« Against 'Progressives' | Main | The First and Second Amendments »

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Hi Bill,
Thanks for such a thoughtful response. Since you've raised a number of different issues here, some of them quite tricky, I'm going to try to address them individually.

First, do I mean to endorse the ‘first claim’ that you ascribe to me? I meant something a bit different. The ‘first claim’ is about what people ‘should’ feel towards their countries. But when I was thinking of the ‘basis’ of ‘healthy patriotism’ I had in mind that which makes it morally permissible to have a special love and loyalty for one’s own country. I also suspect that patriotism is good or virtuous, and not just permissible; but I’m not sure that it’s an obligation.

So it may not be so strange to suppose that what makes it permissible is the fact that the patriot’s country is his own country. The possible countries that you mention might not be counter-examples to my weaker claim. Here the analogy with family may help.

Suppose that my son is an unrepentant murderer. Even so, it’s (at least) permissible for me to love him and be loyal to him in ways that I don’t love or have loyalty towards other people who aren’t my children, even if those other people are far better morally than he is. He is my son. We could consider more carefully what it is about that fact that appears to generate permission, but I assume that most of us do have the intuition that it generates permission. Of course, I don't have moral permission to abet him in his crimes. Likewise, the special love and loyalty of the patriot for his country doesn’t entitle him to support his country in doing things that are seriously wrong. But I find it non-absurd, at least, to suppose that it’s permissible for someone to care deeply for his very bad country and be deeply loyal to it, even though he cares less and has no loyalty towards some other country that is morally better (or better somehow) but not his own. Patriotism may be a virtue, but in healthy patriotism the many other values and virtues will also be properly taken into account in deciding what to do. Maybe even the weaker claim I'm making is false if there is a possible human nation that is totally or essentially evil. But I doubt that any possible human country is like that.

You point out that there may be reasons to be loyal to my friend _other_ than the fact that he is my friend, e.g., “when I was in trouble he helped me”. But, first, it seems to be constitutive of our friendship that he helps me when I am in trouble (or that he’s disposed to help, and has on occasion actually helped, etc.). Therefore, this may not be a reason that is definitely _other_ than the fact that he’s my friend. Granted, there are probably all kinds of reasons for doing things a patriot would do for country C, other than the fact that C is my country. But I wonder whether doing those things for those other reasons would be naturally characterized as doing patriotic things. If a British citizen enlists in the army to fight against Germany, but only because he thinks that doing so will advance the cause of Communism, or because he is a consequentialist convinced that it will reduce suffering in the world, his action doesn't seem patriotic.

Obviously there are many things to consider here! But for now I’ll try to indicate where I’m coming from a little more clearly. Again, the analogy with family seems helpful. It seems to me that the relation between parent and child, or brother and sister, is a basic intrinsically good thing. I’m not sure how to argue for its goodness. There is some ultimate Humean question about how any value could be attached to any non-normative fact, or supervene on such a thing. I have no answer to that question, but if we can set it aside then it seems that familial relations (like friendship) are among the intrinsically good things. My intuition is that patriotism is similar, in part because a real country is very much like a family; maybe it just is a kind of very large, very extended family. (As the human race is, too; and we find it natural that humans are morally permitted to have a special love and loyalty to their fellow humans, just because of that familial bond.)

A quick further thought, about the conditions on countries. When I said 'people', I should have been more clear that I was speaking in an old-fashioned way: a 'people' in this sense form some kind of ethno-cultural unit. The English people, the Celtic peoples or the peoples of Brazil, and so on. I meant to indicate something along the lines of your condition (d), above: a shared language, heritage and history or mythology, shared basic moral norms, possibly a shared religion, and so on. But I don't think there have to be laws or legal institutions or governments in order for a people to exist. My idea of a country was somewhere in between the very minimalist one you are ascribing to me and the more complicated account you're proposing.

George Bernard Shaw: "Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it."

G K Chesterton: "My country, right or wrong,” is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”"

I've enjoyed this discussion, thanks to you Jacques for raising it and Bill for so thoughtfully answering it. I believe that the two quotes above pithily sum up some of the points made.
Re healthy and unhealthy patriotism, a point Jacques makes:is the Dane more entitled to be patriotic than the Syrian? After all Denmark comes at the top, or close to, on most of those league tables that rank happiness and material well-being.
If the answer is "no" then I think that Jacques' point about the moral qualities necessary for a friendship cannot be correct. Friendship isn't predicated upon an accountant's list of behaviours.

Jacques your reference to someone having a son as a murderer made me think of The Euthyphro, when Socrates confounds the eponymous would-be prosecutor of his father as to what his duty is. Something that gives me pause in assuming that I have any clear understanding of the subject!

Thanks for those quotations, PJ.

