Patriotism raises questions of the sort philosophers characteristically discuss: How is patriotism to be defined? How is it related to similar attitudes, such as nationalism? What is its moral standing: is it morally valuable or perhaps even mandatory, or is it rather a stance we should avoid? Yet until a few decades ago, philosophers used to show next to no interest in the subject. The article on patriotism in the Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , reviewing the use of the term from the 16 th century to our own times, gives numerous references, but they are mostly to authors who were not philosophers. Moreover, of the few well known philosophers cited, only one, J.
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Patriotism raises questions of the sort philosophers characteristically discuss: How is patriotism to be defined? How is it related to similar attitudes, such as nationalism? What is its moral standing: is it morally valuable or perhaps even mandatory, or is it rather a stance we should avoid?
Yet until a few decades ago, philosophers used to show next to no interest in the subject. The article on patriotism in the Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , reviewing the use of the term from the 16 th century to our own times, gives numerous references, but they are mostly to authors who were not philosophers.
Moreover, of the few well known philosophers cited, only one, J. Fichte, gave the subject more than a passing reference — and most of what Fichte had to say actually pertains to nationalism, rather than patriotism see Busch and Dierse This changed in the s. Largely in response to MacIntyre, some philosophers have defended constrained or deflated versions of patriotism Baron , Nathanson , Primoratz Others have argued against patriotism of any sort Gomberg , McCabe , Keller There is now a lively philosophical debate about the moral credentials of patriotism that shows no signs of abating.
A parallel discussion in political philosophy concerns the kind of patriotism that might provide an alternative to nationalism as the ethos of a stable, well-functioning polity. In what is still the sole book-length philosophical study of the subject, Stephen Nathanson , 34—35 defines patriotism as involving:.
There is little to cavil about here. There is no great difference between special affection and love, and Nathanson himself uses the terms interchangeably. Although love or special affection is usually given expression in special concern for its object, that is not necessary. But a person whose love for her country was not expressed in any special concern for it would scarcely be considered a patriot.
Therefore the definition needs to include such concern. This is only a definition. A fuller account of patriotism is beyond the scope of this article. Discussions of both patriotism and nationalism are often marred by lack of clarity due to the failure to distinguish the two. Many authors use the two terms interchangeably. Among those who do not, quite a few have made the distinction in ways that are not very helpful.
George Orwell contrasted the two in terms of aggressive vs. Nationalism is about power: its adherent wants to acquire as much power and prestige as possible for his nation, in which he submerges his individuality. While nationalism is accordingly aggressive, patriotism is defensive: it is a devotion to a particular place and a way of life one thinks best, but has no wish to impose on others Orwell , When these are exhibited in a reasonable degree and without ill thoughts about others and hostile actions towards them, that is patriotism; when they become unbridled and cause one to think ill of others and act badly towards them, that is nationalism.
Conveniently enough, it usually turns out that we are patriots, while they are nationalists see Billig , 55— There is yet another way of distinguishing patriotism and nationalism — one that is quite simple and begs no moral questions.
Both patriotism and nationalism involve love of, identification with, and special concern for a certain entity. Thus patriotism and nationalism are understood as the same type of set of beliefs and attitudes, and distinguished in terms of their objects, rather than the strength of those beliefs and attitudes, or as sentiment vs. To be sure, there is much overlap between country and nation, and therefore between patriotism and nationalism; thus much that applies to one will also apply to the other.
But when a country is not ethnically homogeneous, or when a nation lacks a country of its own, the two may part ways. Patriotism has had a fair number of critics. The harshest among them have judged it deeply flawed in every important respect. In the 19 th century, Russian novelist and thinker Leo Tolstoy found patriotism both stupid and immoral. It is stupid because every patriot holds his own country to be the best of all whereas, obviously, only one country can qualify.
Some of these objections can easily be countered. However, there is another, more plausible line of criticism of patriotism focusing on its intellectual, rather than moral credentials. This suggests that patriotism can be judged from the standpoint of ethics of belief — a set of norms for evaluating our beliefs and other doxastic states.
Simon Keller has examined patriotism from this point of view, and found it wanting. Accordingly, she forms beliefs about her country in ways different from the ways in which she forms beliefs about other countries. Moreover, she cannot admit this motivation while at the same time remaining a patriot. This leads her to hide from herself the true source of some of the beliefs involved. This is bad faith. Bad faith is bad; so is patriotism, as well as every identity, individual or collective, constituted, in part, by patriotic loyalty.
This portrayal does seem accurate as far as much patriotism as we know it is concerned. Yet Keller may be overstating his case as one against patriotism as such. This might not be a very satisfactory answer; we might agree with J.
But however egocentric, irrational, asinine, surely it qualifies as patriotism. In a later statement of his argument , 80—81 , Keller seems to be of two minds on this point.
Many think of patriotism as a natural and appropriate expression of attachment to the country in which we were born and raised and of gratitude for the benefits of life on its soil, among its people, and under its laws.
They also consider patriotism an important component of our identity. Some go further, and argue that patriotism is morally mandatory, or even that it is the core of morality. There is, however, a major tradition in moral philosophy which understands morality as essentially universal and impartial, and seems to rule out local, partial attachment and loyalty. A related objection is that patriotism is exclusive in invidious and dangerous ways. It tends to encourage militarism, and makes for international tension and conflict.
