Thoughts on Patriotism

1) A conversation about what it requires for a country to defend itself would probably be a lot more productive if the word patriotism couldn’t be used by any of those involved. If you want to see what I mean, read Jim Manzi’s wonderful post on the subject.

2) Jonah Goldberg wrote:

The Fourth of July, President’s Day, and even Veterans’ and Memorial Day are celebrations of the nation-state created by the American founding. In short, our other holidays are about patriotism, not nationalism. Thanksgiving meanwhile celebrates a pre-constitutional relationship with the Almighty. I wouldn’t quite say it’s a pre-modern or blood-and-soil holiday, but it is about Providence and the great gift being here, in this place, is. A little mystic nationalism is a good and healthy thing because it provides the emotional sinew that helps us hold onto our patriotism.

If by “mystic nationalism” Mr. Goldberg basically means what Jim Manzi described in his New Jersey town, or what Abraham Lincoln alluded to in this proclamation — and given the context of the full paragraph, I think that is what he is saying, though it’s hard to be sure — then I’d quibble with his word choice, but agree that what he calls mystic nationalism is both good and provides “emotional sinew that helps us hold onto our patriotism.”

3) Will Wilkinson writes:

I strenuously disagree that a little mystic nationalism is “a good and healthy thing.” But I heartily agree with what I take Jonah to imply: that patriotism has little emotional substance without mystic nationalism.

I think Mr. Wilkinson is taking “mystical nationalism” to mean something very different, though I can’t tell exactly what.

4) Mr. Wilkinson and PEG, for all their disagreements, seem to regard patriotism as beyond reason, and nonsensical without nationalism, but is it? The colonists of 1776 managed to begin a rather intellectually rigorous Revolution. I won’t pretend that everyone who fought in that struggle coldly reasoned things out, or delve into the many reasons that soon-to-be Americans rebelled against the British, but it is certainly the case that even after their victory, the generation that fought thought they owed primary allegiance to their states, and drew up the Articles of Confederation as a democratic expression of their values. That wasn’t a document of nationalists or National Greatness Conservatives! Indeed, the Constitution of 1789 stopped far short of what Weekly Standard national greatness conservatives would recommend for our polity.

5) In recent years, when patriotism has been used as an explicit argument for some policy or other, disaster has been the result far more often than any other outcome, and it is difficult to think of a particular good that it’s brought us. I’d argue that is explained by the fact that since 9/11 we’ve seen a perversion of patriotism.

If loving the United States of America means admiring, upholding and defending the values found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, patriotism is a good thing indeed, even if that intellectually driven love is bolstered by an emotional attachment to our community, our friends and our culture. That is my feeling, and I therefore consider myself a patriot. But if loving the United States of America is severed from admiring, upholding and defending those values — if America is supposed to be some ill-defined thing, and I am supposed to lend my support to whatever the person elected as its president decides — then patriotism is better guarded against than embraced.