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A Critique of Patriotic Discourses

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It has been an interesting week on Blogcritics. Having never been an American, or ever had the chance to check out the soil, I have taken to watching the celebrations unfold by browsing patriotic posts and listening to Bruce Shapiro talk to Philip Adams on Late Night Live.

My general finding was that Americans love their country more because it's where they live than any logical conclusion on their part, and I also found a few key discourses that might be worthy of further study. These discourses were America as Hero, America as Symbol, and America as a People.

Here are some highlights from what local Blogcritics have had to say this week:

Take a break from your seething indignity and anger toward the country that educated you, fed you, and allowed you unsurpassed freedoms to be and think as you like. Ask yourself what you love about America — if anything — and maybe, even if for only one day, you will feel grateful.
Mark Edward Manning, 4 July 06

Unlike previous world powers, America has been a benevolent ruler, from which the rest of the world has greatly benefited. While illiberals and Europeans will scoff at this notion, their position is hard to defend. Most of the democratized world — and much of the non-democratized world — functions today because the US enables —or enabled — them to do so. Apparently the Europeans have forgotten that it was US policy that rescued them from being relegated to the dark ages after the Great Wars.
Dr Politico, 3 July 06

Notice how both of these posts act on the defensive? We get a distinct lack of concrete discussion because they don't actually discuss real criticisms in detail, and throughout the majority of these posts we see boasting without any real data to compare:

  • Manning says that the United States is at the forefront of technological change, yet my understanding is that consumerism has driven Japan to much faster uptakes.
  • Dr. Politico actually refers to America as a benevolent ruler, which seems like praise of hegemony, while citing how America has come to the rescue. And the United States is hardly unique in its ability in its ability to save the day.

And this brings us to our first of the Patriotic discourses: America as Hero.

One finds this discourse in the mantra of “support the troops” which deflects criticism away from Iraq, in the anti-communist rhetoric that was used against the anti-war movement during the cold war, and even, as noted by Robert Manne in the March 06 edition of The Monthly, in the way John Howard has repeatedly sacrificed Australia's interests in trade talks.

The truths about this approach are rather self-evident. One cannot presume that the United States government acts in the interests of anyone other than its own, and that goes for any country. But more than that, this particular discourse is unhelpful because it does not justify itself sufficiently. American interests are the right ones because…?

Often, whenever I see this approach questioned, I hear a few comments on what is right about America, and we end up in a cyclic argument of “this is right because it is.” Rather dangerous idea when you think about it.

Let's take a look at a few more comments:

The people of a free country have the right to do and say all sorts of awful things that might be considered offensive in polite society, as long as they do not violate anybody else's rights in doing so. 
Margaret Romao Toigo, 29 June 06.

Putting boundaries on the degree to which one can disagree with his country — or what a newspaper may print or report — is a betrayal of freedom, ironic in a fight against what we obscure as "the enemies of freedom." 
JP, 29 June 06.

I like these quotes a bit more than the former two. It might be the sentence structure but they offer us an interesting insight into patriotic discourses.

This is America as Symbol, and what this discourse tends to emphasize is the way that the world and the population see the nation. It is a much more passive approach than the the former discourse, in that its focus internal rather than external. And of particular note is the way that these posters draw on contemporary debates to explore their argument about the value of freedom.

Of course, down here in Australia we don't have a Bill of Rights, and our freedom of speech is merely implied by the Constitutional right to vote; so I don't really know how special these rights really are. I suspect that the word freedom is more symbolic than concrete. Toigo's post contains the words free and freedom a total of 7 times, including the title, within 728 words. And for JP, it's 13 times in 1069 words. Rather frequent, don't you think?

It would seem that freedom is an ideal, a virtue ethic, rather than something that is accepted as the norm. Preoccupations with an ideal is a two edge sword in a sense, because on the one hand it can blind the individual to realities that contradict it, and on the other hand it can inspire frustration with human limitations.

