In 1774 Samuel Johnson printed The Patriot; a critique of what he thought was false patriotism. He made his famous statement ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the Scoundrel’ on April 7th, 1775. This line was not about patriotism in general – but what patriotism was not. With this statement he defined ‘self confessed patriots’ and tried to carve out a niche for the true patriot who was in sight and rhetoric fast becoming obscured by the scoundrel.
If the Definition of Patriotism is ‘the love of one’s country’ and a scoundrel was someone who commits evil with deliberate intent – then the bulk of Sri Lanka is in trouble in its very core. The hallowed halls of leadership have self professed patriots who have imbibed their own version of patriotism on a people made divisive along the lines of differences.
It seems scoundrels have taken refuge in almost every sphere of Sri Lankan patriotism, and sustain themselves by using patriotism as a means to propel themselves to lay their hands on commissions from funded projects, tax collections and naked corruption.
There was a time when Sri Lanka was a country of true patriots, who by acts, deeds, examples and no mass media to propagate for them were branded as revolutionaries by a people who had genuine love for them, and not the reprobative hooligans we now have who try to encase themselves in supposed patriotism to disguise their evil schemes.
It is now obvious, ever since we gained independence in 1948 that patriotism is well and truly a place where scoundrels have found refuge. In this abode, they are refugees who have nothing else to cling on to, a group of people who have exhausted all their opportunities to serve their countrymen by using them to satisfy their own whims and fancies.
These scoundrels use patriotism to side with the patriotic fervour of the common man hoping that the common man would see their patriotism and not see the whole plethora of anti national activities they do inside this façade.
Who determines what Patriotism is today? In Sri Lanka in particular, and in the world in general.
Patriotism can be defined in almost every category of our day to day lives. From the soldier who sincerely fights for his country to the little child whose day is spoilt when his national team loses a cricket match. They can be very little (deemed almost insignificant) deeds which reflect the patriotic philosophy emanating from within a person.
In essence they can be any one of the following, or much more –
- Sri Lankans who have died in war or peacetime, by standing up in defence of Sri Lankan ideals and social ethics, of her liberties & peace and her people.
- Standing up and expressing opposition when anybody (irrespective of who it may be) is subjected to injustice or discrimination.
- The love for Sri Lanka that makes one sacrifice his/her own comforts just to make it a holistically better place to live for everyone.
Patriotism was in display when the Tsunami struck in 2004, when Sri Lanka won the Cricket world cup in 1996, when the ethnic diversity of the Sri Lankan cricket team was hailed when they reached the finals of the 2007 world cup, and never when there is exploitation of a country’s resources (belonging to everyone) to enhance the lives of just the family, friends or near acquaintances, be it through mismanagement of economic resources, outright lies and deception, taking millions of rupees in commission from national projects, deceptive unconstitutional elections, allowing special interest groups to manipulate the infrastructure of a country and continued political practices that are blatantly unconstitutional.
Patriotism is the sound of the horn that calls ordinary people to become national heroes.
President John Kennedy is quoted as saying – “A Nation that is afraid to let its people judge
the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation afraid of its people.”
I quote below some of the salient points of ‘The Patriot’. The differences in the spellings of some words are possibly because those words were spelt that way when this was originally written.
“ It is the quality of patriotism to be jealous and watchful, to observe all secret machinations, and to see publick dangers at a distance. The true lover of his country is ready to communicate his fears, and to sound the alarm, whenever he perceives the approach of mischief. But he sounds no alarm, when there is no enemy; he never terrifies his countrymen till he is terrified himself. The patriotism, therefore, may be justly doubted of him, who professes to be disturbed by incredibilities; who tells, that the last peace was obtained by bribing the princess of Wales; that the king is grasping at arbitrary power; and, that because the French, in the new conquests, enjoy their own laws, there is a design at court of abolishing, in England, the trial by juries.”
“The people is a very heterogeneous and confused mass of the wealthy and the poor, the wise and the foolish, the good and the bad. Before we confer on a man, who caresses the people, the title of patriot, we must examine to what part of the people he directs his notice. It is proverbially said, that he who dissembles his own character, may be known by that of his companions. If the candidate of patriotism endeavours to infuse right opinions into the higher ranks, and, by their influence, to regulate the lower; if he consorts chiefly with the wise, the temperate, the regular, and the virtuous, his love of the people may be rational and honest. But if his first or principal application be to the indigent, who are always inflammable; to the weak, who are naturally suspicious; to the ignorant, who are easily misled; and to the profligate, who have no hope but from mischief and confusion; let his love of the people be no longer boasted. No man can reasonably be thought a lover of his country, for roasting an ox, or burning a boot, or attending the meeting at Mile-end, or registering his name in the lumber troop. He may, among the drunkards, be a hearty fellow, and, among sober handicraftsmen, a freespoken gentleman; but he must have some better distinction, before he is a patriot.”
“Much less does he make a vague and indefinite promise of obeying the mandates of his constituents. He knows the prejudices of faction, and the inconstancy of the multitude. He would first inquire, how the opinion of his constituents shall be taken. Popular instructions are, commonly, the work, not of the wise and steady, but the violent and rash; meetings held for directing representatives are seldom attended but by the idle and the dissolute; and he is not without suspicion, that of his constituents, as of other numbers of men, the smaller part may often be the wiser.”
“A disputed election is now tried with the same scrupulousness and solemnity, as any other title. The candidate that has deserved well of his neighbours, may now be certain of enjoying the effect of their approbation; and the elector, who has voted honestly for known merit, may be certain, that he has not voted in vain”.
“Such was the parliament, which some of those, who are now aspiring to sit in another, have taught the rabble to consider an unlawful convention of men, worthless, venal, and prostitute, slaves of the court, and tyrants of the people”.
“ That the text of the house of commons may act upon the principles of the last, with more constancy and higher spirit, must be the wish of all who wish well to the publick; and, it is surely not too much to expect, that the nation will recover from its delusion, and unite in a general abhorrence of those, who, by deceiving the credulous with fictitious mischiefs, overbearing the weak by audacity of falsehood, by appealing to the judgment of ignorance, and flattering the vanity of meanness, by slandering honesty, and insulting dignity, have gathered round them whatever the kingdom can supply of base, and gross, and profligate; and “raised by merit to this bad eminence,” arrogate to themselves the name of patriots”.
So will we allow patriotism to be tarnished by the scoundrels that hide beneath its cloak of executive privilege? The choice is ours to make as a critical election draws closer and Sri Lankans have, perhaps the first chance in a long time, to vote for patriots in the right sense of the term, whoever that may be interpreted to be.
Patriotism should never be the last refuge of scoundrels! A scoundrel is not a patriot.
Raashid is a non active core group member of Beyond Borders; meaning he is on extended leave. He is currently a fresh faced architecture graduate working in the UK. Sometimes, he also blogs here. His opinions are his own.