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Patriotisms: true and false

The following constitutes a collaborative work of WWwtW Contributors Paul J Cella and Jeff Martin. It makes no claim of dogmatic finality, but rather comprises an early entry into what we believe should be a carefully examined field of inquiry.


American public life wants for a serious examination of Patriotism. The irony is that patriotism is one of those elusive human things, which not only resist rigorous examination, but also diminish in the face of it. That is, patriotism in its true sense has some difficulty yielding a precise dialectical account of itself, and may be enervated by the attempt to force such an accounting. To drag something like patriotism before the bar of strict rationalism, even that High Rationalism which submits — as much of today’s rationalism does not — to the authority of truth, is to run the risk of enfeebling it. In short, patriotism does not suffer well the ministrations of the dialectician.

In our judgment, however, the pressing need in this case outweighs this potential cost. For nothing is more certain than that many of the ideas on patriotism in circulation today are grave and debilitating errors.

A functional definition of patriotism need not be complicated too excessively. We are content for now to define it thusly: Patriotism is that pull of affection and loyalty, which the normal man feels toward his home. “Home” is a term that should be broad enough to embrace whatever form of political arrangement is dominant in the time and place under consideration. Thus “home” for the ancient Greeks would manifestly refer to the city-state, and for the mediaeval Christian to the local province, while for modern man it refers most prominently to the territorially expansive nation-state that we often designate with the word country. The modern patriot is the man who feels affection, tenderness and loyalty for his country.

Here in the United States of the early twenty-first century, as any alert observer will realize at once, a specifically ideological content has been appended to this definition. It is therefore necessary to speak of IDEOLOGICAL PATRIOTISM. This variation is a powerful force indeed in American politics — in many cases powerful enough to crowd out the more primitive definition. IDEOLOGICAL PATRIOTISM is that view which holds that one becomes a loyal American not by being born here, or by submitting to an appointed regimen of discipline to attain citizenship, but by simply assenting to certain political ideas. In other words, it holds that one can only become American by conforming to an IDEOLOGY. The question of loyalty is replaced, at least in part, by the question of ideological commitment; and the question of affection is replaced, at least in part, by the question of political ideal.

The principle argument of the ideological patriots can be rendered as follows: American patriotism is, and should remain, in its true essence an ideological commitment, owing little to the particular character of the culture, people, communities that make up the country, but rather owing to the political ideas they profess. America is, therefore, a propositional nation, her identity forged by assent to a creed.

Almost no one denies that, in their abstract form, the propositions generally thought to constitute this ideology are noble ones, even, in their way, universal ones. Liberty, self-government, the rule of law, equality of opportunity, broadly distributed property, meritocracy: few will rebuke these ideas. Almost no one denies that the roots of these propositions are plainly contained in our founding documents, the influence of which on the course of American history can hardly be calculated. Moreover, the argument that there is a deep and abiding “creedal” aspect to American patriotism is certainly not something new under the sun. Even Chesterton, a “little Englander,” made it in his What I Saw in America. But the purpose of this essay is not to examine the ideas comprising ideological patriotism; by and large we have no quarrel with them. Our business is with the prior question of whether patriotism can be successfully formulated in ideological terms; whether an ideology, whatever its content, can form a sturdy and enduring foundation for a healthy republic. And our answer is a firm negative. On the contrary, there are few things more precarious upon which to ground the fidelity of citizens to their country than the shifting sands of fashionable political theory.

While we may all agree that there is such a thing as the American Creed, there will surely be some discord as to what basic propositions make up that Creed; and the agreement will almost certainly break down completely when the question of practical application is raised. How shall we secure and sustain self-government? How shall we protect the rule of law from the inevitable encroachments by assorted malcontents, mountebanks, plunderers, knaves and fools? How shall we reconcile liberty with equality? This is stuff of the human political condition, and everyone could conceivably agree on the value of certain propositions without agreeing in the first instance on how to answer these questions. We may all pledge loyalty unto death to our fair Creed — yet remain rent by dissension and bitterness in its application to the affairs of the world. How such a collection of disagreements, misapprehensions, blunders, disputes, insights, auguries as we will get from talking about the Creed, could somehow issue in a community bound by shared loyalty — in brief a nation organized for action in history — is the huge question over and above these questions of practice.