I'm reminded of the latter in the words of John Stuart Mill, in his introduction to On Liberty:

The disposition of mankind, whether as rulers or as fellow citizens, to impose their own opinions and inclinations as a rule of conduct on others, is so energetically supported by some of the best and by some of the worst feelings incident to human nature, that it is hardly ever kept under restraint by anything but want of power.

In sum, the problem with treating something as a symbol is that it can lead to imperialism and the restriction of others liberties.

And finally there is a third major discourse that almost goes unrecognised: America as a People.

By the second verse, several square blocks and hundreds of thousands of people were singing in near-unison, loud but not shouting, proud but not pious. No color guard has ever been so accompanied. We had all come singularly to celebrate in this, our day. And here we all were, together, to rejoice in this, our country.
Diana Hartman, 3 July 06

I remember my father telling me how his brother and he ran out and signed up for the Army in December 1941, weeks before the call to duty came in the mail. They weren’t waiting for a decree to defend their liberty; they were ready to join the cause immediately because not to do so would be not only unpatriotic, it would be foolish because “liberty” for everyone was at stake. 
—  Victor Lana, 4 July 06

Isn't it interesting these sorts of posts tend to focus on more immediate concerns than ideological ones. Aspects of freedom are not at the centre of the commentary, and instead there is focus on the people and the community.

Of the three discourses, this approach is the only one that doesn't put emphasis on the government. Rather, this approach to the subject of independence day places tends to treat the event as an event. To some extent that occasion serves as an ink-blot, where many people make different meanings of the same celebrations.

It is interesting to consider the value of framing the people at the centre. Consider the inspiring words of Che Guevara, in The Essence of Guerilla Struggle:

The guerilla fighter therefore relies on the complete support of the people of the area. This is absolutely indispensable. And this can be seen very clearly by taking as an example gangs of bandits that operate in a region. They have all the characteristics of a guerrilla army: homogeneity, respect for the leader, bravery, knowledge of the terrain, and often even a complete understanding of the tactics to be employed. The only thing they lack is the support of the people, and inevitably these gangs are captured or exterminated by government forces.

Noticeably, this emphasis on the people is only somewhat contrary. While Che Guevara is concerned with toppling the bourgeoisie, American bloggers seem to place no emphasis on conflicts between social classes and in doing so promote the idea of being unified and perhaps equitable.

And so, again we return to an idealistic representation. As noted by Sharon Beder in Selling the Work Ethic, the idea of America not having a class system is a myth because it is rare for children to reach significantly higher or lower levels of income than their parents, and also because only a small minority have been able to lift themselves out of poverty.

Now, all this presents us with a relatively difficult problem. After examining the discourses, and different takes on American identity, I'm still rather befuddled at exactly what there is to celebrate. I suspect that it is the mythology and the exciting tales about the good guys triumphing against great odds. But this is hardly unique, and it is primarily though socialization that certain stories become treasured.

America is only a country. And I think that's important to remember.

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About Jonathan Scanlan

  • I like this.
    Another great essay, thought provoking and yet not inflamatory.

  • What Yakkmeister said.

  • The author is clearly intelligent, yet he seems incapable of understanding why Americans love their country so much.

    I’m sure this is something difficult for many foreigners to understand, given their own relatively weak sense of patriotism…

  • Clavos


    Perhaps the answer lies in some of his sources (he writes that he’s never actually visited the US):

    As noted by Sharon Beder in Selling the Work Ethic, the idea of America not having a class system is a myth because it is rare for children to reach significantly higher or lower levels of income than their parents, and also because only a small minority have been able to lift themselves out of poverty.

    Now, I’ve never read Ms. Beder’s book, but if this is an accurate transcription of what she writes, this much at least, is widly incorrect– the Boomer generation almost universally is better educated and better off financially than their parents’ generation.

    This is amply supported in this Congressional Budget Office document, entitled “The Retirement Prospects Of Baby Boomers.”

