Home > Politics > Is patriotism a virtue? Guest post by Kent Ashcraft

Is patriotism a virtue? Guest post by Kent Ashcraft

April 2, 2008

Recently I’ve been wanting to ask people driving giant SUV’s, “What is it exactly that you love so much about Saudi Arabia?”  But it’s just a passing thought.

Then today I got one of Kent Ashcraft’s infamous emails.  You may remember him from the Dear Dr. Laura bit of doggerel where he asks how to apply the Leviticus to his gay neighbors.  This time, he’s on about ‘Patriotism”, and in an election year, it seems like a fit topic.

“This much is certain: We Americans owe our existence as a nation to the American patriots who fought in the Revolutionary War. As a result of that debt, we generally consider patriotism to be one of the greater virtues people can possess. In reality, it’s somewhat more complex than that.

First of all, the patriots of the American Revolution were not fighting in support of their country, which at the time was England. They were fighting against their country for the right to break away and establish a new one. It’s only in retrospect that we view them as loyal to the (present) fatherland; in reality they were the opposite of loyal…

Oh noes!!! How can you say that about our founding fathers?!!  Rebels against their country, with the help of France no less ?!!!

“…We admire them for their commitment to their cause, as well we should. But we shouldn’t confuse that commitment with the unthinking advocacy of one’s country of birth. Your country is like your family; the natural tendency is to love it unconditionally, because it’s yours. That’s not something we have to work at – it’s just there. Even if your family (or country) is dysfunctional or does not deserve your love, chances are you will love it anyway. Doing what comes naturally cannot be considered a virtue.

Is it a virtue to be proud of one’s country? Even less so, in my opinion. In classical literature Pride is described as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and even if we don’t go quite that far, I think we can agree that pride is appropriate only for our own accomplishments. The appropriate emotion in response to the accomplishments of others, if they have given us a better life, is gratitude, not pride. I was given my American citizenship at birth – I didn’t earn it. I’m proud of my best marathon time (2:47:29 just to brag), but I’m not proud to be an American. I’m fortunate to be an American.

What we often call patriotism today would be more accurately termed nationalism. It’s the blind obedience to national authorities that characterized German and Japanese citizens in the 1930s and ‘40s. Patrick Henry and Paul Revere would not have fit well into those societies, and I’m proud to say I would not have either. In summary, I don’t wear an American flag lapel pin, but I do love my country, in spite of its flaws, for whatever that’s worth.”
- Kent Ashcraft

Can we fit that into a campaign slogan?  How about into a song by Randy Newman?

Categories: Politics
  1. Ted
    April 3, 2008 at 07:02 | #1

    About 3/4 into the essay is a treatment of patriotism. Or at least an attempt to co-opt the word from the domain of conservatives.

    I think that Bernard is one of youse IT dinks.

    I find that patriotism fits neatly within generally nationalistic tendencies and as nice as the essay is, Bernard is unconvincing in the ability of progressives to successfully take ownership of the word.

    In Kent’s last sentence (in your quote), I think the focus is on loving my country, which I find to be usually at someone else’s expense.

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