Bryan Caplan  

Patriotic Bias

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As a rule, I don't like movies "based on true stories," but I'll make an exception for Joyeux Noël. It's a trilingual tale of fraternization on World War I's Western front, and nicely shows the contrast between individual decency and collective brutality. Watching it immediately brought to Tolstoy's essay "Patriotism, or Peace?", which in turn brought to mind Overcoming Bias:

If an American wishes the preferential grandeur and well-being of America above all other nations, and the same is desired by his state by an Englishman, and a Russian, and a Turk, and a Dutchman, and an Abyssinian, and a citizen of Venezuela and of the Transvaal, and an Armenian, and a Pole, and a Bohemian, and all of them are convinced that these desires need not only not be concealed or repressed, but should be a matter of pride and be developed in themselves and in others; and if the greatness and wellbeing of one country or nation cannot be obtained except to the detriment of another nation, frequently of many countries and nations - how can war be avoided?

And so, not to have any war, it is not necessary to preach and pray to God about peace, to persuade the English-speaking nations that they ought to be friendly toward one another; to marry princes to princesses of other nations - but to destroy what produces war. But what produces war is the desire for the exclusive good for one's own nation - what is called patriotism. And so to abolish war, it is necessary to abolish patriotism, and to abolish patriotism, it is necessary to it is necessary first to become convinced that it is an evil, and that is hard to do.


This is the kind of idealistic talk that believers in Realpolitik typically scorn. But a hundred years later, Tolstoy seems more perceptive than ever. In the modern world, how often do countries actually have anything to fight about?


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
William Newman writes:

Go long enough without a major war, and people can ratchet down their aversion to war enough to bring smaller things in scope. E.g., I have more than once seen talk about military action to enforce reductions in CO2 emission, without any particular horrified response. (From fossil fuels, behold, the limitless resource of casus belli!)

(By "major war" I don't mean Iraq --- or, in the runup to WWI, the Boer War either. I mean stuff like the Napoleonic wars, possibly the US Civil War, and definitely WWI and WWII. It's easier to make a scenario where the costs of global warming exceed the costs of Iraq than it is to make a scenario where the costs of global warming exceed the costs of WWIII.)

Dennis Mangan writes:

Like many things Tolstoyan, this is oversimplification at best, wrong at worst. The Iran-Iraq War, to pull the first example that comes to mind, was not caused by patriotism, but by dictators who conscripted the populace to fight and die. A sheer power grab. Hard to see how the Arab-Israeli conflict is motivated by "patriotism" either. Or African civil wars, the Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe. And if patriotism motivates some nations to attack another, then it also motivates the attacked nations to defend themselves.

Martin writes:

"But what produces war is the desire for the exclusive good for one's own nation - what is called patriotism. And so to abolish war, it is necessary to abolish patriotism, and to abolish patriotism, it is necessary to it is necessary first to become convinced that it is an evil, and that is hard to do."

Hyperintellectual, one world libertarian BS. If you believe this, go live in Darfur.

Son, you need to get a proper job because you've clearly got too much time on your hands and by the sound of it you seem incapable of using it wisely.

I'm not reading this blog any more.

But a final question -

Does the Economics Dept at GMU permit dissidence? Or does everyone have to toe the party line?

dearieme writes:

What had patriotism to do with the 30 Years War? Some wars are fought out of tribalism, and Holy Mother Church, or The Aryan People, or The International Proletariat, or Islam can all be, for these purposes, tribes.

R. S. Porter writes:

See ya later, Martin. Don't let to door hit you on the way out.

Matt writes:

The English speaking nations are friendly with one another. In fact, post WW1 there hasn't been any war mongering patriotism in the West. The wars against fascism and communism were ideological, not national.

Steve Sailer writes:

Yes, the decline in patriotism among elites in Britain and France from 1928 onward as the horror of the Great War sank in led to an era of universal peace from 1939-1945.

Oh, wait, that was on Planet Bizarro.

Gray Miller writes:

I also have a Patriotic Bias and i agree with your statement about the countries actually not having anything to fight about, but it is human nature to wont more and better for are self's, i mean look, my generation is know as the Me! generation. Most of us have never starved or even had to stay home and help pay for are families living expenses and thats because and quality of living is improving but of course that drive to better are self's will most always lead to greed which in turn leads to pointless wars. I really don't think its anyones fault but i don't think being big headed really helps either.

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