GBS is merely being clever. But GKC is saying something important and true.

Perhaps we should define patriotism as the morally justified, ordinate, love of and loyalty to one's country.

On this definition, one who says 'My country right or wrong' is not a patriot: his love/loyalty is inordinate and morally unjustified.

This raises the question whether there are higher and lower loyalties. I should think that there are. The brother of the Unabomber ratted him out. He did right, responding to a higher loyalty, or did he?

My definition may need supplementation: the morally justified, ordinate, preferential love of and loyalty to one's country, where 'preferential' means 'above the love/loyalty one may feel for other countries.'

But what is a country? It is surely not the present administration of the government. The Obama admin is a disaster. That man and many of his associates are to be condemned. But in saying this I am precisely a patriot.

But would I be a patriot of I were to condemn the institutional structure of the USA: the Constitution, other enabling documents, the values, principles, underlying commitments, e.g. all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, etc.?

No. That is why Obama is not a patriot. That is why I am justified in calling him a hate-America leftist. He seeks a fundamental transformation of the USA. He said so. He attacks the very institutional structure including the rule of law. The mendacious fellow uses his admin to undermine this structure.

It seems I am committed to saying that the concept *country* includes the concept *central government.* For the instituional structure I am talking about is that of the government.

But this is not obvious. Is there an argument against it?

There are many questions here. Must a patriot be a citizen? *Citizen* is a political concept, no? How define *citizen*?

Aristotle said that man is *zoon politikon.* But while he is by nature a social animal, it is not clear that he is by nature a political animal. Surely in an ideal world there would be no polis, no state, and no need for one.

The state is a necessary evil given our fallen condition.

Political philosophy must be grounded in normative ethics which must be grounded in philosophical anthropology. What is man? How are we going to keep theology out of this? Ought we?

GBS spent too much of his career being "merely clever". Chesterton was a more substantial figure (in all senses).
As for the Unabomber... I would be delighted if the relatives of the Paris attackers were to inform on them. We don't have Socrates' differing Gods to try to establish what virtue is and can thus avoid Euthyphro's dilemma. Or do we? The ISIS types presumably believe that they are being pious.
Re the American Constitution: here in Britain we do not have a written constitution; therefore it can't be a mark of nationhood per se to have such a document. Some countries do, others do not. In our country (which is very hard to define, England, Britain, UK, plus historic changes) we have seen historical shifts in government from absolute monarchy to various forms of democracy. Given that, when you ask: "would I be a patriot if I were to condemn the institutional structure of the USA: the Constitution, other enabling documents, the values, principles..." I would answer, Why not?
Can a traitor also be a patriot? On the surface that may seem to be absurd. Take the case of Petain though, he was convicted of treason after WW2; previously he had been regarded as one of France's greatest soldiers. The idea that Petain did not love his country seems incomprehensible. Misguided, foolish certainly but still I would have thought a patriot.


You just introduced the word 'nation.' So far I haven't used it. What is a nation as opposed to a state and a country?

You have to have some 'enabling documents' Right? How else would the institutional structure be articulated? You have a bicameral system, a House of Lords and a House of Commons. Is that stated anywhere? Is that up for democratic grabs? Can Her Majesty get rid of it? To be an MP does one have to satisfy any requirements? Are those written down? Are they subject to the whim of the party in power?

These are not rhetorical questions. I am not well-informed in political science, less so than in political philosophy -- these are of course different as the factual is different from the normative.

>>when you ask: "would I be a patriot if I were to condemn the institutional structure of the USA: the Constitution, other enabling documents, the values, principles..." I would answer, Why not?<<

Short answer: because I have built *government* into my concept of country.

A country is not just a land mass, or a a populated land mass, or a land mass populated by people of more or less the same culture. It is a land mass populated by people of more or less the same culture with mores and values that are articulated and codified in law -- which presupposes government.

"What is a nation as opposed to a state and a country?"
I used the term too loosely, it has connotations with a particular "people". For example, "A Nation Once Again" was an Irish song that expressed the desire to be independent from Britain.
Constitution: "You have to have some 'enabling documents' Right?"
Up to a point, but we speak of having an "unwritten constitution". By which we mean that the set of historic compromises between the power of the monarchy and that of the people is expressed through precedence, custom and laws arriving ultimately in the power of parliament. The Queen still has to sign all Acts of Parliament before they become law.
The House of Lords is an unelected body with an hereditary peerage and the ruling party appoints new "Lords" when it can, to influence its make up. No political theorist would ever dream up such a bizarre system. However it can be said to work and no proposals for its reform or abolition seem to gain sufficient support. The Queen's freedom of political movement is controlled and if she tried to exercise it against her government there would be a political crisis. The Queen is not allowed to enter the House of Commons and has to make her speech at the opening of Parliament from the House of Lords. No British monarch has been in the House of Commons since 1642; there's no law to stop this but...the answer lies back in our history.

