Thursday, January 27, 2011

more on nationalism/patriotism

Joanna wrote this in a comment on Andrew's '5 Reasons Patriotism is Wrong' post. I think it too good to leave there.
"...a heightened sense of pride in one's country tends to get in the way of good theology, which applies to nations as well as people. Nations, after all, are just one of the more recent structures that human minds have imagined for the organisation of community life.
In Australia, for example, the wealth and prosperity of this nation comes from natural resources and land that were stolen. Our 'founding fathers' made it very clear that their understanding of Australia was based on a vision of racial exclusion and the defence of 'whiteness'. (Have a good read of Alfred Deakin!) Horrors like the massacres of Tasmanian Indigenous people, the stolen generation, the White Australia policy, were all natural consequences. This may not be surprising, given the doctrine of total depravity. But I think it means a general attitude of repentance and humility and desire to sacrificially make reparations may be more appropriate than pride, with our nation as well as with ourselves as individuals."

BTW, have you noticed how a kind of patriotism is becoming hip in evangelical circles? I wonder if it's an American import that's crept in, mixed with the love your city/community thing (which I don't mind - though it can become too channel 7). Thoughts?


  1. It's interesting to contrast Aus v NZ in this actually: NZ doesn't really have a "national day" as such. Waitangi Day is probably the closest, but it certainly doesn't seem to end up as a celebration of nationalism like Australia Day seems to have turned into recently. Maybe Kiwis are just more laid-back than Aussies, or maybe they don't have quite such a voracious media stirring them up to great passion and pride in their superior nation at every international sporting event, but whatever it is, there certainly isn't the same sense of nationalism over here.
    It could also be that the Maori population is far more significant in terms of numbers than the Aboriginal (~20% v ~2%), so celebrating the arrival of Pakeha settlers is more widely recognized as not really being the start of the nation as such, so it's not really a cause for nationalist celebrations.

  2. I haven't seen any overt displays of patriotism among my circles. A bit of talk of thankfulness is about the extent of it.

  3. Thanks Simone! I think I would add to that now, that such historical awareness does not exclude the possibility of loving one's country. But in relation to Australia Day, which is celebrated on the very day the British arrived en masse to colonize, that historical awareness and humility seems crucial. It is a painful day for Indigenous Australians, many of whom are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  4. Just throwing a thought in. I've discussed something of this "patriotism is wrong" thing a little with an American friend this morning. She had this question. If you believe this then should you be allowed to vote?

  5. Wendy - I have no idea what voting has to do with anything.

    I am not patriotic in the sense that I have no heightened sense of pride in my country. I don't think this is the 'best country in the world'. How could I? As a nation we have done truly awful things. But I live here, abide by the laws of the land, look to make Australia a better place - why shouldn't I vote?

  6. For what its worth, here's a thought.

    Patriotism can be a form of self-knowledge and self-acceptance. We understand where we come from and the community we are part of, and we love it passionately. As with all things we love, we are not afraid to criticise it and earnestly desire to make it better. This also doesn't prevent us from loving other nations and other cultures - it's simply that ours is our home, and the others are someone else's home.

    On the other hand, it can become a form of self-delusion - something like what Erich Fromm described in "Escape from Freedom". To avoid facing ourselves and the hard choices we have to make, we align ourselves unthinkingly with our nation to give us the sense of meaning we lack in ourselves. Because we do so uncritically it becomes "our country right or wrong" and we dismiss or desire to dominate other cultures or nations because they threaten this fragile identity of ours.

  7. Perhaps she's thinking along these lines: If you aren't patriotic and the definition of patriotic is "you love your country", then the opposite of love is ?disinterest. If you are disinterested in your country why should you be allowed to vote, because you would surely not be motivated to choose wisely for the country's good?

