An Illusion for the Masses Essay

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An Illusion for the Masses

“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

So said 18th Century British writer Samuel Johnson. One can start to think about patriotism in its many forms but still arrive at the same juncture, it is simply people’s need to align themselves with a larger identity. This larger identity could range from a neighbourhood to a sports team to a nation. Finding security, seeking pleasure, are, in my humble opinion, the most basic of human motives, which patriotism helps indulge. It evokes a sense of belonging, instilling the illusion of safety among a mass. Patriotism in its present form, surely, is a human construct. True, it could be argued that it is derived from the primeval habit of being territorial, but territorialism has never really reached the giddying heights or (depending on how you look at it) the appalling depths of patriotism. What does it mean to be patriotic? Amman Madan, writes in the wake of the immensely violent Godhra riots, “Today when the burnt heaps in Gujarat are still smouldering, when Ayodhya promises to catch fire any day, it is necessary to examine a central question: what is patriotism? Where do its roots lie?” (Madan, Para 1)

The dictionary definition of the term covers all manners of sins — devoted love, support, and defence of one’s country; national loyalty. With the gross amount of connotations both political and emotional attached to that word, one is bound to be confused whether it is sheer naïvety on the general public’s part or a sizeable chunk of cynicism on mine. After more than 60 years of independence one feels the need to rethink and redefine patriotism, is it a sign of loyalty to the nation or a misused sentiment? In a very direct yet in a seemingly deceptive way, nationalism is by all regards, an illusion. I use the word illusion in relation to patriotism in the literal sense that it is a tool wielded by many a manipulators to influence and corrupt an impressionable mind into doing their bidding.

In his seminal lecture “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” Alasdair Macintyre contrasts patriotism with the liberal commitment to certain universal values and principles. He states that Patriotism is not the idea of loving\fighting for one’s country. It is but simply, “A loyalty to a particular nation which only those possessing that nationality can have.” He goes on to talk about how “patriotism is a not a virtue because it is not to judge form an impersonal standpoint. An impersonal standpoint involves judging independently of one’s own interests, affections, and social position. In this, one must abstract oneself from particularity and partiality.”

In modern times patriotism is often used out of context or in a convolutedly romanticised way. The Jihad, the American “War on Terror”, the Arab -Israeli conflict, The Indo-Pak conflict and many other current scenarios are an effect of a (usually) misplaced sense of patriotism present in large pockets throughout the organisation, which is again exploited by their respective political heads.

While ploughing through pages of information on patriotism online for this paper, I found a rather disconcerting article on a seemingly innocent website titled “India Parenting”; the article was titled “Do You Instil Patriotism in Your Children?” It `goes on to say that “Children have to be told the significance of their country. Otherwise, they are bound to grow up without any special fond feelings for their country. Such discipline helps to shape them into responsible citizens”. However, it fails to state anywhere in the article as to how exactly one is supposed to believe that knowing the national anthem, or the date of independence makes one socially responsible. When looking at patriotism it is especially important to distinguish it from nationalism. India as a “nation” never existed before August 15, 1947, so the structure of nationalism, as we know it today, began only since. The patriotism that existed pre-independence was one fuelled by a desire to rid India of the British Raj.

What composes today’s patriotism, with insignia like the National Flag and the National Anthem? Can streams of plastic imitation flags which are soon strewn across the school playground or discarded in dustbins be symbols of India? (Rajagopal,H. Para 3) “Nothing could be more calamitous than for patriotism to become established with the religion of a country.” (Eastman, Para 1) Written in 1917, these prophetic words were horrifically realized during the Partition of the Sub-Continent. In a couple of months in the summer of 1947, close to a million people were slaughtered on both sides in the religious rioting, all in the name of two distinct nations for different religions. This tumultuous time blurred the line irreversibly between religion and patriotism in the sub -continent, to this day quite a large chunk of religious slurs that are hurled around are essentially contriv ed forms of an “anti-national” or vice versa.

Patriotism, over time has acquired a fair share of critics including Russian novelist and thinker Leo Tolstoy, who is famous to have stated that patriotism: “..Is stupid because every patriot holds his own country to be the best of all whereas, obviously, only one country can qualify. It is immoral because it enjoins us to promote our country’s interests at the expense of all other countries and by any means, including war, and is thus at odds with the most basic rule of morality, which tells us not to do to others what we would not want them to do to us”

I find myself being very sceptical of people, or “patriots” who say they would die for their country, it’s important not to misunderstand me at this juncture, I do not mean to trivialise the millions that have died, but my problem with that statement is a simple one. We humans are, quintessentially, selfish and we constantly seek pleasure or personal gain, so the idea of one’s profound sacrifice for one’s country just for the betterment of one’s “nation” is a rather sketchy one. There is always that stench of a sneaky ulterior motive behind seeking martyrdom, it could be the promise of 7 virgins waiting in heaven to fulfil one’s fantasies or even just the lure of possible immortality associated with a death, “Men willingly believe what they wish.”(Caesar, Julius)

It is the self- delusion that they indulge themselves in, constantly hiding beneath the broad banner of patriotism is something that doesn’t really work for me. Fundamentally, I’m saying that one needn’t try to fool themselves and others (however romantic it may sound) of their motives, just look at it for what it really is, it is all but just another glorified way to get what you want. The immensely successful (and one might even have the cheek to say patriotic) General George S. Patton, in all his honesty, is famous to have said, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”


Macintyre, Alasdair. “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” (The Lindley Lecture), of Kansas. Reprinted in Primoratz (ed.) (2002).

Lawrence: University

Madan, Amman. “What is Patriotism?” The Hindu, April (2002): 7 Tolstoy, Leo and “Patriotism, or Peace?”

Philadelphia: New

India Parenting, “Do You Instil Patriotism in Your Children?”, 8-03-11 Rajagopal, Harini, “Patriotism: an alternative view” The Hindu Online, September 01, 2001 15-03-11 Eastman, Max, “The Religion of Patriotism”, Marxist, July 1917 15-03-01

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