Progressive Patriotism or "I Love My Country!"
The German Federal President Horst Köhler in his inauguration speech of a year ago on 23 May 2004 made a newly enlightened and progressive German patriotism socially acceptable. With his declaration: “I love our country!” he reintroduced this topic into the social discourse. He rightly stated: “Patriotism and an openness to the outside world are not opposites—they require each other.”
His predecessor Johannes Rau correctly distinguished this positive feeling from nationalism and chauvinism: “A patriot is somebody who loves his homeland. A nationalist is somebody who despises the homelands of others.” The German Federal President Richard von Weizsaecker (1984–94) also remarked: “Patriotism is the love of one’s own people. Nationalism is hatred toward others.” Federal President Gustav Heinemann (1969–75) stated with somewhat more reservation: “I do not ‘love’ any nation, I love my wife.” And similar sobriety was displayed by the German President Roman Herzog (1994–99) regarding the state as an institution—not, however, the country itself—when he said: “I can at best love a landscape. But I do not ‘love’ any particular institution, the state just as little as the local health insurance office.”
Patriotism has nothing to do with nationalism or chauvinism, as nationalism proposes the overestimation of the values of one’s own nation in comparison with others, and chauvinism is even more intense in the sense that nationalism, in the reaching of its goals, seeks to injure the rights of other nations.
We ought to follow the appeal of Archbishop Alfons Nossol from Opole, the great reconciler of Poles and Germans in Upper Silesia, who demanded: “We must welcome tolerant patriotism, but we must combat nationalism and chauvinism!” (see Christian Peace Policy: Combating Ideology and Nationalism with a "Thoughtful Heart and a Loving Mind")
Xenophobia, the suppression of minorities, or at the most, all wars of aggression—as in Hitler’s Germany—do not have anything to do with patriotism; on the contrary, they are a betrayal of the homeland and a perversion of patriotism itself.
In November of last year, General (Ret.) Klaus Naumann, former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, elaborated during the book presentation Fritz Kraemer on Excellence in Berlin (see Enhance Patriotism and Overcome "Provocative Weakness" in Europe Now!) that patriotism and standing up for absolute values are the reasons why soldiers put their lives on the line. Patriotism means, however, more than the love of one’s homeland, it requires the knowledge of the achievements of its entire history. Patriotism is founded upon respect for human beings and their rights. It can develop only where law and order are present and the citizens are protected from the state by the law. Patriotism does not place itself above others and never permits abuse in order to suppress the freedom of others. In this respect, a practical concord with established human rights as well as practiced tolerance toward other nations always belongs to progressive patriotism.
Those who listen closely to conversations with foreigners will be surprised to find out that true patriots not only get along well with and accept patriots from other countries, they even approve, from their point-of-view, when one at the same time respects and welcomes their country and their efforts for the world community.
My personal experiences and convictions as a German patriot and, at the same time, a citizen of the world are:
- What patriotism specifically means as a way-of-life and duty for each individual human being should be defined by individuals themselves.
- Among the qualities belonging to politics are emotions and thereby a positive feeling for the local community and one’s own homeland. From that, one should accept and learn to love one’s homeland with an open heart.
- Genuine patriotism requires taking on social responsibility—not in the form of privileges, but as a contribution and thanks for the services of one’s own country.
- The progressive patriot has taken on a freely chosen, special responsibility for his country and his fellow citizens. In this respect, as a member of the political elite, he must at the same time act as a spearhead against xenophobia and for tolerance, against nationalism and chauvinism.
- The patriot always respects the patriotism of others. He stands simultaneously for the love of country and openness to the world—a national citizen and citizen of the world.
- Patriotism means representing absolute values such as faithfulness, openness, a sense of duty and at the same time a critical inner-distance to blatant materialism.
- The progressive patriot is a committed catalyst in his community for a better public policy on the basis of a system of values of human rights and freedom. He adds his individual, committed contribution to ensure that the children of tomorrow have it better than the adults of today.