  8. Sacrificial reparations? No one from that time is alive anymore, what about good ol fashioned hard work to get ahead no? I don't like the vox populi having to pay for the mistakes of a no longer existing empire

  9. Well, I think there's biblical support for the notion that communities bear collective responsibility for historical wrongs. But we don't need to discuss that - let's just briefly consider the national (not imperial) wrongs against Indigenous people, many of whom are alive - or whose children certainly still suffer the outcome of those wrongs - families destroyed through the stolen generations, millions of dollars of stolen wages for the 'good old fashioned hard work' that Aboriginal people did as domestic servants, cattlemen and miners, lack of political representation in a system which controlled every aspect of their lives including when and where they could travel and who they could marry, inferior education and limited employment opportunities - these were not the actions of a dead empire but of the Australian nation. Reparations seem entirely appropriate to me.

  10. I think patriotism is probably partly an American import. I think it's also due to a feeling that our nation/culture/way of life is under attack - the sense of an enemy 'out there' tends to prompt people to identify themselves in terms of what they think is being attacked.

    I think these things also come in waves - Boomers are not patriotic, their attendance at Anzac Day was low, and often was used to make protests for other causes. Gen X is mixed, but generally the more someone tends to be attracted to the Greens/Labour side of politics the more they'll tend to sneer at patriotism as a concept, and the more they are drawn to the conservative side the more okay they'll be with it. When you move down to the next generation - Y and Millenial, they seem far more open to patriotism.

    As far as Jo's assessment goes, I'm in two minds. I think she's right in what she's affirming, but not in what she's denying. The land wasn't stolen from the Aborigines. They were, more or less, conquered. Conquest and war is not an amoral thing - ethical judgements can be made about it - but I'm not sure that 'theft' is the right term.

    I don't think that some kind of perpetual wringing of the hands for what the past did is really that useful. There's skeletons in my family's closet, but I'm not ashamed to be a Baddeley, nor do I continually express remorse for my family tree. Paul was clearly proud of his Roman citizenship and his Jewishness - and both of those entities had far worse things in their history than even the Australian white settlers managed to clock up.

    If Jo and Alister Bain really do think what they've said, then I don't think they need to wait for the government to make reparations. They can do it now. They can evaluate what percentage of their wealth, property, and income, they think derives from those historical actions, and give it to any of many aboriginal groups and institutions. If that's what 'patriotism' should look like, they don't need to wait for the state to do it on their behalf. I know of few people who do personally what they want the state to do on their behalf.

    But I don't fully agree with Marshall either. Does it really matter if the people who did the deeds are dead, if our wealth would not be possible apart from their actions? One of the things I like about the idea of reparations - especially if it was something like giving the rights over a particular kind of natural resource to the Aboriginal people - is that it could break the cycle of welfare that doesn't seem to be a game changer. Control over something valuable would give the aboriginal people real power, and the chance to do what Marshall wants - live or fail by their own efforts, and their own culture's ability to succeed. They could either join mainstream society, or have the resources to erect their own functioning societies within the broader Australian landscape, as they prefer. That's humanising in a way the current situation is not.

    So, I suppose for me, I want 'reparations', but not out of guilt. I want it as an expression of love for the Aborigines, not remorse and repudiation of our grandparents. I want something that says 'what will give the aboriginal people the ability that is truly human - to stand or fall on one's efforts, to earn the bread that feeds one, and not live constantly on welfare, and to do so without having to be stone age.' The fact that that means that they 'unfairly' get given a whole block of wealth they didn't earn, well, get over it. That's life, we got access to a whole bunch of wealth we didn't earn, we can afford to be generous with some of it.

  11. I was raised by parents whose parents lived through WW2. I was taught to see patriotism as a positive thing. However I first realised the value of patriotism when reading some books by CS Lewis as a teenager. I'm not a CS Lewis fan on everything, but I do think some of his thoughts on patriotism are worth reading.

    To not love your country because of its past sins, according to C.S. Lewis "is like loving your children only 'if they are good,' your wife only while she keeps her looks and your husband only so long as he is famous and successful. 'No man' said one of the Greeks, 'loves his ciy because it is great, but because it is his.'"