    This just one such reference, there are literally hundreds of others easily found with a simple Google search.

    A case can also be made that the Boomers’ parents, may of whom are the children of the great late 19th/early 20th century immigrant wave, ALSO advanced well beyond their parents’ status.

  • Mr Scanlan writes in a civil manner, using well drawn words. Unlike some of our other brothers of a strong leftist orientation (Adam Ash, I’m looking your direction), he’s trying to be honest and reasonable.

    Yet he’s so completely wrong on SO many levels that you’d have to go through sentence by sentence. Not that America is above criticism, but we’re not just another country, and we’re not just like everybody else.

    Let’s start with this class system nonsense, in which he says, “it is rare for children to reach significantly higher or lower levels of income than their parents.” That’s completely not true. As Clavos pointed out above, everybody in general here is making much more than their parents or grandparents did.

    But beyond that, it’s not just that all the classes are doing better, but that you very well CAN go up or down that ladder. There are lots and lots of self-made millionares. George Jefferson represents for new money.

    In no country or time is everyone actually born equal physically or in opportunity, but America gives way better chances for getting out of your birth station than just about any other country ever. Plus, that works both ways, as you can lose your money and get knocked right back down into the pack- “from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” as the saying goes. Admittedly though, I haven’t seen any Kennedys having to get real jobs.

    Moreover, different countries and times have different motivations. We’ve got might AND right largely on our side. Having both together is not entirely co-incidental, but they are separate things. We’re often far better than other countries morally when we do things because we’re doing different things for much better reasons. Unlike the Soviets, we didn’t go into Afghanistan to make a client state. We went in to stop a bunch of killing and pure wickedness, some of which was directed at US.

    As to confusing our government with our country, that’s probably more Brother Scanlan’s problem than ours. It’s a perfectly legitimate point to separate them, but it’s more an issue needing addressed by people outside of the country. They will naturally view us more as that kind of collective abstraction than would anyone who actually lives here and knows a lot of other Americans up close. Also, even as regards US citizens, he’s responding specifically to timely 4th of July writings, which will more emphasize our government, since it’s a holiday celebrating specifically the creation of that government.

    Also, his invocation of John Stuart Mill is precisely preverse. See, a big part of the point of the American experiment and all that talk about “freedom” is exactly that our government was conceived as a minimal government to protect our rights and leave us mostly the hell alone. Obviously we’ve been less than 100% successful, and there’s always a lot of argument about what “freedom” actually means.

    Nonetheless, the US Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights were designed precisely to minimize the temptation “to impose their own opinions and inclinations as a rule of conduct on others.” In terms of our governance, that is precisely what makes America exceptional.

  • MCH

    “I’m sure this is something difficult for many foreigners to understand, given their own relatively weak sense of patriotism…”
    – RJ Elliott

    To me, a strong sense of patriotism requires more than just typing things like “Look how much more patriotic I am than you are,” since words without action is nothing more than rhetoric.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Brother Barger,

    Take a look at where Mr. Scanlan comes from.

    He’s from a frontier society whose first permanent white residents were predominantly prisoners and guards. While the Austalian colonies are a few centuries old, their main development took place in the 1800’s, and unity as a single commonwealth took place only 105 years ago. Auatralia is also an immigrant society. Australians may not have the “city on a hill” outlook that many Americans have, but as a whole, Australians share many fundamental values, ideals and basic similarities with Americans.

    Given that, his conclusion that “America is only a country. And I think that’s important to remember,” is entirely reasonable.

    Not a bad job for someone who has never been in the States, Jonathon.

  • Clavos

    Given that, his conclusion that “America is only a country. And I think that’s important to remember,” is entirely reasonable.

    Reasonable for an outsider looking in, perhaps.

    But I think that for many, if not most, Americans the “country” is a lot more than just a country–most of us, whether right or left in our political philosophy, are very passionate about our nation; what it is, what it represents, and what it stands for. The discussions right here on BC are ample evidence of that.

