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Why Bad People Will Find it Hard to be Patriotic (by Featured Philosopher Derek Baker)

Re-posting after a technical glitch this morning (eds.)

1.

Current events are reminding us that patriotism, at least of the sort that gets publicly acknowledged, is a confusing virtue. I don’t mean that the patriot might get drawn into doing bad things on behalf of his country. Patriotism is a form of loyalty, and loyalty, whether to friends, family, one’s university, or whatever, can draw us into doing bad things on their behalf. I mean instead that those who say they care about patriotism seem surprisingly okay with others doing bad things without regard for the interests of their country.

Take Iran-Contra. Here we have government officials selling American military technology to Iran shortly after the hostage crisis, as well as raising money from Columbian drug cartels, in order to provide funds to insurgents in Central America in defiance of Congress. They then lied about all of this to Congress while under oath. What’s extraordinary in all of this is not that these men professed to be patriots or thought of themselves as patriots. People cynically claim traits they don’t have. The less cynical are often self-deceived. What’s shocking though is that a large portion of the public is apparently willing to accept that the men in question are patriotic—and this is that portion of the public which claims to be most concerned with issues of patriotism. Oliver North ran as the official Republican candidate for Senate in the state of Virginia, and lost, but with 43% of the vote. He has since had a show on Fox News, and is a regular guest for Sean Hannity. His books have been best sellers. John Poindexter and Elliott Abrams were both reappointed to government under the flamboyantly patriotic (or “patriotic”) George W. Bush administration. Abrams also served as a foreign-policy advisor to Romney’s presidential campaign.

This should be staggering. Putting aside the human-rights abuses of the insurgents being funded (we already acknowledged that the patriot might be drawn into doing bad things), we have here a group of government officials stealing military equipment and weaponry from the United States in order to sell it to a hostile foreign power, which had very recently invaded the US embassy and taken its staff hostage for over a year. This is unpatriotic if anything is. One would expect that, given the Republican Party’s vaunted commitment to patriotism, Oliver North couldn’t attend one of its conventions without risking his safety; that Fox News would blacklist him for fear of a boycott by their viewers; that the Bush administration wouldn’t appoint any of the known conspirators for fear of a primary challenge from outraged Republican voters; that Republican presidential candidates would avoid even glancing in the direction of Abrams for the same reason. But, instead, Republican voters seem to regard these men with at worst indifference; and at least in the case of North, a substantial portion are enthusiastic fans.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to characters associated with the Reagan administration, either. Over three-quarters of Republicans think the Confederate flag is a positive symbol. And, to be fair, in the 90’s a majority of Democrats did, and a third still do. What’s confusing about this isn’t tolerance for racism. There’s a lot of that in the US. What’s confusing is widespread affection for the flag of people who took up arms, risked their lives and killed others, in many cases in direct violation of their oaths as commissioned officers is the US Army, in order to no longer be part of the country. And what should be near incomprehensible is that this affection is most widespread among those from whom we hear the most about patriotism and loyalty.

 

2.

My explanation of the phenomenon is not particularly surprising. Much of the time people are not really attached to their country but to a fantasy image of that country. This fantasy might be one in which square-jawed military men willing to act decisively are the nation (or embody the nation), and rule-bound bureaucrats and temporizing legislatures are somehow foreign. For square-jawed North to act unpatriotically, then, is as impossible as a medieval king acting treasonously. The tens of millions of people who voted that Congress in are either airbrushed away in the imagination, or made foreign as well.*

So, do we conclude that those who voted for North or defend the Confederate flag are unpatriotic? That is probably too strong. The actions are unpatriotic. Whether a person qualifies as patriotic or not presumably depends on what kinds of choices they make in a range of cases, over a period of time. But obviously an unpatriotic act is the sort of thing that must be compensated for in other decisions if one wants to qualify as a patriotic person.

