The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism, compiled and edited by G. P. Maximoff, 1953.

Chapter 10: Patriotism's Part in Man's Struggle

Patriotism Was Never a Popular Virtue. Was patriotism, in the complex meaning usually given to this term, ever a popular passion, a popular virtue?

Basing myself upon the lessons of history, I shall not hesitate in answering this question with a resolute Nay! And in order to prove to the reader that I do not err in giving this answer, I will ask his permission to analyze the principal elements which, combined in diverse ways, constitute what is called patriotism.

The Components of Patriotism. Those elements are four in number: 1. The natural or physiological element; 2. the economic element; 3. the political element; 4. the religious or fanatical element.

The physiological element is the chief foundation of all naive, instinctive , and brutal egoism. It is a natural passion, which, because it is too natural -- that is, altogether animal -- is in flagrant contradiction to any kind of politics, and, what is worse, it greatly handicaps the economic, scientific, and human development of society.

Natural patriotism is a purely bestial fact, to be found at every stage of animal life and, one might even say, to be found up to a certain point, even in the plant world. Taken in this sense, patriotism is a war of destruction, it is the first human expression of the great and inevitable [226] struggle for life which constitutes all the development, all the life of natural or real world -- an incessant struggle, a universal devouring of another which nourishes every individual, every species, with the and blood of the individuals of other species, and which, inevitably renewing itself in every hour, at every instant, makes it possible for the stronger, more perfect, and intelligent species to live, prosper, and develop at the expense of all the others.

. . . Man, the animal endowed with speech, introduces the first word into this struggle, and that word is patriotism.

Hunger and Sex: the Basic Drives of the Animal World. The struggle for life in the animal and vegetable world is not only a struggle among individuals; it is a struggle among species, groups, and families, a struggle in which one is pitted against the other. In every living being there are two instincts, two great dominant interests: food and reproduction. From the point of view of nourishment every individual is the natural enemy of all the others, ignoring in this respect all kinds of bonds which link him with the family, group, and species.

. . . Hunger is a rude and invincible despot, and that is why the necessity of obtaining food, a necessity felt by the individual, is the first law, the supreme condition of life. It is the foundation of all human and socal life as well as of the life of animals and plants. To revolt against it is to annihilate life, to condemn oneself to mere non-existence. But along with this fundamental law of living nature there is the equally essential law of reproduction. The first aims to preserve the individuals, the second aim to form families, groups, species. And the individuals, impelled by a natural necessity, seek, in order to reproduce themselves, to mate with other individuals who by their inner organization come the nearest to them and most closely resemble them.1

Boundaries of Animal Solidarity Are Determined by Sexual Affinity. Since the instinct of reproduction establishes the only tie of solidarity existing among the individuals of the animal world, it follows that when this capacity for mating ceases, there all animal solidarity ceases with it Whatever remains outside of this possibility of reproduction for the individuals, constitutes a different species, an absolutely foreign world, hostile and condemned to destruction. And everything contained in this world of sexual affinity constitutes the vast fatherland of the species -- like humanity for men, for instance.

But this destruction, or the devouring of one another by living individuals, takes place not only outside the limits of the circumscribed world which we call the fatherland of the species. We find it also within this world -- in forms just as ferocious, or at times even more ferocious, than that taking place outside of this world. This is true because of the resistance and rivalries which individuals encounter, and also because of the struggle prompted by sex rivalries, a struggle no less cruel and ferocious [227] than the one impelled by hunger. Besides, every animal species subdivides into different groups and families, undergoing constant modifications under the influence of the geographical and climatic conditions on their respective habitats.

The greater or lesser difference in conditions of life determines the corresponding difference in the structure of the individuals belonging to the same species. Besides, it is known that every individual animal naturally seeks to mate with an individual which is most similar to it, a tendency which naturally results in the development of the greatest number of variations within the same species. And since the differences separating those variations from one another are based mainly upon reproduction, and since reproduction is the sole basis of all animal solidarity, it is evident that the greater solidarity of the species necessarily will subdivide into a number of solidarity spheres of a more limited character, so that the greater fatherland is bound to break up into a multitude of small animal fatherlands, hostile to and destructive of one another.

