It always strike me as interesting when reading older books that seem relevant to issue at hand , and sometimes even more so than books written very recently. Ideas are never really new, and yet, it still amazes me how much they really can make the rounds again and again and never really become things that society has learned.
In this particular case, I wasn’t even reading on the particular topic, and it’s a book that I’ve read before without really paying the passage all that much attention.
I turn now to love of one’s country. Here there is no need to labour M. de Rougemont’s maxim; we all know now that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god. Some begin to suspect it is never anything but a demon. But then we have to reject half the high poetry and half the heroic action our race has achieved. We cannot keep even Christ’s lament over Jerusalem. He too exibits love for his country.
Let us limit our field. There is no need here for an essay on international ethics. When this love becomes demonic it will of course produce wicked acts. But others, more skilled, may say what acts between nations are wicked. We are only considering the sentiment in hope of being able to distinguish its innocent from its demonic condition. Neither of these is the efficent cause of national behaviour. For strickly speaking it is rulers, not nations, who behave internationally. Demonic patriotism in their subjects – I write only for subjects – will make it easier for them to act wickedly; healthy patriotism may make it harder: when they are wicked they may encourage a demonic condition of our sentiments in order to secure our acquiescence in their wickedness. If they are good, they could do the opposite. That is one reason why we private persons should keep a wary eye on the health or disease of our own love for our country.
[skipping several pages about different forms of patriotism]
Patriotism has, then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step – has already begun to step – into its place. For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defense. Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feelthat they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was jsut; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blackened his eye purely on moral grounds – wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine – I become insufferable.
It gives something to think about a bit. The more time passes since I re-read that passage, the more I feel like I see elements of it.
As the spelling of select words probably already gave away, the author wasn’t American, and the book wasn’t recent. I find myself wondering what effect their would have been had he been, and how controversial it would have immediately become as people took offense. Which of course they never seem to realize by doing so, they themselves are agreeing with the author and placing their own selves into the category they are being offended about being included.
Interesting ideas to think about whether you agree or not. However, since this is a new blog, I suppose I should probably expound a bit on my views before someone starts thinking that I am anti-bush, anti-war, or unpatriotic, none of which are accurate.
Personally, in general I tend to be rather apathetic on politics. I feel like I am in no position to have all the facts needed, not the skills needed, to make the judgement calls made by persons in such positions. Further, given the constant compromises due to both other politicians and in the name of popularity (a.k.a job security), many times I feel that in true reality, whether you choose right or left we are likily to end up very near to the same lukewarm middleground we would have been in either case after all had been said and done.
Which is not to say that I have no preference over whether I’d rather have slightly warmer lukewarm or slightly cooler. If I had my choice, things would swing further to the right than current. However, I also realize that in the current social environment, that ideal is probably not overwhelmingly shared, and even less likily to come to be even if it were. So I really see little point in bickering over matters.
In regards to war, both in general and in specific, they happen. This planet is not peaceful, nor will it probably ever manage to be short of the end of time. Countries fight, countries conquer each other, boundaries change. And give it some time, and the new will eventually become the old in yet another round. This is the way things have always been. To think we can stop this with modern “enlightenment” is at best naive and arrogant.
Did we need to attack after we felt attacked? Yes. To do otherwise would have only made a greater target. Are we doing this efficently? No. I think we lost sight of a clear objective and end goal somewhere, and have been pulled off onto tangents in every which direction. What should we be doing? I haven’t the foggiest idea, I know that many people who have much more strategic war knowledge than I equally seem to have no clue, and so I feel in no place to be making “backseat” declarations of such.
Middle east conflict exists. It has. It will. Accept this. Perhaps if we had stopped trying to reach peaceful happy coexistence long ago, the sides would have already had a big messy all-out war, had a clear winner and a sulking loser, and life would have gone on by now. Not to say that’s a good thing exactly, however, it couldn’t have had too many more lives lost than this long extended drawn out mess has taken over the years and with no assurance that it won’t eventually end up resulting in the big mess after all, just delayed.
And what was this book about? Love.
C.S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”, pages 22-29, originally published in 1960.