Dank Enough for the Dreamers, Research Time, 08/06/2017

You read John Jay and you feel all the brutality of Henry Kissinger. In a few pages, he describes a world of war. Not constant war, not a world without any peace at all.

Jay’s world is of inevitable war – the knowledge that whatever peace and community exists between peoples at some time, corruption will erode that brotherhood like a swift river along clay banks. Best to make yourself one people, to avoid that old killing hatred.

Since I’ve already painted Alexander Hamilton as the pragmatic idealist of the group, you might think that he gives the uplifting account of national unity. It’s true – Hamilton’s vision of patriotism is inspiring.

I saw some prideful, self-aggrandizing, embarrassing patriotism during
the Harper years here in Canada. I'm thinking particularly of his
tasteless celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
The government arranged a spectacle of imperialist military history,
basking in the glory of Canada as the faithful northern diamond
of the British Empire. Gag me.
It’s also rooted in a vision of humanity that will tear each other apart for the sake of ego and fleeting glory, musket bullets turning to metal teeth devouring the flesh of our brothers.*

* I listened to Bob Dylan’s strangely haunting, fragmentary vernacular poem of a Nobel acceptance lecture the other day. I feel like throwing down a few naturalistic metaphors. It’s the Herman Melville in me.

Yes, says Hamilton, commercial trade and the multicultural fermentation that goes with it builds an impressive brotherhood among peoples. But those long relationships ultimately can’t stop war and hatred arising. It’s always possible for long-loving brothers to throw punches and draw blood.

A collection of neighbours becomes a people when they develop a shared concept of patriotic solidarity, and devote themselves, at least a little, to its force. That solidarity among a community is the productive kind of patriotism.

Patriotism is the virtue that grows out of that feeling of solidarity in each individual. That virtue in turn makes community solidarity possible, and encourages its growth. But such virtuous patriotism can become corrupt when solidarity turns to pride.

A prideful soul aggrandizes itself. A prideful man seeks the honour and glory of demonstrating his superiority over others. A prideful people, says Hamilton, seeks the same. The corruption of patriotism is a raging desire throughout a people to aggrandize themselves – to demonstrate their greatness by subjugating and humiliating others.

The patriotism of solidarity consolidates communities and individuals into a people. One of the essential beliefs such a virtue of patriotism generates is the notion that all of our countryfolk rise and fall together.

The patriotism of pride corrupts that solidarity through the belief that our rise requires others’ fall.

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