I think a lot about patriotism. In the way a blind person might muse about colors or an autistic person might wonder about facial expressions.
I find anthems stirring and flags have an effect on me. So do cathedrals and organ music, but they don’t make me believe in a god. What I conclude from that is that there are feelings that can be induced by certain visual and aural stimuli. There, that’s the lesson, the whole lesson.
I remember an old acting teacher of mine, John Stix. He said that dialog, the words we speak, are the ruffle on the edge of the dancer’s skirt. A minor side effect of the main action. So if someone does something heroic or incredibly generous, or something horrible and murderous and selfish, the fact that they utter religious or patriotic words as they do it is of little interest—the action is the thing. If you see a nature show with seals on the beach, all cavorting and barking and squealing, you can tell which are courting or competing or fighting — you don’t need to understand what the barking means. Same with us. Religion and patriotism are the noises we make as we follow our subconscious urges and do what we wanted to do anyway. We just make noises as we do things—big deal.
Likewise, I don’t think any country has a monopoly on … well, anything. I’m safe and can prosper in some countries at some times, but not at other times. And certain ethno/religious/national groups may be more comfortable in some places at some times than in others. The trick is not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There is a museum in Paris, the Musée Nissim de Camondo, which is some dead rich guy’s house; a Jewish banker, as it happens. He had great taste and was a collector of nice things. He had been a banker in Turkey. Things got dicey there for all the reasons things can get dicey for rich Jews (some gentile wanting their money is the usual thing), and he left. If I remember, he basically bought himself and his family Italian passports, and then French. They settled in this grand mansion in 1911. His children ended up rounded up by the Vichy regime. I think they died in the camps.
We thought we were going to see nice furniture and china, and ended up weeping. Now, that’s a museum. Highly recommended.
So if I moved to France or Germany, I would certainly worry about the Front National or Alternativ für Deutschland. Actually, more the latter than the former. The FN has learned the Republican trick of making nice with Jews as partners against a) atheist Communists and b) insufficiently atheist Muslims to inoculate themselves against claims of religious intolerance (though they haven’t learned the next trick of referring to “Judeo-Christian” values; I guess laïcité makes that awkward). AfD seems to be keeping its anti-semitic powder dry for now, but they tolerate it in their followers, much like the Republicans do.
As I muse about patriotism, I think about the Good German–the unimpeachably ‘Aryan’ person who had no particular beef with Jews (some of their best friends…), but was in no personal danger (if a guy, might have been drafted… let’s say he’s too old or has a club foot). What should they do? Keep their head down and wait for better times as they think about Eternal German Values and how they’ve been distorted This One Time? Should they emigrate? Should they join the Resistance and sabotage the war effort at tremendous personal risk? We might have mild contempt for the first, understand the second, and admire the third. What would you do? I like to think I’d be the cunning resistance fighter, but I’d probably be the coward who does the easy thing. If family history gave me a second passport, I certainly might leave, even if I weren’t in personal danger.
These are tough questions. I can send money to various movements, BLM and such. I might even protest were it not for Covid and my and my wife’s age and vulnerability.
Or I could leave, if it were not for family and the weight of property.