15 September 2009

Patriotism, political loyalties, and citizenship

At this point in the Canadian story we have the strange situation where the leaders of the two major parties are suspected of being less than committed to the country. Conservative attack ads portray Michael Ignatieff as a political dilettante who has just dropped by to be prime minister for a while before he goes on to other adventures abroad. Stephen Harper, who famously refused to say he loved this country, at one time wanted to firewall his home province of Alberta from the insidious feds.

This perceived lack of patriotism raises some intriguing questions about political loyalties. For example, how important is love of country to political responsibility? Traditionally, political loyalties are exercised primarily within the nation-state. We may be conservatives, liberals or socialists but we are first and foremost Canadians. We emphasize that mightily with flag-waving, anthem-singing and other exercises in patriotism. Indeed we fight wars on that basis.

Patriotism is simply tribalism in modern guise, the last refuge of a scoundrel according to Samuel Johnson. Tribes needed ceremony and tradition to ensure collective security in a dangerous world, but today, in a modern, globalizing world, the biggest danger is often tribalism itself. Patriotism may not only be unnecessary for the good of the state but a threat to the good to the state, or at least to its people. The globalizing world, with communications now instantaneous, has at the same time allowed political loyalties to break out of the nation-state. And so they should. After all, conservatives in Canada may well have more in common with conservatives in the U.S., or indeed anywhere else, than they have with Canadian socialists or liberals. Political loyalties now have the opportunity to form natural alliances rather than alliances constrained by geography.

What then should our political relationships with the nation-state be based on if not love of country? I would suggest citizenship -- the idea that we owe a responsibility to any community we are a member of to be good citizens, whether that community be local, provincial, national or global. Treating our fellow citizens with respect and participating in the governance of our communities at all levels can be the basis of a fine relationship.

So perhaps neither Ignatieff's nor Harper's seeming lack of patriotism is of any particular relevance. If they are committed to serving the community of Canada well, what difference does it make if Harper doesn't adore the place or if Ignatieff has spent much of his life elsewhere? Affection for the people they serve is, on the other hand, of very great importance ... but that's a different story entirely.

1 comment:

  1. Well written. Yeah, it is just natural to expect from a political leading a country to actually love that country. If he doesn't, he surely won't do his best to be a good leader.