Is Patriotism the ‘Last Refuge of a Scoundrel’?

Recently by Mark R. Crovelli: Where Are the Christian Churches When We Need ThemMost?

While Dr. Johnson was no doubt correct to write that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," he just as easily could have written that patriotism is the last refuge of an idiot. The latter phrasing is arguably more useful to commit to memory, given the higher likelihood of bumping into patriotic idiots on the street than of bumping into patriotic scoundrels (outside of Washington D.C. and New York, of course).

The catchphrase of the patriotic idiot is "love it or leave it," which means, in the parlance of idiots everywhere, that anyone who happens to doubt the government's greatness or legitimacy should expatriate. The phrase is invariably used in a last-ditch attempt to avoid having to confront political ideas that are challenging or uncomfortable. Unfortunately for the idiot, and I suppose this is part of what makes him an idiot to begin with, the phrase is as absurd as it is hackneyed.

In the first place, it is instructive to note that even idiots do not use the phrase "love it or leave it" on every occasion. For example, the idiot never shrieks out "love it or leave it" during a simple discussion of Roe v. Wade or current tax law. Even an idiot is aware that he will sound like a complete fool if he tells people they should either love Roe v. Wade or get out of the U.S. The fact that idiot cannot utilize the phrase on all occasions without looking like a fool ought to be a sign to him that there is something terribly wrong with it in general.

It is in the context of discussing fundamental political questions involving the government's legitimacy that the idiot believes the phrase "love it or leave it" constitutes a powerful argument. If the debate turns to the question of whether taxation is morally and legally synonymous with robbery, for example, the idiot thinks that anyone who doubts the government's legitimacy should simply leave. It completely escapes the notice of the idiot that the question of what dissenters can or should do is completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not the government is legitimate.

What also escapes his notice is the circularity of his reasoning in trying to use the phrase "love it or leave it" as a serious argument. The question at hand, after all, involves the legitimacy of the government, not some trivial question about government policy. But, the phrase itself assumes that the government and its policies are legitimate from the outset, because it assumes 1) that dissenters are the ones who should leave, and 2) that the dissenter's only legitimate options are to love the government as it now stands or to leave. If these are not assumed to be the dissenter's only legitimate options, then what's the problem with hating the government? But, how could those be the dissenter's only legitimate options unless government itself is assumed to be legitimate? In other words, the idiot's only argument to defend the legitimacy of the government boils down to nothing more than saying "government is legitimate because government is legitimate." Needless to say, unless one is speaking to an idiot, this sort of circular reasoning is silly and absurd.

The phrase "love it or leave it" is sometimes used in a pathetic attempt to demonstrate that people "consent" to live under their particular governments. According to this moronic line of thinking, because most people do not flee their countries for…well, somewhere else, they have thereby "consented" to their government's existence. "Since they haven't left," the idiot blusters, "they must love it." That the conclusion does not follow from the premise is obvious to anyone with a working brain, however. A person might stay in his country of birth for many different reasons unrelated to "consent." He may not have the money to move, or he may not be permitted to leave, as in North Korea. Or, he may be aware that every piece of inhabitable land on Earth is claimed by governments more or less similar to his own, so his situation will not improve by moving abroad. Like the branded slave, he has no place to go where he will not be recognized and treated as he is right now. He has been branded with the word "taxpayer," and every government in the world will treat him as such. However, finding oneself without a place to run does not constitute "consent" to being raped, robbed or taxed.

Perhaps the most obvious problem with the idiot's catchphrase, however, is the fact that he has no way to make people either "love it" or "leave it." He lacks the muscle to deport people who disagree with him, and he lacks the mental abilities to convince them to "love" the government. The best that his feeble brain can muster is to rub the government's existence in the face of his intellectual opponents as if that resounded to his own glory. It is tragic in the true sense of the word, since the poor idiot cannot see that the institution he mindlessly defends is his true enemy, not the lonely government dissenter.

Interestingly, governments themselves are every bit as impotent as the idiot to enforce the phrase "love it or leave it," because they have no way to force their subjects "love it," and they cannot possibly hope to deport or incarcerate everyone who doubts their legitimacy. They are reduced to making their presence and brutality known by stomping on minorities that can't fight back, and, like the idiot, making asinine and propagandistic statements about their own magnificence and beneficence. Once a significant number of people wake up to the fact that governments everywhere are nothing more than unnecessary criminal gangs, however, there is nothing governments can do to keep from being smashed to pieces.

When that glorious day arrives in the West, as it has in the Middle East, the idiots of the world who mindlessly defend their governments with the phrase "love it or leave it" will finally have a chance to heed their own advice.