Bryan Caplan  

Patriotism as Political Correctness

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A lot of Frenchmen did not know that they belonged together until the long didactic campaigns of the later nineteenth century told them did...

        --Eugen Weber, Peasants Into Frenchmen

politically correct: conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated

        --Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley during the heydey of political correctness.  Everyone in the dorms was urged to attend DARE seminars - not "Drug Abuse Resistance Education" but "Diversity Awareness Through Resources and Education."  The goal, quite plainly, was to create a one-sided educational culture so the next generation would accept the self-styled awareness raisers' agenda as gospel.  Political correctness isn't just hypersensitivity; it's hypersensitivity designed to place a permanent stamp on impressionable young minds.

From this perspective, political correctness isn't essentially leftist.  Indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, leftist political correctness hasn't been all that effective.  The full-blown triumph of political correctness, of hypersensitivity plus one-sided education, is patriotism

Not so long ago, as Eugen Weber observes, most people were only dimly aware of what nation they "belonged" to.  They took little offense at insults to their country, its people, or their flag, because they just didn't much identify with their country, its people, or their flag.  Then came the patriots, descending upon their nations' schools like locusts.  They taught children a litany of bizarre nonsense.  They urged them to love millions of complete strangers who happened to live inside a Magic Line (a.k.a. "the border"), and loathe those who snickered during the Pledge of Allegiance or  improperly folded the flag.  

And despite the justified indifference and puzzlement of older generations, the patriots won.  There's no need to speculate about what a politically correct world would look like.  We're already in one.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Andy writes:

It seems to me that modern, Berkeley-style political correctness is in fact leftist.

Randy writes:

And before patriotism was religion. Its all politics - i.e., exploitation of human beings.

8 writes:

It's human nature.

David writes:

I don't think you would want to live in many of the countries where there isn't patriotism (AKA nation building). They tend to be tribal.

Salem writes:

I strongly disagree with this.

Firstly, there are popular nationalisms that long predate national schools. Dutch popular nationalism is at least 700 years old. English popular nationalism is at least 1000 years old.

Secondly, it fails to account for the nationalism we see. Your theory would suggest that the most long-established nations, where everyone has been propagandised, would be the most nationalistic. Instead, we see the reverse. Croatians are much more nationalistic than the English. It also fails to account for national feeling that was established without, or in direct opposition to, government propaganda. Why did Poles and Czechs feel national identity in 1918?

I think you have the cart completely before the horse. We encourage children to be nationalistic because the adults already feel that way. And even in dictatorships, you can't make the children feel nationalistic if the parents don't like it. You seem to be claiming that Yugoslavia fell apart because its schools didn't do enough propaganda. C'mon. Or just consider Israel. Zionism is not a creation of the Israeli national school system. Rather, the Israeli national school system is a creation of Zionism.

Alex J. writes:

May I suggest Orwell's Notes on Nationalism. The error Caplan is making, which others have picked up on, is that while patriotism towards the French nation-state is recent, the same people had just as much tribal feeling before, it was just directed elsewhere.

Neal W. writes:

"School spirit" is clearly meant to indoctrinate children into the ideals of patriotism.

agnostic writes:

You can only spread what is spreadable. Patriotism cannot be forced on anyone; it is adopted by those who are already moving in that direction.

Look at Italy and Spain in Europe -- nationalism is incredibly low, especially in Spain, despite the same movements you describe trying to beat a nationalist ethos into schoolchildren.

Then look at the Arab countries -- nationalism only lasted as long as the anti-colonial movements. Palestinians still have a strong enemy to unite them against, but most of the others don't really care about their country, again despite a history of nationalist movements.

Same goes for most of South Asia.

As Peter Turchin would say, invoking Ibn Khaldun, what unites a group of people into a larger-than-tribal feeling of solidarity, patriotism, capability of collective action, etc., is being located on a meta-ethnic frontier where the Us vs. Them divide is incredibly sharp and meaningful -- like, They aren't just different from Us, but *hostile*.

The Chinese have been so nationalist for so long because they've had to unite to fend off the nomadic pastoralist raiders from the Steppe for thousands of years. And then Japan and the Western imperial powers.

What united those Frenchmen throughout the 19th C. was an increasingly strong Them just on the other side of the not-at-all-imaginary border that splits people who speak different languages, have different religions, perhaps use different means of subsistence, and so on. Namely, Germany.

And it's a good thing, too -- you can imagine how easily Germany would've taken over France if the Frenchmen lacked any larger-than-regional identity. This German threat was also a huge part of the success of Russian / Soviet patriotism.

Political correctness is fake, therefore must be forced, and as such does not endure when pressure lets up. Patriotism is real, therefore is adopted voluntarily, and as such endures as long as people feel it's needed.

drobviousso writes:

"Not so long ago, as Eugen Weber observes, most people were only dimly aware of what nation they "belonged" to."

How long ago is "Not long ago?" Is there a cite in the book? Surely the Greeks, Franks, and Jews, for example, knew what nations they belonged to.

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