Patriotism, or blind devotion to the society in which one happens to have been born, is considered to be the natural opinion of an individual toward the collective which claims him as a member. Of course, that membership, compulsory as it is, comes with a hefty fee: some 30% of his earned wealth is forfeit in order for him to be “patriotic” and contribute funds toward the activities that the elite few that run the collective decide are necessary. Thus, it is also incumbent upon the individual to support these activities, be they invasions or wiretaps, in order to maintain his “patriotism.”
Now, both the measure and means of patriotism are subjective, meaning that any individual can determine that another individual is or is not patriotic, based on whatever criteria he decides is applicable. Left-socialists decry “unpatriotic” tax protesters, or individuals who have the wild notion that their wealth shouldn’t be stolen by the collective. Right-socialists rain down insults and epithets on those “unpatriotic” individuals who refuse to support violence committed on innocents on the other side of the globe, or invasions, or wiretaps.Rarely does the question “Why should I be patriotic?” enter the mind. Patriotism, and its more aggressive twin “nationalism,” are assumed to be good things that every individual should aspire to. However, when one looks at the collectivist mindset that demands blind loyalty to a social structure, political system, or ideological position, he cannot help but to question the assumption that “patriotism” is naturally a good thing.
First, as was mentioned already, patriotism is extremely subjective. As an example, every nationalistic regime demands patriotism; Nathan Hale was hanged as a traitor by the British, but was considered a hero by the Colonists. By contrast, were the situation different, Benedict Arnold would have been hailed as a great hero, while instead he is remembered as a traitor. Patriotism in all its forms is dependent on the subjective perception of the individual making the judgment. It’s undeniable that “patriotism” is a great motivator for military recruitment for any government, be it the U.S. military or the German war machine. What’s in question is whether that patriotism is warranted in the first place, and even justifiable altogether.
A patriot will always seek or manufacture reasons why his country is better than any other country. Reasons will range from the superlative beauty, or great freedom, or massive size, or long history, immense wealth, or unstoppable military might, or some other supposed strength of one’s collective. Now, these things may or may not be true. Obviously, were one to set an objective method of determining the net wealth of a nation, there would be one that was wealthier than all others. The same goes for any other metric: inevitably, one nation will excel in one or more areas, more so than any other nation.
However, this does not automatically give an individual reason to be proud of his collective. Just because the collective employs more trained killers than another collective doesn’t make an individual more important, nor does it improve that individual’s position in the world. Indeed, that army of paid killers requires him to surrender his wealth, in order to fund the military, lowering his standard of living and creating a net drain on the economy. While the aim of this treatise is not to delve into the mathematics of a military, it is simply undeniable that a military produces nothing, and consumes an inordinate amount of resources. Thus, it is an economic drain, and not a productive societal organ, and nothing to be proud of. Besides, having great military power is historically not a thing to be proud of; every great power in history has used its military might to oppress other “lesser” nations, which is certainly not a commendable behavior, nor something that someone should be proud of.
Neither does the wealth of the collective to which the individual belongs improve that individual, to the point where he should gain pride in said wealth. Indeed, while the society around him may offer many goods and services that may or may not be readily available in other societies, it is that individual’s own labor and production, whether through hard physical labor or the application of his mind (or both), by which he himself gains a sense of worth. The aggregate wealth of the collective does not inherently bless the individual with true worth; therefore it makes no sense for him to profess pride in the wealth of his society.
Liberty is a valuable thing for a society to protect. Freedom is often the word used to describe the ability to exercise one’s liberties, which are inherent and natural, not conferred by the State or the collective. So, for a society to boast a great measure of freedom is a good thing. However, often in history this assertion, that one’s nation is more free than others, is tainted both by ignorance of one’s condition and by ignorance of the conditions of other nations or societies. Indeed, as is obvious today, “freedom” in America is predicated upon one’s acquiescence to the activities of the government. One is free as long as he does what the government wants him to do. Obviously, that is not freedom; a cage, no matter how large, is not freedom, it is simply a comfortable cage. So, while a society protects liberty and offers freedom, it is a good thing, and commendable, but it must be understood that this should be the default behavior of society, that is, the maximization of individual liberty, and being proud that one’s society offers a greater degree of liberty than another society or collective is hardly something to take pride in. Thus, patriotism predicated on less oppression than other places is foolhardy; one should work to lessen further the grip of the State on the individual, not revel in a comparatively low level of oppression compared to other places.
Other reasons given for blind loyalty to the political system that one finds himself under are similarly absurd. The size or beauty of the land which a violent monopoly designates as their territory has no impact on the worth of the individual residing there. Neither does a history, as interesting as it may be, make an individual more or less qualified for life than someone whose pedigree is the inverse of his own. The worth, value, and importance of an individual does not come from the national standard to which he is expected to pledge allegiance, nor does it come from the natural resources or the political system which lays claim to his life through taxation and coercion. The worth, value, and importance of the individual comes from his efforts, his achievements, and his actions. Only the individual thinks, only the individual acts, only the individual chooses.
Collectivism is a very sneaky, insidious philosophy. It starts with simple words and phrases like “we,” “us,” “the people,” “the nation,” “society,” and things of that nature, and before long, the individual is cajoled into supporting the tyranny of the majority: voting and theft through taxation. As Lysander Spooner explained, many vote purely out of defense, understanding that their wealth and that of their progeny is up for grabs, depending on who wins the next election. This manner of forcing people to participate in a collective exercise of violent governance is incompatible with a truly free society.
Yet “patriotism” forces people to participate in a system that doesn’t respect their rights as individuals. You’re “unpatriotic” if you don’t vote. You’re “unpatriotic” if you don’t “support the troops,” whatever that means. Were Germans unpatriotic unless they supported the Blitzkrieg on Poland? Tiny Poland, that posed no threat at all to big, strong Germany? Invaded to settle a decade-old grudge?
Patriotism will force an individual to support things he wouldn’t do if it wasn’t wrapped in a flag and dressed up in a government costume. So, don’t be “patriotic.” Instead, think. It’s the one freedom they can’t take away from you.