On Patriotism

For Pamela Jaska: happy birthday

A relative from another country accused me years ago of only being patriotic because of 9/11. My Mother, who was in the room, gave the relative a death-stare while calmly stating that I’ve always been “like that.”

Patriotism is a curious sort of love. It seems to be  grouped with charity, which  can be a most selfless ideal. I’ve never been a fan of separating love into types, though. Love is always difficult; separating “love” into “loves” doesn’t just beg the question “What is love?” and get the answer “baby don’t hurt me.” It dodges complications by establishing ideals of a sort. We desire things and desires aren’t inherently wrong. Some are for things we need. Some we can use to make more of our lives and aid others. And some do not merely speak to higher purpose but to the highest purpose.

My instinct is to think love simply eros. This is not to deny there is friendship (whether that is friendship of utility, pleasure or virtue). Nor is it to deny the reality of self-sacrifice. But it is to deny we can simply declare a moral love selfless and an immoral one selfish. Desire stems from self-interest. There is no such thing as immediately seeing some good and dying for it. We recognize something as worthwhile given time. Time is not an empty concept. With time, we don’t just passively experience. We desire, act, succeed/fail, reflect. Desire is a starting point of sorts. It is impossible to understand sacrifice, after all, without understanding what is being sacrificed and why.

Patriotism may be when we learn to make sacrifices for each other. This is  still not the highest principle. There are ideals that transcend nations many will die for. There may be a goodwill that marks us peculiarly human which reaches even farther beyond. But it may be the most beautiful principle. “Helping friends and harming enemies” underlies all politics, all particular claims. No one said that one always had to harm enemies by simply killing people. The resolution to use force is to fight for as many as possible, in as many ways as possible.


  1. What you call patriotism, everyone else calls empathy.

    ““Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.”

  2. “Patri­o­tism is your con­vic­tion that this coun­try is supe­rior to all oth­ers because you were born in it”

    That might be true in Ethiopia….I mean they have surely stopped seeking good ideas there…so the only thing to hold on to would be by birth.

    But here…..Patriotism here in America is the love of the life we live, goob (short for goober),oops I mean Pithy…. It is the pride we take in ensuring that life , liberty and the pursuit of happiness is passed down from generation to generation. There is no doubt, that those who step on it, or try to step on it…..will quickly find our superiority. It is surely a delicate balance to give those who have tread where they should have not, time to reflect on the error of their ways. Quickly apologize. Or face the hammer (that could mean a number of things….like dropping a few ungrateful SOB’s in to the heart of the Sudan or Iran, or even Russia oops almost forgot, no money and with no ID)


  3. I appreciate your meditation on patriotism. There is a statement that has always stuck with me. I heard a man once say, “prejudice comes from national pride”.

    When you think that you are part of the best country on earth then every other country becomes inferior.

    It is one thing to recognize the freedoms we have in the US and to be thankful but I live in the southeast and the ignorance here in regards to the global community is very frustrating.


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