Version classiqueVersion mobile

(Re)Mapping the centres Membership and State

Trevor Harris

Forms and Problems of Patriotism in the 21st Century: Patriotism versus Mondialisation

James Willson-Quayle et Robert Dudley

Texte intégral

1When watching the drama of politics, Americans, the journalist Walter Lippmann once remarked, tend to arrive in the middle of the third act and leave before the curtain falls, staying just long enough to determine who the heroes and villains are, and little else. Although Lippmann had a poor opinion of Americans' attention span, he did not dismiss the role that socio-economics played in shaping their domestic and foreign policy attitudes. When the Los Angeles Times newspaper building was bombed in 1916, rather than condemning the terrorist attack, Lippmann advised his readers to pay close attention to why it happened. He argued that the United States was undergoing one of its characteristic social and economic transformations and the consequences of these changes were not always benign. It is in the spirit of Lippmann that we wish to look at the changing form of patriotism as we enter the next millennium. Over the last thirty years, social, political and economic shifts in the United States and Europe have redefined the experience of patriotic and national identity, as well as citizens' expectation of the benefits of being a member of a state. Among some of the questions we wish to address are: (a) If patriotism is understood as a love of one's country, will globalization or mondialisation alter this bond of affection? (b) How will elites be able to motivate workers after the state has dismantled many of its social-welfare programs? (c) How will nation-states maintain their legitimacy when non-governmental organizations and corporations compete for worker loyalty? And (d) Will Westerners, in particular Americans, bother to stay for the final act once they learn of the economic and social costs that must be paid for globalization?

2Patriotism can be defined in a number of different ways. In most social science literature, it is differentiated from nationalism in that patriotism is defined as the feelings citizens have toward their country (e.g. respecting the flag, having pride in political institutions), and nationalism is understood as the sentiments that citizens have vis-à-vis other nations (e.g. a sense of superiority, a belief that one's nation should dominate others). This crisp distinction between patriotism and nationalism can easily become confused when national self-interest is at stake. Some commonly shared sentiments might be that while we are patriots, others are nationalists; that large states are patriotic, while small states are nationalistic. Or that open societies are patriotic while closed ones are nationalistic. Here, patriotism, which is construed as a benign affection for one's state, is crudely juxtaposed with a nationalism that is associated with an irrational and sometimes prone-to-violence ideology. Further clouding the distinction between patriotism and nationalism is the obvious point that both expressions are constructed by political and economic elites who govern society, oftentimes in the interests of these very same elites.

3As American, European and Asian countries prepare for a globally competitive marketplace (one that is represented by technological efficiency, corporate productivity, dependence upon distribution access and suppressed labor costs), the patriotic sentiments of citizens are a critical factor determining society's success or failure, even more than its nationalist beliefs. Indeed, the presence of a strong nationalist ideology may prove detrimental to a nation whose existence is dependent upon peaceful trade agreements. A nation can ill afford to be viewed as threatening its rivals when economic success turns on its ability to facilitate the free-flow of capital and to share goods, services, and information with others. Political and economic elites have shunned, and will continue to shun, strong nationalist sentiments for this very reason: a case in point is the decades-long United States trade policy with China despite ideological objections from the American Left and Right. Conversely, elites have overlooked and will continue to overlook strong nationalist sentiments only if the prevailing attitudes appear to have marginal impact upon elite interests, as seen, perhaps, by the continual American relusal to normalize its relations with Cuba.

4Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the old ideological struggle between capitalist economies and Soviet-style management has been replaced in the West with attempts to find a middle course – "a third way" – that would, as it were, present capitalism with a more humane face. This attempt to humanize an economic system has given us "New Democrats" in the United States and "New Labour" in Britain. Clinton and Blair have been joined by Jospin in France, Prodi in Italy and Schröder in Germany, as well as a handful of Latin American leaders, as nations endeavor to harmonize their domestic policies with the dictates of a globally competitive market.