Man is by nature political animal whereby mankind is organized into particular, self-ruling, morally authoritative communities that may be called polities, nations or tribes.

There are three irreducible levels of the human social organization:
1) the individual
2) the family
3) the polis or the City.

The political nature of man implies a separation between the neighbor (or a co-citizen) and the stranger.

Liberalism is the denial of the political nature of man.
Progressives deny particularity-they would forcible make each man a neighbor to all, leading to the world state.

Libertarians deny moral authority to the polis. They would have all men strangers to all.

The nation is defined as a shared object of love (Chesterton) Its material cause is both land and people.

For instance, the nation "America" embodies the "American Way". And Americans are people for whom American Way is Good. The American State seeks to realize this Good i.e. it seeks to realize the American Way.

Here is a way to clarify our different ways of thinking about the topic. For me, the 'object' of legitimate patriotic feeling is normally a 'country', in roughly the sense you define above, but the patriot does not love his country _as_ a country. Rather, he loves his country insofar as it is associated with his 'nation', nations being defined by your conditions (b) and (c) minus the reference in (c) to a legal codification of the shared norms. There could be other kinds of morally permissible or good feelings of love and loyalty for one's country, but in my view these are not really 'patriotic'. If I am at odds with ordinary usage here, I'm happy to give up the term 'patriotic' and simply claim that there is a certain kind of natural and permissible love and loyalty that Leftists wrongly identify with xenophobia or jingoism. If this is something other than 'patriotism' I'm not sure that I defend patriotism. But I am defending something important that Leftists tend to attack and ridicule.

Now why is it permissible (and maybe obligatory) for people to have this kind of feeling for their nation, or their country-qua-nation? I think the reason is that nations, by their nature, are based on love, are expressions of love, and have a certain kind of love as their end. To be part of a nation just is to be part of a special kind of human community that is intrinsically good (since the love of human beings for particular others is intrinsically good). So it is like a family in fundamental respects. If there is a puzzle here about what makes this kind of feeling healthy or morally acceptable, there is a similar puzzle about why it is healthy or morally acceptable for people to love those in their families just because they are members of the same family. I assume the explanation has something to do with the social nature of human beings: our identities as persons are partly constituted by our relations to particular other people; if it is healthy and legitimate for us to be the individual people that we are, and to value ourselves, so is love for those others; in being who we are and valuing ourselves we just do already love and value some others in ways that we do not love and value other others.

This is just a vague sketch, of course, but I hope it may be worth discussing. (It may be what Bedarz Iliaci is thinking of, above.) If this is right, we have an explanation for the wrongness of jingoism: the jingoist projects a kind of love and loyalty, which should be directed towards particular people, on to the apparatus of government or state itself; he loves or is loyal to his country _as_ a country when he should only love or be loyal to it as a political expression of a concrete human community.

Incidentally, this is why the 'liberal' response to Islamic terrorism seems pathological. The French liberal, for example, sees Muslims murdering French people and takes this to be an attack on 'our values' or 'our freedom' or whatever. When of course it is first and foremost an attack on French people: first and foremost, an attack intended to kill and maim and terrorize the _real_ French people, the members of the French nation rather than fellow Muslims who happen to have French passports. The liberal can only identify with the state or its legal ordering principles. He views them as nothing more than rights-bearing equal citizens, ignoring the fact that the French are really a kind of very large extended family -- who are being targeted _as_ members of that family _by_ members of another one.

So he loves his country _as_ a country, like the jingoist. They differ, perhaps, with respect to the features of their countries that they love; the jingoist may love its army or its empire, the liberal loves its human rights laws or its official religious pluralism. But none of these are things that can properly be objects of love or loyalty. (Only persons can be.) The liberal can never even defend his country, in the end, because he refuses to admit that what he loves is grounded in a particular people. And so, for example, he fails to see that importing another people, hostile to his own, will spell the end of his country and his nation. And, worse, in trying to preserve his country at the expense of his nation, he is quick to give up the 'values' that others are supposedly attacking. (The French have not had freedom of expression for decades, to placate Muslims and other self-conscious minorities.)


You are making a lot of sense. You say

>>the liberal loves its human rights laws or its official religious pluralism. But none of these are things that can properly be objects of love or loyalty. (Only persons can be.)<<

So there cannot be loyalty to a set of values or to the law, whether moral or positive (the law enacted by legislatures). This bothers me somewhat. The Unabomber's brother ratted him out and was therefore disloyal. I want to say he did something noble and displayed a higher loyalty, but not to a particular person or to any particular group of persons, but to the rule of law.