Patriotism a Passion of Group Solidarity. I have shown how patriotism, taken as a natural passion, springs from a physiological law, to be exact, from the law which determines the separation of living beings into species, families, and groups.

The patriotic passion is manifestly a passion of social solidarity. In order to find its clearest expression in the animal world, one has to turn to those animal species which, like man, are endowed with a pre-eminently social nature: for example, the ants, the bees, the beavers, and many others which possess settled habitations in common, and also species that rove in herds. The animals which live in a collective and fixed dwelling represent, in its natural aspect, the patriotism of the agricultural people, while the animals roving in herds represent the patriotism of nomadic peoples.

Patriotism -- the Attachment to Settled Patterns of Life. It is evident that the first is more complete than the latter, which implies only the solidarity of the individuals living in the herd, whereas the first adds to it the bonds tying the individual to the soil or to his natural habitat. Habits --constituting second nature for men as well as for animals -- certain patterns of life, are much more determined and fixed among social animals which lead a settled life than among migratory herds; and it is these different habits, these particular modes of existence, which constitute an essential element of patriotism.

One can define natural patriotism as follows: It is an instinctive, mechanical, uncritical attachment to the socially accepted hereditary or traditional pattern of life -- and the same kind of an instinctive, automatic hostility toward any other kind of life. It is love for one's own and aversion to anything having a foreign character. Patriotism then is collective egoism on one hand, and war on the other.

Its solidarity, however, is not sufficiently strong to keep the individual [228] members of an animal group from devouring one another when the need arises; but it is sufficiently strong to make those individuals forget their civil discords and unite each time that they are threatened with invasion by another collective group.

Take, for instance, the dogs of some village. In the natural state dogs do not form a collective republic. Left to their instinct, they live life like wolves, in roving packs, and it is only under the influence of man that they become settled in their mode of life. But when attached to one place they form in every village a sort of republic based upon individual liberty in accordance with the formula so well loved by bourgeois economists: everyone for himself and the Devil take the hindmost. There an unlimited laissez-faire and competition are in action, a civil war without mercy and without truce, in which the strongest always bites the weaker one -- just as it is in the bourgeois republics. But let a dog from another village happen to pass their street, and immediately you will see all those brawling citizens of the canine republic hurl themselves en masse upon the unfortunate stranger.

Yet is this not an exact copy, or rather the original, of the copies repeating themselves from day to day in human society? Is it not the full manifestation of that natural patriotism which, as I already have said, and dare say again, is a purely bestial passion? It is without doubt bestial in character inasmuch as dogs are incontestably beasts, and since man himself, being an animal, like the dog and other animals upon the earth, and the only one endowed with the physiological faculty of thinking and speaking, begins his history with bestiality, and, after centuries of development, finally conquers and attains humanity in its most perfect form.

Once we know the origin of man, we should not wonder at his bestiality, which is a natural fact among so many other natural facts; nor should we grow indignant about it, for what follows from this fact is that we struggle against it still more vigorously, inasmuch as all human life is but an incessant struggle against man's bestiality for the sake of his humanity.

The Bestial Origin of Natural Patriotism. I simply wanted to establish here that patriotism, extolled by poets, politicians of all schools, by governments, and by all the privileged classes, as the highest and most ideal virtue, has its roots not in the humanity of man but in his bestiality.

And indeed, we see natural patriotism reigning supreme at the beginning of history and in the present day -- in the least civilized sectors of human society. Of course, patriotism in human society is a much more complex emotion than in other animal societies; this is so for the reason that the life of man, an animal endowed with the faculties of thought and speech, encompasses an incomparably larger world than that of the animals of other species. With man the purely physical habits and customs are supplemented by the more or less abstract traditions of an intellectual and moral order -- a multitude of true or false ideas and representations, [229] which go together with various customs, religious, economic, political, and social. All that constitutes the elements of natural patriotism in man, in so far as those things, combining in one way or another, form, for a given society, a particular mode of existence, a traditional pattern of living, thinking, and acting, which differs from all other patterns.