  12. Firstly, thanks, all, I'm really pleased to be able to discuss these issues and to continue to thrash through a godly response to our national history.

    Further, Mark, I totally agree with you about a personal response being important and Andrew and I have certainly sought to work out what that means for us - seeking to make 'sacrificial reparations' in our own regular giving and especially in distributing the profit we've made from things like property. Happy to discuss this further individually, but I assure you I have really tried to put my money where my mouth is on this one (though I could definitely do more and appreciate the challenge to do so!)

    I think we've ended up with a number of issues here. Firstly, how we define patriotism - 'pride' in one's country? 'love' of one's country? 'loyalty' to one's country? (I think Jon's distinctions are absolutely spot on, by the way).

    Secondly, if we agree that it is OK to 'love' one's country (and I suspect that most of us would agree with this in one form or another) what does that look like? How does it square with an honest acknowledgment of our nation's sins? This, I think, is worth discussing further. I wonder how we might model a love of Australia that acknowledges the violence and oppression that makes up a good chunk of our past, while also celebrating what is good about the nation (not to mention the beauty of this land)? To jump off Narelle's metaphor, the issue is not loving my husband only when he keeps his six pack, it is loving my husband when i discover he has led a double life as both a warm-hearted philanthropist and a psychotic axe murderer.

    I think a lot of my concern on this question comes from lecturing Australian history and realising how little most Australians know about our past, especially in the area of race relations. This is why, in my comment above, I suggested that we could leave aside for a moment the question of our colonial past (and the issue of land rights, though I think it is actually very important) and talk only about our national past, in the 110 years since Federation. In reality, the two parts of our history cannot be separated, but if we are talking about national responsibility - (and thus national reparations) then I'm happy to focus on those things which have been the result of national (or state) policy and the actions of government employees and representatives - the sorts of things I listed in my comment above. These, in my mind, are properly the focus of what we as a nation should repent of and make restitution for. I do not think this is a matter of 'endless hand wringing' but a matter of justice and until there are more serious attempts at reparation at a state and national level, I'm happy to keep harping on about it :)

    Finally, I think as Christians we need to keep in mind that this is a matter that not only concerns the nation but concerns the church. Having listened to Aboriginal brothers and sisters I know that for many of them the tendency of non-Indigenous Christians to thoughtlessly 'celebrate the nation' without acknowledging the experience of Indigenous people is something that divides the church (I can give examples if it would be helpful). Surely this should be a matter of real concern for us. If we stick with the parallel to the family, then Jesus taught us that following him required a certain kind of hatred of family - I understand that as a rejection of loyalty to family when it gets in the way of loyalty to God and his people - and I think that in this sense, we must also hate our nation.

  13. Thanks for those thoughts Jo, which I think are spot on. I work with a few different Aboriginal organisations (mainly housing ones) and their clear experience is that injustice is not just in the past, it's in the here and now in a wide range of inequalities of income, education, health and housing. These injustices are clearly linked to the history - not only the original invasion, but the subsequent removals from urban areas, payment of below-minimum wages, family seperation and the list could go on for pages. Poverty is hereditary just as much as wealth.

    Most of the people I work with would also agree with Mark that feelings of guilt are not what's needed. What's needed is a clear public acknowledgement of the wrong (as per KRudd's apology) followed up by concrete action on employment, housing, health and education within a framework of self-determination (as per...well, still waiting!).

    However I think the use of the term "hand-wringing" is perjorative and suggests a level of discomfort about the issue which would be worth examining a bit more closely.

  14. @Jon we need to examine 'hand wringing' a bit more closely? Well, okay, sure.

    To the degree that I'm self-aware (always an open question) the phrase expresses a level of discomfort, as you suggest, but not about this issue.

