Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Confusing government and country

When Johnson (Samuel, not Boris) referred to patriotism as being “the last refuge of a scoundrel”, he wasn’t referring to patriotism of all kinds at all times; he was referring, rather, to what he saw as the ‘false patriotism’ of Pitt the Elder.  Defining ‘false patriotism’ isn’t quite so easy, but when Johnson (Boris, not Samuel) demands that everyone ‘gets behind’ the government over Brexit, he is most certainly guilty of it.  Supporting the country isn’t at all the same things as supporting the government, a distinction which Johnson’s government is not unique in failing to draw.  Mark Twain suggested that “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it”, which makes a very clear distinction between the two things.
Of course, what “supporting your country” means isn’t exactly amenable to clear and objective definition either.  Ultimately, it comes down to supporting what you individually believe to be best for your country, and there will inevitably be some very different views about that.  The point is that opposing a government can be every bit as patriotic as supporting it.  Those who feel that the current direction of government policy is wrong for Wales (or the UK) can be every bit as patriotic as those who support it.  Deliberately conflating the two things is indeed the action of a scoundrel.
For many Brexiteers, their version of ‘patriotism’ is at the heart of their rationale for Brexit and seems to be based around notions of absolute sovereignty.  For others of us, what is best for our country considers the wider interests of humanity as a whole, placing the ‘country’ in a global context on the basis that individual survival depends on collective survival.  From that latter perspective, a willingness to share sovereignty through organisations and structures which take decisions collectively through discussion and agreement is an entirely natural outcome; the debate then centres on the nature of those partnerships.  Tying to reduce the issue to one of patriotism is trying to avoid real debate about where our best interests lie, for the long term as well as the short term.  And pleas for ‘unity’ around some idealised notion of ‘Great’ Britain (the “greatest place on earth”) are an attempt to move beyond patriotism into a jingoistic version of nationalism.
That Johnson is a practised and habitual liar is established fact; but on his namesake’s definition, he’s also a scoundrel.

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