Essay on patriotic topics

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The kind of patriotism defended by Nathanson and Baron is moderate in several distinct, but related respects. It acknowledges the constraints morality imposes on the pursuit of our individual and collective goals. For instance, it may require the patriot to fight for his country, but only in so far as the war is, and remains, just.

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Adherents of both extreme and robust patriotism will consider themselves bound to fight for their country whether its cause be just or not. Extreme patriots will also fight for it in whatever way it takes to win. Moderate patriotism is not exclusive. Its adherent will show special concern for his country and compatriots, but that will not prevent him from showing concern for other countries and their inhabitants. Such patriotism is compatible with a decent degree of humanitarianism.

Finally, moderate patriotism is not uncritical, unconditional, or egocentric.

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For an adherent of this type of patriotism, it is not enough that the country is her country. She will also expect it to live up to certain standards and thereby deserve her support, devotion, and special concern for its well-being. When it fails to do so, she will withhold support. The latter type of patriotism need not conflict with impartial justice or common human solidarity.

It will therefore be judged morally unobjectionable by all except some adherents of a strict type of cosmopolitanism. However, both Baron and Nathanson fail to distinguish clearly between showing that their preferred type of patriotism is morally unobjectionable and showing that it is morally required or virtuous, and sometimes seem to be assuming that by showing the former, they are also showing the latter. Yet there is a gap between the two claims, and the latter, stronger case for moderate patriotism still needs to be made.

What is the case for the claim that moderate patriotism is morally mandatory — that we have a duty of special concern for the well-being of our country and compatriots, similar to special duties to family or friends?


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Gratitude is probably the most popular among the grounds adduced for patriotic duty. We owe our country our life, our education, our language, and, in the most fortunate cases, our liberty. Both Socrates and Viroli are exaggerating the benefits bestowed on us by our country; surely any gratitude owed for being born or brought up is owed to parents, rather than patria. But there are important benefits we have received from our country; the argument is that we are bound to show gratitude for them, and that the appropriate way to do so is to show special concern for the well-being of the country and compatriots.

One worry here is that considerations of gratitude normally arise in interpersonal relations. We also speak of gratitude to large and impersonal entities — our school, profession, or even our country — but that seems to be an abbreviated way of referring to gratitude to particular persons who have acted on behalf of these entities. A debt of gratitude is not incurred by any benefit received. If a benefit is conferred inadvertently, or advisedly but for the wrong reason e.

And we cannot talk with confidence about the reasons a large and complex group or institution has for its actions. Perhaps we can think of compatriots as an aggregate of individuals. Do we owe them a debt of gratitude for the benefits of life among them?

Again, it depends on the reason for their law-abiding behavior and social cooperation generally. But there is no single reason common to all or even most of them. Some do their part without giving much thought to the reasons for doing so; others believe that doing so is, in the long run, the most prudent policy; still others act out of altruistic motives. Only the last group — surely a tiny minority — would be a proper object of our gratitude.

Moreover, gratitude is appropriate only for a benefit conferred freely, as a gift, and not as a quid pro quo.

The Issue Of American Patriotism

But most of the benefits we receive from our country are of the latter sort: benefits we have paid for by our own law-abiding behavior in general, and through taxation in particular. The benefits one has received from her country might be considered relevant to the duty of patriotism in a different way: as raising the issue of fairness. It is rather a common enterprise that produces and distributes a wide range of benefits.

These benefits are made possible by cooperation of those who live in the country, participate in the enterprise, owe and render allegiance to the polity. The rules that regulate the cooperation and determine the distribution of burdens and benefits enjoin, among other things, special concern for the well-being of compatriots which is not due to outsiders. As Richard Dagger puts it:. This argument conflates the issue of patriotism with that of political obligation , and the notion of a patriot with that of a citizen.

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Unlike informal cooperation among tenants in a building, for instance, cooperation on the scale of a country is regulated by a set of laws. Whether we have a moral duty to obey the laws of our country is one of the central issues in modern political philosophy, discussed under the heading of political obligation. One major account of political obligation is that of fairness. If successful, that account shows that we do have a moral duty to abide by the laws of our country, to act as citizens, and that this duty is one of fairness.

But whereas a patriot is also a citizen, a citizen is not necessarily a patriot. Patriotism involves special concern for the patria and compatriots, a concern that goes beyond what the laws obligate one to do, beyond what one does as a citizen; that is, beyond what one ought, in fairness , to do. Failing to show that concern, however, cannot be unfair — except on the question-begging assumption that, in addition to state law, cooperation on this scale is also based on, and regulated by, a moral rule enjoining special concern for the well-being of the country and compatriots.

Some philosophers seek to ground patriotic duty in its good consequences see the entry on consequentialism. The duty of special concern for the well-being of our country and compatriots, just like other duties, universal and special, is justified by the good consequences of its adoption. Special duties mediate our fundamental, universal duties and make possible their most effective discharge. They establish a division of moral labor, necessary because our capacity of doing good is limited by our resources and circumstances.

Each of us can normally be of greater assistance to those who are in some way close to us than to those who are not. Patriots will find this account of their love of and loyalty to their country alien to what they feel patriotism is all about. Patriotic duty owes its moral force to the moral force of those universal duties. They merely happen to be the beneficiaries of the most effective way of putting into practice our concern for human beings in general. The special relationship between the patriot and the patria and compatriots — the relationship of love and identification — has been dissolved.

Essay on Patriotism

There is also a view of patriotic duty that, in contrast to the consequentialist account, does not dissolve, but rather highlight this relationship. That is the view of patriotism as an associative duty see the entry on special obligations , section 4. It is based on an understanding of special relationships as intrinsically valuable and involving duties of special concern for the well-being of those we are related to. Such duties are not means of creating or maintaining those relationships, but rather their part and parcel, and can only be understood, and justified, as such, just as those relationships can only be understood as involving the special duties pertaining to them while involving much else besides.

For instance, one who denies that she has an obligation of special concern for the well-being of her friend shows that she no longer perceives and treats the person concerned as a friend, that as far as she is concerned the friendship is gone. One who denies that people in general have a duty of special concern for the well-being of their friends shows that she does not understand what friendship is.


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Andrew Mason has offered an argument for the duty of special concern for the well-being of compatriots based on the value embodied in our relationship to compatriots, that of common citizenship. Citizenship in this sense is an intrinsically valuable relationship, and grounds certain special duties fellow citizens have to one another.

Now citizenship obviously has considerable instrumental value; but how is it valuable in itself? The first of these two special duties can be put aside, as it is not specific to patriotism, but rather pertains to citizenship. It is the second that is at issue. If we indeed have a duty of special concern towards compatriots, and if that is an associative duty, that is because our association with them is intrinsically valuable and bound up with this duty.

The claim about the intrinsic value of our association might be thought a moot point. But even if it were conceded, one might still resist the claim concerning the alleged duty. If someone were to deny that she has a duty of special concern for the well-being of her country and compatriots, beyond what the laws of her country mandate and beyond the concern she has for humans and humanity, would she thereby cease to be a citizen in the sense involving equal standing? If she were to deny that citizens generally have such an obligation, would that betray lack of understanding of what citizenship in the relevant sense is?

If she came across two strangers in a life-threatening situation and could only save one, would she have a prima facie moral duty to save the one who was a compatriot? All the main arguments for the claim that patriotism is a duty, then, are exposed to serious objections.