5As part of this effort, the Conservative government in Britain during the 1980s and early 1990s sought to privatize state-run industries. This had the effect of reducing the state in order to make industries more efficient and profitable. Today, in spite of these policies, worker productivity is 40% lower than that in the United States, and worker income is 20% less than that of workers in France and in Germany. Only workers in Portugal and Greece are worse off. Perhaps in an attempt to avoid further worker unrest and alienation, the present Labour government has scaled down, although not entirely abandoned, the privatization schemes of the previous government. As Blair announced in 1997, "We have no dogmatic objection to services being run by the private sector. They should be judged on a case-by-case basis."

6In France, the Socialists appear divided in their opposition to Conservativeled privatization programs. A neo-liberal wing of the Socialist party has supported the privatization of a few industries (the French constitution forbids the privatization of utilities) in a Blair-like case-by-case basis. At the same time, other, more traditional socialists have fought for, and won, such worker reforms as a reduced, thirty-five-hour working week. Meanwhile, Chirac-led government efforts to privatize the French economy have foundered on an interesting fact: some French nationalized industries are more profitable than their privatized counterparts. The result is that further privatization in France is a pragmatic rather than an ideological decision.

7The case of the United States may be a more dramatic example of how nations are altering their economic and social policies for the next century. In spite of the tremendous creation of wealth in the American stock market over the last seven years, 50% of American households have a zero net worth. Despite the drop of the American unemployment rate to levels unseen since the early 1970s, the bottom 50% of American workers have actually lost income since the early 1970s (adjusting for inflation). The wealthiest 10% of Americans control 67% of the nation's net worth. Forty-three million Americans now live without any health insurance. 30% of American children are bom into poverty. Our argument is not that these statistics reveal a dramatic change in the social and economic condition of the American public (we assume that there has never been a "golden age" when the American economy was in perfect working order and economic benefits were distributed evenly through the population). Rather, the point being made is that if there has been a dramatic change it has been in the response – or indeed, lack of response – on the part of the American federal and state governments to these statistics during a time of relative prosperity.

8One of the chief reasons for this lack of response is the widely held American sentiment that the United States needs to follow the imperatives of globalization if it is to continue to prosper well into the 21st century. Civic and business leaders, politicians, educators and the media have been notifying Americans for more than fifteen years that globalization would result in a smaller federal bureaucracy, a reduction in entitlements and other benefits for individuals, and the end of a life-time job security. Students are routinely reminded that they should expect to have as many as eight to ten different careers during their lifetime, and that they should prepare for this eventuality by acquiring multiple skills that will allow them to be more flexible in the workplace. The welfare reforms enacted in 1995 have already cut the number of Americans receiving benefits by almost a quarter, and have made it more difficult for others to claim benefits in the future. The Republicans and the Democrats have pledged that the projected budget surpluses (which are evident so far only on paper) would be reserved for the retirement of the aging post-World War II population. The result is a country that is preparing for the future and at the same time holding its breath.

The American Paradox

  • 1 See the General Social Survey and the 1996 Survey of American Political Culture published in The P (...)

9Paradoxically, Americans are still very patriotic and even nationalistic. According to opinion surveys, 55% of Americans agree with the statement "The United States is the greatest country in the world, better than all the others". 76% proclaim themselves to be "proud to live under our political system". In addition, most Americans say that "the best years for America are in the future" while an overwhelming majority (roughly 70%) believe that their country's main challenges are in morality, not economics. These attitudes are also shared across race, ethnic and gender lines. By contrast, Americans have less confidence in politicians and political parties, media institutions, and educational and religious leaders.1 These findings reveal a paradox. They divulge a highly patriotic and nationalistic country that is nevertheless largely distrustful of many of its leaders and institutions. In some ways, this is reflected in the global-capitalist worldview that is more widely accepted in the U. S. than elsewhere. Although patriotism is still an organizing principle of social identity, the lessons that globalization teaches are perhaps more firmly entrenched in the American psyche than that of other countries. These lessons are that political institutions are ineffectual, the individual must rely upon him or herself, and only personal initiative guarantees success.

10The question of how Americans have maintained their sense of patriotism in the face of political cynicism and economic difficulty is what we would now like to turn our attention to, for this American Paradox is perhaps a portent for other nations caught in the globalization scheme. Generally, there are three reasons for the American Paradox: ideology, economics and philosophy.

