Patriotism: Get Used to It

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George Kateb, author of the wonderful Patriotism and Other Mistakes leads off a Cato Unbound forum on whether "patriotism is good for anyone other than flag manufacturers." I found Kateb's contribution a little disappointing (though I enjoyed his liberal use of the word blood-tax), but Chandran Kukathas' charmingly world-weary little essay makes up for it:

Patriotism comes not to undermine citizenship but to fulfill it. To rid the world of patriotism it would be necessary to rid the world of states. Even this would not relieve us of the burden of petty loyalties to clumps of soil or to far-fetched abstractions, but it would mean the end of one kind of nonsense. Yet I don't see states disappearing anytime soon, and am not wholly convinced we can give them up, whether or not we would perish without them. So I conclude we should just get used to patriotism, patriots, and their discontents.

That said, we can at least start calling certain legislation passed at the behest of the Bush administration "The Petty Loyalties to Clumps of Soil Act." 

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  1. To rid the world of patriotism it would be necessary to rid the world of states.

    Okay; I’m in.

  2. Another solution would be to divide up the world into really tiny States;

    Monaco, Nauru, Tuvalu, San Marino,Liechtenstein, Andorra, Barbados……..None of them have the resources to invade Iraq, build nuclear weapons, and do all the other stupid things that big states do.

  3. > That said, we can at least start calling certain legislation passed at the behest of the Bush administration “The Petty Loyalties to Clumps of Soil Act.”

    The PLCS Act? The PLTCOS Act? PLTCSA?

    Sorry, won’t work…no good acronyms.

  4. while I agree, I don’t think it’s a good topic to focus on. It’s just not good for the cause. Telling people that patriotism is pointless or even bad is no way to make them sympathetic to libertarianism and freedom.

  5. None of them have the resources to invade Iraq, build nuclear weapons, and do all the other stupid things that big states do.

    If you were being serious:

    And then you run into the problem of small states grouping themselves together with other nearby small states where values and culture are similar, or one small state with a particularly active populous taking over other nearby small states. Then the other small states have to respond the same way or be destroyed. The Roman Kingdom/Republic/Empire was originally just a city. 😉

  6. Patriotism:
    the last refuge of scoundrels,
    didn’t someone say?

  7. Another solution would be to divide up the world into really tiny States

    The Grand Republic of Aresen is not accepting immigrants. Sorry.

  8. And then you run into the problem of small states grouping themselves together with other nearby small states…

    There’s an optimal size for a territorial “government” or whatever you want to call your defensive arrangement. A micronation in your mom’s basement, too small. The United States of America, too big for our own damned good.

  9. California would make for a perfectly fine independent nation. We’re protected from the American hegemon by desert on our eastern border, Oregon is a benign neighbor in the north (although we might want to fund a secessionist movement in Oregon to create a buffer against the US), Mexico is a source of eager workers, and our coastline is good for trade.

  10. thoreau,

    And your Commerce Department could be staffed by all the sneering assholes who remind us that CA is the worlds fifth largest economy.

  11. I don’t see nation-states going away anytime soon, but in our modern globalized, networked world, they could lose their absolute power over people’s lives.

    There’s no reason the territorial authority that runs your roads and water supply, your neighborhood police, etc. has to be the same authority that arbitrates your contract dispute over a business arrangement with someone located in Hong Kong or across the street. There’s no reason whatsoever either of those authorities needs to concern itself with whether you are eating too many Twinkies.

    Already, the professional classes can hop around to any pretty much any first-world country they wish, living and working where they choose. I’m not sure that opportunity will ever be available for the poor and unskilled, though.

  12. “To rid the world of patriotism we would have to rid the world of states.”
    I’m all for getting rid of states. I think the proper prerequisite-goal relationship has been disrupted here. That is, we should seek to do away with “patriotism” that amounts to state-worship in order to break the power of states, not see breaking the power of the state as a means to ending “patriotism”.

  13. thoreau,
    If California no longer got to send senators and representatives as an independent nation, I would be very happy to support Californian independence. Maybe we should talk.

