Cynics and patriots

I often wonder, can cynics be patriots? How does a cynic entertain a patriotic feeling?

Before trying to make my point, I will clarify what by cynic I mean here, since I have chosen that word for lack of a more suitable one. The personality type I have in mind shares some elements of the misanthrope and the asocial too, but is not quite either. If I were to coin a word for what I mean, it would be ‘despiser’. Thus, for the purpose of this article, let us define cynic as “a person who believes the worst about people, or who shows a bitterly or sneeringly contemptuous, negative or pessimistic attitude, as by making scornful, disdainful or derogatory remarks about most others”.

On the other hand, and more importantly for my opening question, there we have the word patriot; though I could as well have said nationalist, a close synonym despite the subtle -yet significant- differences between the two. One can find hundreds of articles out there trying to explain or establish those differences, but that is not the purpose of this post. I will simply copy the dictionary definitions so you know what I am referring to.

A patriot is “a person who vigorously supports his country and its way of life”; alternatively “a person who loves, supports, and defends their country and its interests with devotion”. The word comes from Greek patriotes (fellow-countryman, lineage member); cf. Latin pater (father) and patria (fatherland).

A nationalist is “a person who believes in, is devoted to or advocates nationalism”, which in turn means “a sentiment based on common cultural characteristics that binds a population; a devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation or country; spirit or aspirations common to the whole of a nation; patriotism”. It derives from Latin nation (birth, tribe) < nasci (to be born).

As we can see, both etymologies are quite akin, referring to the notions of birth, lineage, tribe or land. Thus, by mixing up these two words I can pull out the idea to be highlighted and used in this post – that of a patriot (or nationalist) being someone who loves, is devoted to, supports and believes in his nation’s way of life, common cultural characteristics, spirit and aspirations. And it is from this concept that stems the question I have begun the article with: can cynics be actual patriots?; by which I mean: being the skeptics they are, thinking the worst of others, believing only in selfishness as the driving force behind human actions — in which way may cynics feel sincerely and coherently commited to their nation’s habits, culture or spirit?

This question has been bugging me of late while reading or listening to two curiously similar persons (or personas), one Russian and one Spaniard. Let me begin with the latter.

The very talented and controversial Spanish theologist, doctored historian and lawyer César Vidal Manzanares (now USA nationalized and resident) has a popular website and Telegram channel in which, among several other topics, he analyzes world news and sets forth his views on history, religion and geopolitics. Born and raised as a Catholic (like all Spaniards his age), in his teens he joined Jehovah’s Witnesses, which he then left for eventually becoming a Protestant of the Evangelic Church (to this day). Intelligent, a polyglot, extremely cultured, very well informed and lucky possessor of an astonishing memory, he unceasingly and relentlessly attacks and rejects, with utter disdain, centuries-old Spanish monarchy, Catholicism and Catholic Church, Spain’s short-lived republic, Franco’s autarchy and Spain’s present democracy (in short: all of Spanish history since the 7th century up to the present), while at the same time attacking everything he considers to be hostile or detrimental to both his fatherland and fellow-countrymen. And so, when listening to his podcasts, I can’t help wondering: but then, which is the Spanish nation he stands for and allegedy loves?

Since approximately the fall of the Western Roman Empire until the last decades of the past century, Spain has been inseparable from -and arguably the world’s staunchest defender of- Catholicism, which is not only a religion but a culture in its own right. For one and a half millennia Spaniards have been Catholics from head to toe, and even today, despite the accelerating decline of Catholic mores and traditions -let alone churchgoer numbers- that sentiment still plays a big role in Spanish society. Wherever you look at there is a reference to that Church, liturgy, beliefs, festivities, celebrations, names, sayings, expressions, habits, institutions… Spaniards have been breastfed Chatolicism since their cradle, it has run through their veins and been an inescapable part of their upbringing, character, idiosyncrasy, way of life and mentality from time immemorial. And thus, when you scorn Catholicism and, besides that, you also scorn the monarchy (which is as long), plus Franco’s 40 years of autocracy, plus Spain’s contemporary democracy, then you are scorning the Spanish nation altogether, past and present (as per the above definition): its way of life, common cultural characteristics, people’s spirit and aspirations. There is nothing left for you to love, believe in, support or be devoted to as a patriot. With those contempts, then, how can César Vidal be a nationalist of any kind? True: he does not explicitly claim to be one, but then how else can anyone interpret his vows of love, concern and support for Spain and the Spanish folks? What nation does he have in mind? Or is he a pharisee?

As regards to the other persona I said, the Russian one, he is an even more puzzling case. The man, who stays anonymous, fancies to go by the initials R.S. (maybe his real ones?), to which he assigns whimsical and changing names. Let us call him Russlan Smirnov. His biography being unknown to most, I am only acquainted with his claimed Russian descent and what his writings distil: his character, abilities and opinions. Hence I could say he is an exacerbated duplicate of César Vidal: even more intelligent and talented, equally cultured and skeptical, more bitter, same staggering memory, more contemptuous and verbally aggressive, way more cynical, allegedly agnostic, Russlan claims to be a true Russian patriot. With a derision and bile the like of which is hard to find anywhere else, in his Substack blog he unwaveringly sneers at and insults the whole of humankind, not sparing Russians and even mistreating them worse. To him, except for the oligarchic class, ruling elites and their secret agents, most other humans are gullible idiots, retarded (one of his favourite adjectives), a herd of low-IQ fools, his fellow-ethnics being no exception at all. And one of the traits he most ridicules Russians for is their religious beliefs, credulity and superstiton.

Now, I have found that ethnic Russians tend to be, indeed, quite credulous (at least spiritually) and superstitious. And for all I know, this has been so for many centuries and even in pagan times. One just needs to read Russian classics or watch old Russian or Soviet films to realize this; or, nowadays, travel around the country and look how Orthodox Church is ubiquitous, its beliefs partout, people attending to mass tenfold more than in the West, icons and candles in their homes’ krasniy ugol. Even during the very atheistic Soviet times millions of Slavs secretly held to their Orthodox beliefs and practices. And then their superstitions: the venerated bread, sitting on the suitcase before a trip, the loaf atop a vodka glass for the dead, plus others I do not remember now. As with Spain and Catholicism, one could say the slavic nation is Orthodox from head to toe. Russians’ idiosyncrasy (leaving aside, of course, the increasing Muslim population) is intimately linked to that credo. Yet, Russlan sneers at all what his fellow-ethnics have been for the last millennium: he despises the tsarist times with their submissive serf souls, Orthodox Church, Christian beliefs, superstition, credulity, the Revolution, the Soviet times and of course Putin’s Westernised Russia. This is why, then again, I wonder: with that contempt for his nation’s customs, culture and spirit, what is the Russia Russlan devotes his supposed nationalism to? What is left that he loves, supports and defends? What sort of patriot is that? Or is he?

Hopefully I have made my point intelligible.

Personally, I have nothing against cynicism. I believe it is a legitimate and justifiable attitude in life, since most people are indeed selfish and half of them stupid. To some extent, I might even consider myself as one. But there is -besides bitterness- a good deal of misanthropy in cynicism, of unsociability, and certainly there is scorn towards humankind: towards all of it, including one’s own kin, tribe, lineage, fellow-countrymen, nation… patria. And we can hardly love what we disdain. This is why I do not clearly visualize in which way cynicism is compatible with patriotism or nationalism. Perchance those cynics who see themselves as loving and supporting their nation, the likes of César Vidal and Russlan Smirnov, are either hypocrites or, simply, self-delusive individuals.

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