Patriotism is the political form of love. It comes from the Latin (and Greek) for father, signaling the deep bond of loyalty to clan, the primitive sense that we owe our existence to a place, a people.
As Jody points out when recalling an old post of mine that drew appreciative attention to some recent roots music, like any love, patriotism or localism or any other form of fierce love for the heath gods can be blind. Doubtless. In fact, xenophobia is probably our natural state. If we love our homes and homelands, then we usually feel a certain peremptory pride, something that easily slides into disdain for strangers.
I suppose every localism pays a price. He points out that G.K. Chesterton reflected something of the antisemitism that circulated at the time. A sorry fact, though a complicated one that we often smugly denounce from our position of imagined moral superiority.
I have my own memories. Growing up in Maryland, it was easy to cultivate Confederate loyalties. There is something hopelessly attractive about the Lost Cause, at least to a certain kind of ten-year-old. I remember devoting a great deal of time to making my own Stars and Bars with a white sheet and magic markers. I would storm around in the neighborhood with my friend as we imagined ourselves Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. (I’m sorry, but Grant and Sherman just don’t fire the imagination in the same way.)
One day a friend of my mother’s was visiting. She saw us out the back window and stormed out with a fierce look on her face. “I don’t ever want to see you with that flag again,” she said to me in a tone of voice that commanded instant obedience.
Well, you might say, that’s a good example of localism gone bad. Southern pride mixed up with slavery and Jim Crowand my mother’s friend applying a much needed moral break on the whole toxic brew. I’m not so sure. You see, she was from New Hampshire.
I don’t want to defend the Chesterton’s antisemitism or Southern racism or any other perversion of localism. But we need to recognize that love cannot be both fierce and dispassionately critical, serenely universal. The cosmopolitan Stoic sage tends to lack a sense of commitment. A universal perspective tends toward jaundiced cynicism.
Given the choice, I’ll take the blind love and I’ll try to correct its faults. I think love endorsed and corrected goes with the grain, while a cosmopolitanism that tries to inject a sense of local loyalty tends to fail. After all, a true love of place can embrace what is justfor the sake of perfecting the beloved.