    It's a level of discomfort I feel whenever I think that a Christian's public statements on a political/public policy matter is beginning to sound like either the Liberal party or the Greens party at prayer. It's fairly even-handed (I think) - watch me on an American evangelical thread and I'll sound more like a socialist in reaction. When around my Australian evangelical friends I end up having to keep speaking up on behalf of conservativism's concerns as they seem to get dismissed out of hand.

    And it's definitely pejorative. I am heartily sick of Christians picking a side in politics and then baptising it as the Christian position, where theology is used only ever to establish concerns identical to that of the left or the right, and never to substantially reframe or reform them. The left's self-hatred for its own history and country and its distate for military service is not praiseworthy in any sense; it's the mirror image of right wing racism, and I'll speak about both with about the same level of disdain.

  15. @Jo thanks for your most recent comment, I think I'm basically in agreement.

    I suspected that you and your good husband would have taken steps personally on this, based on my knowledge of you from years ago. But I suspect that many cheering you from the sidelines haven't (you are in this, as in many areas, statistically infrequent ;) ). It is exceptionally encouraging to hear that you're doing it.

    My thinking shifted once I discovered that the conservative small government pro-business/progressive large governement pro-welfare divide in the U.S. also reflects a staggeringly huge difference in personal giving - that the people who want to raise taxes on others to pay for their sense of care for the poor, needy, environment etc are also very bad givers. Whereas those who are apparently heartless in their public philosophy are characteristically also the ones who give generously of their time and money. That's in the U.S., it may not apply elsewhere.

    But it crystalised for me that there is something profoundly immoral about wanting the government to implement your moral vision, usually with a price tag to be paid by your fellow citizens, when you personally don't take a lead in modelling it beyond what you want the government to do. So I'm probably going to start raising it in online discussions.

    I also agree with Jon's distinctions - although minus his suggestion that the desire to dominate other nations is due to a fragile sense of identity. I think the desire for power and wealth, and a hatred and contempt for others (often with a moral sense to it - they are bad people), is more the driving force. I think we're too quick to look for psychological explanations since the 60's, and often they're more symptom than cause.

    And I agree about Australian history. Jennie and I have taught Australian church history, with an aboriginal section. Some of the most depressing stuff I've ever done. Australian Christians have to come to grips with the fact that our country's DNA is fundamentally racist and intolerant, and if you scratch under the surface it still is. I similarly agree with your thoughts about how all this plays for Aborigines, not least our brothers and sisters.

    I think where I might differ, is that I think corporate repentance can be too self-centred when it focuses on past actions, and particularly when one takes the line that Simone and Andrew R have - that the past means that we shouldn't have an Australia Day, or should make it national Sorry Day. Fundamentally, that is a repudiation of one's 'grandparents' - it is an act of dishonour to those who should be treated with honour even when we 'rebuke' them.

    It's why I think we should take the focus off us primarily. The basic problem is that we have not loved the Aborigine, or treated them with honour. Repentance involves changing that at a national level. To my mind that is a fundamental 'positive' and other-centred approach to the issue, that can be pushed hard without making a trashing of our heritage the driver of the change. If we got some success with it, then I suspect the other issues of love-for-country-but-critical-of-wrong-done would take of themselves. I think part of the problem here is that the left has set up the framework for the issue - and the left has no place for love for actual people. And a repentance not fundamentally about love for people is always going to be counterproductive.

  16. @ Mark - I just mention it because it's a bare millimetre from an ad hominem argument and I think you'd want to avoid that. The person is made to feel foolish for their "hand-wringing" as opposed to addressing the issues...

    ...which you do well in the rest of your comments here. However, I think your characterisation of the left as "having no place for love for actual people" is inaccurate or at least too much of a generalisation. The left/right distinction in politics increasingly has hairs on it especially in Australia, but people of the "left" (of whom I am probably one in so far as the term has meaning) are as diverse as those of the "right" and both include compassionate and callous people.

