4 Must-read Articles for the Philosophical Patriot

Happy Independence Day to all my American friends! I hope you’re having a great day full of grilling, fireworks, and American pride.

Last year, I wrote and defended my senior thesis, which explored the question of how to juggle loyalties to one’s state, country, home, and religion. Despite not being much of the poli-sci type, I enjoyed this topic because it’s something I’ve struggled with in my own life. As a second-generation Hispanic-American and dual citizen, I’d never thought much about the United States as part of my identity. I identified much more with my home state rather than my two countries. Was that wrong? Should I call myself a patriot? What does it mean to be a patriot? It took me hours upon hours of reading and writing to come up with a stab at an answer, but if you want to hear about that, you can ask me in comments.

For now, I’d like to share some of my favorite article-length sources that I used. What better way to celebrate the Fourth of July by engaging with moral philosophy in a country that allows us to do so?

1. “Big patriotism is poisoning America” by Bonnie Kristian

This 2017 opinion piece for The Week is what inspired me to write my thesis. Kristian presents a compelling model for “small” patriotism, built on concrete love of neighbor and home, instead of “big” patriotism, which depends on blind submission to a behemoth state. She points out that a patriot shouldn’t love her country because it’s the best–she should love it because it’s hers. A gloriously sane article. Short, readable, with Lord of the Rings references!

Favorite quote:

Small patriotism loves one’s neighborhood for one’s home, and one’s city because it holds the neighborhood, and one’s state, region, and country as the city’s host. Big patriotism is a top-down phenomenon, anchored in the self-declared glory of government and the idolatrous liturgies of civil religion.

2. “Patriotism” by Igor Primoratz, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

This entry of the SEP is a nice overview of historical thought on patriotism, as well as the multiple types of patriotism visible today. Primoratz summarizes the views of the leading contemporary moral philosophers who discuss patriotism so you can get a good idea of what each believes without wading through entire books. If you want a measured, rational look at all varieties of patriotism, this is your best and shortest source.

Favorite quote:

Accordingly, patriotism can be defined as love of one’s country, identification with it, and special concern for its well-being and that of compatriots.

3. “Patriotism, or Peace?” by Leo Tolstoy

It’s only right to include the most famous anti-patriotism article in our discussion. Even if you don’t agree with Tolstoy (and I don’t), it’s important to read his words nonetheless. That’s what moral philosophy is all about: dialectic and listening. Tolstoy definitely has some valid critiques of the hypocrisy of war-mongerers who claim to be patriots.

Favorite quote:

Patriotism cannot be good. Why is it that people do not call egotism good? This may be asserted more easily, because egotism is a natural sentiment, with which a man is born, while patriotism is an unnatural sentiment, which is artificially instilled in him.

4. “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” by Alasdair MacIntyre

Warning: this is very long, so unless you have a lot of time, don’t try to read the whole thing. But even just reading the first few pages is worthwhile. MacIntyre’s classic 1984 discussion of patriotism is referenced in practically every article you read about patriotism these days, so it’s worth being familiar with it. His definition of a country, or patria, is easily the best one I’ve encountered, and he deals with the topic very thoroughly. His stance is that patriotism belongs at the crux of morality because all ethical systems develop in the context of a community, so loyalty to that community is a prerequisite for morality. (I’d argue that the community in question doesn’t need to be a country, but that’s beside the point.)

Favorite quote:

…The nation [is] conceived as a project, a project somehow or other brought to birth in the past and carried on so that a morally distinctive community was brought into being…the patriot is committed to… a particular way of linking a past which has conferred a distinctive moral and political identity upon him or her with a future for the project… which it is his or her responsibility to bring into being.

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What do you think? How do you approach patriotism? What reading have you done about this topic? Let me know in comments!

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