In any case, loyalty to a fantasy version of one’s country can lead one to disregard or even actively undermine its interests, or to celebrate its attempted—and near successful—destruction. I want to try to draw a philosophical lesson from this. Patriotism, at least in a modern country, isn’t possible without some level of concern for people simply in virtue of their status as persons. This makes patriotism different from other familiar kinds of particular attachments, like friendship or loyalty to family. Again, I think that virtues come in degrees. I suspect that none of us can claim to be perfect in recognizing the value that others possess solely in virtue of being persons. But, to the extent that one has blinders to others’ personhood, one is more likely to act unpatriotically, which reduces the extent to which one can be regarded as patriotic. Bad people, in short, will find it more difficult to be patriotic; and their badness limits how patriotic they can be. Or at least that’s what I’ll argue.

I believe that patriotism requires concern for people on the basis of their humanity, but that other forms of particular concern do not. Before turning to my main argument, let me say something about why these other forms of concern (e.g. genuine loyalty to friends or family) don’t require universal human concern. First, accepting that someone has a claim on your concern in virtue of being a person or a human being seems, at first glance, distinct from accepting that someone has a claim on your concern in virtue of being a friend or family member. It seems possible for someone to accept the latter without the former. I think I’ve known people who accept the latter without notable concern for strangers or humanity at large. If anthropologists and historians are correct, there have been entire societies where particular loyalties have been regarded as ethically paramount, but concern for humanity at large has not been thought at all admirable.

Second, from what we can tell, impartial morality has not been the norm in human societies for the majority of our history, and we would need strong argument before we conclude that a large portion—maybe the majority—of humanity have been incapable of friendship or of loving their family members. Patriotism, on the other hand, is a culturally and historically local phenomenon, one that only makes sense for those within a certain kind of political community, one that hasn’t existed for most of human history. Achilles is not patriotic (he prays the Greeks face defeat on the battlefield while he’s not fighting); nor, apparently, did the audience expect him to be.

So why would patriotism require concern for people on the basis of their humanity when other forms of particular concern don’t? Mostly because countries are really big. And also that membership is for the most part non-voluntary. Consider, on the opposite end, friendship. We choose our friends, more or less, and our loyalty to a friend is loyalty to one other person. So racists, homophobes, religious bigots, and so on can have friends: they just need to choose for their friends people of the right race, sexual orientation, and religion, who are cool, for whatever reason, with the bigotry. Yes, one of their friends could turn out to be gay, or another could leave the church, and they couldn’t be good friends to them. But they could remain loyal to other friends who are straight and remain in the church, and in lots of cases some of their friends will do that.

Families are closer to countries, in that they involve multiple people, and for the most part we don’t choose our family members. So the chances of religious, ideological, or ethical diversity go up, as do the chances of inter-racial nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. A bigot who happens to have a family like this will be constrained in how loyal a family member she can be. But families are still small enough, and they play a role in replicating both genes and value-systems in the future generation; so it can still happen that one’s family lies entirely outside of the blind spots in one’s concern.

Countries are much larger, and by and large we don’t choose our countries. Even when we do, we have little control over who shares the political community with us. The majority have populations in the millions. Some people will be LGBTQ. There will be ethnic minorities. There will be religious, ideological, political, ethical and moral disagreement. There will be class and educational divisions, and different sectors of the economy with distinct, sometimes competing interests. One won’t know or be related to all of them. Most blind spots in one’s concern will constrain one’s ability to care about the interests and claims of all of one’s fellow citizens, and thus one’s dispositions to act patriotically. Maybe there was some point in the past where this was not so, but in the modern world patriotism will be in conflict with the failure to be concerned with people in virtue of their humanity.

