Olympic competitions divide the world along nationality. In a world where notions like “internationalism” and “multiculturalism” dominant global affairs to the point “nationalistic” thinking nearly qualifies as immoral, the patriotic fervor of the Olympics can be almost refreshing. On the one hand, the patriotic spirit of the Olympics offers people a chance to take pride in the accomplishments of their fellow countrymen and their national achievements. On the other hand, it also offers insights into the behavior of leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and many others.
For a country like the United States, which has a national identity born out of democracy instead of a cultural legacy, patriotism means embracing and celebrating democracy. The truth is, however, there are few faithful democrats in the world, or even in the US for that matter. Most people embrace democracy when, and because, it is beneficial to them. There are internationalists like US President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who view democratic as a means to ensure global security and prosperity, but there are many more nationalistic patriots who prioritize their nation’s survival above democracy.
When the love of one’s country is coupled with a vision of international cooperation and democratic aspirations, patriotism drives leaders and their Peoples to make the world a safer, better place. When patriotism drives a People to war against other nations and Peoples, patriotism is a curse. Considering the extreme example of the genocide committed by Germany under Nazi rule, i.e. the Holocaust, it is difficult to comprehend how a nation of reasonable people could help perpetuate such atrocities. A large part of it is due to the patriotic fervor Adolf Hitler was able to harness.
Clearly, the political borders of Europe reflect ethnic division along with national division, but it can easily be argued that “patriotism” helped fuel the perpetual cycle of wars that ripped Europe apart for centuries before escalating to the Second World War. It can also be argued that the same dynamic is currently at work in the Middle East where sectarian violence is tearing apart the region and the leaders of nation-states are fueling violence to stay in power. That said, patriotism is not the root of all evil. What patriotism does is cultivate a “mob mentality” where groupthink takes over. As a group, people feel compelled to protect their group. In essence, patriotism is an example of a group defense mechanism that can be used by recognized leaders for constructive or destructive purposes.
With that in mind, men like Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan are viewed, especially by the West, as ruthless, corrupt kleptocrats who bend the governing institutions of their nations to serve their political agendas for their own personal gain. Both Putin and Erdogan, however, like to portray themselves as strong, patriotic leaders. Although these two competing narratives would appear to contradict each other, i.e. how can someone who abuses power for personal gain serve others, men like Putin and Erdogan believe the survival of their nations, and ultimately their Peoples, depend on their strength and their ability to freely assert their authority.
The problem with the hardliner patriotic mindset is that the survival of the nation-state takes precedence above all else, including national values and the People of the nation. To ensure they have the power to stomp out any external, or internal, threats, patriots like Putin and Erdogan feel compelled to secure their power by any means necessary. In turn, these leaders make themselves indispensable to the survival of their governments, thereby justifying their seizure of a nation’s civil institutions. The impulse to protect the nation at all costs, even when it comes to minor threats and political dissent, creates tensions, which tends to spark conflicts. The Assad-regime perpetuated Syrian Civil War serves as a perfect example.
In the modern world, nations derive much of their economic strength and military might from their alliances. To be a strong country, a nation must have strong alliances. At the same time, the International Community is both democratizing and resovereignizing. What this means is that governments must both serve the interests of their citizens, who have been cultured to increasingly expect democratic rights, and address the interests of the citizens of their allies. In other words, it is not enough to be patriotic. To secure one’s country from threats, to be strong leaders, men like Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan must do more to serve their Peoples and respects the interest of other Peoples, instead of trying to dominate them.
Read old posts