The trouble with patriotism

Can patriotism be virtuous? Although philosophy has increasingly struggled to justify it on moral grounds in recent decades, patriotism remains a powerful source of self-identification and political participation.

Simon Keller and Mitja Sardoč

Mitja Sardoč: Despite its centrality in the pantheon of political ideals, patriotism remains a contested concept that continues to divide its advocates and critics. What are the main points of disagreement? 

Simon Keller: The biggest disagreement is about whether you can be a patriot while also accepting the basic moral equality of all humans, regardless of where they are from. To put it another way, the disagreement concerns the compatibility of patriotism with liberalism, or liberal morality, which states that all humans are morally equal and that the perspective of morality is fundamentally impartial. This is where most philosophers begin. What they say about it leads them towards different answers to the questions ‘What is patriotism?’ and ‘Is patriotism virtuous?’

Many broadly liberal theorists say that you can be a patriot while accepting the basic moral equality of all humans. They make distinctions between varieties of patriotism and then say that some of them are virtuous, or at least permissible.

I am thinking here of philosophers like Marcia Baron, Igor Primoratz, Kwame Anthony Appiah, and Stephen Nathanson. Jürgen Habermas might fit into this category too. They say that it is morally acceptable to be patriotic as long as  patriotism is secondary to the commitment to universal human rights, or it is directed at improving the moral record of your country, or it includes a recognition that the patriotism of individuals from other countries is legitimate too…

Patriotism as a diagnosis