Friday, June 22, 2007

Brian, your country, just like Jesus, loves you!

A few days ago, Spot put up a post urging readers to go over and read a post at Balkinization by Professor Brian Tamanaha about the dangers of patriotism. Here's just one of the paragraphs from the Professor that Spot quoted:

Learn this history and you will see the price patriotism exacts. For many reasons, I feel fortunate to have been born in the United States, but I don’t love my country. It has no love for any of us. A cold, manipulative, object of affection, the state fans patriotism, then asks those who love it deeply to prove their love by dying or sacrificing their limbs for it.

In a post today, Professor Tamanaha says that he knew he would be throwing "red meat to a pack of hungry dogs," but he got complaint from a quarter he really didn't expect: a person that the Professor described, charitably in Spot's opinion, as a "serious" law professor. Here's what that professor, from Pepperdine, perhaps unsurprisingly, wrote:

Brian you may not love your country, but your country loves you, even if you don’t know it. You are its raison d’etre.

Professor Tamanaha identifies this as dangerous hogwash:

Ordinarily I would not single out a response, but the issues raised are too important to let go without elaboration. The point of my initial post was to highlight the fact that states have killed over 100 million people (their own citizens and others), and that patriotism is manipulated by government leaders in ways that lead to these horrific consequences. The miffed professor’s response to me illustrates the dangers of patriotism.

Let’s consider his assertion “your country loves you.” This is what I want to know: Does my country’s heart beat faster when it thinks of me? Does it miss me when I am away? Does my country worry when I am sick? Will it shed a tear for me when I die?
Need I go on?

Okay, I know he did not mean “your country loves you” literally (right?), although he did wax at length. But it is precisely talk like this that makes patriotism so dangerous, substituting metaphor and emotion for reason and careful evaluation. Much of his post consists of glorified abstractions of the state, slogans we repeat unthinkingly so often that they become truths in our mind (confirming my recent post that legal theorists often trade in myths and myth making).

It was Ben Johnson, Spot thinks, who said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." One of the Balkinization commenters says no, it's the first.

Blind patriotism and fundamentalist religion share something important: they are substitutes for thinking.

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