Every year on May 17, Norway celebrates Constitution Day. In towns across the country, folks in traditional costumes walk around with little (or not so little) Norwegian flags. In Oslo, the royal family stands on the palace balcony for hours while thousands of schoolchildren march by, dipping their tiny flags in respect as they pass. It’s a unique spectacle, a blizzard of red, white, and blue, on a continent where, in many countries, overt patriotic displays have become anathema.
Yet this tradition – like so much else in Norway and the West – is under threat. For several years now, the weeks preceding May 17 have been marked by debates over whether people with immigrant backgrounds should be allowed on Constitution Day to carry the flags of their ancestral homelands instead of the Norwegian flag. This year is no exception. The other day, a spokesman for Oslo mayor Fabian Stang reiterated his refusal to forbid other countries’ flags for fear of “politicizing May 17.”
Of course, once you’ve reached the point of having to discuss whether your country’s commemoraiton of its freedom and independence should be turned into a UN-style tribute to diversity and divided loyalties, the horse has already fled the barn. The point isn’t to ban or not to ban – it’s to shape a society in which immigrants, let alone their children, wouldn’t ever think of showing up with some other flag.
The other day, in reaction to all the debate, a Norwegian blogger wrote a piece proudly entitled “I Have No Patriotism.” Yes, he admitted, he cheers for Norway to win soccer matches and the Eurovision Song Contest – but patriotism? Feh. He loves his apartment and his new shoes – but his country? The concept, he says, “is meaningless.” Patriotism is “a rhetorical strategy that is used to defend selfishness. To defend the wall between them and us.” It’s “the void that arises when you no longer believe in the global community,” an infection that has turned Norwegians into a “sick people.”
I quote this passage not because I mean to single the writer out for criticism, but because in a few sentences he manages to articulate a view held by millions in the Western world today – people who fully believe that the sentiments they’re expressing are clever, civilized, and humane. Here’s another member of the club, this one from Down Under, who explained two years ago “Why I Won’t Be Celebrating Australia Day”:
Why should all Australians love Australia?…The impulse that everyone in a country should be patriotic seems to me to come from the same place as those who think everyone in a country should belong to a particular religion…. I would never wave the flag. I find strange the idea of being filled with pride at our flag.
After all, he suggested, patriotism threatens to make Australians “more xenophobic, more opposed to those who are not ‘really’ Australian, and who threaten ‘our’ way of life.’”
Or check out this rant by a Brit who complained last year in the Huffington Post that the kind of “flag-waving” that accompanied the royal wedding, Diamond Jubilee, Euro 2012, and Olympics “hinders our ability to unite on a planetary level by dividing us.” And let’s not forget the environmental angle: “time and again international committees fail to reach accord on climate change, deforestation, over-fishing and the like because the nations involved are duty bound to represent the commercial interests of their people. Their people; not people.” So just remember, Brits:
While you cheer “the boys” on the TV, dressed in your England shirts, you’re supporting a system of politics that will eventually destroy our ecology. While you prise grease-sodden sausage rolls away from your Union Jack paper plates and swill beer in honour of the Queen, you allow fascism to, yet again, root in the paving stone cracks of Europe’s national borders. By being patriotic, by feeling pride in “your” flag, you are encouraging racism and pushing life as we know it towards further crisis.
When I read this sort of thing, part of me just wants to quote Sir Walter Scott’s poem about how “the man, with soul so dead, / Who never to himself hath said, / This is my own, my native land” is fated to be “Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.” But then again, what did he know? This is how right-minded people are supposed to think nowadays. (Note, by the way, the class snobbery in the HuffPo guy’s references to “grease-sodden sausage rolls” and the like.) The whole premise of the EU, after all, is that the national state is unhealthy to children and other living things, dividing the haves from the have-nots, encouraging rivalry and xenophobia and preventing humankind from marching together, arm in arm, into the golden future time. It was, these bien pensant types argue, an excess of patriotism that led to the horrors of the twentieth century. Yet the utopian ideologies that guided yesterday’s evil empires bear far less resemblance to the patriotism on display in Norway on May 17 or in the U.S. on the Fourth of July than to the perfervid claims for the EU’s (or UN’s) wonder-working power to deliver humanity from its millennia-old travails.
Indeed, if so many leftists nowadays despise patriotism, it’s because they recognize it as the natural enemy of ideology. Although Communism has been discredited among ordinary Western citizens, its dream of “global citizenship,” of uniting “on a planetary level,” of transcending “selfishness,” lives on among leftist elites, notably in the form of environmentalism, an ideology rooted less in a love for the environment than in a contempt for capitalism, and in multiculturalism, an ideology rooted less in a love for “The Other” than in a disdain for one’s own country, culture, people, and roots.
Perhaps the most memorable demonstration of anti-patriotism in recent years was Katha Pollitt’s September 20, 2011, column in The Nation explaining why she refused to let her then 13-year-old daughter fly Old Glory from the window of their Manhattan apartment after 9/11: “The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war…There are no symbolic representations right now for the things the world really needs – equality and justice and humanity and solidarity and intelligence….The globe, not the flag, is the symbol that’s wanted now.”
This kind of outright animosity toward one’s own country and its symbols is a curious thing – a distinctively modern, and distinctively leftist, phenomenon, found (with few exceptions) in only the best, freest, and most prosperous nations. Disgruntled people in piteous, hardscrabble, corruption-ridden, jerkwater autocracies don’t make careers out of vilifying their homelands: instead, if they’re even remotely enterprising, they try to secure the right to live in some Western democracy where the native-born lefties are busy burning the flag. A corollary phenomenon, as observed in the cases of those in Norway who are so eager to see foreign flags flying on May 17, is the spectacle of Western leftists who despise their own countries’ standards but who smile upon refugees who proudly hoist the flags of the tyrannies they “fled.”
If that Brit who banged on in HuffPo about flag-waving were writing his piece now, he’d doubtless sound off about the crowds that filled the streets of London to pay their respects to Margaret Thatcher as her funeral cortege drove by. For my part, I nearly always find it moving to see the citizens of any free country engaging in such displays. Where leftists see arrogance and xenophobia, I see a people’s humble, decent, and proper gratitude for everything that has been passed down to them. Those who scorn such public displays in the name of some dream of super-national unity plainly see themselves as being above mere patriotism – which is another way of saying that they have no respect for what their ancestors handed down to them, and no intention of ever making any kind of sacrifice (if need be) to preserve that patrimony for future generations. Pace our Norwegian blogger, it’s this lofty rejection of responsibility – not patriotism – that is the ultimate in selfishness.
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