Principle versus Patriotism

Principle versus Patriotism  

By Victor E. Dike 

What guides your behavior (actions and reactions) as a human being? Are your actions directed by your principle or your spirit of patriotism? Those guided by ethics fulfill their professional and private obligations with their principle as a compass, while those lacking good guiding principle would fickle and do anything with the pretext of being patriotic and loyal. As Henry David Thoreau noted "An individual's first duty is to live his [her] life as his [her] principles demand."

This brief article centers on ethical philosophy and virtues ethics as relates to the issue in discourse. While this writer would confess he is not an expert in this field we must submit that we are all "philosophers or their followers." Ethical philosophy focuses on actions and provides guiding principles for actions, while ‘virtue ethics focuses on what makes a good person, rather than what makes a good action.' How are these related to principle and patriotism?

Patriotism ‘is a feeling of love and devotion to one's own homeland' and willingness to ‘…sacrifice for one's country.' Being patriotic implies that an individual would place the interests of the nation, and common good of its political community above his or her ‘personal and group interests.'  

How far would your spirit of patriotism take you? Are there no limits to patriotism? Would you support or love a country that does not provide for your welfare? What has Nigeria (and the leaders) done for the ordinary Nigerians to spur their spirit of patriotism? Is it unpatriotic for the people to demand that their country should protect their interest? Is criticizing a wrong policy unpatriotic?  

Quite often John F. Kennedy's admonition, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country," has been widely used to drive home the spirit of patriotism. But should one support a government that is corrupt and works against the welfare of the people? According to Mark Twain "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." However, it is unpatriotic to support a corrupt president and a government with bunch liars. As Theodore Roosevelt noted "Patriotism…does not mean to stand by the president …, save …to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. [And] It is unpatriotic not to oppose him...[when]…he fails in his duty to stand by the country."  

Would you kill your political opponent to win an election or to commit a crime to enable your party win the presidency? "Principle is a basic rule that guides or influences thought or action." The ethics of a person is a set of principles that the individual obeys; and these principles form the basis for their ethics. As the Cambridge Dictionaries notes ‘guiding principle' influences a person "when making a decision or considering a matter."  

What drives or awakens your spirit? Our behavior is affected by many factors, including passion, religion, belief and value system, culture, power and authority, personality, etc. Thus, how would you react if your spouse, boss or friends try to persuade you to act contrary to your principle? Such a situation would trigger off a value judgment and a choice between doing what you are prompted to do and doing the right thing. As we battle with this ethical decision, it is imperative to remember Malcolm X's advice: "You're not to be so blind with patriotism that you can't face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it"  

Nevertheless, some individuals have passion for human freedom and live ‘virtuous civic life', as Aristotle would say, and others are irrational and devilish. For instance, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi committed a lot of atrocities against the Jews; General Augusto Pinochet killed many Chileans to remain in power; there were "genocide" against Biafra during the Nigeria/Biafra war and General Sani Abacha and other Generals killed and drove many Nigerians into exile to hold on to power. However, the mind-set of the leaders has not changed since the reprise of civil rule in 1999.  

A good number of people ignore the "Golden Rule" or the "ethic of reciprocity" that is a fundamental moral principle: "Treat others as you want them to treat you;" "What you do not want others to do to you, do not do to others" (Confucius); and "Do to others as you would have them do unto to you" (Jesus) and "Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you" (Muhammad). However, in Nigeria justice and transparency in official dealings are rear commodities.  

Standing on principle on the right issue makes one stand out; however, taking a deliberate action is different from making a mistake - mistake is part of life. Should Nigerians trust the present government that is not concerned about its moral standing? Despite the unending corruption scandal at Abuja the President uses patriotism to frighten and coerce the foolish. The people's seeming lack of patriotism emanates from the government's lack of interest in their welfare as seen in the grim economic and social condition. Hope for a better Nigeria will start with the election of a true patriot - a virtuous and democratic leader with the welfare of the citizens at heart. It would be folly for the President to expect the people to be patriotic after subjecting them to life of desperation. As Samuel Johnson has noted "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."  


Victor E. Dike, CEO, Center for Social Justice and Human Development (CSJHD) Sacramento, California 



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