[Dialogue] Is patriotism a virtue (that is, a morally valuable character trait), or is it just a kind of prejudice (like racism)?
Dialogue on the topic: Is patriotism a virtue (that is a morally valuable character trait) or is it just a kind of prejudice like racism
Ann: Have you noticed that in every country, there is some form of radicalization that takes place in the name of enhancing patriotism. Every citizen in a country, with a few exceptions, is taught the essence of loving and respecting their nation from a very young age. However, no one gives justifiable reasons whey it is necessary to engage in such an activity.
John: I think that when you are born and raised in a country, you have the responsbility of engaging in activities that help in the promotion of the country’s philosophies. Remember the country is responsible for the provision of basic needs in life such as security. The only way you can appreciate the efforts by the government is by remaining loyal and respectful to the polies and laws espoused.
Ann: Do you mean that learning how to raise the flag, memorizing and repeating the words of the national anthem and the national pledge together with increasingly biased details of the national history qualifies as essential elements of patriotism and not some form of differentiating one country from another through the existing territorial borders
John: That is just part of the definition of patriotism. A patriotic citizen is one who has the ability to demonstrate love for his or her country. This is often realized by identifying with the country, and paying special attention for its wellbeing and that of the compatriots. Patriotism does not only stop at learning and mastering the national anthems and the national pledge, but it also focuses on the need by the citizens to engage in activities that promote national interest.1
Ann: Does patriotism therefore mean the willingness to die for the sake of one’s country?
John: A patriot is believer in the philosophies of his or her country. This is defined by the need as a human being to belong to a group and to relate to its past and future. Furthermore, a patriot endeavors to participate in activities that concern the political, economic, and social wellbeing of the country. This explains while a patriot will register in the army to defend the security and integrity of his or her country.2
Ann: Your perspective on patriotism generates an argument on the extent to which patriotism can be considered as a moral virtue or an element of prejudice and discrimination such as racism. This is because from arguing from the Kantian categorical imperatives, an individual should engage in moral activities that he would accept to be made universal. This means that for an action to qualify as moral it must be applicable from a universal perspective.3
John, I am in agreement with you that patriotism cannot be understood from a universal perspective. However, this does not mean that it is cannot be viewed as a moral virtue. It is possible for an individual’s love for his family and friends to coexist with low estimates of the individuals qualities. However, for patriots the process of endorsing and declaring love for the country requires in-depth consideration of their beliefs about the country and achievements based on unbiased and objective value standards. It is notable that a patriot’s loyalty to his or her country is not instigated by the set of virtue that the country professes, because this would mean that if a neighboring country professes better virtues and laws then the allegiance of the patriot would be shifted. A patriot is loyal because it is her or her country and loyalty is his or her responsbility.4
Ann: The argument you have just presented is an indication of the level of bias that is demonstrated by patriotism. You consider patriotism as an important and morally mandatory element in the identity of the patriot. However, I am inclined into thinking that patriotism is belongs can be associated with egoism.
John: Why are you saying so?
Ann: This is because patriotism demands a morally random partiality to one’s own, which is at odds with the demands of common human solidarity and universal justice. This would lead to the development of an additional argues that if unregulated, it is possible for citizens of one country to develop extreme patriotic tendencies while demonstrating love for their own country.5 Extreme patriotism will require a demonstration of love for one’s country and the development of dislike and hostility towards other countries. Patriotism from this approach can be viewed as encouraging militarism, which promotes tension and conflict within on the international platform.
John: Your argument against patriotism presents the notion of biased and discrimination. However, let me explain my understanding of the moral aspects that define patriotism borrowing from Alasdair MacIntrye’s seminal work “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” according to MacIntrye, there is need to contrast patriotism with liberal commitments to existing universal values and principles.6 The liberal perspective asserts that the source of my knowledge of the principle of morality is irrelevant to their content and my commitments to them. However, the robust patriotic approach developed by MacIntrye asserts that the source of an individual’s knowledge of morality is decisive of his of his level of commitment and the content learned.7 Morality can only be understood as morality of a specific community. It is possible for an individual to internalize and understand moral rules when he or he is part of a community. The rules of morality are justified in terms of the benefits they promote and express, but these benefits are always provided as part of a community.8
Ann: are you saying that a patriot is an individual who lives and flourishes because his community sustains him in his moral life? This would be an indication that an individual can only be considered as a moral agent because other members of the community are moral agents. If such an individual is detached from the community then he is pertinent to lose his moral standards of judgment.9
John: That is true because according to MacIntrye an individual can only live and flourish as a mortal agent when attached to a community. The identity of such an individual when playing the role of a moral agent is defined by the identity of his community. If an individual does not understand that his life is embedded in the history of his country, then he would not understand what others owe him or what he owes to others.10 An understanding of the relationship between a moral agent and the community enables a patriot to understand the ills of his nation that he is bound to make compensation and the benefits to his nation that he is bound to appreciate. MacIntrye developed the conclusion that morality cannot be contrasted with patriotism because the latter is not only the bedrock of morality but also the central moral virtue11.
