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Is patriotism a virtue?

19 November 2016

11:14 AM

19 November 2016

11:14 AM

Michael Gove makes a semi-persuasive case for patriotism in The Times this week. Brexit and Trumpism are largely just assertions of the basic, healthy human impulse to love one’s homeland, and to defy the international structures, and liberal sneering, that denigrate this impulse.

The reality is that the moral status of patriotism depends on which nation you belong to. It depends whether your nation espouses liberal values. If it does, then your patriotism is linked to a wider-than-national creed. If it does, then your allegiance is also to an international cause: you respect and love your country as a particular expression of this creed.

After fascism, the idea of national allegiance subtly shifted in the West. It became strongly tied to allegiance to the universal moral creed of liberal values. The nation deserves allegiance because it expresses, or mediates, this wider creed. One can imagine rejecting one’s nation, if an aggressively nationalistic regime took it over: it is harder to imagine rejecting one’s belief in liberal values. National loyalty is nowadays conditional on the sense that the nation serves liberal values. Gove therefore undervalues the positive ideology of the West in general, an ideology that transcends national borders. Yes, nation states remain crucial expressions of this, but the allegiance that they command is dependent on this wider allegiance.

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