Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Patriotism and Tough Love

Jason Kuznicki compares conceptions of 'patriotism':
Today, the word “patriot” can scarcely be distinguished from the word “nationalist;” a patriot is above all one who is loyal to his government, his country, and his fellow citizens... For most Enlightenment thinkers, to be a patriot was to favor the people of the country rather than the country’s rulers.

Given the simple definition of 'patriotism' as "love of country", I think the real problem lies not with the popular interpretation of 'country', but of 'love'. Too many Americans think that loving their country means coddling it, ignoring its faults, and proclaiming its virtue without regard for reality. Unsurprisingly, this produces a spoilt brat. But surely genuine love would not be so predictably destructive. Real patriots appreciate the great potential inherent in their country, and hope to nurture this and make it a reality. They stand by their country in hard times, not in the pretense that it is faultless, but in the faith that it can redeem itself.

(As Blar noted, the full version of the famous phrase is: "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right.")


  1. My problem with patriotism has nothing to do with interpretations of either "love" or "country". It's rather the arbitrariness of it all. What does it mean "to favor the people of the country"? That every American should prefer Jerry Fallwell over Richard Dawkins?

  2. Favouritism may be arbitrary. But love or caring is generally a good thing. Better to love the whole world, sure. But given human nature, that is not always so likely. So, better to love your whole country than nothing at all (or any smaller sub-group, for that matter).

    So, I don't think that Americans should "favour" (in the sense of "prefer") Falwell over Dawkins. But perhaps they should feel more responsible for the former.

  3. I think it was Bernard Shaw who said that patriotism is loving your country because you were born there. Though probably a facetious statement, many people, sadly, seem to abide by it.

    Harry Blamires has said--less humorously than Shaw, but more accurately I think--that loyalty (it could equally apply to patriotism) is not a moral basis for action; loyalty to a good cause, a good country, a good whatever is okay. But in the latter cases one is being loyal to the good and not to the cause or the country or whatever. Loyalty is a sort of "sham virtue" (to quote Blamires). Whenever it is dragged in one can almost be certain that support is being rallied for a bad cause--otherwise it wouldn't be necessary to drag it in. "You should help us fight this war, son." "Well, I don't know. It looks pretty suspect to--" "Come on man! Where is your loyalty?!" (That was not a reference to the present war; just an example. Even so, though, those who don't support the present war are often, in an effort to shame, referred to as "unpatriotic.")


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