Friday, November 17, 2006


Legislating Patriotism

Is it possible to legislate patriotism? To inculcate people with patriotic feelings? Of course lots of governments think so, and the Japanese government has returned to its pre-WWII days in this sense by working on a revision of its education law to include provisions for imbuing schoolchildren with patriotic ideas.

But if you have to pass a law to make people patriotic, or in other ways shove “patriotic” ideas down their throats, is that really patriotism? Of course not. First of all, elementary school children don’t have a good grasp of the idea of patriotism, anyway. As such, attempts to make children “patriotic” are nothing but indoctrination, not free thought. How many American elementary school children understand the idea of “allegiance” in the pledge they are required to recite? What governments are actually doing is creating a “cult of patriotism,” something that has been thoroughly discussed in a highly recommended series of papers on the subject.

If governments really want their citizens to be patriotic, they are taking the wrong route by forcing “patriotism” onto their citizens with laws, pledges, indoctrination, propaganda, coercion, or other such means. Real patriotism arises naturally when citizens feel they can be proud of how their country benefits its own citizens and makes a positive contribution to the whole world, but without their government telling them so. For example, current US government propaganda — issued either directly, or indirectly through media mouthpieces — is needed because of the government’s shabby treatment of its own citizens and because of the highly negative impact of the US on the rest of the world. A constant barrage of feel-good xenophobic propaganda is needed to make people feel good about their country. But of course how many governments don’t engage in such propaganda to one extent or another?

The formula is simple: Do good, and true patriotism will arise naturally. So, why can’t governments do that?

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