Ann: MacIntrye’s approach to patriots is particularistic and cannot be considered objective with regard to universal application of justice. Furthermore, this approach means that a country can only be committed to the realization of the desires and demand of its citizens while excluding or ignoring citizens from other countries who may be expecting greater problems. MacIntrye’s view of patriots also depicts a situation where patriots are completed loyal to the laws that define their country because this is the foundation of their belief system.
John: It is true that the role of a patriot is to demonstrate loyalty to his or her country. However, this does not mean that it is the responsbility of the patriot to support any government that exercises power in his country. His allegiance is not to the status quo of power but to the nation.12 A patriot has the right to oppose the policies espoused by a government in ways that demonstrate his support to the true character of his country. This means that a patriot in the process of demonstrating love for his country must be critical and rational.
Ann: MacIntrye’s argument on patriotism gives moral preeminence to the community over the individual. It is possible to argue that even if the communitarian approach of morality was justifiable and the process of virtue development ensures that loyalty to a group would emerge as the most essential element, there would be no conclusion on the importance of patriotism. The group to which individual would owe their primary loyalty would be the same group from which they acquired their moral understanding. This does not have to be a political unit but smaller units such as family ad religious denomination. From a rational perspective, it is relatively impossible for the nation to be the primary beneficiary of individual loyalty and the source of morality. Do you think that robust patriotism as presented by MacIntrye rejects morality?
John: I think it presents the notion that morality is the foundation patriotism. The actions of patriots are defined by the moral standards that they acquire overtime as they learn about essential element that define the history and aspirations of their country.13
Ann: Despite the claim by MacIntrye that the larger interests of a country are subject to rational and critical thought, it si also true that he insist on the role of an individual in working towards the benefits of his country even in situation where such efforts may be disadvantageous and damaging to humanity. This assertion supports wars in defense of the interests of one nation over the other. It is also possible to argue that MacIntrye’s approach to patriotism also supports the development of laws that reject immigrant population from one country by the virtue of belonging to another country.14
John: From your perceptive, what then is the best approach in understanding patriotism?
Ann: Patriotism is just a twisted version of egoism developed around the notion of shared communal history. Individuals do not need reasons to demonstrate their love for their country because feeling some level of attachment in the land an individual was born in cannot be defined from a rationalist perspective considering that the individual was not free in choosing where to be born. Furthermore, any feeling of gratitude that an individual may have towards his or her country could be misplaced because the history of different countries is defined by wars and killings and this do not present any moral justification for morality.15
John: Are you proposing that for individual to demonstrate virtuous aspects that define patriotism it would be important to reject the emotional bond that links them with their nation and embrace a more cosmopolitan approach towards patriotism?16
Ann: It is not rational to go that far. Inasmuch as responding to global social concerns may is considered as a virtuous action for all humanity, there are situations where it will be rational to support the interests of one’s country over others. For instance, it is considered rational for a citizen to enlist as a member of the military when his country is at war. This is however in situations where the war is for a just cause.17 Furthermore, for patriotism to be considered as a virtue, it will be important for patriots to be critical and rational even supporting his or her country. This can only be realized when the country lives according to the certain standards and threaten to withdraw when the country goes against the expected standard of operation.18
John: Your argument is representative of the assertion that when acting as a patriot, one should consider when to act in the interest of his fellow compatriots while diminishing the concern for others outside the borders.19 Is that not a discriminatory approach to patriotism?
Ann: The concern of every member of the society should be engaging in addressing social concerns such as starvation, sickness, and homelessness regardless of country of origin. This does not mean the individuals reject his obligations to his or her country so long as these responsibilities do not impose conflicting demands on the ethical capacities. This will help in strengthening the level of commitment to their country and the wider constituencies hence promoting the effectiveness and virtuous nature of patriotism.20
Carens, Joseph H. “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders,” The Review of Politics,
Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 251–273, 1987
Goodin, Robert E. “What Is So Special About Our Fellow Countrymen?” Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 4,
pp. 663–686, 1988
Hardin, Garrett. “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor”, in Thomas Pogge &
Keith Horton (eds.), Global Ethics: Seminal Essays, St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, pp. 15–27, 1974.
MacIntyre, Alasdair, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” in Derek Matravers & Jonathan E. Pike (eds.),
Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology, London, Routledge, pp. 286–300, 1984.
Miller, David. “The Ethical Significance of Nationality,” Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 4, pp. 647–662,
MacIntyre, Alasdair, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” in Derek Matravers & Jonathan E. Pike (eds.), Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology, London, Routledge, pp. 286, 1984.
10 MacIntyre, 287
11 MacIntyre, 298
Carens, Joseph H. “Aliens and Citizens: The Case for Open Borders,” The Review of Politics, Vol. 49, No. 2, pp. 268, 1987
13 MacIntyre, 296
Goodin, Robert E. “What Is So Special About Our Fellow Countrymen?” Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 4, pp. 664–685
Miller, David. “The Ethical Significance of Nationality,” Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 4, p. 658
Hardin, Garrett. “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor”, in Thomas Pogge & Keith Horton (eds.), Global Ethics: Seminal Essays, St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, p. 20.