    It’s interesting to me that you picked that one line in the essay to highlight as reasonable, because as I read the article, I thought that same line most clearly illustrated Mr. Scanlan’s lack of understanding of what America means to Americans.

    I agree with Al Barger that Mr. Scanlan is a very skilled writer.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    You make the precise point that I do, only in a different way. Jonathan is looking in. He was never in America.

    The key difference between Americans and Australians is that Americans have a “city on a hill” mentality that Australians do not have. Until I finally comprehended what the “city on a hill” concept was, I did not understand much that Americans feel for their country either – and I was born there, and lived there for many years.

    Now that I do finally understand that concept, I can tell you that I prefer living in the real “city on a hill” than the newer version in North America.

  • Clavos

    Thanks for the for the re-statement, Ruvy; I understand your point, now.

    I’m curious to know what you like better about your new home–as you know, I’m relatively new to BC, so if you’ve posted that before, a link to a previous post/comment is fine.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Clavos, I do not wish to hijack this fine article, so go to this article on Hanukkah to get a small idea of what I’m talking about. Also try this brief piece.

    Shavua Tov,
    Have a good week

  • Clavos


    Thanks for taking my request seriously. I’ve read both articles, but want to read them again.

    I don’t want to hijack the thread, either.

    Thanks again.



  • Hey Ruvy, I didn’t intend to be bashing on Jonathan. A lot of this seems to reflect leftish thinking, but he’s not trying to be a smug idiot about it or anything. He’s a groovy cat and all, and he expressed his confusion rather eloquently. He’s just not getting the picture. Then again, neither do a lot of people who actually live here.

  • Brian Shapiro

    I also see problems with America, but I think that theres a logic to American patriotism, and Jonathan misses the point in a lot of the responses to what he is quoting.

    Americans do find pride in the fact they live here, but only because they view some importance to the “American system”–the foundations of our country and cultural discourse that supports it. Its often said that in contrast to old European nations, America is not formed around ethnicity or tradition, but an abstract ideal. And that sounds simplistic, but in some sense its true. Americans have identity through their Constitution, democracy, and their concept of freedom.

    And so it might be said that every nation has some set of ideals, but it is really more defined as the characteristic of being American, while it was less so in old Europe. Now in Europe, in fact, there is an ideal but which seems to be an ad hoc reaction to their past, and in so far as it is, by superceding the value of their nation states–centered around diversity and tolerance and legalism.

    The “American system”–which is a real term that was used in 19th century politics by Henry Clay–was believed to be founded on universal principles of good government, inspired by the Enlightenment.

    When Americans are defending America, they are defending what they see as the “American system”. They see this as a fair engagement of the interests of the community (America as a People), and as such, as a standard for a free society (America as a Symbol), and as such, as ending up as a force for good (America as a Hero)–and through all of this see universal values. Often this is reduced in foreign politics to America being ‘the good guy.’ But there is a logic behind American patriotism, no matter how well or not the patriots can articulate it.

    If there is an argument against the American system, it would be against the notion that there’s a universal foundation of good government as is expressed in our Constitution.

    So if you want to take America patriotism seriously , you have to move away from analogies–ie seeing America as a Symbol–and actually have a discussion on whether there are universal principles that should operate in governments—

    do governments need a system of checks and balances?
    do governments need to protect the minority from the majority?
    do goverments need to be balanced in their concern over federal vs. local interests?
    do governments need to have, even if only on moral grounds, some concept of negative liberty, where they are guarded from intruding on certain rights?

    These and other issues are foundations of the US Constitution.–and why American patriots see the US as an important nation. The US Constitution is often termed as the ‘grand experiment.’ In some way, arguing that there is no importance to American principles of governing has to follow a similar path to arguing there are no universal principles of truth, morality, or beauty.

    Someone from Australia might say, that the idea of their freedom is contained in their right to vote, but an American might point out that the right to vote alone might as well lead to mob rule, or else the rise of an oppressive faction (which was discussed by James Madison and other framers of the US Constitution).

