The Ethics of Patriotism
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The Ethics of Patriotism

A Debate

John Kleinig, Simon Keller, Igor Primoratz

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eBook - ePub

The Ethics of Patriotism

A Debate

John Kleinig, Simon Keller, Igor Primoratz

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Über dieses Buch

The unique approach taken within The Ethics of Patriotism brings together the differing perspectives of three leading figures in the philosophical debate who deliver an up-to-date, accessible, and vigorous presentation of the major views and arguments.

  • Brings together the differing perspectives of three leading philosophers, who, together, explore the major positions on the ethics of patriotism
  • Connects with several burgeoning fields of interest in philosophy and politics, including nationalism, civic virtue, liberalism and republicanism, loyalty, and cosmopolitanism
  • Demonstrates that it is possible to make progress on the question of the ethics of patriotism while taking an ecumenical approach to larger theoretical questions
  • A timely and relevant response to the upsurge of interest in nationalism, patriotism, and secessions

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Part One
Three Views on the Ethics of Patriotism

The Virtue in Patriotism

John Kleinig
“Patriotism,” Samuel Johnson is famously reported to have said, “is the last refuge of a scoundrel” (Boswell 1900, 115). So be it. But Johnson had a scoundrel in mind, and not patriotism,1 and it is my task here to make the case for the importance of modest patriotism – what Igor Primoratz has called “worldly patriotism” (Primoratz 2006, chap. 6) – and, to the extent that I am able, secure it against its exploitation by scoundrels.
My argument proceeds as follows. Because it is my intention to distinguish as well as link patriotism and nationalism, Section 1 sketches several working definitions and provides a rationale for my conceptualization of patriotism. In Section 2, I offer what is sometimes spoken of as a philosophical anthropology – an account of human nature and the conditions for its flourishing. In Section 3, this is embedded in a conception of civil society appropriate to the development of patriotic commitments. The status of those commitments is explored in Section 4. Sections 35, which constitute the chapter’s argumentative heart, provide a cautious defense of patriotism as expressive of an important identity-conferring commitment. In Section 6, I defend patriotism against the charge that it endemically tends to bad faith before indicating, in Section 7, why patriotism and nationalism tend to converge and why, morally hazardous though this may be, patriotism is to be monitored rather than resisted.

