"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Of Patriots and Scoundrels

Some of the best sounds to wake up to must include birdsong or the rasping of gentle waves on the seashore. What's definitely not a good sound is the theatrical ranting of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. I just can't seem to avoid her this week; she was on the radio this morning giving her opinion on Clegg's 'Britishness'  quote yesterday. Her main point was that Clegg is in trouble politically and used the occasion to appeal to base instincts by referring to Britishness.

She went on to say that Britishness (I can't stand that word) had been disconnected from the national psyche over the past 10-15 years and that it was a positive development because 'patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel'.  Johnson's phrase is inevitably trotted out by those who recoil from the innate tendency to love one's own country above all others.

A quote shouldn't be seen in isolation and read out of context; glib interpretation of Johnson's statement has come to be an accepted truth amongst many, particularly on the Left, that patriotism is unhealthy.    I think Johnson's meaning has been turned on its head - he accused dissenters who stirred up trouble for their own ends of pushing a false patriotism to rouse an unthinking population.

With Clegg's speech yesterday, and Blair and Brown before him, in which he attacked the "far-right" and spoke of reclaiming Britishness from "bigots and xenophobes" we've achieved a sort of symmetry.  It's fair to say that some scoundrels may be patriots but not all patriots are scoundrels.

It's always been the way of the Left to re-define words for their own ends.  In the case of patriotism what they did was tell us that it had been hi-jacked by flag-stealing nazis when it was nothing more than hooligans at football matches.  Now that it's in our psyche that waving the national flag is a shocking act they seek to reclaim it, but on their own terms.

 "I am not a patriot, I am not a loyalist to anyone," YAB said. True enough but, like her fellow-travellers, Blair, Brown & Clegg, she and they are scoundrels as defined by Johnson.
"It ought to be deeply impressed on the minds of all who have voices in this national deliberation, that no man can deserve a seat in parliament, who is not a patriot. No other man will protect our rights: no other man can merit our confidence.

A patriot is he whose publick conduct is regulated by one single motive, the love of his country; who, as an agent in parliament, has, for himself, neither hope nor fear, neither kindness nor resentment, but refers every thing to the common interest."
Johnson, The Patriot (1774) 

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