Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's patriotism in a democracy at war?

Greg Levonian writes today about his Georgian friend's reaction to the war.

This reminds me of a journal article I once read (don't remember by whom, unfortunately) about how in a theoretical modern democracy the definition of the right behavior of a citizen during a war supposedly changes, and what it means to be patriotic and a good citizen is not so clear-cut anymore. Now, I've often asked myself in the moments of contemplation how I would feel and what decisions I'd make in the event of a war -- and how to reconcile my instinct of self-preservation and natural repulsion and dislike of any potential war with a desire to act justly and morally.

Now, I belong to the kind of person for whom national identity is not a political thing -- thanks to half a childhood in a newly broken-down former Soviet Union and immigration to Canada as a teenager. I often feel i'm neither fully Russian (the language I speak), Ukranian (my formal national belonging), Moldavian (the country I spent my childhood in) nor Canadian. My national identity is in a sense pluralistic -- or, one could say, Trudeauist. Politically, of course, I'm a Canadian, not only because of the formal fact of having a Canadian passport, but also because this is the country in which I first feel I'm a citizen with political powers and responsibilities, and in the political and economic framework I consciously choose to operate.

I think many people around me are like me in the sense that they are confused by this mismatch between their national and political identities and what this means in the event of any perceived conflict of interest. Personally, it's pretty clear to me that I have no sense of affinity or responsibility to either of the States of Russia, Ukraine or Moldova -- but I do to Canada, as its voluntary citizen, taxpayer and beneficiary.

Now, to get back to what I started from, mixed identities are just one example of what makes the citizens of a democracy behave much more like a jar of small beads -- liquid, free-moving and atomic, grouping voluntarily out of self-interest to form parties sharing similar interests or desires -- and not like a monolithic mass of the nation-states of the 19th and 20th century. With no overarching nationalistic ideology and the pervasive idea of self-determination and self-interest reigning supreme (which is what makes us a democracy), each of us is left on their own to make a decision of whether their citizenship is an economic membership in a country or a means of constructing their personal identity.

1 comment:

  1. You know, one of the darkest aspects to democracy is that it is by it's nature exclusive. If people are to surrender legitimacy and authority to govern to the people themselves, then the natural question that arrises is, who are the people?

    The answer to this question is often not very pleasant, and often very exclusive. The correlation between the rise of democracy and the rise of nationalism has a very tight correlation.

    What can be done about this? It's not at all clear, but at the least we should acknowledge that multi-ethnic, tolerant, and open often should not prefix the word democracy.