Give Your Heart to Freedom

From what I read of George Kateb via Larison, it seems like Kateb has taken the old “I’m a patriot, you’re a nationalist” chestnut and turned it into “I’m enlightened, you’re a patriot.” I think Daniel is right, and that Kateb is just abusing the word “patriotism” to score points against “nationalism.” He seems to leave some room for a defensively-inclined affinity for one’s home, which is what Daniel argues patriotism is about.

Will Wilkinson, in agreeing with Kateb, takes a stronger position that leaves less room for accommodation, and can’t be mistaken for a definitional dispute. Any particular affinity for one’s country as such is suspect, he claims, and he complains that patriotism (or nationalism, since he doesn’t distinguish between the two) led us into the Iraq war:

[Kateb] implies something that I believe to be correct: the proud and enthusiastic patriotism of Americans bears a large measure of responsibility for the immoral and failed war in Iraq. This administration’s war would have been impossible had our mindless love of country not made the public rather too ready.

Daniel responds:

The Iraq war was made possible by a propaganda campaign by the government, the exploitation of public fear and anger, the warmongering of nationalists and the twisting of patriotic sentiment into support for a war of aggression by casting the war dishonestly as one of self-defense. That the administration succeeded in this is not a measure of mindless love of country, but rather a fairly mindless foreign policy consensus that says that small states on the other side of the planet pose meaningful threats to the United States.

At the popular level, this is true enough. But what about the the self-described liberal hawks, who worked overtime to liquidate any potential claims that nationalism (or even patriotism) informed their pro-war stances? One particular non sequitur comes to mind: I remember reading a few bloggers who offered their own support for abortion rights as proof that their intentions in Iraq were pure of any parochial taint. It was commitment to the universal principles of liberty and modern autonomy, not atavistic revanchism, that led them to support the invasion of Iraq. In forsaking the narrow interests of their home countries, they seem to be following the advice Will offers here:

But when it comes to countries, it is better by far to give your heart to freedom, and to love countries themselves incidentally and faithlessly.

At the time, I put more stock in both the nationalist and internationalist cases for war than I should have. I wish now that I’d been as skeptical of the pro-war arguments as certain libertarians were — Will Wilkinson, for example. But just as patriotism can metastasize into nationalism, Will’s deracinated, post-national liberalism can become someone else’s crusade.