Solzhenitsyn on Patriotism

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn has a number of things to say about patriotism, in the light of prior discussions, e.g., with Mr Schraub, I thought it might be interesting to highlight a few of his points.

  • Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty a short time ago, wondered at the “strange trajectory” of the word patriotism. He notes that there has been a movement away from older notions of patriotism to one indicating approval of a particular regime. Mr Solzhenitsyn on the other hand (as quoted by Mahoney):

    Patriotism is a constant reminder of the sacral dimension of any civic community, however secular in inspiration. Even today, many ordinary citizens of the Western democracies remain old-fashioned patriots. The instinctively reject the abstract “constitutional patriotism” put forward by intellectuals like Jurgen Habermas, who reduce national loyalty to the acceptance of procedural political forms.

  • I think it likely that noting the distaste liberals have for patriotism, that they are the ones more likely to be thinking (wrongly) that patriotism is loyalty to political forms and not “sacral dimensions of the civic community”.
  • Now, my argument/discussion with Mr Schraub was over statements of patriotism, especially on national holidays like Memorial Day and Independence day. Mr Schraub is, in my opinion, to conscious of another emphasis Solzhenitsyn has to make regarding patriotism, that being repentence. Sozhenitsyn is very conscious of the notion of a national, communal need for penitence for wrongs done … and he’s also clear that all nations have such a need.
  • National repentance and self-limitation is an important facet of Solzhenitsyn’s political argument. Indeed repentance is an emotional quality which Solzhenitsyn finds very important. Solzhenitsyn says of repentance, that is a uniquely human emotion and stresses it’s importance for individuals as well as nations.
  • As far as refusing to ever express unabashed patriotism, as Mr Schraub claims he must do, while I think such sentiments are necessary, I don’t think they need to flavor all national events and days. In fact, I think going that far is an error. Taking the analogy with the very penitential nature of the Eastern Orthodox church, a penitential attitude and repentance flavors most of the year. However, it is set aside for the Paschal celebration, indeed for the 5 weeks of Pascha, prostration and kneeling is forbidden. There is a time for repentence. But it is not … all the time.

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10 comments

  1. I think it likely that noting the distaste liberals have for patriotism…

    Liberals have a distaste for jingoism, not patriotism.

  2. Mark says:

    JA,

    This discussion has a certain amount of history, that is the one with David. It started with my drawing his attention to Dean Barnett at Hugh Hewitt’s web site where he had noted that liberals can’t make a patriotic statement even on say Memorial Day or July 4th (flag day?) without adding a “but” clause. David defended that notion with the idea that (a) there’s too much patriotism in this country and (b) you always need the “but” clause.

    I’m beginning to suspect that, as suggested liberals have forgotten patriotism as the sacral dimension of any civic community and think it solely in terms of “jingoism” or national loyalty to the acceptance of procedural political forms.

    So, how about that as a challenge. For flag day (or the fourth) or in general, write a patriotic essay, without jingoism and without resorting to “but” clauses or other disclaimers and reservations. Can you? And mean it?

  3. I’m beginning to suspect that, as suggested liberals have forgotten patriotism as the sacral dimension of any civic community and think it solely in terms of “jingoism” or national loyalty to the acceptance of procedural political forms.

    There you go redefining words again. Duty to the state is one thing, patriotism is another. (Whether any are “sacral” might be an interesting discussion, but wholly irrelevant.)

    So, how about that as a challenge. For flag day (or the fourth) or in general, write a patriotic essay, without jingoism and without resorting to “but” clauses or other disclaimers and reservations. Can you? And mean it?

    Why shouldn’t there be a but? I love America for its promise and the great things it has done, but it does a lot of bad things as well. Why should I tell a half-truth by writing a warm and fuzzy essay about my country while it — as we write — is doing so much evil?

    If my brother were the unabomber, it would be absurd to write an essay about how much I love my brother without mentioning that I am disgusted by some of his actions.

    Dissent is patriotic, as the bumper sticker goes.

  4. Mark says:

    JA,

    But, if your brother was an alcoholic (or worse) would you have to mention it while toasting him at his wedding?

    If you’d note above, Solzhenitsyn (and I’d agree) think a national sense of repentance is necessary and good. I just don’t think it has to be always present on every day and every occasion. An example, might be national holidays like Memorial or Independence day (which is the point of the opening remark in this comment).

    I’m not redefining words, I’m recovering (or retaining) older meanings.

  5. But, if your brother was an alcoholic (or worse) would you have to mention it while toasting him at his wedding?

    Alcoholism is not analogous to murder and torture. If my brother were a murderer — an active murderer, continuing to kill people regularly — I would probably not toast him at his wedding. If an occasion did arise to say something good about him in public, I would probably feel compelled to distance myself from his murderous ways.

    An example, might be national holidays like Memorial or Independence day (which is the point of the opening remark in this comment).

    We liberals perhaps fear that expressions of patriotism without the “buts” will be taken as implicit agreement. If I became all rah-rah-America during an immoral war, it would certainly appear that I was supporting the war, when the truth is anything but.

    I’m not redefining words, I’m recovering (or retaining) older meanings.

    When did “patriotism” mean what you say it did?

  6. Mark says:

    JA,

    Your ‘plaint of your brother not being a criminal of that sort would hold more weight if there were any nations in existence which are not guilty of the same crime.

    If all men were active murders (including yourself) would you still not toast him without referring to his criminality?

    We liberals perhaps fear that expressions of patriotism without the “buts” will be taken as implicit agreement. If I became all rah-rah-America during an immoral war, it would certainly appear that I was supporting the war, when the truth is anything but. Surely you’re clever enough with a pen to write a ode of praise to America without tying it to the current politics and practice. And that fear of being tied to current practice is exactly what I take “loyalty to the acceptance of procedural political forms” to mean.

    The older meaning is discussed in Mr Kuznicki’s essay linked above.

  7. jpe says:

    Sorry to veer off topic, but I’m going to anyways.

    I’m not exactly sure why I’d want to write a patriotic essay. America’s a great place largely because it leaves me alone, and doesn’t demand ostentatious displays of fealty.

    I pay my taxes; do my jury duty; and cast an informed vote in every single election, no matter how small. I don’t think I need to be a proponent of American exceptionalism, or wave flags, or whatever else, on top of that.

  8. Mark says:

    jpe,
    Oh, I don’t think it’s a requirement. Back in the original post by Mr Barrett, the claim was the left was incapable of writing such an essay with the “but”.

    If that’s a given, the question then is … why? My guess now, is that the left has given up the older sense of the word and with the current political climate is unwilling to express the newer.

  9. For Love or Country…

    Mark Olson has continued his discussion of patriotism and repentance, and the way that citizens should balance between the two. He uses me as an example of people who can never stop to just unabashedly praise their country. Mark offers a comparison t…..

  10. jpe says:

    If that’s a given, the question then is … why?

    The real question is “why would I?” It takes time to write an essay. Without a good reason, I’d much rather do my own thing. That’s what it boils down to for me. Plus I’ve got that whole gen-Y jaded thing going on. It’s all too earnest for me. I’ll be earnest if there’s a really good reason (loved ones, for example, get it), but otherwise…..not so much.