  14. California also has very little fresh water and no oil. Also, I’m not sure your economy would do so well with tariffs slapped on your exports to the US.

  15. Southern California has little fresh water. You can keep them.

  16. I’m thinking “Snowcrash”.

    Pizza is good.

  17. California would make for a perfectly fine independent nation. We’re protected from the American hegemon by desert on our eastern border, Oregon is a benign neighbor in the north (although we might want to fund a secessionist movement in Oregon to create a buffer against the US), Mexico is a source of eager workers, and our coastline is good for trade.

    The other 49 states second the motion. Just let us know when to cut off the water and power.

    California also has very little fresh water and no oil.

    AFAIK California has lots of oil right off their coast. The environmentalists won’t let anyone go get it.

  18. I wrote this some years ago, but I think it stands up pretty well:

    “Patriotism is too often mistaken for nationalism. Nationalism is a strong devotion to one’s country, and is well-represented by the tired phrase, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ Is it really a good idea to support one’s country when it is doing something wrong?

    Such misguided nationalism also rears its head when talk of flag-burning is in the air. However, it seems to me that the values that a flag or nation stand for are more important than the flag or even the nation itself. True patriotism is about taking pride in our country when it does right, and helping to put it back on track when it is not upholding the very values that it stands for.”

  19. There’s an optimal size for a territorial “government” or whatever you want to call your defensive arrangement. A micronation in your mom’s basement, too small. The United States of America, too big for our own damned good.

    That is most definitely a valid point to make. My post was in response to what seemed to be the idea of thousands of tiny states. However, I don’t think I agree that the US is too large. I think if the relationship and balance of power between the states and national government were to shift back to a point where the states weren’t entirely subservient to the national government, we would have a better system. (best way to do this? much reduced federal taxes & let the states get their own money)

    Why? Because I don’t think a state is less likely to infringe upon the rights of its citizenry than the national government. I think individual rights are preserved best when you have many, many institutions sharing and fighting over power. I think removing all of those existing national institutions would harm this system.

    I think we would end up with a set of states with more socialist tendencies & a set of states that move back towards the pre-civil rights movement era. Some would probably do ok at the whole not being tyrannical thing, but I think most would fail.

  20. .,
    Didn’t you just restate James Madison’s Federalist No.10 in that last post?

  21. Not consciously. Reading it again, I would agree that I did. I can’t help it if the man made a valid point, nor can I help it if I agree with him.

  22. Switzerland doesn’t have any oil either. They just buy it at market rates.

  23. California would make for a perfectly fine independent nation.

    So would Texas.

  24. Doktor T:
    demand kurv?

  25. I think if the relationship and balance of power between the states and national government were to shift back to a point where the states weren’t entirely subservient to the national government, we would have a better system.

    Do you consider this a realistic possibility, or are you just talking theoretically?

  26. None of them have the resources to invade Iraq, build nuclear weapons, and do all the other stupid things that big states do.

    I found a write up of one of those small state leaders. His son is somewhat more famous, but it all started with Philip II of Macedon .

    Perhaps the small state proposal is not the panacea you think.

  27. California also has very little fresh water and no oil. Also, I’m not sure your economy would do so well with tariffs slapped on your exports to the US.

    There would be no tariffs because if there was, you guys would get no food.

    Secondly, Californicate has more oil than you can imagine. And there is plenty of water, 80% of which is used to grow the food that you eat.

    And Doc Tee, I don’t know how benign Oregon really is. Maybe as long as you change the plates on the car before you cross the border. Californians ain’t welcome very many places.

  28. RC, let me know when Texas goes independent, I may take up residency.

  29. And since you asked, California is still too big. I say break it up into three or four pieces.

  30. TWC-

    Oregon is benign enough. They can’t take our territory, and even if the population is a bit hostile they’d still make for a fine buffer zone. They seem to have a willingness to die in defiance of the feds, based on their assisted suicide laws. What could possibly go wrong if we use them as proxies?

    And, yeah, CA is pretty big. We can make it into a federation.

  31. So, patriotism is a petty loyalty to a clump of soil, and nation-states need to be abolished or cut drastically down to size.