But whatever differences, in respect to quantity and quality of the objects embraced, there may exist between the natural patriotism of human societies and that of animal societies, they have this in common -- that both are instinctive, traditional, habitual, and collective passions, and that the intensity of one as well as of the other does not depend upon the character of their content. One might say on the contrary that the less complicated this content is, the more simple, more intense, and vigorously exclusive is the patriotic feeling which manifests and expresses it.

Intensity of Natural Patriotism Is in Inverse Ratio to the Development of Civilization. Obviously animals are much more attached to traditional customs of the society to which they belong than man. With animals this patriotic attachment is inevitable; not being capable of freeing themselves from such attachment through their own efforts, they often have to wait for man's influence in order to shake it off. The same holds true of human society: the less developed a civilization is, and the less complex the basis of its social life, the stronger the manifestations of natural patriotism -- that is, the instinctive attachment of individuals to all the material, intellectual, and moral habits which constitute the traditional and customary life of a particular society as well as their hatred for anything alien, anything different from their own life. So it follows that natural patriotism is in inverse ratio to the development of civilization, that is, to the triumph of humanity in human societies.

Organic Character of the Patriotism of Savages. No one will deny that the instinctive or natural patriotism of the wretched tribes inhabiting the Arctic zone, hardly touched by human civilization and poverty-stricken even in respect to bare necessities of material life, is infinitely stronger and more exclusive than the patriotism of a Frenchman, an Englishman, or a German, for example. The Frenchman, the Englishman, and the German can live and acclimatize themselves anywhere, whereas the native of the polar regions would pine away longing for his country were he kept out of it. And still what could be more miserable and less human than his existence! This merely proves once more that the intensity of this kind of patriotism is an indication of bestiality and not of humanity.

Alongside this positive element of patriotism, which consists in the instinctivc attachment of individuals to the particular mode of existence of the society to which they belong, there is a negative element just as essential as the first and inseparable from it. It is the equally instinctive revulsion from everything foreign, instinctive and consequently altogether bestial -- yes, bestial indeed, for this horror is the more violent and [230] overwhelming, the less the one experiencing it thinks of it and understands it, and the less of humanity there is in him.

Anti-Foreignism: Negative Aspect of Natural Patriotism. At present this patriotic revulsion from everything foreign is found only among savage peoples; in Europe it can be found among the semi-savage layers of population which bourgeois civilization has not deigned to educate, but which, however, it never forgets to exploit. In the big capitals of Europe in Paris itself, and above all in London, there are slums abandoned to a wretched population which no ray of enlightenment has ever touched. It is enough that a foreigner show up in those streets, and a throng of those ragged wretches -- men, women, and children, who show by their appearance signs of the most frightful poverty and the lowest state of degradation -- will surround him, heap vile abuse upon him, and even maltreat him, solely because he is a foreigner. This brutal and savage patriotism, is it then not the most glaring negation of that which is called humanity?

I have said that patriotism, in so far as it is instinctive or natural, and inasmuch as it has all its roots in animal life, presents only a particular combination of collective habits -- material, intellectual, moral, economic, political, and social -- developed by tradition or by history, within a limited group of human society. Such habits, I added, can be good or bad, since the content or the object of this instinctive feeling has no influence upon the degree of its intensity.

Even if one had to admit in this respect the existence of certain differences, one would have to say that they rather inclined toward bad than toward good habits. For -- by virtue of the animal origin of all human society and the effect of that force of inertia, which exercises as powerful an action in the intellectual and moral world as in the material world -- in every society which has not degenerated but which progresses and marches ahead, bad habits have priority in point of time, have become more deeply rooted than good habits. This explains why out of the sum total of the present collective habits prevailing in the most advanced countries of the world, nine tenths of them are absolutely worthless.

