Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Security: Familyland, Fatherland, or Homeland?

A NAZI Family?
The photo to the left is a photo of a family in the NAZI governed Germany of long ago.

Have you ever noticed how many "family" words are associated with the concept of "nation" in literature, politics, and government?

A quick check of a few relevant metaphors (forefathers, father of the constitution, Uncle Sam, motherland, fatherland, homeland, father of the nation, founding fathers, mother of the nation, family of nations, etc.) makes me want to look at perhaps the key source-metaphor for this notion:
... a common metaphor, shared by conservatives and liberals alike -- the Nation-as-Family metaphor, in which the nation is seen as a family, the government as a parent and the citizens as children ...
(The Nation-as-Family Metaphor). To expand upon this concept a bit, consider these comments:
It’s no accident that our political beliefs are structured by our idealizations of the family. Our earliest experience with being governed is in our families. Our parents “govern” us: They protect us, tell us what we can and cannot do, make sure we have enough money and supplies, educate us, and have us do our part in running the house.

So it is not at all surprising that many nations are metaphorically seen in terms of families: Mother Russia, Mother India, the Fatherland. In America, we have founding fathers, Daughters of the American Revolution, Uncle Sam, and we send our collective sons and daughters to war. In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the voice of the totalitarian state was called Big Brother.

As George Lakoff discussed at length in his 1996 book, Moral Politics, this metaphorical understanding of the nation-as-family directly informs our political worldview. Directly, but not consciously. As with other aspects of framing, the use of this metaphor lies below the level of consciousness.
(The Nation As Family, PDF). It is important to remember the part of the concept indicating that "the use of this metaphor lies below the level of consciousness", because in this post today we are going to try to take a look at part of that iceberg we can see, which is not only conscious, but is also attached to the bulk that is not conscious.

First, let us wonder if this family-nation metaphor was active in England at the time of the Declaration of Independence, a time when in England "the King can do no wrong" was an official fiction that had the force of law.

If so, then there was a concept of a national structure headed up by "a parent" that could do no wrong, which is the same thing as saying only the children can do any wrong (assuming there is any wrong in the nation).

Remembering that "the children" in this metaphor are the citizens of the family-nation, we can extrapolate to envision how this works:
... the nation-as-family metaphor as a precise mapping between the nation and the family: the homeland as home, the citizens as siblings, the government (or the head of government) as parent. The government’s duty is to citizens as a parent’s is to children: provide security (protect us); make laws (tell us what we can and cannot do); run the economy (make sure we have enough money and supplies); provide public schools (educate us).
(ibid, The Nation As Family). We can see that our Declaration of Independence, original Constitution, subsequent amendments, and laws have tended to move away from the structure the king can do no wrong, because our declaration and revolt was done precisely because the king did way too many wrongs.

In the post yesterday, In Loco Parentis & Parens Patriae - 2, the issue of how to treat "the children", i.e. the citizens, was discussed in a manner that shows an evolution of the concept to a point where completely different forms of parental control are now utilized.

That post indicates that our nation has now moved into the era when "public relations", "spin", and "propaganda" practices are now used to control the public in place of force as the king once did.

If we remember that a substantial portion of the American citizenry did not want to break away from the king back in the day, it should be no surprise that "the king can do no wrong" is still a real subconscious force in our culture, and a real conscious force in our law.

That force manifests as trust in power, then as scorn toward those who do not have faith that the government will always treat the kids with kids gloves, and that the government will always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

The next post in this series is here.


  1. Dredd,

    Meaty article. It jibes with my own thoughts on how mythology, rather than ideology, informs our political choices at all levels. As a quick comparison, Hitler was seen as a strong father ruling the Fatherland. Obama, forgetting his actual policies, is in trouble because he is seen as a "weak" leader and thus a poor Uncle Sam.

    Mike Spindell

  2. Mike,

    One can also wonder about a hybrid "Stockholm Syndrome" that is not as vulgar as the typical abduction / hostage situation in a violent context.

    For example, note that children impacted by the statement "your daddy has another girlfriend besides your mother" or "your mommy has another boyfriend besides your daddy" will defend their parent by denying the allegation outright.

    That is because to believe the allegation is to destroy the child's world view, their comfort zone.

    To put it together, a lot of people get into jingoism for that very reason.

    For them, to believe that the government, the nation, would do wrong is to destroy their world view.

    This refers to the many people who have the frame of mind that results when government becomes their "parent" psychologically.

    It is a form of mythology, as you mentioned.

    Mythology has many forms.