Essay: Constitutional Patriotism in Obama’s Anti-terror speeches
The first and final paper submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a degree in a Master of Arts degree in International Conflict and Security
(word count: 4078 (body) / 6854 (total)
PO868: Political Communication (2015/2016)
Brussels School of International Studies (University of Kent) Brussels, Belgium 2016
1. What is Constitutional Patriotism?
2. How is it used in his three speeches to gather the spirits of the Americans?
3. How does the notion of nation state differ between the EU and the United States?
According to Ernest Gellner “It is nationalism which engenders nations, and not the other way round.”1 Surely most nations were formed on a nationalistic idea, but with nationalism follows patriotism and a sense of proselytisation. First of all what is a nation and why is it of relevance for today's international system?
A nation defines itself through its territory, its culture and its political community which is represented and run by a sovereign organized government. The unite state acts motivated by self interests. States are the most common structure of state organisation in the international system. They enjoy independence and legitimacy. Nation states are of extraordinary relevance for the field of international relations because they are more robust once they are established based on a distinct nationality. Moreover, it is the only structure in which “the growth of democracy is possible and which does not have a tendency to expand its territory.”2 This strong and steady status of nations turned out to be crucial for the development of “modern financial, industrial and technological civilization in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.”3
It was only in the 16th and 17th century that the people of a state obtained the right to choose their representatives, before that they were “subjects” to the ruler of the state.
“States ruled in that way had seven different forms, personal rule, theocracy, city state, oligarchy, military state, tribal state, and empire.”4
As this new breed of state emerged people began to develop an identity with the state. The nationalism evolving from the nation state is criticised by Umberto Eco: “National identity is the last bastion of the dispossessed. But the meaning of identity is now based on hatred, on hatred for those who are not the same.”5 Hatred is at the core of terrorism.6 Nationalism is unifying, whereas terrorism with hatred at is its core it destructive and therefore the two of them are natural antipodes. The most spectacular act of terrorism in recent history has been the attacks on the World Trade Center on 11.09.2001. Terrorist attacks like the one mentioned are attempting to undermine the culture and values of nations by creating an atmosphere of fear and hatred against the “foreign”. Therefore, they are a threat to any state, because the ultimate goal of terrorism is to change the current political system. This essay will analyze two speeches by President Barack Obama's addressing terrorism. It will examine how Obama tries to answer the challenge of terrorism. After the Paris attacks in November of 2015, terrorism again was a key topic for leaders of states. To account for this recent development, this paper will examine another recent speech of Obama’s to understand how he uses constitutional patriotism to unify the citizens of the United States after the attacks.
The theoretical concept of constitutional patriotism is based on the work of Karl Jaspers who explored ways of dealing with German guilt after World War 2. He was in favor of the idea of a shared responsibility amongst all Germans.7 It was further developed by Dolf Sternberger who presented the concept to the public in 1979, for the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the West German state. However the idea is strongly linked to philosopher Jürgen Habermas.
The core concept of the theory advocates that political identification must be built on norms and values, in contrast to nationalism which is based on a sense of cultural belonging and ethnicity. Its foundation is found in the moral values and customs of liberal, democratic constitutions.8 Habermas root idea is that the identity necessary to build a democracy can be created with “constitutional principles themselves.”9 He claimed that the people’s identification with the nation state can be based on liberal and democratic constitutional principles. This can function as the integrative power that is essential for democracy, however it is not fragile to the possibility of becoming vulnerable to strategic exploitation.
In the motherland of the theory, Germany, it was not well received, it appeared to be a weak replacement for an actual national identity. Germany is a country in which an unbiased relationship towards nationalism was not possible after the experience of Nazism . This form of nationalism became unnecessary after the reunification. The applicability of constitutional patriotism has outgrown its original frame. Now it is often applied as a means to establish citizen identification with a state in diverse, multicultural societies.
