(An Essay by Herbert Spencer.)
H. Spencer, ibid.
Were any one to call me dishonest or untruthful, he would touch me to the quick. Were he to say that I am unpatriotic, he would leave me unmoved. "What, then, have you no love of country?" That is a question not to be answered in a breath.
The early abolition of serfdom in
templation of the acts by which
arch-conspirator, or by the uproarious applause with which undergraduates greeted one who sneered at the "unctuous rectitude" of those who opposed his plans of aggression, appear to me lovable. If because my love of country does not survive these and many other adverse experiences I am called unpatriotic — well, I am content to be so called.
To me the cry — "Our country, right or wrong!" seems detestable. By association with love of country the sentiment it expresses gains a certain justification. Do but pull off the cloak, however, and the contained sentiment is seen to be of the lowest. Let us observe the alternative cases.
Suppose our country is in the right — suppose it is resisting invasion. Then the idea and feeling embodied in the cry are righteous. It may be effectively contended that self-defence is not only justified, but is a duty. Now suppose, contrariwise, that our country is the aggressor — has taken possession of others' territory, or is forcing by arms certain commodities on a nation which does not want them, or is backing up some of its agents in "punishing" those who have retaliated. Suppose it is doing something which, by the hypo-thesis, is admitted to be wrong. What is than the implication of the cry? The right is on the side of those who oppose us; the wrong is on our side. How in that case is to be expressed the so-called patriotic wish? Evidently the words must stand — "Down with the right, up with the wrong!" Now in other relations this combination of aims implies the acme of wickedness. In the minds of
past men there existed, and there still exists in many minds, a belief in a personalised principle of evil — a Being going up and down in the world everywhere fighting against the good and helping the bad to triumph. Can there be more briefly expressed the aim of that Being than in the words — "Up with the wrong and down with the right?" Do the so-called patriots like the endorsement?
Some years ago I gave expression to my own feeling — anti-patriotic feeling,
it will doubtless be called — in a somewhat startling way. It was at the time
of the second Afghan war, when, in pursuance of what were thought to be
"our interests", we were invading
I foresee the exclamation which will be called forth. Such a principle, it will be said, if accepted, would make an army impossible and a government powerless. It would never do to have each soldier use his judgment about the purpose for which a battle is waged. Military organisation would be paralysed and our country would be a prey to the first invader.
Not so fast, is the reply. For one war an army would remain just as available as now — a war of national defence. In such a war every soldier would be conscious of the justice of his cause. He would not be engaged in dealing death among men about whose doings, good or ill, he knew nothing, but among men who were manifest transgressors against himself and his compatriots. Only aggressive war would be negatived, not defensive war.
Of course it may be said, and said truly, that, if there is no aggressive war, there can be no defensive war. It is clear, however, that one nation may limit itself to defensive war when other nations do not. So that the principle remains operative.
But those whose cry is — "Our country, right or wrong!" and who would add to our eighty-odd possessions others to be similarly obtained, will contemplate with disgust such a restriction upon military action. To them no folly seems greater than that of practising on Monday the principles they profess on Sunday.
[English authors. Band 152.]