So, to be a real patriot you have to be a cosmopolitan with broadly liberal, post-enlightenment moral views? I’d like that conclusion, but I think it may actually demand quite a bit more. Real patriotism might require a level of saintliness that most of us can’t aspire to, and which I’m not ultimately sure is a good thing. Because countries are so large, and membership is by and large not voluntary, they are also effectively guaranteed to contain a fair number of bigots, and people with illiberal, anti-enlightenment moral views. These won’t just be a few marginal weirdos, either, but a decent portion of the population. Perfectly complete patriotism, then, probably requires feelings of solidarity and loyalty towards these bigots, then, even while one is opposed to their bigotry. I’m not saying this can’t be done, but it’s hard. (Anyone who has found themselves furious with Trump-voters knows that it’s hard.) Maybe being patriotic is harder, in at least some ways, than just having impartial moral concern. You have to have feelings of love to strangers who may despise you, and in any case are not particularly lovable.

To sum up, lots of people self-deceptively believe themselves to value patriotism or regard it as a virtue, while condoning actions that are flagrantly unpatriotic. My guess is that they are able to do this because they are able to discount the claims of some members of their own country. This leads them to misinterpret loyalty to a particular subculture or demographic with loyalty to the country at large. But genuine patriotism requires solidarity with all the members of one’s country—who will typically have little in common beyond their shared humanity. Patriotism is generally incompatible, then, with the standard blinders that allow us to discount the claims and interests of others.

Two final thoughts:

  • I assumed that patriots wouldn’t necessarily be concerned about human rights abuses of Central Americans. Based on the above, maybe that was wrong. After all, a decent number of US citizens are Central Americans.
  • What about countries in the past, in the 19th century, for example? Would any of those have been ethnically or ideologically homogenous enough that one could have been a patriot while still being a racist?

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* I am admittedly rejecting an alternate explanation here that might seem more charitable: people believe that North was acting in the best interests of the country. I acknowledge that there could in theory be patriotic reasons for stealing weapons from one’s own military in order to sell them to a hostile terror-supporting foreign power which had recently invaded the embassy of one’s country, and then lying about it all under oath. But presumably this would have to be pretty extraordinary. A very small strategic advantage over the Soviet Union is not extraordinary.

By way of analogy, if someone tells me they value law and order and that they wish there were more cops like Dirty Harry, there’s an initial discrepancy. Harry Callahan tortures suspects, and that’s illegal. But if I’m feeling charitable I can make sense of it by remembering that he tortured in order to save a young woman from a serial killer—and okay, I get how someone might care about the law but think this is a permissible case of breaking it. But if Harry is torturing suspects in order to track down a jaywalker, the Harry-enthusiast does not care about law and order. The enthusiast might believe that the jaywalker really is a serial killer, but if he believes this in complete defiance of the evidence, then he does not care about law and order. He is simply willing to engage in motivated reasoning so that he can continue to believe of himself that he cares about law and order—or at least that’s the most plausible explanation, all else being equal.

12 Responses to Why Bad People Will Find it Hard to be Patriotic (by Featured Philosopher Derek Baker)

  1. Thanks, Derek. I’m trying to get a handle on what your argument is here: Are you arguing for conceptual revisionism, conceptual imperialism, or conceptual clarification about “patriotism”? Regarding the last, I suspect “patriotism” is like “terrorism”: it’s normatively loaded, and will apply in different ways to different people depending on one’s antecedent normative commitments. If you’re after conceptual imperialism, what’s the argument for your understanding as the best? (Ethically best?) If revisionism, why not just call what you’re talking about a different value?

    Also, I don’t think the fantasy image of one’s country is the charitable (or plausible) way to view the “patriotic” actions of North and others. Rather, one might have an understanding of what are the deep and abiding values of a country that one has seen abused or neglected, and so one feels as if one has to subvert various aspects of the law or status quo to bring them back to the foreground. Consequentialism and patriotism are certainly compatible.

  2. Derek Baker says:

    Thanks David. I take it that what I’m offering is conceptual clarification. I’m assuming that patriotism is a kind of particular affection/loyalty, and so can be understood on rough analogy with other familiar kinds of affection or loyalty– like the concern we have for friends and our families. As such it requires that you care about and are loyal to your actual political community, not the political community you wish you had.