    In the end, Australia’s democracy is still working today and vital in a similar way to the one in America. But one has to ask—if America didn’t exist, and America didn’t have its bill of rights–and was not a Symbol of some nature to the world–and not just Americans–would Australia be like it is today?

    The ‘American system’ whether or not it was fully codified elsewhere has inspired other countries; and it is with comparison to America that other countries have their own particular national discourse–while there is no similar ‘Australian system’ we can talk about as a symbol like this.

    Even in America our bill of rights in some ways only functions as a symbol–it has a moral purpose. The Supreme Court often limits rights, but when it does so it always has to legally -appeal- to their importance. Other countries when they pass laws always tend to establish how they are governing good in comparison with this American system–the votes are not done in a vacuum. The world has become more America-centric than people like, and this is the cause for a lot of the tension. There was a dutch filmmaker who defended his right to criticize the US as a foreigner, because, he claimed, in an abstract sense, he was an American.

    In similar terms, if we shift to economics instead of government–one could legitimately ask the question, even though Europe has some prosperity right now with its culture and way of life–would this prosperity exist, assuming Europe remained the same, if the American system wasn’t there to sustain it?

    If you go into these questions, the fact of American patriotism moves beyond mindless metonymic analogies and into real intellectual issues.

  • Clavos

    Brian, A very thoughtful and insightful analysis.

    Of particular interest to me was your point about having a discussion on “whether there are universal principles that should operate in governments”.

    Call me naive and/or Americocentric, but all my life I have believed that the Constitutional principles that you list, and which, as you say, are the foundation of our “system”, ARE essential to a good governmental system, if for no other reason than that they have worked so well for us. I’m sure, however, there are others who would be quite eager to dicuss and dispute that idea.

    You raise some interesting questions, particularly in regards to America serving as a symbol and standard of measurement for other nations around the world.

    An interesting essay.

  • nugget

    I, for one, am not very passionate about America. “America” is sooo abstract and loosely associated with my mind-numbing history classes that focused on romanticizing the men of the revolution rather than the actual documents they signed. That’s not to say I appreciate being “left the hell alone” because of a bunch of intuitive men circa 1770. I do appreciate that, but I don’t understand why I should be made to feel like I should be emotionally attached to the colors red white and blue, love the national anthem, and grill out with buddies drinking beer that is too cold because it tastes like shit. I support myself and my wife. I’ll appreciate what I feel that I should. I won’t dance naked because I think other people might see that I’m patriotic.

    Patriotism is this strange overblown groupthink go team cheerleading back-pat fest monster. It’s gross and just an excuse to displace your haywire emotions. I don’t snarl when someone is “patriotic”, however. I just smile and say “you go girl” or something. I mean, cmon. Saying you “love” America just means that you “love” to be on a team with the best fucking equipment. Everyone loves the landscape of where they live, so I’d say that’s more of a state thing. Even then, I don’t immediately start scowling at the Georgia/Alabama border because the pine trees disappear. (cause they don’t)

    Displaced emotion seems to be the popular form of patriotism. I appreciate a govt. that works hard to do the VIRTUOUS and morally right thing. Do I know when that happens? no. Do I care? I will when it comes around to my safety and wallet.

  • nugget

    Brian. What abstract ideal is that? Freedom? Freedom is in the mind and heart. People imprison themselves everyday. People can’t decide that they’ll be free because a govt. gives out social security and a right to vote. To be frank, democracy will fail like any other govt. Why? Men can’t even govern themselves! by men, I mean the “people”. Suicide proves it. People can’t trust other people in power, even themselves. America will end in a bloody civil war probably in 50 or so years. I’m dooming and glooming! It’s ok I’ll be senile by then.

