Why are we proud of our country

To be patriotic and internationalist at the same time - in the USA and France this is an emancipatory attitude. Only in Germany is respect for the civilization of one's own country considered offensive, especially among leftists. Comments on a debate


And because we improve this country / We love and protect it / And it may seem dearest to us / Just like other peoples of hers.

Bertolt Brecht, children's anthem

A few years ago, the American thinker Richard Rorty published a slim book with the title "Achieving Our Country" (German under the title "Pride in our country"), in which he complained that the left had given up on the "Party of Hope" to be. His criticism finally turns into a plea for a patriotic left. It should try to “mobilize the remnants of our pride as Americans” - because being “left” in the USA meant “moving the country forward” until the 1950s. Only the “new left”, the “cultural left”, replaced the reform orientation with a fundamental criticism of the system, leaving the socially oppressed Americans by the wayside. Young intellectuals from middle-class families with a penchant for games of thoughts and words would only have turned to the “politics of difference” and “identities”.

You don't have to like Rorty's strict tone and you can still consider some of his arguments worth considering. At the time, his plea for a patriotic left in this country was slightly nervously rejected: For America, all of this may have its justification, but for the post-national acronym democracy BeErDe it has nothing to say.

But now the debate, somewhat alienated, has also arrived in Germany. Left-wing liberal pragmatists ask whether the civilizational development of Germany is not a success story to be proud of, strict “anti-Germans” reflexively and maliciously castigated this new tendency to “love the fatherland”.

There are several reasons the debate is rising right now, and they do not always have much to do with one another. One of the causes is that the heirs of the 1960s revolt civilized the country over large areas and therefore do not represent the middle of society by chance; Another reason may be that after September 11, 2001, the idea spread that the liberal, democratic, secular and Western European modernity is not the worst model of society. Together they lead to a more affectionate look at one's own community. But what could left-wing patriotism really be based on?

First of all, it should be remembered that the integration of the lower classes has so far taken place on the basis of the nationally constituted welfare state, which was not only able to position a “we” versus the “others”, but was also able to transform principles of exclusion into principles of inclusion. The nation state was not only the humus for racist horrors, but also the terrain of the political on which the rules of a socially just community were negotiated.

Economic redistribution, which also grants life opportunities for those who have lost their lives, has so far taken effect at the level of the nation-state. According to Jürgen Habermas, the “cultural integration” that created the “whatever imaginary unity” of the nation state also had the effect that “although they are and remain strangers to one another, they (feel) responsible for one another. that she too sacrifice are ready - for example to do military service or to pay the burden of redistributive taxes ”.

The fact that the globalization of capital, labor and goods markets undermines the regulatory capacities of the nation state has been analyzed many times, but for the time being it binds the underprivileged all the more to this terrain - for the time being they will lose their pelts if the regulatory authority erodes the nation state. The term "community" can only be spelled within the (national) state, institutionalized solidarity (a claim, not alms) has so far only proven to be sustainable in the vicinity of a community, only here were bottom and top interwoven by a common narrative, from which at least theoretically an obligation for them arose.

It is true that the crisis of the nationally constituted welfare state suggests that new forms of transnational “governance” should be considered, at the end of which there could well be a European welfare regime. Nonetheless, Rorty's question is justified, "whether we can wait until something happens at the supranational level".

In addition: "We want to improve our country" is a sentence that, by being spoken, is already being realized to a certain extent, behind whose ostensible patriotism a second level of speech becomes visible - that of taking possession by the underprivileged, who postulate: This is also our Country.

The dashing objection that “our country” can justifiably only be said by those who own the wood stocks, real estate, factories, banks and stock depots, overlooks the performative character of such a mode of speaking.

When we talk about “our” country, then first and foremost about “our” compatriots. They make up the people of our country. The “people” appear in the fund of political rhetoric in various aggregate states. Political legitimation is produced rhetorically by a political stance referring to "the people", whereby such a speech is more than a refined rhetorical trick with the help of which an "always existing" people can be made usable for a political purpose.

A people addressed in this way is only constituted as a people through this speech. The people addressed with the words of the US Constitution "We, the people" are a different people than the settler masses. This speech marks the difference between the "political people" and the amorphous crowd. Talking about the people means first producing the people. The question of which people should be constituted is always contested.

The people, who could envision left-wing patriotism, are not a mass of atomized individuals, nor a community of administered citizens, and certainly not a mob of agitated nationalists, but a society of citizens who are conscious of their rights. Such a speech is based on a concept of active citizenship, which does not exclude but includes immigrants living in a community - as addressees of the call to improve this country. At the same time, such an inclusion is already the first act of this improvement. Such patriotism addresses migrants as “to a certain extent our compatriots” and strives - to paraphrase Étienne Balibar - to make them our “actual compatriots”.

