On Patriotism

Two cheers for French President Emanuel Macron for denouncing nationalism and differentiating it from patriotism.

At the recent Paris ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, Macron reminded us of the virulent nationalism that led to World War I and the senseless slaughter of millions. He warned against resurgent nationalism in our time and “the selfishness of nations only looking after their own interests.” The message was intended for President Trump and other right wing leaders in attendance, but it has meaning for people everywhere who want to protect peace.

Macron called nationalism a “betrayal of patriotism,” distinguishing between nationalism as a force for war and patriotism as a preference for peace and cooperation.

This is an important point that I have tried to emphasize over the years. Peace is patriotic. Patriotism implies sacrifice, duty, honor, selflessness, and generosity toward others. Nationalism means domination, militarism and xenophobia.

Macron did not go far enough in defining a positive vision for patriotism, but for that we can turn to others.

Howard Zinn said that it is necessary to redefine patriotism as “loyalty to the principles of democracy,” to “expand beyond that narrow nationalism that has caused so much death and suffering.”

Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr. said, “The real patriots … are those who carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country.” They are not complacent in the face of injustice, but seek to expand the frontiers of opportunity.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that his public dissent against the Vietnam War was an act of patriotism. “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America,” he famously said. “I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. There can be no great disappointment where there is no great love.” He wanted the United States to live up to its noble principles and stand as an example to the world for peace and democracy.

Let us uphold this bright vision of a generous and welcoming patriotism and reject the narrow and exclusionary nationalism that could plunge the world again into darkness.