August 6, 2014Posted by on
Samuel Johnson was not indicting patriotism when he said in 1775: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. As James Boswell wrote: ‘He (Johnson) was at all times indignant against that false patriotism, that pretended love of freedom, that unruly restlessness, which is inconsistent with the stable authority of any good government’ – Boswell’s Life Of Johnson. Neither was Stephen Decatur giving support to those patriots that Johnson railed against, when he said in 1820: “But right or wrong, our country!”. Decatur, often misquoted as saying ‘my country right or wrong‘, actually said: “Our Country! in her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, but right or wrong, our country!”. By 1872 the misquotation of Decatur was clearly in the nation’s psyche when used to criticize the views of Carl Schurz, eliciting the response: “My country, right or wrong, if right, to be kept right; and if wrong to be set right.”. However, what is needed to set right a country has always – and will always – create dissent, especially amongst those who would be a patriot.
In Spiegel On Line, French social scientist Emmanuel Todd views the Arab Spring as being a path toward cultural and mental modernization, inevitably leading to every individual having the freedoms that can only exist in a democracy. Todd likens the Arab Spring to the Europe of 1848 – The Year of Revolution that saw Europe thrown into turmoil with patriot fighting patriot, in which the victor of any conflict was to determine the nature of true patriotism. The new nation states spawned by the conflicts of 1848 set the stage for European global expansionism and a century of conflict. Expansionism and conflicts that included a European hegemony over those states now embroiled in the conflicts of the Arab Spring. The two 20th century conflicts instigated in Europe by Europeans created global conflict that were claimed to be just wars, fought in defence of freedom and democracy. Less noble claims have been made to justify military interventions in the affairs of those independent states in which the seeds of the Arab Spring were sown, seeds that not only grew into the Arab Spring but into the conflicts it created. Military interventions in these conflicts by democratic states became a global cause célèbre. The actions taken to set things right is now even more cause célèbre, creating dissent among some patriots and armed conflict among others. The chaos that followed the European revolutions of 1848 has again become global.
Far from setting things right, these military intervention created a backlash of events that challenged the nature of democracy itself. Those democratic states that found themselves challenged by these events enacted laws contrary to a democratic ethos. An ethos in which there is an expectation that administrations would eschew the words of Hermann Goering when he said; “Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” However, the global ‘war on terror’, that euphemism for curtailing individual freedom in a democracy, has taken on a Goeringesque dimension. That there is an intent to usurp the authority of democratic administrations by disingenuous politicians and in some cases actually attack those democracies, is not questioned. What is questionable, is the justification for any action taken in defence of democracy that curtails individual freedoms, especially those inalienable rights thought to be beyond the authority of any good government. It would seem that these democratically elected administrations are intent on making scoundrels of us all.