Habits Are a Necessary Part of Social Life. But let it not be imagined that I intend to declare war upon the general tendency of men and society to be governed by habits. As in many other things, men necessarily obey a natural law, and it would be absurd to rebel against natural laws. The action of habit in the intellectual and moral life of the individual as well as of societies is the same as the action of vegetative forces in animal life. One and the other are conditions of existence and reality. The good as well as the bad, in order to become a real fact, must be embodied in habits, with man taken individually or in society. All the exercises, all the studies, which men undertake, have no other aim but this, and the best things can strike root and become second nature with a man only by force of habit. [231]

It would be foolhardy to rebel against this force of habit, for it is a necessary force which neither intelligence nor will can upset. But, if enlightened by the reason of our century and by the idea which we have formed of true justice, we seriously want to rise to the full dignity of human beings, we shall have to do only one thing: constantly to train and direct our will power -- that is, the habit of willing things developed within us by circumstances that are independent of us -- toward the extirpation of bad habits and their replacement with good ones. In order to humanize society completely it is essential to destroy ruthlessly all the causes, all the political, economic, and social conditions which produce traditions of evil in individuals, and to replace them with conditions which will engender within the same individuals the practice and habit of good.

Natural Patriotism -- an Outgrown Stage. From the point of view of modern conscience, of humanity and justice -- which we have come to understand the better owing to past developments of history -- patriotism is a bad, narrow, and baneful habit, for it is the negation of human solidarity and equality. The social question, nowadays posed in a practical manner by the proletarian world of Europe and America, and the solution of which is possible only through abolition of State boundaries, necessarily tends to destroy this traditional habit in the consciousness of the workers of all countries.

Already at the beginning of the present [nineteenth] century, this habit had been greatly undermined in the consciousness of the higher financial, commercial, and industrial bourgeoisie, owing to the prodigious and altogether international character of the development of its wealth and economic interest.

But first I shall have to show how, long before this bourgeois revolution, instinctive, natural patriotism, which by its very nature can be only a very narrow, restricted social habit of a purely local character, had been profoundly changed, distorted, and weakened at the very beginning of history by the successive formation of political States.

Natural Patriotism Necessarily Has Deep Local Roots. Indeed, patriotism, in so far as it is a purely natural feeling -- that is, a product of the life of a social group united by bonds of genuine solidarity and not yet enfeebled by reflection or by the effect of economic and political interests as well as religious abstractions -- this largely animal patriotism can embrace only a very restricted world: a tribe, a commune, a village. At the beginning of history, as is now the case with savage peoples, there was neither nation, nor national language, nor national cult -- there was not even any country in the political sense of the word. Every small locality, every village, had its particular language, its god, its priest, or its sorcerer; it was but a multiplied, enlarged family, which, in waging war against all other tribes, denied by the fact of its own existence all the rest of humanity. Such is natural patriotism in its vigorous and simple crudity. [232]

We still find vestiges of this patriotism even in some of the most civilized countries of Europe, in Italy for example, especially in the Southern provinces of that peninsula, where the physical contour of the earth, the mountains, and the sea have set up barriers between valleys, villages, and cities, separating and isolating them, rendering them virtually alien one to another. Proudhon, in his pamphlet on Italian unity, observed with man much reason that this unity so far had been only an idea and a bourgeois idea at that, and by no means a popular passion; that the rural population at least remained to a very great extent aloof from -- and I would add, even hostile to it. For on the one hand, that unity militates against their local patriotism, and on the other hand it has not brought them anything but ruthless exploitation, oppression, and ruin.

We have seen that even in Switzerland, especially in the most backward cantons, local patriotism often comes into conflict with the patriotism of the canton, and the latter with the political, national patriotism of the whole confederation of the republic.

March of Civilization Destroys Natural Patriotism. In conclusion I repeat, by way of summing up, that patriotism as a natural feeling, being in its essence and reality a purely local feeling, is a serious obstacle to the formation of States, and that consequently the latter, and along with them civilization as such, could not establish themselves except by destroying, -- if not completely, at least to a considerable extent -- this animal passion.2