maintain Henderson's patriotism is false. As far as I know he adores Australia. I'm just saying it's a red herring. We can all love Australia to bits without that saying anything about our different political stands on the war in Iraq, as the example at hand.
For the record and beside the point, my emotional response to people who proclaim a too hearty "love" for a country is to cringe. I always wonder what they're really trying to say.
Henderson is just leaping at the opportunity with the war "going well" in the media, to drive the wedge into the left who opposed it. It's a rhetorical trick fit only for the op-ed pages of The Australian.

Well, as I feel the manner by which this war initiated (unilateral, not as a last resort, and for reasons contrary to those presented to the public) has done this country real harm, I regard anyone enthusiastically supporting it as not much of a Patriot at all.

Still, as many people consider the Australian nation to have been "born" through the blood spilt at WWI (one in twelve enlisted, 60,000 dead, 150,000 casualties), that might have something to do with why sending troops off to wars far away evokes such feelings of patriotism amongst some.


liberal means an individualist conception of society; the conception of the individual is a possessive one; separation of church and state; a preference for individual rights or freedom vis-a vis the strate; rule by law; disinction between public and private; communities are simply collections of individuals.

More specifically one strand holds that nothing can trump individual rights. Another strand is deeply utilitarian.

It is a broad church and most debates (eg. between wets and dries; or neo-cons and left liberals) take place within liberalism . They are family quarrels.

Socialists and conservatives were once commonly understood to work outside the horizons of liberalism.

What was that adage about patriotism, last refuges and scoundrels? (Johnson or Boswell?). Seems to me those who bring down the unpatriotic judgment on those who don't agree with them are on very shaky ground and their position is bereft of substance. It's precisely the same as that hoary old monster the national interest---exactly whose national interest (substitute: patriotism) are we talking about?
I suppose you could describe me as a loyal Australian. But I happen to believe that John's eager little adventure threatens the national interest as I perceive it. Does that make me unpatriotic? According to the myopic little Hendersons of this world I am. I suppose I can expect a white feather in the mail soon.


Ok, I'm not making myself clear.

While what you say is right, I don't think too many people actually use those as an example of what it is as an example of patriotism in an Australian context.

I'll come back to this issue next week- I can't say what I am trying to say due to an abcess in a tooth; blogging in agony here...

What Henderson's column basically comes down to is using the many dead in Iraq to bolster his position in the local culture wars. He did much the same after the Bali bombing. These are his true colours.

As for patriotism. I don't follow his logic that by repeatedly kowtowing to the US administration and copying their rhetoric and gestures - to the point of wearing a little flags in their lapels (just like the Republicans have been doing since s11) - the Howard Govt is demonstrating its love of Australia. Is the presence of the flag meant to compensate for something?

You can't oppose the war and love Australia. The war to liberate Iraq represented everything that Australia is. 'Australia' is not land and sea - it is a set of values that we hold dear - liberty, pluralism, democracy.

Those who opposed the war valued these liberties so lowly that they didn't think they were worth the loss of one life to the Iraqis.

They think differently.

Simon Roberts:

You CAN oppose the war and love Australia.

Your deduction that anyone opposing Howard's specious reasoning for invading Iraq is unpatriotic, is fundamentally flawed.

We live, as you say, in a pluralist democratic society, which values all the freedoms including association and speech. Therefore, surely that means that we have a right to 1) say what we like ; 2) think what we like; and 3) do what we like. All of course within the bounds of the law.

Correct me if I'm wrong - you appear to saying that because I oppose Howard's coat-tails ride on the US and speak out about it, I actually don't value our freedoms as much as say, you do. Which is very interesting, because I'm actually exercising those very freedoms.

I happen to value them greatly, more so because I've lived in countries where they haven't been allowed.

Also, how can an unwarranted invasion of a country that hasn't explicitly threatened us be an expression of democracy? The logical extension of your statement that the war represents everything we hold dear is that we should now invade all the other tyrannies in the world and bring them our democracy. Seems like a crusade to me. If somewhat impractical.

I would argue that debates like the pro/anti war debate are precisely what make our democracy so vibrant and resilient. And I reckon the increasingly-eccentric Howard would agree with me.

I agree with you - the freedom to say, do and think what you like is what makes this country what it is.

My only point is this:

If those freedoms are so valuable, why aren't the people of Iraq worthy of them? Why shouldn't countries that passionately believe in the values you described, export those freedoms to the oppressed people of Iraq?

The loss of life argument doesn't hold - as many people would die under Saddam's rule in a few years as have died in the war - so the only explanation is that you either
a) Don't value the freedoms; or
b) Don't think that the people of Iraq would value the freedoms.

Take your pick.


The people of Iraq are worthy of liberal freedoms as they interpret them in relation to their own country.

Its the Anglo-Americans export their freedoms to the unfree Arab states that i react negatively to.

'Export'reduces freedom to a commodity or it veils bombing.

Or do we bomb a sovereign nation state to create the conditions for export.

I not playing polemical games here.

It is the self-determination to the Iraqi people that matters here.

So I reject both a & b.

"It is the self-determination to the Iraqi people that matters here."

Yes. Yes. Yes

Do you honestly believe that they were closer to self-determination 2 months ago than they are now?

They are obviously filled with uncertainties about their future but they seem to believe that they are much closer to enjoying the right of self-determination. I think they are right to dance.

History will tell.

why in the hell would I want to say that an oppressive state regime does not constrain, prevent or deny the self-determination of the Iraqi people?

Of course it does. And the Iraqi people needed outside help to do it. The Kurd and the Shiites had a go in 1991 with a promise of help but they got slaughtered whilst the Americans watched.

The self-determination bit was never the issue in the war debates prior to going to war.

Where we disagree now is about the capacity and willingness of the US to deliver on its democratic promise.

Answering that depends on why you think that the Anglo-Americans went to war in the first place. Thats where we probably disagree.

For me the US is there for national security reasons. A democratic Iraq is but an instrument to protect its national security reason.

"Why shouldn't countries that passionately believe in the values you described, export those freedoms to the oppressed people of Iraq?"
This sounds more nationalistic than patriotic to me. Nationalism is extroverted and would involve imposing our value judgements on the importance of freedom on Iraqis. Incidentally, their new found "freedom" isn't all that peachy and the majority of them don't seem too impressed by it thus far.