Saturday, July 4, 2020

"My Country, Right or Wrong": No Patriot Would Say It

In the 21st century, I'm not sure how many Americans would ever actually say "my country, right or wrong." After all, it's not "countries" that are right or wrong, but actions of governments and people, and it seems ingrained in the American character (and thankfully so!) that criticizing one's government is not only acceptable, but often expected.

But perhaps the ultimate put-down for that point of view came from G.K. Chesterton, In a 1901 collection of essays, The Defendant, he includes an essay called "A Defense of Patriotism." Chesterton writes:
'My country, right or wrong,' is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.' No doubt if a decent man's mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.
If faced with a situation where the government of a country has done something terribly wrong, and considering whether to betray the country as a result, even a patriot might defend an ultimate loyalty to the nation by saying "My country, right or wrong." But it's a sentiment that would only come up when the "wrong" was deeply and profoundly wrong, and the immediate options were grim. It's a statement that would arise only from a spirit torn with near-despair and great humility, and would not be made in a spirit of pride, or even defiance.