    I’m inclined to disagree with you about the meaning of the word terrorism. I think it has a reasonably definite meaning (something like *deliberately targeting civilians with violence in order to achieve political ends*) but that people are often hypocritical in political contexts, and so don’t call things “terrorisim” that clearly are because of sympathy for the group deploying the tactics, and call other things “terrorism” which clearly aren’t because of antipathy.

    As for the more charitable interpretation of North, his supporters, etc., did you see what I wrote in the footnote following the asterisk? I think I addressed the possibility you raised– though of course my response might be inadequate. I’d like to hear what you think of that before continuing.

    I will add that as soon as I hear phrases about “deep and abiding values of a country” I start to suspect that we’re already on the path to thinking about a fantasy version of the country. If you look at actual countries, there is simply too much internal disagreement about values and too many substantial changes in the history of a country for it to be plausible that one faction in a political or policy debate somehow represents the “real” values of the country and the other does not. Maybe there are values of a country, but these will have to be fairly broad and ecumenical.

    (I’m also less focused on North et al.’s lawbreaking than on the fact that they stole military weapons from their own country to sell them to a hostile foreign government. The circumstances under which that is patriotic behaviour will be very very unusual.)

  3. Marcus Hedahl says:

    I have several concerns about this piece:
    1. Section 2 assumes that concern for one’s country equates to concern for one’s fellow citizens. But a vast swath of philosophers and most self-described patriots would simply find that assumption untenable. Even with something as small as a department I can care about its flourishing without caring about the flourishing of all its members. In fact, I may well think that the best way for the department to flourish is for some of the members to not flourish. This point is highlighted in section 1 where acting against country is not highlighted as an action against the sum of the interests of its citizens but rather acting against the will of Congress (North) or acting against the original contract to make the nation (the Confederacy.) Its not clear to me at least how the argument in section II can work without that assumption.

    2. The first section also seems to dismiss the cases of North and the Confederacy out of hand too quickly. The real question is if patriotism is a kind of loyalty, what is it a loyalty to? What did North and Lee take themselves to be the appropriate object of their loyalty? What do those who take them to be exemplars of patriotism take their country to be? (Hint: Not the interests of all citizens, not its collectively relevant decisions either.) That’s no easy question but I believe that any philosophical reflections on patriotism have to start there.

  4. Derek: I guess I’m not seeing a straightforward analogy to family and friends, at least as the “clarified” understanding of patriotism. It is at least conceptual imperialism (among competing conceptions) or conceptual revisionism. What I clearly do care about in being loyal to my family are the family members; same with friends. But there is certainly an idea — a clear one, for many people — of patriotism as “loyalty to my country,” where the country is an embodied set of ideals, about governance and self-governance, about various democratic values, about independence, personal responsibility, and so forth (one might think). So someone, on this construal, could be deeply patriotic and hate all of his fellow citizens: He would fight and die for their opportunity to live free and (mostly) govern themselves, to pursue their various dreams and freedoms as they will (as long as they don’t violate others’ attempts to do so), but he thinks they are mostly all idiots, soft and overfed materialists, or something. To the extent that those are ideals worth defending and even dying for, surely they will also be worth a little contra-gate, especially if you think a failure to engage in those activities might let the first dominoes fall of a communist threat to those ideals. I’m not saying I buy into any of this; I’m just saying that it’s a perfectly clear understanding of the concept that I believe lots of people buy into. What reason is there, then, for them to abandon it as the unclear/false concept?

  5. Derek Baker says:

    Thanks for the comments, Marcus Hedahl. So I agree there might be alternate ways of approaching the issue of patriotism. I’m not entirely sure how I’d address these without being told in a little more detail what they are. If loyalty to one’s country doesn’t include some form of solidarity with and concern for one’s fellow citizens, I’m somewhat baffled as to what it could be. But maybe I’ve just failed to imagine relevant alternatives. Could you spell out what you take to be a plausible alternative conception?

    I think loyalty to a department can be divorced from loyalty to people in that department because the department exists to serve some other purpose, so one’s loyalty can amount to a concern with the ability of the department to perform its function. Can you point to how that would apply to modern countries? What function do they have, other than promoting the flourishing of their members?