The founding fathers of the idea have promoted the thought that it is feasible to disconnect “a political culture characterized by shared universalist principles—constitutional patriotism, in short—from the “majority culture” of a given polity, thereby promoting political inclusiveness.”10
The concept has gained new popularity among scholars as it offers a theoretical framework for the challenges of political integration and identification on a “supranational level”11 in increasingly diverse societies. Moreover, the concept has been fostered because it offers an evident starting point of political solidarity in societies recovering from civil war, omnipresent injustice, or theocratic modes of legitimation. The head of Muslims in Bosnia has suggested constitutional patriotism as the most promising tool to keep the state together.12
The increasingly diverse, multicultural states of the west have been searching for answers to how to politically integrate citizens of different cultural backgrounds into the state. However,lately, high-level statements of the supposed “failure of multiculturalism” by several European leaders support the notion that diversity is a fact—while supporting the impression that it is an issue.13
Constitutional patriotism offers the most persuasive solution to this situation, by advocating that citizens adopt a common “set of liberal-democratic norms and values”.14
However, it does not demand that they internalize the culture of the state they live in. This depicts a difference between constitutional patriotism and liberal nationalism.
Generally, in discussions about migration, there is a demand for assimilation to the “majority culture”, but the sole demand even if it is followed does not guarantee any level of political nor social adherence.15 The United States of America ( U.S.A), since it is a nation home to people of very diverse cultural backgrounds, has its citizen pleading allegiance to the state. This is a form of constitutional patriotism, similar to the idea of the Founding Fathers of the constitution of the U.S.A, they became a model for the German model, Germany intended to emphasizing the state through a constitution.16
Barack Obama uses constitutional patriotism in two of his speeches addressing terrorism. The United States is a good case study for constitutional patriotism and it can be seen as the blueprint for the European Union, due to fact that both are home to citizens with multicultural background. The concept can offer a much needed basis for identifying with the European Union in Europe, in which the individual national cultures can still coexist.
In his speech to the nation on May 1st 2011 Obama addressed the American citizens, to inform them about the killing of Osama bin Laden.17
Interestingly in the introductory phrase he does not mention the fact that Osama bin Laden was guilty of killing several thousand American citizens, he stays more general by saying: “a terrorist who is responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children.” Thereby he included the victims of all terrorist attack in which Osama bin Laden was involved. Only later in the speech he specifically refers to the people who got attacked on 9/11. “Nearly 3000 citizen taken away from us, leaving a gaping hole in our hearts”.18 By using a passive sentence structure, Obama emphasized that the United States were unguarded and hit by surprise. The listeners sympathize with the victims, because they are humans too and because they are fellow citizens. The latter point gets further stressed in a similar manner here:
“On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, united as one American family.”19
There is no reference to a common culture, a common religion, a common nationality, common heritage, or ethnicity. The reference frame is set in the present, it does not define itself by excluding people, instead it is the opposite, it is including.
Moreover, Obama sets a frame suggesting that everyone loves and appreciates the country and community he lives in. He creates an image that goes beyond individual identities. This is very much an embodiment of constitutional patriotism. This image of itself, as a nation has been widely discussed amongst scholars.
The American confession of faith , according to Gunnar Myrdal, built the body of American self-understanding, this confession of faith has over time become enclosed by a narrative, if not legend, of “exceptionalism and manifest destiny”.20 This is a feeling of duty, to improve the state and to heal the world through American influence. It also expresses a deep understanding and self-certitude of the justness of the actions taken by Americans as well as a sense of superiority. This attitude is passed on by rituals and traditions. Based on this self-understanding, the planned killing of Osama bin Laden can be justified to the public, even though his killing without a legal process was unlawful . “Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.”21
Robert Bellah, in his much cited 1967 article “title of article”, discusses the “American ‘civil religion’, with its own ceremonies, rituals, venerated objects, and places of pilgrimage.” The last sentence of the speech, in which Obama refers to God, is a exemplary for the American Civil Religion, combining religious features with the nation.
