The ‘love of my country’ is often based on the belief that if ‘my country’ does well, I will do well, too. However, this love is not mutual. ‘My country’ doesn’t love me back—unless I belong to its privileged class.
by Kathrin Schödel
Collage by the IotL Magazine
The ‘love of my country’ is not what it may sometimes seem like: the appreciation of our direct surroundings. It is a political ideology, and as such it is deeply linked to those ideologies and political realities which are the major cause for environmental destruction.
What can appear as the expression of a rather innocent attachment, is the affirmation of the division of the world into nation states, a political phenomenon originating in the late 18th century, not a natural sentiment. The development of nations as we know them is connected to the rise of capitalism, and it has remained the central function of current nation states to uphold the conditions for a capitalist mode of production. This also means that ‘our country’ is fundamentally not ‘ours’ if we do not belong to the property-owning class. ‘Our country’ is owned by capitalists and, where it is not, it is managed as the source of a functioning capitalist economy.
‘Our country’ is fundamentally not ‘ours’ if we do not belong to the property-owning class.
The outcome of this is particularly visible in Malta with the current acceleration of the loss of public spaces. And this is not an accident of mismanagement or ‘greed’, it is the way the earth, land, nature, resources, including ‘human resources’, are utilised in capitalism. The primary concern of all actors, be it private companies or nation states, is economic profit—everything else comes after this consideration, or rather, is used in order to serve it: our bodies and minds are labour power, nature is a resource—not employed to reach a good life for all, but to reap profit for the few.
The ‘love of my country’ is often based on the belief that if ‘my country’ does well, I will do well, too. However, this love is not mutual. ‘My country’ doesn’t love me back—unless I belong to its privileged class. The nation state is not an organisation for the equal benefit of its members, it is the political organisation of a class society. The phrase of a trickle-down effect, the idea of economic successes being shared, is itself a telling image: what has first been pressed from you and sucked upwards, may again trickle down to you in small amounts—the largest part of the juice remains with those above who pressed it from you.
Capitalist production is by definition exploitative in at least two ways: its results are not shared among its producers, the workers, the larger part is given to those who do not produce it, but simply own the means of production. This is how the exploitation of workers is at the core of the system.
Secondly, it is based on the exploitation of nature. The use of any material is only ever linked to aspects of sustainability insofar as they affect profit. But since production is ‘organised’ by competing private economic actors, any broader consideration for sustainability is superseded by the simple consideration of the economic ‘sustainability’ of each private enterprise. Economic ‘sustainability’, however, is nothing other than profitability based on constant economic ‘growth’—a phenomenon which is misleadingly named, creating associations of nature and positive development while it describes the need to keep making more profit.
Capitalist production is based on the exploitation of nature. The use of any material is only ever linked to aspects of sustainability insofar as they affect profit.
This is the opposite of an actually sustainable mode of production, or of growth in the sense of a positive development of human life. It entails the continuous need to foster further consumption as a realisation of profit; even with new ‘green’ products this is tied in with an accelerated exploitation of nature. In parallel to private economic actors, the ruling classes of ‘our countries’ have to put the economic success of their countries—which is nothing other than the continuing possibility for capitalists to make profit—before all other considerations.
For example, the half-hearted regulations governments tend to plan in terms of a reduction in carbon emissions, most recently the German government with an increase in fuel prices, will regularly hit the lower classes more than the capitalists (since taxes at consumption make up a far higher percentage of a low income and hence have a larger impact on the less privileged). But measures which would hit the rich are not suitable for governments wanting the capitalist class to remain in their countries so as to ensure the economic success of their countries—in this way, national success is opposed to sustainability—as well as equality—by definition.
Any patriotism today is linked to the political and economic system of the capitalist nation state. There is no simple ‘country’ beyond or beneath the existing nation state, its very boundaries are politically drawn, not by our ‘love’. Therefore, if “dissent is patriotic”, it works to uphold the very system which is at the root of the disaster. If we want to fight to abolish capitalist exploitation of humans and nature, we have to fight against, not for existing nation states, that is, against the system of power we are forced to live under. In the process, we might start to actually be able to love the shared spaces we inhabit, instead of an imaginary notion of ‘our country’, which is only the euphemistic name for a political and economic entity competing against others in a race for economic profit in disregard of the wellbeing of the majority.
The climate crisis shows us clearly that the struggle for liveable spaces cannot stop at national borders. The climate is global and cannot be tackled nationally.
If anything, the climate crisis shows us clearly that the struggle for liveable spaces cannot stop at national borders. The climate is global; if it is tackled nationally, it will lead to further half-hearted, nation- and capital-centred approaches which will neither benefit the non-privileged in any single country nor the global environment.
If the climate crisis is managed by those in power and privilege, most of us will end up as its victims. But the global climate strike movement, with massive protests in many countries on September 20, 2019, can give us tangible hope in the direction of a transnational movement of resistance. If we join in solidarity and in an actual strike targeting the economic system, the climate emergency may even become an—albeit negative—tarting point for a new global political public, eager to organise production, care and social life on earth in a way that benefits all humans and the planet we live on, not just ‘my country’ and its privileged class.
Kathrin Schödel lectures at the Department of German, University of Malta; her research interests are literature and politics, depictions of revolutions, constructions of gender roles, discourses of migration and utopian thought. She is a member of CAUR (Centre for Applied Utopian Research).