    I’m a little confused when you write this: “This point is highlighted in section 1 where acting against country is not highlighted as an action against the sum of the interests of its citizens but rather acting against the will of Congress (North) or acting against the original contract to make the nation (the Confederacy.)”

    I didn’t think the lack of patriotism was highlighted in terms of either acting against the will of Congress or violating an initial contract. If I did, that was a mistake. I just took the actions in question to be examples of the sort of things that one would point to as paradigmatically unpatriotic. Taking up arms against one’s country because one no longer wants to be part of the country is paradigmatically unpatriotic. Stealing weapons from one’s military and selling them to a hostile foreign power is paradigmatically unpatriotic, all else being equal.

    I think this is relevant to your claim that “What do those who take them [Lee and North] to be exemplars of patriotism take their country to be? …That’s no easy question but I believe that any philosophical reflections on patriotism have to start there.”

    Philosophical reflections on patriotism would only need to start here if those who take Lee and/or North to be exemplars of patriotism have accurate opinions. If they don’t, who cares what they take their country to be? But given how counter-intuitive the claim is, why grant that assumption without at least some argument?

  6. Derek Baker says:

    David, I’m a bit confused by your claims on two levels. First, you write “So someone, on this construal, could be deeply patriotic and hate all of his fellow citizens…” I find this pretty close to unintelligible.

    I take it that patriotism is supposed to be some sort of special concern for one’s particular political community– not *any* community that happens to realize the objectively correct political ideals. I may have misunderstood your suggestion, but it seems like under the definition of patriotism you are putting forward, patriotism has nothing to do with one’s own country, except as a contingent matter. If my country happens to embody the right political values, I’ll support it. But if some other country does it better, my loyalty transfers to them. Calling that “patriotism” is very confusing. Especially since we already have a perfectly good English phrase for it: “being loyal to a political ideal.”

    Beyond the merely verbal point, my main interest here was seeing what kinds of ways of withholding universal concern for people on the basis of their humanity are internally consistent and which ones aren’t. I think the sort of patriotism you’re considering would also put pressure on people to adopt concern for human beings in general, though for different reasons than the ones I spell out.

  7. Derek Baker says:

    Oops, sorry about the “on two levels” bit. I was originally planning on writing a bit about the details of Iran-Contra, etc., but thought better of it.

  8. David Shoemaker says:

    Briefly: There are surely historical properties that will attach to the country of one’s patriotic loyalty, viz., that it was the product of revolution against tyranny, that it had such and such leaders who best embodied the values, that its past citizenry pursued the values in excellent ways, etc. Thus can we easily make sense of the idea of someone who is patriotic, loyal to his country and its ideals, but who thinks the leadership and current citizenry have taken it off the rails, such that it needs to be restored to its past glory with some subterfuge. If you find that “pretty close to unintelligible,” then let me introduce you to many millions of citizens who would beg to differ. And with respect to them, I repeat: Why think their conception of patriotism is unclear/false?

  9. Derek Baker says:

    Hi David. Three points. First, what I claimed to find unintelligible is the idea that someone can be patriotic but hate all of her fellow citizens. I assume that it is a platitude that if someone is patriotic they love their country. If someone said, “I love my country, I just hate all of the people in it,” I’d assume they were joking. If I thought they were serious I’d think they should seek therapy. If millions of people actually feel this way, I think millions of people should seek therapy. Less flippantly, a person who sincerely claims to love their country but hate its people seems to fall exactly into my diagnosis: their affection is not for their country but for a fantasy version of it.