Objections to Creedal Patriotism:

The Creed itself only arose out of a particular historical matrix of thought and practice, specific to the unique conditions of:

(1) English colonists in the New World;

(2) Refugees of a Continent torn asunder by religious conflict, some specifically fleeing a religious orthodoxy intolerable to them;

(3) Thinkers infused, in varying degrees, by the new ideas of what is called the Enlightenment, but — and this is crucial to understand — separated from its force and continued development by the distance an enormous ocean;

(4) Rebels against the Crown who, in outrage against various punitive actions taken by Parliament against them, declared, fought for, and achieved independence;

(5) Philosophers and statesmen who, upon achieving independence, soberly set themselves to the task of constructing a republic, and in the process repudiated (a) much of their former radicalism and (b) some of the more radical implications of the Enlightenment itself;

(6) Later arrivals whose duty it was — as the great force of the mores and traditions and public orthodoxy of the Republic made abundantly clear — to renounce all former loyalties and assimilate; but whose privilege it was to contribute their own particularities to the Republic.

Thus, even if the Creed may justly lay claim to an abstract universality, it cannot possibly be considered in pure abstraction from history. It is perfectly incomprehensible bereft of its historical particularity.

Given that this Creed must be, in Michael Oakshott’s phrase, an abbreviation of a living tradition, it follows that the abbreviation lends itself to misuse and misrepresentation. Our second objection, then, concerns the profound danger of giving patriotism over to the empire of the ideologists and intellectuals.

An ideology’s resiliency and abstraction from history make it malleable in the hands of its custodians: the ideology can be gradually disfigured by the complacency of the negligent or the innovations of the interested; such that, eventually, it becomes unrecognizable.

Our political world is suffused with lawless and ruinous ideological fashions, from multiculturalism to globalism. Some of the men and women who now disseminate the propositions embraced by the Creed are, by and large, charlatans of these fashions. They will reason men into giving up their nation, by arguing that the nation compasses the world; they will sing a siren’s song of universality, and crush the particular that made possible the universal. They will set prosperity above all other things, and thereby reduce us to a servile, though perhaps extremely rich, people.

It is also important to recognize that any ideology, no matter how admirable at its outset, can be captured and subverted; and moreover, to recognize that when thus subverted it is very likely that those inebriated by it, and thus committed to its propagation, will not recover from their stupor, but will rather fall deeper into its narcotic effect. In short, a successful ideology will breed suspect interests all around it.

In sum, we live in a dangerously ideological age. In our own lifetimes millions have perished at the hands of ideologists. Prudence counsels that we make our most resolute effort, not to reform the ideologies that swirl menacingly around, but to protect the good things of our inheritance from that threatening cloud.

Our third objection concerns the nature of patriotism itself, and amounts to this: ideological patriotism can only, in the end, be a falsification. Patriotism is at base not really about ideas or Platonic “forms” at all; it is about sentiment, human attachment, feelings of warmth and familiarity. It derives from habit and custom, from real feelings about real places, from a tender sense of home and hearth, from smells imperceptible but unforgettable, from a thousand attachments subconscious but fierce. It is resistant to precise articulation, and does not require precise articulation to carry its power. Grown men do not grow teary-eyed at the chords of “America the Beautiful” because they have been argued into a love of their country.

To say otherwise is like saying that a man only loves his mother if he also proclaims her cooking as the best in the world; or that a child only loves his toys because they are the biggest and shiniest in the neighborhood. In the formulation of this patriotism of supremacy, the American patriot cannot comprehend a Spanish patriot, because Spain has grown feeble and irrelevant, or a Serb patriot, because Serbia is oppressed and defeated and compromised. He knows nothing of that wild subjugated patriotism of the Poles, which Rousseau spoke of so powerfully in his On the Government of Poland, and which saved Christendom on at least three separate occasions (Mongols, Turks and Communist).

There is also this, which we will only touch on very briefly: At bottom, patriotism inevitably contemplates tragedy, for only profoundly deluded men imagine that their country is eternal. Wise patriots are intensely aware of the precariousness of their home that they love. There is sorrow in their efforts — and, if they be God-fearing-men, there is also that joy in the limited work of limited human hands; there is that joy of duty discharged, even in a lost cause, which is liberty. The patriot is often drawn in his heart as much to stories of honorable defeat as to grand victory. Often patriotism has been intimately connected with the idea of the “lost cause.” There is more tragedy in patriotism than triumph.

