The Case For Patriotism

Note: This article was originally written on 15/11/2020 and published in the January 2021 issue of De Derde Dinsdag magazine

Dutch citizens celebrating the national football team

By Sam Volkers

Introduction

“Patriotism: Love for, or devotion to one’s country” (according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary)

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This quote by Abraham Lincoln has crossed my mind many times the last few years and this year especially. 2020 in the Netherlands has been a year of unity, but also of great division. While the country and government showed signs of solidarity at the beginning of the pandemic, they now show signs of division: political parties seem to care more about their popularity and adhering to dogma than working together to find solutions; protesters threaten politicians who support the Covid-19 measures and there have been riots in our big cities. All these phenomena are just recent examples of the divisions in our country. A big part of the reason for these divisions is the lack of unity among the people and the absence of a system that promotes this. The lack of this “shared idea” has led to large groups in society feeling alienated and attracted to divisive ideas, such as the right-wing nationalism of, for example, Geert Wilders, or radical identity politics. If this is left untreated, it can lead our country down a path of ever-growing polarization, which is already visible in countries such as the United States. To fix this, we need to find a middle ground between the radical nationalism of people like Wilders and the cosmopolitanism and identity politics of modern liberalism. The Netherlands needs to rediscover patriotism. In this essay I want to make the case for a new form of patriotism that fits our country and the current era.

I will present four arguments that explain why the Netherlands needs to rediscover patriotism. First of all, patriotism can create a sense of unity among the people because it focuses on shared values. Secondly, patriotism can help people find their way in society by providing a sense of home and belonging. Third, patriotism encourages solidarity and a sense of duty and responsibility because it teaches people to care for their country and work together. And finally, patriotism can help create political stability, because a patriotic mindset allows people of different political factions to work together for the good of the country and the people.

Unity among people

The Netherlands is a diverse country. Not only in cultures, but also in class, religion and political groups. This diversity can lead to division or even conflict, if the people focus more on their differences than on their similarities. A good example of how far this division can go is the era of pillarization (verzuiling) in the Netherlands in the 1950s. During this era, society was for the most part split between four groups: protestants, catholics, liberals and socialists. They lived in conditions which were segregated in all but name. We should not, and cannot, let situations like these reappear. That is why we need patriotism to unite our citizens.

For a united society to function, it is important to have a set of shared values and a shared identity with which citizens can identify themselves. This has to go further than waving the flag, singing the national anthem or supporting the national team during international sports competitions (although this is a good start). In the Netherlands this shared identity could be formed by a focus on the Dutch language, common values and teaching of our shared history (both the good and the bad). Not all citizens may share a common history however, but we do all share something else: a common future and living together in this country. What we need to do is to celebrate and understand the historical roots of our national culture, while also being friendly and respectful towards the new cultures that have appeared in the Netherlands. This can be done by putting a focus on a shared national culture in public life, while allowing people to practice their own culture in the private sphere. When looking at each other as fellow countrymen first, we can more easily look past our differences. This can help solve issues such as discrimination or class differences, because it will create a sense of mutual respect.

A good example of this in action can be found in Canada. Canadian patriotism, with its focus on a shared feeling of being Canadian and shared values (such as certain rights and liberties) regardless of background (ethnicity, race or religion), has helped bring together Canada’s increasingly diverse population. This form of patriotism has also had a positive effect on integration and assimilation of newcomers, something which the Netherlands still struggles with (Ehsan, 2020).

A sense of home

In our increasingly globalized world, creating a sense of home and belonging for citizens is more important than ever, even though some people think it is not. Contrary to the beliefs held by many cosmopolitan oriented politicians and thinkers, most people still actually identify themselves as citizens of their country rather than something broader (for example the EU). A study by the IRLA (Institute for Research on Labor and Employment) connected to Berkley University has shown that only a small percentage (12,7%) of citizens in Western Europe view themselves as European (EU-citizen), while 44% only identify themselves with their country and 43,3% see themselves as citizens of their country first and only rarely identify themselves as European (Fligstein, 2007).

