The Spanish writer Javier Marias Franco recently challenged the concept of patriotism in the Italian paper Corriere della Sera.
“I always found it hard to understand patriotism,” he wrote. “I love the individual, not the country. Proclamations like ‘I Love Spain’ sound false and empty to my ears and also implausible because no one can ‘love’ a whole country.… I also find it difficult to be proud of my country because one of my countrymen has excelled at something.… How was I supposed to feel honoured when, for example, the Nobel Prize in Literature went to Camillo Josè Cella, whose books I find rancid and meaningless…. Strangely enough, I perceive patriotism as something entirely negative.… There are individuals and facts I have no desire whatever to be associated with.… I’m sure I am not the only one who suffers from this illness.”
Javier Marias Franco is quite right to expect the world to regard his lack of patriotism as an illness. The loyalty to any group is regarded as a virtue, whether to one’s street, one’s village, one’s old school, one’s political party, one’s regiment or one’s sports team.
However, it is hard to quarrel with the honesty and logic of Javier Marias Franco’s position. One might even go further and speculate whether or not, at some level deep down, everybody agrees with it.
In any case, as every feminist knows, there is something suspect about patriotism. It is obviously related to patriarchy, to domination by the father and husband, by the male. The feminist case against patriotism is surely at least as strong as Franco’s individualistic case.
The Swiss anthropologist Johann Jakob Bachofen (1815–1885) proposed four phases of cultural evolution. The earliest was poly–amourous and communistic, the second the matriarchal lunar phase based on agriculture, followed by a transitional Dionysian phase during which patriarchy began to emerge. This led to the Apollonian solar phase in which all traces of the previous phases were eradicated and modern civilization began.
Bachofen is largely discredited by anthropologists today, not least because of his impenetrable style. But in the early twentieth century he had considerable influence. According to his view, the world was happiest in the lunar, matriarchal phase. (He was too Swiss to approve of the earlier poly-amourous, communistic phase.) The slippery road downhill began when, during the next, Dionysian phase, monotheism was discovered, perhaps first by the Egyptians, and the one god, alas, turned out to be male. This led inexorably to patriarchy, male dominance and patriotism.
It is not known in which phase Javier Marias Franco would have been happiest. But it is safe to assume that he would have found matriatism as hard to understand as patriotism.