  17. @Jon - yes, I agree the device has consequences, the ones you mention. It's a grey area for me, I usually don't start it, but when the conversation is, in my opinion, already charged with rhetorical devices of that nature on the 'other' side (and in my view this was), I usually try and hit the ball back with similar amounts of spin to what I think came over the net. Usually people underestimate how polemical their own phrasing was (they see it as just obvious and reasonable) and are quite sensitive to that of the other - and I'm no exception, so it's risky strategy. But I think genuine conversation sometimes involves disciplined rhetoric. I take on board what you're saying, though - just a further explanation of the logic from my end.

    And I broadly agree about left and right in Oz. I think the only personalising I made was about giving patterns - and I fairly strongly indicated that was a pattern that we only know holds true in the U.S.

    Usually when I use those categories I'm referring to the political philosophy, not the people. And I'm happy to stand by my assesssment there. The 'right' as a political philosophy has as its weakness that it is not in favour of paternalism in government. It has in its favour that, at its best, it wants individuals to have the freedom to genuinely love each other without inteference from the state. The 'left' has in its favour that it thinks government should be caring for the weak. Its weakness is that it has no confidence in people, and no place in its political philosophy for love or charity. It wants welfare run centrally by experts in a professional way.

    Both recognise that poverty exists. The right doesn't think that the state can address that through direct action, so focuses on creating the conditions where people can through individual effort. It expects there to be poverty, but sees that only love by people can make an impact. The left thinks that the state can fix it through direct action, so looks to the tools that modernism has given us to try and do away with poverty. Its hope is in expertise regarding the causes and nature of poverty, and then changing society to fix that.

  18. Mark, I agree that there are deep flaws in both left and right wing approaches to social problems, but I listen to quite a bit of right-wing political philosophy and I can't remember the last time I heard 'love' mentioned as a solution for poverty. Individual effort (stimulated by the cattle prod of need and the carrot of possible achievements) yes, but love, no.

  19. A political philosophy of compassion. Now THAT would be a good idea!

  20. Well, the question of 'love' as a political value actually opens up some really interesting questions about charity and justice - which I think are the two ways that right and left tend to conceptualise caring for those in need. (ie. we give to the poor/empower the marginalised as a matter of charity or a matter of justice). I don't think either of these on their own is adequate for an understanding of love, particularly as those notions are generally conceptualised by right and left - and in that sense I would say there is not much place for love in the political philosophy of right or left (though I agree there are people who love on both right and left).

    Having said that, in relation to our original discussion, I have heard from an evangelical Aboriginal leader that the people her community feels really cared for by are the International Socialists (in Brisbane) and the Muslims (in Melbourne). So there you go...

  21. @Jo, I agree, I don't think you'll hear the word mentioned in popular right wing contexts. I think I said that at its best it wants individuals to have the freedom to love. The qualifiers were pretty important.

    I don't think conservativism is motivated by love particularly. But it is motivated (at its best) by a desire for individual freedom and a desire to restrict government's ability to micromanage people's lives. It tries to carve out a place for individuals to be free from government attempts to push them to do what the experts know is best for them. That concern for individual freedom does create a place for the possibility of love in a way that I think is missing from more left-wing understandings of the relationship of people to government, who place their hopes in the government to drive social change.

    Even the focus on individual effort though is more benign than I think it sometimes seems. There is something dehumanising and disempowering about treating people as though they are victims who are not responsible for either where they are or where they will be in ten years. The 'tough love' approach isn't warm, generous, or sensitive, but it is a testimony to the idea that people are human beings, moral agents who are called to live and act irrespective of their background or circumstances.

    I've been the beneficiary of medium term welfare (about 8 months unemployed) and am grateful for it, and have no interest in deconstructing the welfare state. But I can also see the point that welfare simply addresses the symptom not the cause. A life lived on welfare is a half-life at best. Conservativism's desire to guard against people's tendency to choose what's easy over what's best, to guard against 'moral hazard' in all its forms, is, I would suggest, a form of 'love' in itself - because it is a concern to uphold something about the dignity of human beings - that we are fitted to work, and that some (many?) of us need a bit of a goad to do that work.