Wednesday, December 01, 2004
I am profoundly thankful that during my formative years I never had
contact with any institution under State control; not in school, not in
college, nor yet in my three years of irregular graduate study. No
attempt was ever made by anyone to indoctrinate me with State-inspired
views – or any views, for that matter – of patriotism or nationalism. I
was never dragooned into flag-worship or hero-worship, never was caught
in any spate of verbiage about duty to one's country, never debauched by
any of the routine devices hatched by scoundrels for inducing a
synthetic devotion to one's native land and loyalty to its jobholders.
Therefore when later the various aspects of contemporary patriotism and
nationalism appeared before me, my mind was wholly unprepossessed, and
my view of them was unaffected by any emotional distortion.

What is patriotism? Is it loyalty to a spot on a map, marked off from
others spots by blue or yellow lines, the spot where one was born? But
birth is a pure accident; surely one is in no way responsible for having
been born on this spot or on that. Flaubert had poured a stream of
corrosive irony on this idea of patriotism. Is it loyalty to a set of
political jobholders, a king and his court, a president and his
bureaucracy, a parliament, a congress, a Duce or Fuhrer, a camorra of
commissars? I should say it depends entirely on what the jobholders are
like and what they do. Certainly I had never seen any who commanded my
loyalty; I should feel utterly degraded if ever once I thought they
could. Does patriotism mean loyalty to a political system and its
institutions, constitutional, autocratic, republican, or what-not? But
if history has made anything unmistakably clear, it is that from the
standpoint of the individual and his welfare, these are no more than
names. The reality which in the end they are found to cover is the same
for all alike. If a tree be known by its fruits, which I believe is
regarded as good sound doctrine, then the peculiar merit of a system, if
it has any, ought to be reflected in the qualities and conditions of the
people who live under it; and looking over the peoples and systems of
the world, I found no reason in the nature of things why a person should
be loyal to one system rather than another. One could see at a glance
that there is no saving grace in any system. Whatever merit or demerit
may attach to any of them lies in the way it is administered.

So when people speak of loyalty to one's country, one must ask them
what they mean by that. What is one's country? Mr. Jefferson said
contemptuously that 'merchants have no country; the mere spot they stand
on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they
draw their gains.' But one may ask, why should I? This motive of
patriotism seems to me perfectly sound, and if it should be sound for
merchants, why not for others who are not merchants? If it holds good in
respect of material gains, why not of spiritual gains, cultural gains,
intellectual and aesthetic gains? As a general principle, I should put
it that a man's country is where the things he loves are most respected.
Circumstances may have prevented his ever setting foot there, but it
remains his country.

Albert Jay Nock, "Memoirs of a Superfluous Man"


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