Sadly, a lot of politicians do not share this sentiment as much as their citizens do and therefore there has not been a great focus on this issue lately. This negligence can have severe consequences. A big reason people radicalize and accept extremist beliefs (be it political, religious or else) comes from the lack of feeling one belongs and has a place they can call home. Although this is an extreme example, there are also many less extreme forms in which we can find the alienation caused by globalization. Almost every Dutch city has seen their streets undergo a major facelift: local restaurants and stores being replaced by global chain stores, corny tourist shops on every corner and widespread gentrification encouraged by local and international investors changing entire neighbourhoods. This focus on the “global” and negligence of the ‘’local’’ can have serious effects, not only on the local economy, but also on the state of mind of locals.

It is clear that these issues have to be addressed, and patriotism, combined with a new focus on the local, can help with this by enabling people to find their sense of belonging and home again. Although patriotism alone will not be sufficient to solve these problems, it can go a long way in keeping the spirits high.

Solidarity & Responsibility.

Another problem in society is the lack of solidarity and a feeling of shared responsibility among citizens. In recent years, the trend of growing individualism has reached new heights. Although a moderate amount of individualism is not bad per se, our current levels of individualism have shown the ugly sides of this trend. Children are taught from a young age to follow their dreams and pursue their own interests. Although this is a nice story, the reality is not all sunshine and rainbows. Individualism has led to high levels of materialism, wealth gaps, selfishness, anti-social behavior and a growing indifference towards national problems among the population. A telling example of this is the concerningly low level of people who would be willing to defend our country in the event of a war. Some statistics place the number of people willing to defend the Netherlands at only 15% of the population. This is the lowest of all countries in Europe (Brilliant Maps, 2017).

These are clearly bad signs which call for a solution. Here again, patriotism is part of the answer. A new form of patriotism that also puts an emphasis on social solidarity and shared responsibilities and duties could help create a more social mindset that could push back against out of control individualism and the selfishness and indifference it encourages.

Political stability

My fourth and final argument deals with the need for political stability and decreasing polarization. For a long time, the Netherlands was known for its political stability and consensus politics. These trends created a political culture of constructive debate and the pursuit of finding solutions that work for all. In recent years however, this tradition of consensus politics has increasingly fell out of favor and been replaced with an ever more polarized political culture. Even though much can (and has to) be said about the disadvantages of this consensus building in politics (it is slow and tends to provide lackluster solutions), replacing it with an increasingly partisan and confrontational attitude will also not provide a solution. Especially not in these times of crisis, when it should be “all hands on deck” and not “every man for himself”. A shared sense of patriotism and working for the good of the country (national interests) could help politicians frame policies in a broader light and make them acceptable to a wider audience, which could help foster political unity and more rapid decision making, something which is key in these difficult times.

A new system

To conclude, if we want to get through the current crisis and the difficult years that will follow, we will need to work together as a country. We should put aside our differences so we can work towards a nation which we can all share and be proud of. For this, we will need a new form of patriotism. A form of patriotism that will help create a new system of equality, solidarity and unity. A system in which we work together, not just for our individual benefit, but also for that of our families, communities and country.

Sources:

Brilliantmaps.com (2017). “Percentage of Europeans who are willing to fight a war for their country”,

https://brilliantmaps.com/europe-fight-war/

Ehsan, R. (2020). “Britain should embrace Canadian-style patriotism”,

https://unherd.com/thepost/in-a-post-brexit-world-the-uk-should-embrace-canadian-style-patriotism/

Fligstein, N. (2007). “Who are the Europeans and how does this matter for politics?”,

https://www.irle.berkeley.edu/files/2007/Who-are-the-Europeans-and-how-does-this-matter-for-politics.pdf

I am a first year bachelor student studying political science at the University of Amsterdam. I write about politics, economics and history.