The left in many countries has always been able to draw on the imaginary fund of national history. So the French left, no matter what color, always referred to the promises of the revolutionary, republican history of their country, of which they were proud. The same applies to the US left, which not only dismissed the egalitarian promises of “utopian America” as “ideology”, but tried to mobilize them again and again, because of their possible redemption in a better tomorrow.

Of course, it is indisputable that in some societies the conditions for mobilizing patriotic impulses for emancipatory politics are more favorable than in others. “The United States is particularly fortunate that its patriotism combined the sense of nationality with a liberal-representative system from the outset,” writes the Canadian theorist Charles Taylor. The immigration society of the USA does not require the newcomers to “fit” into an ethnically or even culturally homogeneous nation, but instead that “they commit to the political ideology surrounding the abstract ideals of freedom, equality and republicanism circled ”, as the left-liberal American philosopher Michael Walzer puts it.

Things are similar in France, which traditionally does not link membership of the nation to ethnic criteria, where large parts of the political spectrum have even explicitly identified the nation with the underprivileged since 1789, albeit a strong reactionary current until recently the size of France with a Rejection of democracy.

A similar liaison was not always possible in Germany, the identification of nation and emancipation remained limited to episodes - the unity efforts in the revolution of 1848, for example, but also the "patriotic" German policy of the Social Democrats after 1945 from Kurt Schumacher to Willy Brandt. The exclusive character of the German term von der Nation was always dominant. The only question that remains to be asked is what follows from this analysis: If everything here was just a series of barbaric horrors, do the barbarians even have something like a historical right to this country? This would not be an interpretation that is particularly favorable to progressive ideas.

The pride in one's own country and what has been achieved in terms of civilization, an impulse for successful civil engagement, for making this country a little more just? A patriotic impulse, not because of xenophobic demarcation, but on the contrary because of the inclusion of others? Many people bristle at the mere thought of it. It is not just because Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the most canonical text of the modern left, the “Communist Manifesto”, woven the sentence, “The workers have no fatherland”, that emancipatory politics and patriotism can hardly be reconciled. In any case, history has enough examples of the transition from national pride to aggression and patriotism to barbarism.

And if internationalism was the leitmotif of the left, then the - to say the least - skeptical view of the achievements of one's own country became the secret civil religion of the youngest radical left; not only in Germany, but especially in Germany. From Wilhelminism to Nazi atrocities, from restoration to emergency laws, from professional bans, leaden time to the Kohlära, if not to Schily's domestic and Fischer's Kosovo politics. For the supporters of such a slightly rotten interpretation, this is all a melody. The little bit of positive is at best an accidental and unintended product of the negative.

Here every particularism is interpreted as the opposite of an anti-identity universalism. But let us admit for a moment that in politics, motifs and thought images never appear in a perfectly pure culture, so to speak. Patriotism, pride in achievement - or even just a feeling of belonging to the people - of my country are particularistic values; striving for equality for all people, for example, or that - which means something similar, but not always the same - for justice is a universal value.

In this sense, the struggle of the early labor movement for social reforms was not confined to a restricted territory. But that does not change the fact that the more successfully this struggle was waged, the result that the "low people" - who were de facto or even de jure excluded from citizenship - also received recognition as citizens of their respective national states of equal value fought for. Which in turn often gave them a sense of pride in the achievements of the labor movement in their country. The result is that the enforcement of a “universalistic value” can ultimately be conducive to a “particularistic value” - a paradoxical consequence, if you will.

The fact that patriotism was and is responsible for many evils in our own as in all times does not change the fact that pride in the achievements of a community can become one of the strongest motives and impulses for positive political action; just as, conversely, a feeling of shame for undesirable developments in one's own community can become a powerful driving force for protest and, as a result, for change.

Why, asks the Canadian multiculturalism researcher Charles Taylor, do many people in a certain country react with indignation when the principles of democracy and human rights are violated? A fundamental disgust for injustice "would not in itself lead to an American reaction that is stronger towards Nixon's offenses than towards those of Pinochet or Enver Hoxha".

Taylor calls the impulse that generates this indignation "a kind of patriotic identification". Even if I'm concerned about the restriction of everyone's freedom, an attack on freedom in my community usually enrages me more.

It may be a justified objection that solidarity, practiced only at close range, is a precarious thing - but solidarity that does not even work at close range is certainly no better.

So, in addition to the skepticism about nationalist upsurges and patriotic passions, there are just as good reasons for a certain self-confident identification with what has been achieved in social, democratic and constitutional terms. It was precisely the emancipatory forces that wrested this from those of perseverance (even if at times in alliance with an objective “train of time”).

Patriotic identification can certainly appear in different aggregate states - as pride, as shame, often as a mixture of both. Without what Bruno Kreisky, the great modernizer of Austrian social democracy, called “social patriotism”, an inclusive welfare state is probably not even conceivable.

ROBERT MISIK, 38, lives as an author in Vienna and writes regularly for the taz. Most recent book publication: “Marx for Eilige”, Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 2003, 176 pages, 7.95 euros