Some commenters and others reacting to my post on nationalism raise the issue of its relationship to patriotism. Even if nationalism is an evil, perhaps patriotism can still be good. Patriotism is certainly distinguishable from nationalism, as I defined that term in my previous post: “loyalty to one’s own nation-state based on ties of language, culture, or ethnicity.” It is also differs from nationalism defined as a sense of moral obligation to members of one’s ethnic or racial group across national boundaries. In common usage, patriotism generally means loyalty to one’s government and/or its ideals regardless of ethnic or racial identity. For example, one can be a patriotic American even if you are a member of an ethnic minority, English is not your native language, you dislike mainstream American popular culture, and so on.
To the extent that patriotism simply means supporting your country when its government promotes good ideals and policies, I’m all in favor of it. Indeed, I place high value on the American political system because, despite serious flaws, it provides a great deal of freedom and happiness to large numbers of people. I also admire it because, unlike most other nations, it is not primarily based on ties of race, language, or ethnicity.
At the same time, I am opposed to patriotism in the sense of valuing a nation or government for its own sake. Unlike senior conspirator Eugene Volokh, I don’t believe that we should “love” our country in the same unconditional way that we love a spouse or family member. That kind of patriotism too readily leads people to support governments that are oppressive and unjust. More fundamentally, it loses sight of the principle that governments and nations are means, not ends in and of themselves. The Founding Fathers, I think, got […]