We can agree on this much: there is a question as to the proper object of loyalty.

To simplify what you are saying, perhaps inaccurately, for you the proper object of patriotism is the NATION which is roughly a land mass populated by people who share a common culture. For me the proper object is the COUNTRY which includes, in addition to the above factors, the values and principles which are enshrined in the founding documents which are at the basis of the gov't's institutional structure. (You will have noticed that I distinguish the gov't from the administration, the bunch currently in power. POTUS, for example, is an office; the contemptible Obama is merely the current occupant of the office.)

Part of your argument is that only persons can be proper objects of love/loyalty; so one cannot love patriotically what one popular pundit calls the American trinity: e pluribus unum; in God we trust; liberty. And so an American, on your view, cannot be properly patriotic toward his country if 'country' defined so as to include principles and values.

But by the same token how can you be properly patriotic if nation includes culture. A common culture is not a person.

You're right, of course, that a common culture isn't a person (and neither is the land a nation shares). So if I'm saying that patriotism should be directed to persons, but also that it should be directed at these non-persons, cultures, that's incoherent. But I'd put it this way instead: the common culture is what makes the patriot's nation his, or makes him its, but he doesn't (or shouldn't) love his nation for its culture. Consider the analogy with family again: my parents are my parents in virtue of certain biological or genetic commonalities between us, but I don't love them for those commonalities. So I'm thinking that the common culture is part of what constitutes the nation, and his belonging to it, but not the feature in virtue of which he loves it or is loyal to it.

The unabomber's brother was disloyal to his brother, and perhaps he did have a 'higher' loyalty. But could that just be a loyalty to some broader community of persons? You want to say that he was loyal to certain principles. That seems right too. But maybe we could simply say that he acted with integrity, or something like that: he believed certain principles, and took a difficult action in order to do what he believed was right. (This doesn't require the notion of love or loyalty for the principles.) And I'd want to say that he believed in those principles because he felt some kind of love for persons. Does that seem right? (I share your intuition that we can have 'loyalty' to principles or ideas or values; I also have the intuition that if we explore the first intuition we'll find that it requires us loyalty to an ultimate Person or Persons.)

But I'm not entirely sure. Maybe I should stress that I've been putting this line of thought forward in an exploratory way. Anyway thank you for a very interesting exchange. I look forward to hearing more.

What makes patriotism morally permissible? I take you to be saying that what make it morally permissible is merely the fact of a country's being one's own. If that is what you are saying, I disagree. Suppose I am a native citizen of some Aryan nation the culture of which includes a commitment to enslaving non-Aryans. Surely my loyalty to this country is morally impermissible.

And how can you share my intuition that we can have loyalty to principles or ideas or values when you have stated that it is only persons who are the proper objects of loyalty? You did use inverted commas around 'loyalty.' Is 'loyalty' then an analog of loyalty, or what?

Hi Bill,
I say it's permissible for the Aryan to be loyal to his country (or nation) because such loyalty doesn't require him to endorse slavery or do anything else especially bad. If I'm loyal to my friend, and it turns out he is a rapist, my loyalty doesn't require me to help him rape people; nor does loyalty require me to help him evade the police. At least, I can't see why loyalty to a person would require this. My suggestion is that the common culture is what enables people to form the kinds of communities that can be objects of patriotism -- not that the common culture itself has to be loved, let alone that every cultural norm or commitment must be respected by the patriot. I can even imagine a patriot who doesn't much like his own culture, but loves the members of his community nonetheless, because they're his. Just as someone might recognize that his family has all kinds of bad traits, that other families are better in some objective sense, but might still just love his family in a special way.

How can I share your intuition? Well, it seems easy enough to have intuitions that don't fit well with my philosophical opinions :) My idea was that when we are 'loyal' to principles we are really loyal to some person or group of persons whose interests are reflected in the principle, or whose interests would be secured by applying the principle. So our relation to the principles, on this view, is not loyalty proper but something related to loyalty (though I don't know whether it's related as an analogue). I do think we can also have morally important attitudes to principles apart from people, but I don't think loyalty proper is one of them.

Here's another way to approach the issue. If we agree that it's permissible for me to love and be loyal to my father, or for he to feel that way about me, why is that permissible? In line with your original view, we might say that it's because he cared for me as a child, etc. But why did he do that for me rather than someone else? Isn't the reason just that I am _his_ child, and the other person isn't? If he didn't care for me, he should have done so (I assume). But isn't that, again, because I am his child? In other words, I'm curious to know whether you'd treat the case of familial love and loyalty in the same way that you originally proposed to treat patriotism, and if not, why you distinguish between these cases which seem to be relevantly similar.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



June 2024

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Blog powered by Typepad