‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’

Zambia’s permanent representative to the United Nations Lazarous Kapambwe says the spirit of patriotism should always be the guiding factor.
“We are living in the times of information technology and what we say about our country lives in cyber space forever and is believed by many people. So what others think about Zambia is [based on] what we say about our country. How the rest of the world is going to treat and perceive Zambia depends on what we say and how we project our leaders and government,” says Kapambwe.

Patriotism is often the cry extolled when morally questionable acts are advocated by those in power. When these cries of patriotism drown out any logically based dissension, it is usually the true patriot whose patriotism is questioned. It is said that the highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plain. Those in power will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive. It is said that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

Mark Twain said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
In our view, real patriotism is a willingness to challenge the government when it’s wrong.
Malcolm X said, “You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.”
A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government and its leaders.
Alexander Hamilton said, “There are seasons in every country when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism.”
True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.
George Washington warned, “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
And Samuel Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”
Unless our conception of patriotism is progressive, it cannot hope to embody the real affection and the real interest of the nation.
Socialists have taken various stances regarding patriotism. On one hand, Karl Marx famously stated that “The working men have no country”and that “the supremacy of the proletariat will cause them [national differences] to vanish still faster.”
Both historically and conceptually, patriotism has been one of the foundational characteristics that defines the very essence of one’s attachment, identification, and loyalty to a political community and a basic virtue associated with citizenship as a political conception of the person. Despite its centrality in the pantheon of political ideals, patriotism remains a contested concept and an elusive virtue as well as a source of potential conflict and violence.
In fact, the willingness to kill or die for one’s country has been traditionally viewed as the most profound and genuine form of expression of patriotism.
There is, therefore, hardly any concept on citizenship and nationalism or political philosophy in general that is more complex, controversial and prone to abuse than that of patriotism.
But without a more in-depth understanding of concepts closely associated with it – love, citizenship, identity, nationality, virtue, loyalty, unity, national pride, allegiance, courage, solidarity, the common good, and civic responsibility – patriotism is bound to remain a vigilant piece of political rhetoric largely derided by its critics or uncritically advocated by its defenders. On one hand, advocates of patriotism largely fail to articulate a viable conception of it that would sidestep three of the most pressing challenges advanced by its critics, that is the expressivist challenge; the challenge of partiality and the ultimate sacrifice challenge – associated with the claim that the willingness to kill or die for one’s country is the most profound and genuine form of expressing patriotism. On the other, critics’ insensitivity or outright ignorance of the civic, moral and the epistemic dimension of patriotism fail to provide conclusive arguments for its ultimate rejection.
As a number of different conceptions of patriotism bear witness, the search for a single answer to the many challenges and problems associated with patriotism as love of a country representing a social contract between citizens, is likely to face a number of shortcomings. In fact, here more than anywhere else, providing an answer to a question – unfortunately all too often – becomes part of the problem and not the solution.

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