1 Some Definitional Preliminaries

In the course of this discussion, I make use of several key terms – patriotism, nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and multiculturalism. Here, I offer some working definitions.
Patriotism and nationalism are sometimes conflated and, as I have already presaged, may reasonably converge in practice; nevertheless, it is heuristically important to distinguish them. Although both are, for reasons I indicate, forms of associational loyalty, patriotism is loyalty linked to a specific patria – a country – whereas the loyalty of nationalism is connected primarily to a people, defined by other, mostly ethnic and historical considerations. Although peoples generally have a territorial base (a homeland), nations are groupings based on ethnic (or perhaps racial) factors that often have religious, linguistic, folk, and other cultural dimensions, considerations that may also be invoked in support of patriotism but often exist independently of it. In nation-states, nation and patria – and so nationalism and patriotism – tend to converge, and this no doubt contributes to their frequent conflation and confusion. A significant reason for this convergence, I later suggest, is that nations generally need some form of territorial autonomy if they are to maintain their integrity and countries need some form of national identity if they are to inspire patriotic commitment.
Cosmopolitanism, an umbrella term for a variety of positions, can be contrasted with either nationalism or patriotism. It can be construed either as an alternative to nationalism, embracing a universalistic humanism that eschews the particularistic connections characteristic of nationalism; or it can be seen as an alternative to patriotism, most plausibly the incorporation of separate self-determining polities into a federation of states bound by overarching identity-conferring institutional norms and procedures. Increasing tendencies toward globalization – based on international trade and finance, information technology, international crime and terrorism, as well as human mobility – have greatly stimulated the contemporary interest in various cosmopolitanisms. I associate multiculturalism with a patria and polity that in some sense embraces national diversity. I have more to say about some of these matters later.
Zooming in, now, on patriotism, we find that most dictionaries and many commentators characterize it as love of country. My own preference, already indicated, is to characterize patriotism as loyalty to country. Love and loyalty are, of course, not exclusive, and I have no principled objection to the former characterization. Nevertheless, I think it is more helpful to see patriotism as a form of loyalty.2 Loyalty is inherently particularistic in a way that love is not. I happen to love New Zealand, though it is not my country. And I also love my apartment in New York, though it is not mine in the sense that my country is mine. I identify with my country in a way that I do not identify with my apartment. Loyalty embodies that identification. Further, although love suggests the passion that many patriots feel for their country, such passion is not required for patriotic commitments to be genuine. Of course, one might not wish to deny that a patriot who answers the call to serve also loves his country, but it may be a kind of love more closely associated with service to or concern for another than that characterized by passion. Part of the problem is that the English word “love” covers too much. As Eamonn Callan observes, it is broad enough to cover a fickle love, whereas patriotism must be construed in terms of constancy (2010, 253; cf. Callan 2006, 527). Not that I want to eschew or marginalize the passion that is often associated with patriotism. Just because patriots identify with the country they willingly serve, we should expect there to be an emotional component to their patriotism, even when it is quite muted and mixed with apprehension and some upset because they have been called upon to serve in a particular way. The problems we have with love we do not have with loyalty, even though loyalty itself is generally infused with feeling. I return to this later.
The object of patriotic loyalty – the patria or country – also needs some explication. A country – one’s country – is not to be identified with either its state or government, although a country will incorporate a polity. Mark Twain’s observation that his “kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not its institutions or office holders” draws on this point (1971, chap. 13). We need to think of a country in more holistic terms, generally as comprising a land, a terrain, a people, a culture, a history, a collective self-understanding, and a network of social institutions framed and bound together by the distinctive juridical structure of a governing order.3 A country is a narrative personalized entity that reaches backward and forward and embodies distinctive (though not uniform) forms of life.4 Patriotism is not free-floating – one does not start off as patriotic and then look for a country to which to be patriotic. One’s patriotism is always developed – if it develops at all – in the context of some particular country, whether Australia or the United States or Ecuador. Certainly, it can change, but it is always particularized. The person who wishes that there was a country about which he could feel patriotic is not patriotic, even though he would like to be.
There is clearly more to be said about what a country is and what it is about a country that inspires patriotism, and some of that emerges later. It should, however, be noted that the idea of a country already carries within it the cultural seeds of a form of nationalism. Those who seek to defend their country are not interested only in its acreage or government but also in its cultural character and its freedom from domination by subversive ways as well as powers. The questions we need to consider are whether a country constitutes the kind of associational entity that warrants or even requires our loyalty and, if so, how demanding that loyalty ought to be.
Before offering answers to these questions, we need to zoom in further on the idea of loyalty which, I suggest, constitutes the virtue in patriotism. As I see it, loyalty is the virtue that we cultivate to enable us to stick with the objects of associative relations that we have come to value for their own sake (as mine or ours), especially when it may not appear personally advantageous to persevere with their demands or expectations of us.5 As individuals, we are strongly tempted to act in ways that are occurrently self-serving, especially in circumstances in which the various associative ties we have developed place demands on us that require, if not sacrifice, then significant personal cost. Without loyal bonds, we would be inclined to cut loose from (or undermine) otherwise important associative ties, not necessarily for weighty reasons but for the immediate advantage of doing so. Although I later suggest that it is advantageous to our long-term interests to stick with some, at least, of the associative ties we develop and come to value for their own sakes, our everyday experience may sometimes incline us to abandon those ties for more immediate advantage. Loyalty is the virtue of staying with the associative object by not succumbing to such short-term advantage. Disloyalty is shown when the reason for our jeopardizing or forsaking the tie we have to the associative object is narrowly self-serving.
Although, on my account, loyalty is the virtue of sticking with and supporting an associative object in the face of narrowly self-serving temptation, it does not follow that every loyalty that is developed is ipso facto virtuous. There is no particular virtuousness in being a loyal Nazi. Not every object of loyalty is worthy of it. That is a hazard of most, if not all, virtues. The honor among thieves, generosity toward oppressive causes, and courageous defense of an evil regime all represent misdirections of virtue. The question that confronts us here, as already noted, is whether and to what extent patriae are appropriate objects of loyalty. To provide an argument for this I now prepare.

2 Human Flourishing and Human Association

Humans are part of the living natural order, along with plants and animals. As part of that order, they have life cycles – they flourish and die, and their growth, flourishing, and decline are a function of various conditions and circumstances, internal and external. Unlike plants and many animals, however, the complete conditions for human flourishing are not genetically encoded, but are a function of what we may term social circumstances – what we learn from others and how we relate to them. More than any (other) animal, sociality is central to human development and, for the most part, flourishing.6 That is, humans do not mature and flourish in isolation, needing only material sustenance, but their flourishing is enabled and to some extent constituted by various associational connections and ties – families, friends, schools, and a range of other relations and institutions through which, if all goes well, they will also learn to be autonomous, sensitive, morally discerning, and competent beings, able to craft, within broader or narrower limits, decent lives for themselves.7
Implicit in this account of human flourishing is not only a recognition of the importance that learning has in human development and growth but also of various forms of social interaction. To the extent that we develop ends of our own, projects, or even life plans, we are likely to require the supportive presence of and engagement with other people, social practices, and institutions. Moreover, it is highly likely that, if they are to be realized, some of our ends will be collective in the sense of relying on the consciously cooperative endeavors with others. What we learn – at least, what we learn within liberal societies – is how to oversee our own flourishing in community with others.
Although many of the associational connections we form are and will remain largely instrumental in character, some will come to be valued for their own sake. That is, some associations will themselves become sources of satisfaction and meaning to us. This is almost certainly true of good friendships, which, as Aristotle recognized, are central to a good life, but it will often be or become true of other relations and associations – some of which (our families, perhaps) may have a central role in our lives, but others of which may be less central but still significant (the sporting...


  1. Cover
  2. Great Debates in Philosophy
  3. Title page
  4. Copyright page
  5. Acknowledgments
  6. Introduction
  7. Part One: Three Views on the Ethics of Patriotism
  8. Part Two: Responses
  9. Part Three: Final Words
  10. Bibliography
  11. Index
  12. End User License Agreement