March 2008

 Ispatriotismgoodfor anyone other than flag manufacturers? If so, goodfor whom, and why? Do we have special obligations to some people simply in virtue of common membership in a nation state? If so, how is this different from special obligations to some in virtue of a common race, or a common religion? Does the unquestioned utility of shared nation-level institutions require a special sentiment, patriotism, to hold it all together? Would our institutions be more effective if we were more patriotic? Patriotismis surely useful for creating the solidarity needed to defend against an external enemy. But aren’t our potential enemies patriotic, too? If we need patriotismfor defense against patriotism on the offense, wouldn’t we all be better off with multilateral disarmament?

To tackle these questions and more, we’ve assembled a lineup of world-class political theorists, starting with lead essayist George Kateb, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Emeritus at Princeton University and author of Patriotism and Other Mistakes. Commenting on Kateb’s essay, we’ll have the American Enterprise Institute’s Walter Berns, author of Making Patriots; William Galston of the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland, author of The Practice of Liberal Pluralism; and Chandran Kukathas of the London School of Economics, author of The Liberal Archipelago: A Theory of Diversity and Freedom.

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Lead Essay

  • “Patriotism is love of country. What kind of love is that?” asks George Kateb, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Emeritus at Princeton University, in this month’s provocative lead essay. According to Kateb, patriotism is the kind of love that suggests our lives are not our own, that we should be prepared to kill and die for the state: “Being owned, we owe the state or the country a debt, a ‘blood-tax’ that must be paid when the state demands it,” Kateb writes. After treating the reader to a learned account of the uneasy place of patriotism in the liberal, social contract tradition, Kateb concludes, “Patriotism, more than any other passion in political life, makes virtues do the work of vices while promoting the praise of vices as disguised virtues. It thus sustains enormous moral perversity. If no one were a patriot, the world would be better off than it now is, when almost all are patriots.”

Response Essays

  • In his reply essay, the American Enterprise Institute’s Walter Berns, author of Making Patriots, argues that the value of patriotism, the love of country, depends on the nature of the country to be loved, and criticizes George Kateb for failing to distinguish between virtuous and vicious forms. Berns notes that historically patriotism has been linked with ideas about popular sovereignty, which gave rise in the 17th Century to new ideas about the rights of man. “From these new principles came new governments, first in America, then in France, and with them came a new understanding of patriotism” fundamentally different from “the sort of filial piety associated with classical Sparta.” Berns finds Kateb agreeing that a legitimate liberal democracy needs citizens willing to defend it. “Although [Kateb] ends up saying the world would be a better place without patriots,” Berns writes, “he has to concede that a government by consent is dependent on them.”

  • The London School of Economics political theorist Chandran Kukathas argues that George Kateb “takes the state far too seriously, and fails to realize that it is the state, and not patriotism itself, that is the source of the problem.” Patriotism, Kukathas claims, is a symptom “of the place the state has in the life of a person or of a people.” When people come to think there is a problem that only the state can solve, patriotism tends to surge, but “they will come to think this because the state and its acolytes have persuaded — tricked, cajoled, manipulated, deceived, conned, frightened, bullied, sweet-talked — them into believing so.” However, the state is not going anywhere, and therefore neither is patriotism. So “we should just get used to patriotism, patriots, and their discontents,” Kukathas concludes.

  • Like Walter Berns, the Brookings Institution’s William Galston faults George Kateb for failing to distinguish between virtuous and vicious forms of patriotism. He then observes that one may love one’s country without loving it in the way one loves a parent. Moreover, Galston argues, if we need the state, as Kateb admits, then it seems we may need patriotism. “It would seem to follow that the beliefs and traits of character that conduce to government’s security-providing function are ipso facto instrumentally justified, as civic virtues. That is the basis on which a reasonable patriotism may be defined and defended.”

Related at Cato

» America’s Particular Patriotism by Edward L. Hudgins