A comparable approach to the self image of the nation is given by John Schaar, who discusses the idea of a “binding patriotism”.22 He says that America is a nation built on a sense of duty and devotion to certain fundamentals. A pledge to worship these ideals and to improve them as citizens, to live according to them and to carry them out to the world. “Those principles and commitments are the core of American identity, the soul of the body politic.”23 This is the message being transferred when Obama says “American family”. This image is carried throughout the peech in several passages including:. “We will be true to the values that make us who we are.”24 Once again it is about values and not any other binding characteristic to create a sense of belonging and community. Values can be learned and obtained during a lifetime, they are flexible, ethnicity is fixed. The hidden message is that being American means being on the winning side, being righteous.
1 Gellner, Ernest. Nations and Nationalism. 2nd ed. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1983. 56. Print.
2 Pick, Anthony. "The Nation State."Http://www.thenationstate.co.uk/. Anthony C. Pick, 10 Mar. 2011. Web. 5 Jan. 2016.
3 Pick, Anthony. "The Nation State."Http://www.thenationstate.co.uk/. Anthony C. Pick, 10 Mar. 2011. Web. 5 Jan. 2016.
4 Pick, Anthony. "The Nation State."Http://www.thenationstate.co.uk/. Anthony C. Pick, 10 Mar. 2011. Web. 5 Jan. 2016.
5 Eco, Umberto, and Richard Dixon. The Prague Cemetery. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. 43. Print.
6 Terrorism, the systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.
7 Jaspers, Karl. The Question of German Guilt. New York: Fordham UP, 2000. 87. Print.
8 Müller, Jan-Werner (2009). "Seven Ways to Misunderstand Constitutional Patriotism" (PDF). notizie di POLITEIA (96): 20–24. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
9 Habermas, Ju, and Max Pensky. The Postnational Constellation Political Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2001. 78. Print.
10 Habermas, Ju, and Max Pensky. The Postnational Constellation Political Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2001. 81. Print.
11 Habermas, Ju, and Max Pensky. The Postnational Constellation Political Essays. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2001. 83. Print.
12 Reis Ul-ulema, Mustafa Ceric. "Der Wunsch Nach Einem Staat Könnte Radikaler Sein [The Desire for a State Could Be More Radical."Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 4 Jan. 2006: 23. Print.
13 Müller, Jan-Werner. "Constitutional Patriotism Beyond the Nation-State: Human Rights, Constitutional Necessity, and the Limits of Pluralism" (PDF). Retrieved7 November 2014.
14 Müller, Jan-Werner. "Constitutional Patriotism Beyond the Nation-State: Human Rights, Constitutional Necessity, and the Limits of Pluralism" (PDF). Retrieved7 November 2014.
15 Müller, Jan-Werner. "Constitutional Patriotism Beyond the Nation-State: Human Rights, Constitutional Necessity, and the Limits of Pluralism" (PDF). Retrieved7 November 2014. p.5
16 Müller, Jan-Werner. "Constitutional Patriotism Beyond the Nation-State: Human Rights, Constitutional Necessity, and the Limits of Pluralism" (PDF). Retrieved 7 November 2014. p.3
17 Knight, Steven. "Steven's Blog."Stevens Blog Discourse and Political Analysis of Obamas Osama Bin Laden Is Dead Speech Comments. Steven Knight, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 5 Jan. 2016.
18 Philipps, Macon. "Osama Bin Laden Dead."The White House. The White House, 2 May 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.
19 Philipps, Macon. "Osama Bin Laden Dead."The White House. The White House, 2 May 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.
20 Schaar, John H. Legitimacy in the Modern State. New Brunswick (U.S.A.): Transaction, 1981. 288. Print.
21 Philipps, Macon. "Osama Bin Laden Dead."The White House. The White House, 2 May 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.
22 Schaar, John H. Legitimacy in the Modern State. New Brunswick (U.S.A.): Transaction, 1981. 296. Print.
23 Schaar, John H. Legitimacy in the Modern State. New Brunswick (U.S.A.): Transaction, 1981. 290. Print.
24 Philipps, Macon. "Osama Bin Laden Dead."The White House. The White House, 2 May 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2016.