Patriotism vs. nationalism

Is there any good reason for a person to feel proud of their country? Or is such expression simply an irrational emotional sentiment? The movie Gladiator provides some fodder to discuss these questions.

The Gladiator Maxiumus, after the battle against the barbarian tribes of Germania at the beginning of the movie, appears weary of war. When two of his men ask him for his future plans, Maximus reveals that he is first and foremost a family man.

VALERIUS: Back to your barracks, General, or to Rome?

MAXIMUS: Home. The wife, the son, the harvest.

QUINTUS: Maximus the farmer. I still have difficulty imagining that.

MAXIMUS: You know, Quintus, dirt cleans off a lot easier than blood.

gladiator.jpg

Patriot or nationalist?

And when the Emperor Marcus Aurelius asks him how he can reward Rome's greatest general, Maximus answers, "Let me go home?" followed by a description of his home in Spain.

MAXIMUS: My house is in the hills above Trujillo. Very simple place, pink stones that warm in the sun. Kitchen garden that smells of herbs in the day, jasmine in the evening. Through the gate is a giant poplar. Figs, apples, pears. The soil, Marcus, black ...black like my wife's hair. Grapes on the south slopes, olives on the north. Wild ponies play near my house, they tease my son. He wants to be one of them.

MARCUS: Maximus, when was the last time you were home?

MAXIMUS: 2 years, 264 days this morning.

MARCUS: I envy you, Maximus. It is a good home. Worth fighting for?

MAXIMUS: [nods]

Maximus appears to be simple family man risen to the rank of general based on his talents in command on the battlefield. He fights for home and family. However, at other times, he seems to be fighting for something more abstract.

MARCUS: Tell me again Maximus, why are we here?

MAXIMUS: For the glory of the empire, Sire.

MARCUS: Ah yes, ah yes. I remember. You see that map, Maximus? That is the world which I created. For 25 years, I have conquered, spilt blood, expanded the empire. Since I became Caesar I have known 4
years without war - 4 years of peace in 20. And for what? I brought the sword, nothing more.

MAXIMUS: Caesar, your life...

MARCUS: Please, please don't call me that. Come, please, come sit. Let us talk now, together now. Very simply, as men. Well, Maximus, talk.

MAXIMUS: 5,000 of my men are out there in the freezing mud. 3,000 of them are bloodied and cleaved. 2,000 will never leave this place. I will not believe they fought and died for nothing.

MARCUS: And what would you believe?

MAXIMUS: They fought for YOU and for Rome.

MARCUS: And what is Rome, Maximus?

MAXIMUS: I have seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark. Rome is the light.

MARCUS: Yet you have never been there. You have not seen what it has become. I am dying, Maximus. When a man sees his end he wants to know that there has been some purpose to his life. How will the world speak my name in years to come? Will I be known as the philosopher, the warrior, the tyrant. Or will I be the Emperor who gave Rome back her true self? There was once a dream that was Rome, you could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish. It was so fragile and I fear that it will not survive the winter. Maximus, let us whisper now. Together, you and I...

So it is revealed that Maximus fights for more than just his home, wife, and son. Although he has never been there, Rome represents the 'light' - the transcendant essence of all that is good in the world. Irritation creeps up on him when Marcus bluntly tells him that he and his dying men have merely fought for a decaying, corrupt Empire, not for the fragile whisper of what was once the dream of Rome.

These two faces of Maximus show the difference between nationalism and patriotism. When Maximus speaks of "the glory of the Empire," he is expressing a nationalist sentiment, which is nothing more than a collectivist justifcation for war and conquest. The Germanic tribes are just the last in the long list of people to be conquered for Rome to ascend to her rightful place in the world. Nationalism regards individuals, whether they be the ones being conquered or the ones being used to do the conquering, as a secondary afterthought. It relinquishes the things that make individuals unique for the greater collective, namely the state. Individuals are merely regarded as tools toward the larger societal evolution - the glory of Rome. Nationalism is a threat to liberty, both to the citizens of the nation and to citizens of other nations.

On the other hand, when Maximus speaks of his yearing to go home to his family and proclaims his home to be worth fighting for, he is expressing more patriotic sensibilities. He is expressing pride in the home he has worked to create, and for the family he provides for. He fights in their name and protection, and dreams of going home to a simpler calling.

To me, nationalism is a dangerous expression of collectivist instinct. But patriotism in its purest sense is a noble disposition. I take pride in what the people of America have achieved. Americans have a long tradition of making civil society the center of human interaction. Patriotism is not merely a limited devotion to military glory, but rather a broader affection for America's cultural heritage. No, Americans are not, and like all people, have never been, perfect. Despite that, I can still take pride in our achievements. And the flag is merely a symbol of what it represents, not an end in itself.

Maximus was torn between the two related but differing tempers. He was a patriot at heart but was reluctantly drawn to the nationalist fervor that permeated the Empire. Could the same thing happen to Americans? Upon seeing the innumerable flags and window stickers after 9/11, many say it already has. However, the crucial distinction between nationalism and patriotism should be drawn, and Americans would do well to remember this distinction. Nationalism is a dangerous expression of collectivism that demotes the individual as an ancillary tool for the abstract greater progression of the state. Patriotism is a deep affection for home and hearth, native sod, the values passed down by our forefathers, and the rich, vibrant civil society of America.


Update: Follow-up here Share this

Welcome, I got the link from

Welcome, I got the link from Catallaxy Files. May I point you to my post on the same subject?

http://val.dorta.com/archives/000044.html

Regards

Val - thank you for your

Val - thank you for your thoughts.

This seems like an awfully

This seems like an awfully convenient distinction to me. Where's the line between these two forces, one of which seems to be all good and the other all bad? I'm afraid it's not so simple to parse out these two. I think they're closely connected and distinguishing between them is very very hard. In other words, one person's patriotism is another's nationalism. I also wonder about this individual/collective distinction. These too seem entirely porous. Paintings of great individuals (Death of General Wolfe, for instance), or movies of heroes like Gladiator are made for public consumption. They thus become part of the collective mythology that is, dare I say it...Nationalism.

This seems like an awfully

This seems like an awfully convenient distinction to me. Where's the line between these two forces, one of which seems to be all good and the other all bad? I'm afraid it's not so simple to parse out these two. I think they're closely connected and distinguishing between them is very very hard. In other words, one person's patriotism is another's nationalism. I also wonder about this individual/collective distinction. These too seem entirely porous. Paintings of great individuals (Death of General Wolfe, for instance), or movies of heroes like Gladiator are made for public consumption. They thus become part of the collective mythology that is, dare I say it...Nationalism.

What is the point of this

What is the point of this blog? Your claims about nationalism being an "expression" of collectivist instinct seems pretty lame. What does that mean? Do you know what the dictionary defines collectivist as? I havent read any of your other entries, but based on this one, I think you should really think these thoughts out more before you post them. No one is going to agree with you if you don't tell them why they should.

Quick to judge never to see

Quick to judge never to see ... what I see truly is as be ... for one can consider that in which one should not for granted, but grant them they shall ... and one can take ungranted for which one does not believe ... through reason and reason unjustification becomes evident ... but through reason and wisdom one becomes clear with many... and the many through one
-CKC

Jaime bien la tarte

Jaime bien la tarte

Jaime bien la tarte

Jaime bien la tarte