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Defense of the fatherland is a commonplace of patriotism: The statue in the courtyard of École polytechnique, Paris, commemorating the students' involvement in defending France against the 1814 invasion of the Coalition.
Defense of the fatherland is a commonplace of patriotism: The statue in the courtyard of École polytechnique, Paris, commemorating the students' involvement in defending France against the 1814 invasion of the Coalition.

Patriotism denotes positive and supportive attitudes to a 'fatherland' (Latin patria), by individuals and groups. The 'fatherland' (or 'motherland') can be a region or a city, but patriotism usually applies to a nation and/or a nation-state. Patriotism covers such attitudes as: pride in its achievements and culture, the desire to preserve its character and the basis of the culture, and identification with other members of the nation. Patriotism is closely associated with nationalism, and is often used as a synonym for it. Strictly speaking, nationalism is an ideology - but it often promotes patriotic attitudes as desirable and appropriate. (Both nationalist political movements, and patriotic expression, may be negative towards other people's 'fatherland').

Patriotism has ethical connotations: it implies that the 'fatherland' (however defined) is a moral standard or moral value in itself. The expression my country right or wrong - perhaps a misquotation of the American naval officer Stephen Decatur, but also attributed to Carl Schurz - is the extreme form of this belief. Patriotism also implies that the individual should place the interests of the nation above their personal and group interests. In wartime, the sacrifice may extend to their own life. Death in battle for the fatherland is the archetype of extreme patriotism.


[edit] Types of patriotism

Magnets on automobiles became a popular way to display patriotism in the United States following the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Magnets on automobiles became a popular way to display patriotism in the United States following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Personal patriotism is emotional and voluntary. The patriot adheres to certain patriotic values, such as respect for the flag. They may insist that the entire citizenry shares adherence to these values, or that they be legally enforced, see Flag Desecration Amendment.

Governments promote an official patriotism which has a high symbolic and ceremonial content. It is a logical consequence of the state itself, which derives legitimacy from being the expression of the common good of the political community. National monuments, and veterans days and commemoration ceremonies are typical examples. Often official patriotism is highly regulated by protocol, with specific methods for handling flags, or specific pledges and displays of allegiance.

Patriotism relies heavily on symbolic acts, such as displaying the flag, singing the national anthem, participating in a mass rally, placing a patriotic bumper sticker on one's vehicle, or any other way of publicly proclaiming allegiance to the state. Symbolic patriotism in wartime is intended to raise morale, in turn contributing to the war effort. Peacetime patriotism can not be so easily linked to a measurable gain for the state, but the patriot does not see it as inferior.

Levels of patriotism vary across time, and among political communities. Typically, patriotic intensity is higher when the state is under external threat.

[edit] The ethics of patriotism

The primary implication of patriotism in ethical theory is that a person has more moral duties to fellow members of the national community, than to non-members. Patriotism is selective in its altruism. Criticism of patriotism in ethics is mainly directed at this moral preference: Paul Gomberg compared it to racism.[1] The view (in ethics) that moral duties apply equally to all humans is known as cosmopolitanism. (In practice, many patriots would see treason rather than cosmopolitanism as the 'opposite of patriotism').

Patriotism implies a value preference for a specific civic or political community. Universalist beliefs reject such specific preferences, and there may be an alternative, wider, community. In the European Union, thinkers such as Habermas, however, have advocated a European-wide patriotism, but patriotism in Europe is usually directed at the nation-state and often coincides with Euroscepticism. Some Islamists despise patriotism as un-Islamic: the loyalty of the Muslim, they say, can only be to the Ummah, the community of all Muslims. Some Restorationist Christian denominations, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mennonites, refuse to participate in patriotic acts and ceremonies, or display patriotic symbols.

Supporters of patriotism in ethics regard it as a virtue. In his influential article "Is patriotism a virtue?" (1984), the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre notes that most contemporary conceptions of morality insist on a blindness to accidental traits like local origin and therefore reject patriotic selectivity. MacIntyre constructs an alternative conception of morality, that he claims would be compatible with patriotism. Charles Blattberg, in his book From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics (2000), has developed a similar conception of patriotism.

A problem with treating patriotism as a virtue is that patriotisms often conflict. Soldiers of both sides in a war may feel equally patriotic, creating an ethical paradox. (If patriotism is a virtue, then the enemy is virtuous, so why try to kill them?)

