Continued from last post . . . Reading Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy, you can find a positive, progressive concept of patriotism – knowledgeable devotion to work for the public good of your community and country.
This patriotism of the public good is the patriotism that progressives need to take back from the reactionary and nationalist forces who seem to have a monopoly on patriotism, at least when it comes to public relations. For most of my adult life, folks on the left have been tarred as anti-patriotic.
I came of age at a time when Americans and many Canadians had been overcome with hysteria after the September 11 attacks. We think back on this era with kitsch like Come From Away now, but at the time, a culture of 300,000,000 people were thrown into mass hysteria and rage.
Patriotism was a blunt instrument of intimidation and contempt swung blindly around the Earth’s furniture smashing the architecture of our fragile civilization. It justified the toppling of governments – however grotesque those governments were – and unleashing a never-ending war in the Middle East.
Patriotism was a personality-consuming devotion to country that justified the rapid inflation of the surveillance state. So many patriotic Americans believed the military could do no wrong.
Patriotism today means that anyone who believes that maybe we should step back from militarizing your own country is a traitor. Patriotism is all-too-often becoming a victim of nationalism. Less than two decades after America’s most recent great trauma, love of country is flowering into hatred of Muslims, Hispanics, and African-Americans.
Machiavelli is a key figure in the tradition of Western thought that gives us a patriotic antidote to this hellmouth.
His patriotism is distinctly minoritarian* – punching up for your own power. Rather like the original American revolution, actually. Machiavelli’s patriotism is the spirit of revolt against oppression or control. It’s the spirit of the colony becoming a country, of a slave breaking her chains. The spirit of a new beginning.
* I’m saying this to emphasize Machiavelli’s connection with modern radical democrats, particularly Gilles Deleuze’s vocab, a radical democratic vision of reality itself. An ontology for free spirits.
Machiavelli’s patriotism is the creative energy of a new society coming to consciousness as they carve out a niche for themselves in a world of long-established powers. It’s national self-consciousness of a shared desire for freedom.
Patriotism is the desire that others respect and recognize your community as an equal. It’s the same drive as an individual human’s desire to be an equal in her society – only articulated on a cultural scale.
It’s an antidote, for sure. But it has its own problems.