    Amazing that libertarianism hasn’t caught on more in America. Maybe somebody might try reaching out beyond the LP’s 0.34% base?

  32. Amazing that libertarianism hasn’t caught on more in America.

    I need a ruling from the judges. Do we drink?

  33. patriotism is a petty loyalty to a clump of soil

    A lot of people’s ‘patriotism’ is mere jingoism, or posturing. But dissent can be patriotic in one of the best meanings of the word (and it’s amazing how some pundits compare dissent to treason).

  34. When in doubt, drink!

  35. “That is, we should seek to do away with “patriotism” that amounts to state-worship in order to break the power of states, not see breaking the power of the state as a means to ending “patriotism”.

    Using that logic…

    patriotism = worship of the state
    capitalism = worship of money

  36. “Switzerland doesn’t have any oil either. They just buy it at market rates.”

    California had to buy a lot of electricity at market rates a while back.

    The residents didn’t seem to like it much.

  37. “Another solution would be to divide up the world into really tiny States;”

    Uh huh

    And who is going to do the dividing?

    And where are they going to get the power to enforce those divisions?

  38. And since you asked, California is still too big. I say break it up into three or four pieces.

    San Francisco is already a municipality and a county. They’d definitely go for being a city-state.

  39. California had to buy a lot of electricity at market rates a while back.

    Actually, not. Free markets and market rates had nothing to do with California’s electricity “deregulation”.

  40. And who is going to do the dividing?

    We thought we’d have the U.N. oversee a two-week open enrollment period when every human being on earth can register for their micro-nation of choice. Best to get in line early.

  41. @Pinette

    while I agree, I don’t think it’s a good topic to focus on. It’s just not good for the cause. Telling people that patriotism is pointless or even bad is no way to make them sympathetic to libertarianism and freedom.

    Yeah, I guess not! People – and probably libertarians in particular – are likely to be looking for some asses to kick when they realize the cosmotarians want to do the same thing to their nations their communist brethren want to do to individuals – namely, undermine their individuality, autonomy, authority and sense of identity, redistribute their wealth and then tell the rest of us this is “freedom”.

    That’ll sure go over like a house on fire!

    The only thing that distinguishes these guys from the out and out socialists is that they’ve got a more ambitious unit of redistribution – the socialists go for the individuals, the cosmotarians go for entire countries!

    I guess if you’re gonna build a utopia, you might as well dream big….

    @Richard

    So, patriotism is a petty loyalty to a clump of soil, and nation-states need to be abolished or cut drastically down to size.

    One wonders how Mr. Kateb would feel about having his particular “clump of land” taken in an eminent domain action, which might be a particularly just action if it was done as part of building a NAFTA super-highway.

    But then, I’m sure he wouldn’t let his petty loyalties to it get in the way of progress, right?

  42. If we’re still using the word around here, I guess I’m a cosmotarian. I want to see evolution towards a world where there are no longer huge, empire-building nation-states. With of business, networking, and ease of global travel, my hope is that functions of government that have nothing to do with geography will become more distributed, networked and voluntarily. And that more and more people will say fuck you and move to another country whenever their current country’s government starts treating them like subjects.

    None of this should be confused with those who want to do away with nation-states by replacing them with some kind of world government.

  43. That was supposed to say “globalization of business”.

  44. …individuality, autonomy, authority and sense of identity, redistribute their wealth…

    So, from your list, this cosmo wants to:
    * encourage more “individuality” and “sense of identity” of countries
    * leave their autonomy alone
    * most definitely undermine some part of their authority
    * in no way want to redistribute their wealth

    By the way, don’t worry, I have no idea how to make any of these changes happen.

  45. Do you consider this a realistic possibility, or are you just talking theoretically?

    No, I don’t think its the sort of thing that would happen in my lifetime. However, its very likely that 200 years from now the political climate will be different from what it is now and its very likely that the political institutions in this country will have changed in response.

    On a very basic level, that could mean more centralization or it could mean more decentralization.

  46. Doktor T:

    I’d say yes, drink, but we got a low score from the Finnish Judge – something about “wrong type of vodka” or something!