What, then, is the moral status of patriotism? The question does not admit of a single answer. We can distinguish five types of patriotism, and each needs to be judged on its merits. Machiavelli is famous or infamous for teaching princes that, human nature being what it is, if they propose to do their job well, they must be willing to break their promises, to deceive, dissemble, and use violence, sometimes in cruel ways and on a large scale, when political circumstances require such actions.
This may or may not be relevant to the question of patriotism, depending on just what we take the point of princely rule to be.
This type of patriotism is extreme, but by no means extremely rare. Not much needs to be said about the moral standing of this type of patriotism, as it amounts to rejection of morality. On the liberal view, where and from whom I learn the principles of morality is just as irrelevant to their contents and to my commitment to them, as where and from whom I learn the principles of mathematics is irrelevant to their contents and my adherence to them.
For MacIntyre, where and from whom I learn my morality is of decisive importance both for my commitment to it and for its very contents. There is no morality as such; morality is always the morality of a particular community. Moral rules are justified in terms of certain goods they express and promote; but these goods, too, are always given as part and parcel of the way of life of a community.
The individual becomes a moral agent only when informed as such by his community. He also lives and flourishes as one because he is sustained in his moral life by his community. If I can live and flourish as a moral agent only as a member of my community, while playing the role this membership involves, then my very identity is bound up with that of my community, its history, traditions, institutions, and aspirations.
This leads MacIntyre to conclude that patriotism is not to be contrasted with morality; it is rather a central moral virtue, indeed the bedrock of morality. To that extent, this type of patriotism is critical and rational. This account of patriotism is exposed to several objections. One might find fault with the step from communitarianism to patriotism:. If so, this type of patriotism would seem to involve the rejection of such basic moral notions as universal justice and common human solidarity.
This is not a fair objection to patriotism as such. But the objection is pertinent, and has considerable force, when brought up against the type of patriotism advocated by MacIntyre. If justice is understood in universal, rather than parochial terms, if common human solidarity counts as a weighty moral consideration, and if peace is of paramount importance and war is morally permissible only when it is just, then this kind of patriotism must be rejected.
There is considerable middle ground between these extremes. Exploring this middle ground has led some philosophers to construct positions accommodating both the universal and the particular point of view — both the mandates of universal justice and claims of common humanity, and the concern for the patria and compatriots.
Baron argues that the conflict between impartiality and partiality is not quite as deep as it may seem. Morality allows for both types of considerations, as they pertain to different levels of moral deliberation. At one level, we are often justified in taking into account our particular commitments and attachments, including those to our country. At another level, we can and ought to reflect on such commitments and attachments from a universal, impartial point of view, to delineate their proper scope and determine their weight.
In such a case, partiality and particular concerns are judged to be legitimate and indeed valuable from an impartial, universal point of view. This means that with respect to those matters and within the same limits, it is also good for a Cuban to judge as a Cuban and to put Cuban interests first, etc.
Actually, this is how we think of our special obligations to, and preferences for, our family, friends, or local community; this kind of partiality is legitimate, and indeed valuable, not only for us but for anyone.
By doing so, she argues, our patriotism will leave room for serious, even radical criticism of our country, and will not be a force for dissension and conflict in the international arena. A good example is provided by the Ten Commandments, a major document of Western morality. The kind of patriotism defended by Nathanson and Baron is moderate in several distinct, but related respects.
It acknowledges the constraints morality imposes on the pursuit of our individual and collective goals. For instance, it may require the patriot to fight for his country, but only in so far as the war is, and remains, just.
Adherents of both extreme and robust patriotism will consider themselves bound to fight for their country whether its cause be just or not. Extreme patriots will also fight for it in whatever way it takes to win.
Moderate patriotism is not exclusive. Its adherent will show special concern for his country and compatriots, but that will not prevent him from showing concern for other countries and their inhabitants. Such patriotism is compatible with a decent degree of humanitarianism. Finally, moderate patriotism is not uncritical, unconditional, or egocentric.
Is Patriotism a Virtue?
Whether they find him persuasive or no, few readers will deny that Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the most significant Catholic philosophers of our time. Titles like Whose Justice? Whose Rationality? So it behooves us to consider the question MacIntyre poses in the title of his Findley lecture: Is patriotism a virtue? The question is not a rhetorical one.
MacIntyre: "Is Patriotism a Virtue?"
Monday, February 5, Patriotism raises questions of the sort philosophers characteristically discuss: How is patriotism to be defined? How is it related to similar attitudes, such as nationalism? What is its moral standing: is it morally valuable or perhaps even mandatory, or is it rather a stance we should avoid?
MacIntyre and the Morality of Patriotism
He has made a personal intellectual journey from Marxism to Catholicism and from Aristotle to Aquinas , and he is one of the preeminent Thomist political philosophers. He believes that modern philosophy and modern life are characterized by the absence of any coherent moral code, and that the vast majority of individuals living in this world lack a meaningful sense of purpose in their lives and also lack any genuine community. This way of life is to be sustained in small communities which are to resist as best they can the destructive forces of liberal capitalism. It is important to keep in mind that MacIntyre is not suggesting that we should merely tinker around the edges of liberal capitalist society; his goal is to fundamentally transform it. He does not believe that this will happen quickly or easily, and indeed it may not happen at all, but he believes that it will be a disaster for humanity if it does not happen.