11The first reason as to how Americans have sustained their sense of patriotism in the midst of a globalist ideology is embodied in the character and ideology of Ronald Reagan. The "Reagan Revolution" – as it has been called – did not succeed in either downsizing the federal governmental programs or slowing the growth of the bureaucracy, the intended targets. Instead, during Reagan's tenure in office, the bureaucracy, federal spending, and the national debt continued to grow at rates consistent or even higher than those during the years before he became president. The Reagan Revolution proved more successful as a revolution in ideological attitudes. This charismatic president convinced the nation into believing that American political identity (and hence its patriotic origins) was based upon laissez-faire economic principles and that these principles could be extended to the workings of government, thereby eliminating many federal government operations. Moreover, Reagan succeeded in convincing the electorate that the seat of moral behavior was not only to be found in individual, personal responsibility, but also in behaviors that were solely consistent with conservative social values. Now, admittedly, Reagan did not have to work very hard to persuade the public; Americans have historically been a people mistrusting of government and suspicious of those who are dependent upon others or the state. What was remarkable was Reagan's timing: during the 1980s, Reagan's ideology appealed to a population worried about a seemingly unstoppable Japanese economy, and it served to further highlight the ideological gulf between the United States and the Soviet Union. In short, the Reagan Revolution supplied the American public with a patriotic ideology that was inextricably tied to a global-capitalist economic theory.

12The second reason for the American Paradox is the unexpected economic benefits the United States received during the 1996-97 world recession. Although these benefits were economic, they have had a profound psychological impact. The growth in the American economy in the 1990s has been due to the large influx of capital in the United States from worried investors in Asia, Latin America and Europe seeking a safe haven for their investments. This, in tum, not only fueled capital investment in the United States, it stemmed the tide of government borrowing. As a result, unemployment fell and federal expenditures for unemployment and welfare benefits dropped. The tremendous growth in capital spurred the stock market to more than double its previous high, which, in turn, enabled the government to collect more taxes from this newly created wealth. Crucially, the world recession confirmed for Americans the wisdom of the Reagan Revolution. If they were ever in need of evidence for their patriotic belief that their country "was the greatest in the world, better than all the others", then the benefits of the world-recession supplied the proof. So embedded was the idea that the American way was the best that some American politicians went so far as to claim that the recession in Asia and Latin America was the result of these regions not being sufficiently Americanized.

13This leads to the psychological effect of the 1990s world recession. As noted earlier, the bottom 50% of American workers have not been immune to the effects of American de-industrialization and the flight of American industries to third-world populations. However, the growth of wealth in the top 10% of Americans during the 1990s has masked many of these problems, calling attention instead to the high standard of living of Americans relative to workers in competing nations. This high standard of living, whether purchased by consumer debt or paid for by overseas investors, is considered by many Americans to be their birthright. Although, in real terms, the average person may be now worse off economically than he was before World War II, many Americans, materially and psychologically, see no evidence that this is the case.

14The third reason for the American Paradox is philosophical. Ideology and economics in the United States (though never far from one another) are commonly reflected by the potent force of the philosophy of liberalism. Although liberalism's origins may stretch back to John Locke's England of the seventeenth century, its effects are most acutely felt in the United States of the late-twentieth century. The philosophy of liberalism maintains that it is in the fictional state of nature where individuals are bom, and that the rights and freedoms of these individuals can transfer only by their consent into political rights and freedoms. The state is, therefore, engineered to supervise the orderly expression of these rights, compelling no one without their prior agreement to laws created for their material benefit. In liberal societies, then, patriotism most effectively takes only a singular form: appealing to the self-interest of individuals.