    AND THE WINNER OF THE BOLD PREDICTION OF THE YEAR GOES TO THIS GEM:

    However, its very likely that 200 years from now the political climate will be different from what it is now and its very likely that the political institutions in this country will have changed in response.

    .
    Way to take a chance 🙂

  47. There would be no tariffs because if there was, you guys would get no food.

    California — the breadbasket of America?

    Yeah, if I were subsisting on a diet of oranges and wine coolers, maybe. Even then, I’m but a few minutes from the Finger Lakes, so your threats to cut off the wine supply would ring hollow too.

  48. And I guess those previously exposed salt formations in Mono Lake must be an illusion, too.

  49. Previously submerged salt formations, that is.

  50. Gilbert Martin-

    In 2001, at the height of the crisis, a bunch of people tried to explain how California’s electricity “markets” worked. It was so convoluted that nobody could ever figure out. Whatever the situation was, there was a heavy, heavy regulatory involvement. “Market rates” is the last phrase that I would use to describe electricity in CA at that time.

  51. Mono Lake provides water for Los Angeles, which is a coastal basin surrounded by desert. It also gets water from Northern California and the Colorado River (or at least used to).

    The San Francisco Bay Area, on the other hand, gets most of its water from the damned-up Hetch Hetchy, which was more or less a twin sister of the Yosemite Valley. The last I heard all of our Sierra Mountain reservoirs are pretty full this year.

  52. Also, the Sacramento river has a levy system that is in disrepair. If it it fails, a lot of Los Angeles water supply is at risk. The state government is moving oh so slowly to do something about it.

  53. Zig-Zag man,
    I’m afraid I don’t see your line of reasoning here.

  54. Patriotism comes in handy when you want to have a revolution of ideas. It helps when those ideas are good ones. See “American Revolution, 1776.” Not so handy when your patriotic ideals include enslaving an entire nation and doing same to your neighbors. See “Russian Revolution, 1917.”

  55. California also has…no oil.

    Gee, I wonder what all those rigs up and down the coast around LA are pumping then.

  56. All right, all right, California has oil and water. I apologize to all the Californians I might have offended, and promise I’ll never blaspheme the Golden State again.

    Well, not under my real name at least.

  57. You are forgiven, my son. Go, say one hundred “duuuudes”, and speak ill of Californians no more.

  58. and promise I’ll never blaspheme the Golden State again.

    The Governator will hold you to that promise.

  59. By the way, are the Finger Lakes nice? Some of us are thinking of invading the area, driving up the real estate prices, and passing a bunch of anti-smoking and anti-chain restaurant ordinances.

  60. You’re probably too late; the Finger Lakes have the misfortune of being in a state controlled by statist Manhattanites. It’s already illegal to smoke in pretty much any indoor public place.

    But they are nice, probably the best lakes in the country for boating, IMHO. They will be one of the few things I’ll miss when I permanently (I hope) leave this area in a few months.

  61. Yeah, depends what form your patriotism takes.

    With the “Nuke them Ay-rabs! Teach them to mess with America!” types it’s not such a good thing, not much different than being a loyal German in the early 1940s.

    OTOH, celebrating all America has done to keep freedom alive in the world seems eminently worthy.

    Loyalty to principle, not to state.

  62. “In 2001, at the height of the crisis, a bunch of people tried to explain how California’s electricity “markets” worked. It was so convoluted that nobody could ever figure out. Whatever the situation was, there was a heavy, heavy regulatory involvement. “Market rates” is the last phrase that I would use to describe electricity in CA at that time.”

    As I recall, the utilities were getting squeezed because they had to buy out of state power at market peak prices but couldn’t pass those costs through to their customers.

    Regardless, California wouldn’t have been in that situation if they hadn’t put themselves in the position of having to import power by refusing to build enough power plants in state. They let the wacko environmentalists set the policy and they suffered the result.

    If California became an independent country, it would have a power problem if it didn’t start builidng it’s own plants. There would be no federal rules to make any out of state suppliers play nice with CA and those producers strong-arm CA for all it’s worth on power rates.

    Electricity is not something that can be imported from overseas.

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