Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I wanted to post on the 4th of July about my issues with patriotism, but somehow I just couldn't make the post come together. But on the treadmill at the gym, I realized what it was that I wanted to say. So here it is, more than a week late.

It seems to me that there are two different ways of getting people to obey you. The first is power: you threaten them with some sort of harm if they don't do what you say. And the second is authority: you earn their respect, and therefore they trust you and think it's in their best interest to do what you want them to do. When push comes to shove, the nation-state rests on power. I'm a member of all sorts of solidarities: I'm Jewish, I'm a feminist, I'm a student at a particular university, I'm a member of my family, I'm a friend. But only one of those entities can imprison or execute me. If one of my friends behaved one tenth as badly as my country has in the past year, she probably wouldn't be my friend any more. My friends don't issue passports or decide who's allowed to work or throw people in jail, though.

Patriotism, I think, is the way the nation-state disguises the power on which it rests and dresses that power up as authority. It's probably not always that: sometimes the nation-state gets citizens to obey through both power and authority. But my country hasn't earned my allegiance recently. It would be dishonest for me to celebrate the 4th of July in my current mood. It would be pretending that my relationship with my country is based on bonds of affection. And at the moment it's really all about power.

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