    Regarding the idea that there are historical national ideals which somehow demarcate the genuine country (I assume that if one is a patriot the object of one’s concern must be the country, and not just a political ideology), that can easily be shown to be flawed by a very basic familiarity with history. First, the majority of countries in the world have undergone multiple severe shifts in their constitutional structure. There is no specific political ideology that could be identified with, say, France. America might be exceptional in this respect, but the extent of the exception is fairly modest. There were not a lot of shared ideals among the citizens is the immediate aftermath of the American Revolution. First, it’s worth remembering that the US Constitution was not the country’s first government– that is the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was strongly opposed by Patrick Henry and Sam Adams (and according to Wikipedia, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe). It was controversial enough that widespread complaints forced the adoption of the Bill of Rights. How it should be interpreted was controversial (Jefferson, I’ve read, was furious that John Marshall declared that the Supreme Court had the power of interpretation). And it was a compromise document, because people in the country had different political beliefs. Political differences within America were strong enough to lead to a minor uprising (the Whiskey Rebellion), not to mention the Alien and Sedition Acts and the attendant controversy.

    So as I said, I think that any values that could plausibly be identified as the values of the country will have to be extremely broad and ecumenical. My objection, then, to anyone who identifies patriotism with commitment to a particular political ideology, is that this is also supported by imagining some fantasy version of the country– in this case, imagining that in the past there was widespread acceptance of one’s particular political beliefs. The available evidence suggests otherwise.

    Third, sure, I can accept that patriotic behaviour might be consistent with “some subterfuge.” But Iran-Contra goes well beyond *some* subterfuge. Stealing military weaponry from your own country in order to sell it to a hostile foreign power is close to the definition of unpatriotic behavior. Moreover, if we’re going to bring foundational political ideals into the debate, we should consider the following. What North et al. were trying to get around was congressional control of the budget. Congress had voted to stop funding the Contras, and so the conspirators were trying to find ways to continue funding their projects without congressional approval. But the idea that the legislature controls the purse is basic to the US Constitutional structure, and in fact is a principle going back to medieval England. The slogan of the American Revolutionaries was “No taxation without representation.” Now, I’m fairly skeptical that there are any political values which are necessary to being truly American– but if you were to ask me which principles might have at least some plausibility of qualifying, I’d say the principle that legislative representatives decide how tax money is spent is probably the main one.

    And sure, maybe even this principle and the principle that you don’t provide military aid to hostile foreign governments could be violated for the sake of some truly extraordinary good. But there was nothing particularly extraordinary to be gained by overthrowing the Sandinistas.

    Finally, even if we grant that somehow supplying the Contras with supplies would lead to a rebirth of the national spirit (though there seem to be a lot of missing steps), there’s no way that the Confederacy could be thought of as doing that. They were trying to leave the country.

  10. Derek Baker says:

    Sorry, this sentence was overly weak: “The available evidence suggests otherwise.”

    Replace “suggests” with “tells us.”

  11. Derek Baker says:

    Hi David, thanks again for the comments. I’m finding this very helpful. I’m also worried that I might be missing where you’re coming from, so I’d like to try to summarize my take on the debate. You can let me know what you think I’m not getting, if there is anything, or where the point of disagreement might be.

    1. While I think that there can be cases in which one is engaged in conceptual revisionism or imperialism, I think that the default assumption should be that the parties in a dispute are all using the same concept and simply disagree about its extension. The obvious reason for doing this is that it makes it much easier to account for genuine disagreement this way. I think that I disagree with certain people about whether Ollie North was patriotic.

    2. I think the shared concept of *patriotism* means something roughly like love of and loyalty to one’s country. The disagreement, I think, is about what constitutes the particular country. Again, I think we have a shared concept of a country– they just have a really bad theory about what a country is.

    3. What’s there to say in favor of my theory of a country? Well, it’s admittedly a rough idea, but, first, I think it corresponds to the commonsense reference of terms like “The United States” or “France.” That is, the country is a political community that has existed through history and is made up of people interacting for the most part under the purview of laws and traditions that prescribe certain forms of cooperation. The laws, traditions, customs, language, people, and territory of a country are in constant flux. My guess is that their identity over time is held together through some sort of relations of social connectedness which are roughly analogous to the relations of psychological connectedness that Parfit and others think constitute the identity of a person over time.