15The difficulty arises when elites in liberal societies are forced to create patriotic ideologies in order to motivate and control the population. Since all appeals to patriotism need to be premised on self-interest, it is interesting to contemplate what happens when individuals calculate that it is not in their self-interest to be patriotic. While French and German populations might respond to patriotic messages couched in the language of national identity and custom, liberal societies need to tailor their message to individuals in the hope that something will resonate. Liberal societies like the United States are thus caught in a quandary. The state depends on a sufficiently patriotic population for its legitimacy, but it can offer little to its people other than the opportunity for individual self-advancement. Only if the state defines patriotism as the opportunity for self-advancement – as in the case of the United States – can it be consistent and claim legitimacy, and even then only for a short period of time can it hope to be successful. Crucially, even non-liberal states, to the extent that they follow the imperatives of globalization, must be willing to adopt the liberal patriotic philosophy if they hope to be successful. Non-liberal European states, in particular, need to appeal to workers to be more efficient, competitive and resourceful while attempting to keep worker salaries and benefits at a level that is consistent with those found in their competitors' societies. At the moment, French and German politicians point to their country's respective leadership in the European Union as a source of patriotic pride, while at the same time attempting to mitigate some of the harmful effects that globalization will visit upon their populations. It remains to be seen how long these Third Way policies can last. Western European nations may have a more difficult time than the United States in convincing their populations to acquiesce to the demands of globalization by appealing to traditional patriotic sentiment.

The Patriotic Predicament

16The rise of transnationale, especially those in the communications business, poses a serious threat to the traditional nation-state. Capital increasingly knows no home and no allegiance. As The Economist (1 Feb. 1997: 18) once put it, the "1000... people who run the world do not mind whether an idea, a technique or a market is Sinic, Hindu, Islamic or Orthodox. If an idea works or a market arises [they] will grab it." Thomas Jefferson's sage warning that merchants know no country, has never been more accurate.

17The economic interests backing the transnationals are increasingly unaccountable to governments. Given that in the late 1980s only one half of the hundred largest economic units in the world were nations, the other half being corporations, these new sources of capital are positioned to overwhelm all the but the strongest national economies. But even the strongest economies find it difficult to hold the transnationals accountable. In a world in which capital and jobs move freely across the globe, efforts to regulate business are often ineffective. Witness the United States government's spectacularly unsuccessful efforts in the early 1990s to force the makers of athletic equipment to cease their exploitation of lowly-paid workers in Southeast Asia.

  • 2 See Reich, 1992, Chapter 23.

18In order to stay competitive, nation-states are put under extreme pressure to alter their economic and social welfare policies. As a result, commitments to social welfare policy and workers' rights are declining throughout the industrialized world. Moreover, the vast income disparities that seem to accompany globalization lessen the ties to a civic life. As the former American Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, has observed, the economically privileged knowledge workers (he refers to them as "symbolic analysts") of the American economy increasingly withdraw their support from the larger society. They use their considerable wealth to move into gated suburban communities where they purchase their security, educational, and recreational services in the marketplace. Through their homeowners' associations or condominium boards these symbolic analysts, so advantaged in the global economy, purchase street and sidewalk repairs, garbage pickup, and the maintenance of their cooperatively, but privately held playgrounds and swimming pools. Although firmly entrenched in the global economy, these symbolic analysts lead private lives that are increasingly estranged from all but their own enclaves. The communities they construct have one definable characteristic, they are composed of other symbolic analysts – people with similar incomes, educations and jobs. Insulated from the services provided in the public sphere, they become less and less willing to pay the taxes to support what they no longer use. Worldwide, these symbolic analysts have more in common with each other than their nation-state citizens. This politics of secession, as Reich labels it, leaves the public sector broke and the poor poorer.2 Of course, the worse off the public sector becomes the more these symbolic analysts withdraw into their private space, all the while pointing to the breakdown of the public sector as a further justification for their withdrawal.

19Inescapably then, globalization and patriotism are contradictory forces. Patriotism seeks to promote social unity, stability, and the continuity of existing institutions. Globalization, with its insistence on an expanding capitalism, undermines order and stability and seeks to destroy those traditions that do not serve the cause of capital. Not surprisingly, globalization often creates violent backlashes disturbing the ordered nature of things. Thus, where patriotism seeks order, globalization seeks change, often drastic change. Where patriotism requires the continuity of institutions, globalization demands open markets and the free flow of capital.