Within nations, politicians may appeal to patriotic emotions in attacking their opponents, implicitly or explicitly accusing them of betraying the country. Minorities may reject a patriotic loyalty and pride, which the majority finds unproblematic. They may feel excluded from the political community, and see no reason to be proud of it. The Australian political conflict about the Black arm band theory of history is an example. Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, who would undoubtedly describe himself as an Australian patriot, said of it in 1996:

The 'black armband' view of our history reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination.

In the United States, patriotic history has been criticised for de-emphasising the post-Colombian depopulation, the Atlantic slave trade, the population expulsions and the wars of conquest against Native Americans.

[edit] Patriotism for other countries?

There are historical examples of individuals who fought for other countries, sometimes for their independence - for example the Marquis de Lafayette, Tadeusz Kościuszko and Kazimierz Pułaski in the American Revolutionary War, and the "Philhellenes," western Europeans who fought in the Greek War of Independence. Was Lafayette an American patriot, or the Philhellenes Greek patriots? Alasdair MacIntyre would claim that they were not; that these and similar cases are instances of idealism, but not of patriotism. Under this view, Lafayette was only devoted to the ideals of political liberty that underlay the American Revolution, but was not specifically patriotic for America. For MacIntyre, patriotism by definition can only be a preference for one's own country, not a preference for the ideals that a country is believed to stand for. Charles Blattberg's conception of patriotism, however, is more nuanced: to him, a patriot can be critical of his or her country for failing to live up to its ideals.

[edit] An evolutionary origin of patriotism?

Why do so many people experience intense patriotic feelings? The idea that feelings of loyalty to the group are favoured by natural selection was expressed by Charles Darwin in 1871:

A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection. [2]

An modern evolutionary biology explanation. is that patriotism is a form of kin altruism, which is both posited and explained by the theory of kin selection. This explanation is speculative and disputed, and no explicit genetic basis for patriotism has been evidenced. [3] Kin altruism, in its simplest form, implies that one animal would sacrifice itself to ensure survival of more than one other genetically related individual, for instance siblings.

Since Darwin's time, evidence for kin selection has been observed among many species that live in small groups. Gene-centric theories imply that members of such groups have an evolutionary interest in the long-term success of each other's genetic endowment. The theory is disputed: some evolutionary biologists believe that the quantitative conditions needed to make kin selection effective in small human societies were simply not met. The controversy hinges on what numerical values are to be plugged into the (generally accepted) equations of W. D. Hamilton that govern kin selection.

Some people reject the 'kin selection' theory of patriotism, simply because they reject the theory of evolution on religious grounds. For them, their religious beliefs explain why the human character is the way it is. Depending on whether they see patriotism as good or bad, they would attribute it to a free will choice for good or evil. Others accept the theory of evolution in general, but reject efforts to invoke it in the explanation of human behaviour.

[edit] See also

This entry is related to, but not included in the Political ideologies series or one of its sub-series. Other related articles can be found at the Politics Portal.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Paul Gomberg, “Patriotism is Like Racism,” in Igor Primoratz, ed., Patriotism, Humanity Books, 2002, pp. 105-112. ISBN 1-57392-955-7.
  2. ^ In Chapter 5 of The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). The book is available in a number of modern editions (for an inexpensive one: ISBN 1-57392-176-9). Also on line at [1]
  3. ^ The homeopathy of kin selection, Politics and the Life Sciences 20:203-215. A skeptical look by the philosopher of science Ingo Brigandt at the kin-selection theory of patriotism. [2]

[edit] Sources and further reading

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:
  • Joshua Cohen and Martha C. Nussbaum, For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism, Beacon Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8070-4313-3.
  • Jürgen Habermas, “Appendix II: Citizenship and National Identity,” in Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. William Rehg, MIT Press, 1996.
  • Maurizio Viroli, For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism, Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-19-829358-5.
  • Daniel Bar-Tal and Ervin Staub, Patriotism, Wadsworth Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0-8304-1410-X.
  • Charles Blattberg, From Pluralist to Patriotic Politics: Putting Practice First, Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-19-829688-6.
  • Igor Primoratz, ed., Patriotism, Humanity Books, 2002. ISBN 1-57392-955-7.
  • Paul Gomberg, “Patriotism is Like Racism,” in Igor Primoratz, ed., Patriotism, Humanity Books, 2002, pp. 105-112. ISBN 1-57392-955-7.
  • Craig Calhoun, Is it Time to Be Postnational?, in Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Minority Rights, (eds.) Stephen May, Tariq Modood and Judith Squires. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. pp 231-256. Online at
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