Terrorism and Super-Patriotism

By Parenti, Michael J | Sociological Viewpoints, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Terrorism and Super-Patriotism


Parenti, Michael J, Sociological Viewpoints


Edited by

C. Plouffe, Jr. and Timothy O'Boyle

Kutztown University

Thank you, it's very nice to be here. The title of the talk is "terrorism and super-patriotism". I thought I would start by talking about super-patriotism. I see it as kind of a myth. Let me explain what I mean by myth. There was a noted anthropologist named Bronislaw Malinowski who said, we use myths in two different ways. First, a myth is something that is not true, just a made up story. But there's another way that the word "myth" is used. Malinowski says myths in primitive societies are not idle tales that are just there for amusement. They are very powerful legitimating tools. They are the Miranda and the Sacranda, the admired and sacred beliefs of society. They legitimize existing class relationships. Myths are used as legitimizing stories or images that are a means to sanctify existing class relations or totem relations among the Trobriand Islanders.

I would argue that in modern secular industrial society, technological society, we have the same kind of legitimizing myths and they are even more insidious because they are not openly predicated on fantasy and imagination the way primitive myths are. They rest on the rather systematic manipulation of information and the manipulation of vast inundations of images. Specifically, in regards to super-patriotism, these are the myths about the founding of nations, the nature of political leaders, the nation's historic role in the world and the nation's relation to supernatural powers, to God specifically.

What do I mean by superpatriotism? A super-patriot - as compared to a regular good old patriot, like me, for instance - is someone who is intolerant of criticism directed at his (or her) rulers. The super-patriot immediately calls it anti-American if you criticize the government's global policies. You should love America or leave it and that's that. A superpatriot plays "follow the leader" in a time of crisis. Instead of sharpening his or her critical perceptions about things, he or she suspends critical perception and urges others to do the same and rally around the flag. The flag, of course, is wrapped around the president usually, or a leader of one kind or another.

Patriotism is often linked to militarism and somehow the super-patriot thinks he is proving he is a better patriot by showing himself to be more militaristic, more ready to go to war. This supposedly makes you a more valuable citizen or patriot. Most of all, the worst part of super-patriotism is not the patriotism, which I don't begrudge anybody to have feeling and attachment to their country, their heritage, their culture, their history, both an appreciation for the good things in our history, and a critical awareness of the not so good things that have been in our history. It's not the patriotism, it's the "super" part, the part that says my country is better than your country; my country is the greatest in the world. My country's always right, we're number one, we're the greatest, and we did win more Olympic medals than anybody else, didn't we, so we are number one.

What is wrong is when people embrace a nation's messianic message. We are told that this country has a rendezvous with destiny that is so unique, so different from any other country; it is a uniquely ordained role in the world. In 2003, President Bush announced, that the United States was doing God's work on earth, devoted to bringing God's gift of liberty to every human being in the world. Now that's quite a tall order, quite a claim from a President who can't even balance a budget.

To be sure, the United States does have a unique and remarkable history but so does almost every other country from A to Z, from Australia to Zimbabwe. Almost every country has a history of extraordinary personalities arising from clashes of different movements, of unusual ethnic mixes, of valiant and courageous struggles, of horrible crimes and atrocities, inspiring achievements and all sorts of inspiring and depressing things. …

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