20Nevertheless, many of patriotism's strongest proponents seem not to understand the contradiction. During the Gulf War, for instance, several U. S. Senators objected vociferously to CNN's decision to broadcast from Bagdad. After all, as even CNN executives admitted, the contents of the broadcasts were tightly controlled by the Iraqi government. Both during and after the war, CNN's correspondent in Bagdad was branded, by some Senators, a traitor who reported the enemy's version of the war. What is interesting about the incident is that the Senators, many of whom are also ardent exponents of aggressive capitalism, missed the point. They continued to believe that, because CNN is headquartered in Atlanta, its an American company, owing loyalty to its nation. However, CNN's founder, Ted Turner, envisioned from the beginning a worldwide company with no particular national identity. Indeed, early on in the network's history, Turner banned the use of the phrase "foreign correspondent". What Turner recognized was that, in the interconnected world of advanced capitalism, no place is foreign. Yet clearly, if no place is foreign, neither does any place have a claim on allegiance.

21All of this leaves the nation-state and the construct of patriotism in a precarious position. Nation-states will continue to be pressured by transnational to open their markets (both consumer and labor) and reduce their social welfare expenditures. Elites, increasingly removed from the public sphere, will continue to attempt to control the interpretation of patriotic history, this time by emphasizing the material benefits of consumerism over the psychological benefits of traditional nation-state loyalties. If patriotism is to survive the onslaught of globalization, then, its meaning will have to be reconfigured.

Responses to the Patriotic Predicament

22Broadly, there are three responses to the patriotic-globalization predicament. The first response is to assert the continuing viability of the nation-state. It could be, to paraphrase Mark Twain, that the reports of the death of the nation-state are greatly exaggerated. The late-twentieth century is not the first time that the era of the nation-state has been proclaimed to be at an end. Perhaps the nation-state has more vitality left than critics believe. If, in fact, the nation-state is not severally disabled, it may be that it can still mediate the competing claims and provide the unifying vision that is at the core of patriotism. This scenario seems increasingly unlikely, however. The competition between global forces and the nation-states seems clearly stacked in favor of globalization. In this contest, capital seems destined to break down social, political, and geographical barriers.

23The second response is to construct a political loyalty based on cosmopolitanism. Among the many versions of cosmopolitanism, Martha Nussbaum's recent efforts have received the most attention. For Nussbaum (in Cohen, ed., 1996, 2-17), a self-conscious, moral acceptance that we are all citizens of the world is the only acceptable course of action. The young, she argues, must be taught that their "fundamental allegiance [is as] citizens of a world of human beings". That we are citizens of any nation-state is, Nussbaum argues, "morally irrelevant". Instead, we must learn from the ancient Stoics and pledge our loyalty to our fellow humans. Cosmopolitanism, not national identity, is "more adequate to our situation in the contemporary world".

24This second response is no mere concession to a faddish internationalization of the educational curriculum. Neither is it simply a bow to teaching greater cultural understanding or instilling a respect for the concept of human rights. Instead, Nussbaum insists, we must replace the antiquated and dangerous concept of patriotism with a cosmopolitan commitment to the "common aims, aspirations, and Values" of humanity – a Kantian universalism. Allegiance to the nation-state must give way to allegiance to humanity and the universal (but stateless) community of shared moral values. Only by replacing patriotism with cosmopolitanism can we truly understand ourselves. Moreover, only cosmopolitanism will facilitate the kind of global dialogue that makes true international cooperation possible. This cosmopolitanism, then, would seem the obvious response to a world characterized by globalization and the weakened nation-state. If the nation-states pale before the forces of globalization and if people become more interdependent across national borders, the reasonable presumption is that universal values will replace traditional patriotic allegiances.

25Nevertheless, cosmopolitanism's response to globalization has serious flaws. There is no necessary conflict between a cosmopolitan viewpoint of human nature and a commitment to globalization. Secondly, any effort to define "common aims, aspirations, and values," is likely to be viewed by many as a cultural construct of western origin, rather than transcultural. One need not be a relativist to recognize that much of the world may be expected to see this latest reincarnation of universalism as simply another effort to declare the superiority of western values. Interestingly, cosmopolitans provide little detail as to what these world values are, although recent versions of the argument sound much like a democratic humanism. Additionally, cosmopolitan political loyalty is an extremely difficult concept to make real. The problem is that, in a world increasingly characterized by remote, but powerful forces, the abstraction of universal citizenship provides no natural ties to human affections. Just as the world seems to be disrupting lives and threatening long established patterns of living, cosmopolitanism offers only a new set of abstractions.