  • Brian Shapiro

    Well the truth is that the original ideal when the country was being founded wasn’t just some blanket notion of ‘freedom’ but liberty, which is freedom from tyranny. Over time its expanded, through the civil war, to expanding rights and franchises, to the cold war, to allowing freedom in the markets, to the 70s where civil liberties became about choice. And there may be problems with whatever policies are being passed, but its important that there has to be an appeal to the idea of freedom. So you could argue that laissez faire policies actually limit freedom, and the law limiting the market takes this rationale into account. Its about balancing the government with the needs of society–not just about creating law but knowing when to be involved and when not to.

    nugget, I don’t like the landscape of where I live.

  • Baronius

    Nugget, you’re right that patriotism can be hollow. So can religion, marriage vows, and a lot of other things. But they don’t have to be.

    Americans are in the rare position of having a country that merits pride. We are founded on principles, not on a location. And although we fail those principles sometimes, we continue to aim for them. It’s not a shock that July 4th discourses would use the word “freedom” so often. The thing we hold dear isn’t our nation (or isn’t solely our nation), but the liberty it is founded on. Surely a patriotism based on liberty is less likely to be tribal and dangerous.

  • Brian Shapiro

    Here is an opinion piece of George Lakoff about the Iraq war thats similar in that it tries to turn everything into metonymic terms, and I think in so doing avoids the real issues.

    I had Lakoff as a professor in Berkeley, and I always thought he was out of his league in trying to assert cognitive science as obsoleting philosophy, his idea about the logic of language was naive when trying to apply it to abstract issues. Whenever I read his political writings, he would always talk about how things are ‘framed’, which is a decent thing to analyze–but if you focus only on how things are framed you easily miss the point of the real debate.

    A case is in that editorial in which he thinks that reframing what is happening in Iraq as an ‘occupation’ instead of a ‘war’ will somehow magically make the idea that a ‘cut-and-run’ strategy is bad as moot. But whether or not it is an occupation or a war we have interests in the government of Iraq and we don’t want to leave it instable and a vacuum for dangerous factions. Talking about it as an ‘occupation’ doesn’t moot this issue, as Lakoff thinks it does.

    He talks about framing issues as something subjective, so it allows him to reframe the issue without thinking if he is actually doing something constructive. Lakoff prefers patronizing the other side [he considering himself a liberal and opposed to coservatives] by creating a representation of how they’re framing them and offering a different one; instead of actually trying to understand if there is a real point to the dialogue.

    To me it is the same in this blog article about reducing all American patriotism to metonyms–as a Symbol, Hero, People, whatever. You are avoiding understanding whether there is a point to the dialogue of American patriotism.

    —[or even patriotism in general, each country may have its own particular things to celebrate].

    In other terms, using only metaphor to analyse someone else’s position, casts them as the Other–someone with a secondary consciousness–which can be as divisive as any nationalism or tribalism.

  • nugget

    Brian: I’ll agree to that. However, I’m not avoiding the dialogue. Clearly “patriotism” is worth talking about. I represented patriotism in a frame that is quite popular, metonyms and all.

    You say “In other terms, using only metaphor to analyse someone else’s position, casts them as the Other–someone with a secondary consciousness–which can be as divisive as any nationalism or tribalism.”

    As gonzo would say, “Quoted for truth.” But doesn’t everyone think in some compartmentalized “us” vs. “them” rhetoric? We all stoop to dictators in our weakness.

    I gave an example of the “they” that exist. they do exist. And even if my representation of them misses some mark somewhere, it doesn’t mean you can’t grasp the intent behind a sloppy joe metaphor.

    If you can deliver me a man that thinks in pure relativism, I’ll lick the bottom of his boots, but for now let’s relax and understand what we’re gettin’ at.

    I’d like someone to give me a good reason to feel emotional about a group of people and boundaries with a governing body. I don’t feel ill about it, but it doesn’t make me shed a tear for joy either.

    Also, I am a tribalist, my dictatorship ends in my house…or at least I try my damndest (sp?) to supress that side out of prudence and respect for co-workers and strangers. As I said before, where my respect takes a back seat is when my family’s safety and security is in harm’s way.