    The other thing I’d say in favor of this picture of what countries are is that it seems to be how they are identified by historians and social scientists who discuss the history of countries or their role in our social life.

    4. The rival picture– which I think you’re attributing to a lot of people, is one on which there are certain traditions, values, ideals, etc. which somehow define what the country authentically is. So my overall objection is that first of all, at all times there have been disagreements within a country about the correct values, and so one must identify a subgroup that somehow “speaks for the country”– and this roughly analogous to finding that subset of conflicting attitudes that “speak for the agent” in certain branches of moral psychology (Frankfurt, Watson, Bratman, etc.). Identifying attitudes that speak for the agent is already notoriously hard (as you are well aware). I suspect that identifying a political faction that speaks for the country is going to be even harder.

    I’d add to this objection that most historians and social scientists do not take seriously the idea that there is some set of values persisting throughout time that are definitive of national character or make up the essence of a country. I don’t think this is decisive, but it is evidence against this picture of what country’s are.

    5. The specific proposal you put forward (without endorsing) is that certain values speak for the country because they were the ideals in place during the country’s founding. So the obvious objection is that people who claim this are invoking a fantastical version of history. (It’s worth adding here that people seem to implicitly assume that the past was less diverse than the present. But that assumption seems to be a symptom of most people not knowing much about the past. Populations in lots of places may have been more homogeneous in terms of skin-tone, but actually there was probably more cultural diversity in the past than in the present. Remember, you didn’t have mass media, mass literacy, centralized states were comparatively weak, public education often absent, and so dialectical and cultural differences within a country were likely more extreme in the past than they are now. At least that’s the impression I’ve gotten from reading on the topic.)

    The less obvious but I think in some ways more important objection is simply that without further argument, identifying the real values of the country with those in place at its founding is ad hoc. Why do people in 1787 speak for Americans more than those in 1848, or the generation that helped defeat fascism, or the generation that put a man on the moon?

    6. All of the above said, there are admittedly borderline cases about whether some instance of collective behavior constitutes national behavior. There is some plausibility in denying that the Vichy government was genuinely or authentically French. I may be misunderstanding you, but you seem to be saying something like, “Maybe North et al. regarded the Democrats in Congress as roughly like the Vichy regime in France, and so unable to genuinely speak for the country.” If that’s the idea, then yes, I agree that something like that may have been what North and supporters think. My point is just that that belief is obviously preposterous. That grown adults entertain thoughts like this is embarrassing and evidence of extreme self-deception. (I can explain why if necessary, but I think the reasons are pretty clear.) This goes back to my original point that tribalistic attachments interfere with one’s ability to be patriotic, or at least lead one to excuse unpatriotic behavior because the tribalism leads to a fantastical picture of who is and who is not really part of the country.

    Okay, looking forward to hearing from you about this.

  12. David Shoemaker says:

    Thanks, Derek, this is helpful indeed. I only have time to say things briefly here. First, I had noted that surely historical properties matter to what the country is and what its “authentic” values are taken to be, but I did not mean by that that the relevant values were those of the founding fathers or anything like that. Rather, I was responding to your thought that thinking of patriotism in terms of ideals would render the country to which one was patriotic contingent, so that one should be loyal to whatever country embodied the relevant ideals. My point was simply that it seems to me that some people take the ideals of the country *now* to be historically rooted, the process of an evolution with a fixed and particular history (e.g., the hardships of the frontier generating certain specific types of individualistic and self-reliant ideals). So it’s not the implausible thought that the ideals of the founding fathers are easily identifiable and are the ones that I (e.g., North) am trying to get back to; it’s that the country’s *current and abiding* ideals (informed and developed through the specific history of our founding fathers’ aims and how the country has evolved) are being subverted by a bunch of know-nothings in Washington. Consequently, that subversion “needs to occur,” to prevent what is taken to be a serious domino threat to those ideals, while perhaps shortsighted, misguided, and immoral, isn’t necessarily unpatriotic.