True patriot

“Patriot” derives from the Greek patriotai. “But for the Greeks, who thought of themselves as politai or citizens, and conceived of political membership as participation in the life of the polis, patriotai were barbarians — foreigners named after their country…. [The Greeks] did not primarily associate politics with the preservation of a ‘fatherland’ or a moment of founding.” In other words, for the founders of democracy, “patriot” was a derogatory term, signifying the primitive clinging to an arbitrary identity determined by nature and history rather than a critical engagement in building and maintaining a public life.

Stoic philosophers redeemed patriotism by transcending these contrasting concepts: the “declaration, ‘You are a citizen of the universe,’ captured the Stoic understanding of patria as cosmos, the universal society to which all humans belonged…”

Today more than ever the wisdom of this universal conception of patriotism becomes apparent. Even Americans should come to understand that all people, all living things, are our compatriots — for the vicissitudes of climate and capital know no borders.

Businesses doing international trade exploit poverty and lax labor and environmental protections around the world, hollowing America from the inside out and leaving a void desperate to be filled — by anger, blame, entertainment, consumer technology. The race to the bottom abroad comes home to roost with America’s own low wages, lack of job security, revanchist extraction of resources, tattered social safety net rotted through by low taxation and corporate welfarism. The cumulative effect of these practices on environments around the world — localized scarcity of natural resources such as fresh water, energy sources, habitable land — give rise to illegal immigration, intensifying the already tense dynamics of citizenship at home.

The most patriotic set of beliefs today would ascribe, counterintuitively, to world government, or at least a supranational regulatory body with the authority to enforce laws that mitigate the effects of climate change and capitalism. Americans would benefit if such a body were to uniformly require businesses engaging in international trade to pay a living wage, ensure workplace safety, conserve natural resources, and end pollution, and if people whose livelihoods are rendered unsustainable by climate change, war, and automation were provided new beginnings. Such a system would disincentivize the phenomena of outsourcing and illegal immigration, the tragedy of the commons, the intensification of global warming, wars fought over scarce natural resources–all phenomena that contribute to the problems that Americans supposedly elect politicians to solve.


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