Saturday, September 17, 2016

Brooks on Civic Religion: The Other Radio Yerevan Joke

The secret weapon that could make Austria permanently more patriotic than we are? I don't know, but that's what some people are saying! Image via Elliot's Trackside Diner.

David Brooks ("The Uses of Patriotism", September 16 2016) writes:

Over the years, America’s civic religion was nurtured the way all religions are nurtured: by sharing moments of reverence. Americans performed the same rituals on Thanksgiving and July 4; they sang the national anthem and said the Pledge in unison; they listened to the same speeches on national occasions and argued out the great controversies of our history.
All of this evangelizing had a big effect. As late as 2003, Americans were the most patriotic people on earth, according to the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center.
Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it correct that as late as 2003, Americans were the most patriotic people on earth?

Answer: In principle, yes, according to a study published in 2006 by Tom W. Smith and Seokho Kim, using data from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP). But
  • first of all, it was as late as 2004, since the data were collected over a period extending into then, and the inquiry did not cover all the people on earth, but just 33 countries; 
  • second of all, this particular survey was only conducted one other time, in 1995-96 (in 24 countries) and on somewhat different parameters, so it's not possible to say how valid over a long period the measurement is; and 
  • third of all, the greatest general national pride was shown not by Americans but by Venezuelans, though Americans narrowly beat out the Venezuelans on question of domain-specific national pride, such as the way the country's democracy works, its political influence in the world, its social security system, its scientific and technological achievements, its achievements in sports, its achievements in arts and literature, and so forth.
In this way—and I understand people may not be too comfortable thinking about this—we may have to consider the possibility that Venezuela at the outset of the Millennium may have had a better civic religion than we did, with their Bolivarian socialism and free classical music training for children, since it got them better patriotism scores, and not only that; as you can see from the table below, our country has been outdone as well by foreign countries such as Austria (with their Mozart-Kugeln and fancy ski resorts) and Ireland (with their pubs and most of the population living in the US), as well as being regularly threatened from below by Australian and New Zealand, in the Southern Hemisphere with its unfamiliar constellations and backwards seasons, and by Hungary, which is simply patently unfair. As my grandfather might have said, "If you have a Hungarian for a competitor in the patriotism stakes, you don't need an enemy."

general national pride 2003-04 general national pride 1995-96 domain-specific pride 2003-04 domain-specific pride 1995-96
Venezuela Austria US Ireland
US US Venezuela US
Australia Australia Australia Austria
Austria Hungary Ireland New Zealand
South Africa Canada South Africa Canada
Chile Philippines New Zealand Bulgaria
Canada New Zealand Austria Australia
Philippines Japan Canada UK
New Zealand Ireland Philippines Japan
Israel Spain Israel Norway

That is, simply changing our civic religion to Bolivarian socialism, for example, or whatever they have in Australia, might not be enough to guarantee that we will always be at the patriotic tops! Moreover South Africa, Bulgaria, and the Philippines are not that far behind, for heaven's sake, and how Bolivarian are they? And Bolivarianism isn't even that popular in Venezuela at the moment! To ensure our continued status as the most or at least second-most patriotic people on earth of those whose patriotism has been tabulated, we might need to do something entirely different, and more radical.

Or perhaps, and at this point the reasoning becomes pretty scary—trigger warning!—we might want to consider the possibility that we shouldn't measure our worth as a nation by patriotism scores at all, but some other metric or set of metrics, which might even include whether teenage black football players feel that they live in a decent society, and encourage it by some means other than national anthems, flag pledges, and "listening to the same speeches", like we could try making the place better than it is? Satisfying as it may be to repeat, ritually, as the civic religion requires, that America is the greatest country in human history, whether it's true or not, wouldn't it be a good idea to just fix stuff that isn't working well and hope that sort of improves the experience for everybody in its own right?

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.

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