The concept of patriotism (atleast from what I remember of my school education) is presented as a self-evident virtue requiring no justification. It is presented as a virtue by merely describing it with positive (and often hyperbolic) adjectives and by associating it with the concept of sacrifice (which is also presented in the same way). In contrast, concepts like honesty, hard work, optimism, determination, punctuality etc are presented as virtues by demonstrating the results of practising them. The obvious purpose behind such a presentation is to condition peoples’ minds to consider these concepts as virtues merely by association with actual virtues and without ever needing to provide a single reason. The question is

Is patriotism actually a virtue and if so why is it presented this way?

Patriotism is love for or devotion to one’s country. A country is a geographical region with a single ruler or government. Except for periods of political turmoil, the people of a country usually share the same culture. Love for one’s country is love for its culture or its political institutions. Patriotism is a contextual virtue, not a fundamental one. It is a virtue if one’s culture or political institutions are valuable.

India’s political institutions are clearly not worthy of love. What about its culture? The first thing that comes to mind (and overwhelmingly so) when one thinks of Indian culture is the religiosity of its people – an unthinking, unquestioning attitude of blind obedience to tradition. This can be seen in the way religious rituals are a part of everyday life in general and all special occasions in particular like festivals, the inaugration of a home or an office or a business, the birth of a child, marriage, death, anniversaries of death. This is worthy of ridicule, not love.

Patriotism is not a virtue in the Indian context. It is merely a convenient concept that is employed by the power-hungry as a cover for their actions. Just like the concept of sacrifice, it is used to draw attention away from the results and legitimacy of actions and focus it on their allegedly noble motivations.


4 Responses

  1. There are so many aspects to a “culture”. For instance, a young man growing up in India may share taste in food with a whole lot of Indians, taste in movies with some others, but taste in novels with a very small set. On the latter — novels — he may actually share the “novel sub-culture” with people all over the world.

    So, for instance, there may be a few guys in Delhi who share a great love of Faulkner (and similar writers) with a few guys in Colombo, a few guys in Karachi, a few guys in Edinburgh, and one guy in International Falls!

    As the world globalizes, more aspects of cultures are likely to spread. As Pizza Huts open in Delhi, more Indian restaurants open outside India. Geography will probably always play a role, but a decreasing one.

  2. softwarenerd,
    Thanks for your comment. It got me thinking about the precise role of culture in man’s life. I have put my thoughts here.
    I agree that there are many aspects to a culture. But the cognitive and moral aspects of a culture are its essential characteristics. Unfortunately in India both these aspects are dominated by religion.

  3. Great post. Have you read True Patriot? It’s a short read, but I think more than worthwhile. In fact, I think it should be required in high school history classes.

  4. Joshua,
    I looked at the first few pages of True Patriot on Amazon.
    From page 6 – 7
    “A winning and worthy politics – a politics of purpose – should address wants, fears and yearnings that are about the most primordial choices humans make – and it should tip the scales in every choice from selfishness toward social good”
    If social good (altruism) and the inevitable calls for sacrifice that it entails is their proposed moral ideal, then I don’t have any interest in the book.
    I hold that the dominance of altruism in moral ideas – both religious and secular – is one of the chief causes for most of the ills of society. See my post Altruism, Pragmatism and Moral Relativism for more on this. It is the left’s focus on altruism that has led them to moral relativism – what the authors call a “no consequences” culture (page 4). Advocating more sacrifice and “putting the country first” will only worsen that culture.

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