Democracy. What most states these days strive for. It is supposed to mean political equality of citizens and majority rule. How can this work in an individualistic culture where each is concerned with self-advancement, with a lack of regard for the greater good? And how can one even participate in an informed manner if basic education does not include understanding political systems?
I recently read an article on the Wall Street Journal by Yale historian and professor emeritus Donald Kagan entitled “Democracy Requires a Patriotic Education.” Focusing on his country, the USA, he argues that a “justified and informed patriotism” is “essential to a good society,” and that education should ensure this.
I do agree wholeheartedly that looking beyond oneself and to the good of society is crucial for a democratic community, of whatever size, to function. I do further agree that it vital for all citizens to have a solid political and moral education. This should ensure they have an unbiased understanding across the board of political systems, especially the one they live in. Morally, a prioritizing of the good of society over personal benefit should be fostered.
Where I differ from Kagan, is that I believe what humankind needs is not patriotism but global responsibility – or patriotism to the global community, rather than just one’s country. In the world today, countries’ interactions are exponentially increasing, we are becoming ever more interdependent, and actions in one country can have wide-ranging effects across the planet. In such a globalized world, patriotism solely towards one’s own country is selfish.
Note that Kagan’s article is aimed at Americans. Actually, it is especially important for Americans to be global citizens because of the power and influence they wield over many other countries.
Kagan talks of how terrorists call America “the great Satan,” because it threatens Islamist control and expansion. Terrorism is without a doubt a terrible modern-day phenomenon that needs to be curtailed. But I ask, why are there negative sentiments towards America that extend even beyond terrorists? And not just towards America – towards powerful countries that have done damage through selfish actions outside their borders: Exploitation barely disguised as military intervention. More exploitation by big businesses that displace local smallholders. Even more exploitation in natural resource extraction by foreign companies reaping benefits that the locals barely smell, while simultaneously leaving a legacy of negative externalities on the environment.
Citizens who plead ignorance to the actions of their governments and businessmen are not justified, as the information is readily available to those who take their heads out of the ground and search. These countries’ power is a tool with potential to cause much pain, but also with potential to initiate positive change, both within and without – through learning from collectivist cultures, nurturing a more compassionate population, sharing, and taking responsibility for their actions worldwide.
Finally, a quote from Kagan: “If we encourage rampant individualism to trample on the need for a community and common citizenship, if we ignore civic education, the forging of a single people, the building of a legitimate patriotism, we will have selfish individuals, heedless of the needs of others, the war of all against all, the reluctance to work toward the common good and to defend our country when defense is needed.”
To that I say, yes! Just extend this patriotism to the international community, and we are taking steps towards creating a caring, informed, outward-looking, democratic global family.