26The cosmopolitan response to the threat that globalization brings to patriotism fails to appreciate the social process of building allegiances. To the extent that elites control patriotic feelings, they do so by communicating in symbols that seek to promote social unity and the continuity of existing institutions. Patriotism derives from the ability of elites to promote interpretations of the past and present that suppress competing and destabilizing interests. Elites control, or at least attempt to control, the presentation of the past and present, shutting out those aspects of history that may offer conflicting or even ambiguous interpretations. The past is filtered and shaped to present a timeless version of identity. In the world of universal citizens, however, there are no mediating institutions to shape the past. In the world of universal citizens, transnationale are the only elites with the power to dominate the communications process. It is true that they do have a universalistic vision, but it has little to do with human "aims aspirations, and values" beyond those necessary for the functioning of the marketplace. Instead of promoting the idea of cosmopolitan, universal morality, transnationale seek to create a universal vision of the "good life" – a vision founded in consumerism. Social and political issues are converted into economics as culture turns into commercial programming. The only aspirations and values promoted by transnationale are ideas of the marketplace. Loyalty, other than brand name loyalty, has no place and freedom means the right to buy.

27The cosmopolitanism response to the patriotic predicament has become a nebulous concept employed by Reich's symbolic analysts to justify their own ambivalence to the fate of their nation. Cosmopolitanism allows these elites to imagine themselves as citizens of the world rising above mere parochial interests of a nation-state. Conveniently, this also frees them of any obligations that citizenship in a polity normally implies. Used in this way, the cosmopolitan response provides another easy way for elites to assert rights and privileges without obligations.

28The third and final response to the problem that globalization presents to traditional, elite-driven patriotism is the emergence of the personal experience of ordinary individuals or, to put it in slightly different terms, the "vernacular" culture. While elites seek to control the portrayal of the past, to present the official version of events, interpretation is often contested. In every society, the official version contends with the vernacular. Elites seek through the interpretation of the past to promote patriotic loyalty to the larger political structures, but occasionally people use these interpretations in unexpected ways. The array of specialized interests represented by the vernacular culture are less interested in the abstraction of the nation-state, instead focusing on the particular and the real-those things that are directly experienced. Vernacular interests form around shared experiences and not the abstractions of historical accounts. Proponents of the vernacular cultures may accept, reject, ignore or subvert pieces of the official interpretations of history offered by elites, but, whatever the response, the motivation is to protect the values and rights of the smaller community. Elites, in turn, use the communicative power of the state to suppress the vernacular. Indeed, since the vernacular culture is founded on direct experience rather than an abstraction, it seldom outlasts those who shared the experience. Elites may also co-opt the vernacular culture, redefining its symbols to reinforce the official version of a nation's history. Usually the local and personal experiences that form the vernacular culture are, if their force requires recognition, nationalized – that is, the interests expressed are sustained, but their dominant meaning becomes nationalistic.

29Perhaps nowhere is this conflict between the vernacular and the elite more evident in the United States than in the cultural and political struggle that preceded the construction of the Viet Nam Memorial. First proposed by an organization of Viet Nam veterans, the idea of a monument initially attracted enthusiastic support in all segments of society. When the plans were unveiled, however, a deep schism developed between those who wanted a personal commemoration of the war dead and those defenders of the nation-state who wanted a testament to the valor of patriotic duty. The memorial's two long black granite walls, intersecting to form a chevron, deeply offended those who wanted a celebration of the ideal of patriotic duty. Calling the design a "black gash of shame" and comparing it to a "mass grave", defenders of the patriotic view demanded a traditional memorial, one that would unite the American public behind the nation-state.

30In the end, a compromise was reached. The simple wall with its list of the dead would stand. Added to the site, however, was an American flag and a heroic statue of three soldiers from the conflict looking at the names of the dead. Furthermore, the monument itself was to be inscribed with the words "God Bless America." The defenders of the powerful and dominant interests of patriotism could not and did not let the memorial stand alone as a testament to simple human feelings of loss. Aesthetically, it is obvious that the design did not need the heroic statue, but politically it did. The original design's expression of purely personal grief challenged the dominant patriotic interpretation of American history by ignoring the nobility of sacrifice in the name of the nation-state.

