Tuesday, 27 June 2017


There are calls to patriotism from some corners of the Conservative Party. What exactly is patriotism?

When we all lived in caves, patriotism (or tribalism, as it was then) was a biological, gut reaction that ensured survival against other tribes. It still has relevance, perhaps, in times of war, but not necessarily for everyone. When someone is about to jump off a cliff and calls on your to follow them using the call to patriotism, the word is bereft of all intellectual meaning, not that it has much these days anyway. It is the last resort of a scoundrel, as Dr Johnson once said, by which he meant it's used when all else fails - logic, reason, etc.

If you call me to follow you today, citing patriotism, what happens in 5 years time when you are no longer in favour and have been voted out? Does the patriotism I exhibited when I followed you suddenly become treason? The current calls to patriotism seek to demonise a very large section of the population that disagrees profoundly with a certain party's actions (what's the opposite of a patriot?). That is morally reprehensible.

The mistake a lot of voters make these days - and probably have since time immemorial - is to dogmatically defend their chosen party, whether they be right or wrong. This inevitably leads them at some stage into the untenable position of trying to defend the indefensible. Rather than admit that an area of policy is just not up to scratch, they will argue black is white to justify their allegiance and end up tying themselves in logical knots in any argument. A dogmatic position in politics, as in religion, is a route to disaster and invariably makes one look stupid, as there is guaranteed to be a paradox or logical inconsistency somewhere that has to be defended.

A call to patriotism usually comes from a demagogue. Populist demagoguery appears when people lose a sense of identity and scapegoats are sought in order to lay the blame elsewhere. You become a victim and place your faith in a perceived 'strong leader', which is dangerous thinking, as that strong leader generally has feet of clay and cannot deliver on his or her promises anyway. Once this realisation kicks in on the part of the populist demagogue, tyranny can easily follow, especially if the demagogue has destroyed civil liberties in the name of 'strong and stable' leadership.

Like it or not, the world is going global, and turning inward and pulling up the drawbridge under such circumstances is dangerous. Whereas the free market is very good at generating wealth, it’s a terrible mechanism for distributing that wealth and leaves vast swathes of the population worse off and prey to the demagogue. Populist demagoguery, based on lies and deception, is the precursor to nationalism and nationalism, as a reaction to globalism, is a medication that’s worse than the disease itself.

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