Dr. Samuel Johnson, renowned 18th century aphorist and lexicographer should be a very satisfied man today. More than 231 years after his death, his words of wisdom have acquired a cult status in the hallowed Valhalla of Indian politics.
In all honesty, I have never come across his famous aphorism on patriotism, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’, being put to such extensive use as it was during the last few days. Every political formation has been parroting the good doctor. Some have even misquoted him. For instance, the Arnab-designated 'intellectual' Rahul Eswar came up with ‘Liberalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’!
Even if one were to put aside this most blatant of quotational perversion (by Eswar), most who have used either in the print media or the television, and invoked Johnson have ignored the context in which he uttered these famous lines. I am not entirely confident he would have been happy to observe the manner in which the Indian politicians are recapitulating perhaps the most popular of his numerous quotes.
The over-usage of this aphorism must have brought about a sense of weariness by now. I am therefore deigning to place a few more quotes on patriotism by individuals just about as eminent as Dr. Johnson in the hope that the politicians would switch over to these.
“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” George Bernard Shaw
“Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” George Washington
How about the following:
“When a whole nation is roaring patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
This remains my favourite as the cynic in me has difficulty in appreciating patriotism within the tribe of Indo-politicians!
Here are two other gems:
“The feeling of patriotism - It is an immoral feeling because, instead of confessing himself a son of God . . . or even a free man guided by his own reason, each man under the influence of patriotism confesses himself the son of his fatherland and the slave of his government, and commits actions contrary to his reason and conscience.” Leo Tolstoy
“One of the great attractions of patriotism—it fulfils our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what’s more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous.” Aldous Huxley
Here are two more from my childhood heroes:
“Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country.” Bertrand Russell
“It is lamentable, that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.” Voltaire
Tolstoy's incomparable wisdom is reflected in these words:
“To abolish war it is necessary to abolish patriotism, and to abolish patriotism it is necessary first to understand that it is an evil. Tell people that patriotism is bad and most will reply, ‘Yes, bad patriotism is bad, but mine is good patriotism.’” Leo Tolstoy
Here are three of my personal favorites:
“Patriotism is a religion, the egg from which wars are hatched.” Guy de Maupassant
“In the beginning of a change, the patriot is a scarce man, brave, hated, and scorned. When his cause succeeds however, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” Mark Twain
Heroism on command, senseless violence and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism.” Albert Einstein
I consider myself a full time deeply committed patriot, a patriot to my nation because of the values it symbolizes, deep values that I would like to uphold.
I would therefore be deeply troubled in the present day context if the students at the JNU did utter the inflammatory slogans they are supposed to have uttered. I would myself campaign for them to face the music. But it is also my patriotism that compels me not to accept a version that comes from a comprehensively discredited body like the Delhi Police and wait for the courts to pronounce their verdict.
Again it is my own patriotism that binds me to the Constitution and its values which are pretty unequivocal. Everyone, and I repeat everyone, has a right to a fair trial and any attempt to deny this by strong arm tactics goes against the Constitutional dictates which makes the patriotic claim by those who indulge in it hollow.
And as to the violence that took place in the Court premises, let me cite another stalwart with whom I had the good fortune to interact:
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent! - Isaac Asimov