31Even with the compromise, the construction of the Viet Nam memorial represented the victory of the personal (the vernacular) over the patriotic. The design of the wall emphasizes the shared experiences of a part of the population (veterans and those who lost loved ones in the conflict) and neglects the abstractions of the nation-state. While the compromise may open the memorial to alternative interpretations, the public's response to the wall has been an expression of grief and sorrow, not patriotic remembrance. The thousands of letters, photographs, flowers and other mementos left at the wall every year make clear its meaning. So, too, do the many imitations that have sprung up across the United States. What may have been compromised away in design, is reestablished in use.

32Perhaps, the Viet Nam memorial is a portent of what is to come. Indeed, during the 1991 war with Iraq, expressions of support were encapsulated not by the patriotic sloganeering of the Viet Nam era – "America, Love It Or Leave It" – but by the more personal "Support Our Troops." Support for the national effort was reduced to an expression of concern for individual soldiers. By and large, Americans neither accepted nor rejected their government's position in the conflict, and by their indifference they exhibited their well-documented distrust of public officials and government policy. What is more, Americans refused to align themselves with their own transnational oil cartels. Among an American public, which has largely already accepted the globalization ideology, it seems there was little interest in expressing corporate loyalty. If there was a prevailing attitude – a vernacular, in other words – it was reflected in the support of individuals forced to fight in the conflict, not President Bush's policy on Iraq or the property of transnational oil companies. As the Gulf War did not cost American taxpayers any money and as its military did not incur significant casualties, this small "Support Our Troops" patriotism was purchased at no cost. As the examples of the Viet Nam memorial and the Gulf War indicate, the decline of influence of state-sponsored patriotism in the face of globalization may provide other opportunities for the vernacular to assert itself in the public discussion.

33The rise of globalization and its culture of consumerism may fuel the power of the vernacular. If this is the case, the vernacular will be viewed as the only major alternative to globalization as the nation-state withers away. The people – those who give the vernacular a voice – will be the ones most adversely affected by globalization. To the extent that the vernacular is on the ascent, it is most likely to find its voice in populist movements. A populism that addresses the growing gap in income distributions as well as the very real experiences of economic dislocation and the suffering brought on by the reduction of social services and workers' protections might well reinvigorate the public debate that has for many become increasingly irrelevant to their lives. A populism that gives voice to the real conditions of workers as opposed to the government and consumer images of patriotism might be the impetus leading citizens to re-engage in political life. Certainly, the presidential campaigns of H. Ross Perot in 1990s America, which stressed the costs paid by workers for the North American Trade Agreement, invigorated a dispirited electorate and temporarily reduced a long-term decline in voter turnout.

34There are dangers, however. Populism can have an ugly side. The authentic "voice of the people" is often the tool of demigods. Experiences of economic dislocation and suffering can be the stuff of hatred and violence. Moreover, the ensuing feelings of alienation from the nation-state and distrust of elties are real to believers. There is no shortage of would-be leaders in the United States, Russia, Europe, and Latin America, who are eager to amass a following by appealing to the disgruntled workers of a globalized economy. A nation-state unable to defend its people from the ravages of a world conceived only in market terms may find the greater challenge comes from within. It would be ironic if the only avenue in which the vernacular could express itself was owned by transnationals, but this may be the direction the world is taking.


Works Cited

The Economist 1 Feb. 1997: 18.

Nussbaum, Martha, 1996. "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism." In For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism. Ed. Joshua Cohen. Boston: Beacon Press. 2-17.

The Public Perspective 8.2 (1997): 1-27.

Reich, Robert, 1992. The Work of Nations. New York: Alfred Knopf.

Whiteside, Anna, 1988. "Verbal icons and self-reference." Semiotica 69.3-4: 315-329.


1 See the General Social Survey and the 1996 Survey of American Political Culture published in The Public Perspective 8.2: 1-27.

2 See Reich, 1992, Chapter 23.


George Washington University

George Mason University

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2000

Conditions d’utilisation :

Cette publication numérique est issue d’un traitement automatique par reconnaissance optique de caractères.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search