  • nugget

    the more I think out loud the more I realize this….

    I am an agnostic when it comes to America. I just don’t know who’s telling the fucking truth. Who is it guys?

    Who’s telling the truth: (Circle one)

    is it: a. The Democrats
    b. The Republicans
    c. my neighbors
    d. Trey Parker
    5. Sassy from Homeward Bound

    How can I FEEL something for a big scary monster thingy that supposedly protects me? If America was a teddy bear, then maybe…

    I got a ticket once for turning right at a red light at 11:30 pm on a Monday night after a trip to Wendy’s. There wasn’t a car for miles. (i didn’t see the no turn on red sign) That fucking cop slapped a ticket on my ass that added 3 POINTS to my license. Doesn’t he represent the govt? If that’s the teddy bear I was envisioning, I think I’ll throw it to the dogs.

    Point is, “America” is nothing to feel for. It’s something to protect and watch out for. After all, what is America? It’s a group of men and women controlling things. I’m always wary in groups.

  • Jonathan Scanlan

    It has been a wonderful few days reading the commenatry in response to my comments and analysis. It was my intention to get people thinking, and I’m glad I’ve done that.

    That said, allow me to examine where I feel I have gone wrong.

    First, in relation to Beder’s book, I probably should have phrased it as “income bracket” rather than income. I still stand by my belief that self-made men are rare, and that there is a class system, even if it has more shades of gray than the traditional conception.

    On my politics: Yes, I am on the far left, but I am interested in both sides of any story. For instance, I do listen to Michael Duffy on Counterpoint for a bit of contrast to my leftist views.

    Also, to those who left flattering comments…Thank you.

    Comming back to the original post in question, I had intended this piece to try putting the week of patriotic posts in perspective. I have no problem with people taking pride in their national identity, but lets try to use more cognitive than heuristic processing when we boast, shall we?

  • Miko

    I recently stumbled upon Blogcritic and was about to abandon it forever as a timewasting nonsense with ignorant bigots and blow-hards venting their prejudices with little respect for grammar or each other. Mr Scanlon’s fine essay and the thoughtful responses and challenges to it now force me to revise my opinion.

  • zingzing

    i don’t think american patriotism comes so much from our government or our economics, or even the reality of america or being an american. it comes from our accomplishments on personal and collective levels, it comes from our history (or the myth of our history), it comes from our belief that we all have the potential for greatness. it comes from our relative stability. like it or not, our influence stretches all over the globe, in seemingly endless ways. if we didn’t love america–and if YOU didn’t love america–then the world would be a much less enjoyable place… or maybe it would just be different. who knows?

  • pimpinpretti

    we americans are in love with what we think is our history and present because its difficult for us to face the truth. the truth of who we are and what the world looks like. we are in fear of this history so much so that we dont even want to include the truth about the genocidal Columbus or our slave owning founding fathers in high school history books (see Lies My Teacher Told Me). The real loving starts when we wrestle with our true national identity: yes, there is mass injustice, yes classism, racism all exist in covert and overt ways, yes, we are divided nation of haves and have nots…yes, there is oppression that our government is funding abroad with our tax dollars are we stare at MTV, we have zealots too of the Klux Klan and Nazi flavor too: thats my great USA!

  • matissemonster

    Hi America!
    It might be helpful to point out (this comment is by an Australian, by the way) that most countries are a little confused by rhetoric we hear from America relating to “freedom”.
    Most countries (when they look to the inspiration for their democracies) look to the Westminster system in Britain, perhaps France and the Revolution, or maybe ancient Greece. Very few look to America as an inspiration towards “freedom”. America is simply too young – a brother or sister democratic country perhaps, but not a parent. Most countries are democratic and have their own individual histories of how they got there, just as the US does.
    Perhaps that helps describe why the rest of the world sees America as “just another country”. We all think our own country special – politically, aesthetically or otherwise.