Therefore IDEOLOGICAL PATRIOTISM, while appealing to aspects of true American patriotism, and drawing from some features of the American tradition, is in fact an alien and illegitimate perversion of the real things, a derailment of an authentic tradition, and a perilous heresy which threatens the integrity and prosperity of the Nation. We take our stand against it.

Comments (39)

Although two of the objections are interesting in terms of historical and local uniqueness, they are a matter of inheritance and beyond any ability to address, but the second objection about ideological corruption is the truly active and dangerous one.

"Our political world is suffused with lawless and ruinous ideological fashions, from multiculturalism to globalism." In regards to lawless, in particular lawless border infiltration, this is an attack on the rule of law and thus undermines creedal legitimacy as well as altering national identity. Debasement of the law, by means of globalized trade whose main intent is the circumvention of environmental and labor protections built up over a century, is equally a sellout of our national interest and creedal framework.

On the subjects themselves, they can exists in a patriotic form, in my opinion. It is not globalism per se that is the problem, it is globalism that flows primarily in one direction without any higher goals of parity. Multiculturalism has the same concerns, and it further requires a concerted effort by the various groups into assimilation within the broader national community. The way to begin this process is through creedal patriotism, but that is just the beginning. Integration into the mainstream takes work, patience, and skill.

I have often thought about the very question discussed in this essay and had at one point thought of writing a post myself on it. Only I was not sure exactly what to say. Here is my difficulty:

On the one hand, Maximos and Paul are surely right that human affection for place and hearth and for familiar things is hugely important to patriotism and that patriotism can't and shouldn't be separated from it.

On the other hand, I know what I would mean to say something like, "I don't recognize my country anymore"--meaning by that _not_ only some change in familiar set-ups physically (such as building developments and changes in technology) but also, and more disturbingly, changes in law that seemed to me horribly at odds with the principles on which the nation was founded. I know too that I can imagine situations in which a country would be changed so much out of all recognition from the country one originally felt loyalty to that one would not feel the same loyalty. And the changes I'm thinking of here could be profound changes in form of government. If, for example, America's Constitution were thrown out the window to such an extent that "she" (nominally "she") became a completely totalitarian Communist regime, this would cause a problem for my patriotism. I would still love my home and family, the people who know the familiar things. But _part_ of patriotism, it seems to me, _must_ have to do with a love of a particular set of concepts as they are embodied in the country's legal and constitutive political arrangements.

One way of putting it is this: While we may understand why a German man under the Nazi regime felt it his duty to fight for his country out of patriotism, we also should have great sympathy for the German who acted as a spy in the underground and saved Jews, even though legally speaking this was an act of treason to his country.

I suppose that here we might start saying that such people are fighting their country for their country's sake, that they think of themselves as being patriots by, as it were, trying to stop their Motherland or Fatherland from doing something unworthy of itself. But I think we can do that only if we allow _some_ creedal component to patriotism.

...globalism that flows primarily in one direction without any higher goals of parity.

I'm not certain that I grasp your intent here, so correct me if I am misreading you, but I think it absolutely impossible for another half-billion, let alone 5+ billion people worldwide to be elevated to a Western standard of living; the Western level of consumption is unsustainable beyond the medium-term - let's say, 25-50 years out - and simple supply and demand interactions would ensure that any new equilibrium involving significantly increased prosperity across the developing/third world would, in reality, bring massively increased prices owing to resource competition.

Integration into the mainstream takes work, patience, and skill.

The critical factors are the cultural integrity of the native population, in our case, already gravely weakened by the deracinating effects of a culture of consumption and restlessness, as well as by the effects of the 1965 immigration act itself, and the numbers of immigrants. Even in the presence of vital, self-confident cultures, the number of immigrants remains important; a sufficiently concentrated non-native population can resist assimilation regardless of the will of the host population.

I agree, Lydia. But I think it would be better to talk of traditions than of propositions as the method by which the creed integrates into patriotism. Thus when the political class of a country abandons the traditions of the country, it puts itself in rebellion against it, thus calling forth the severe opposition of the patriots of said country.


I was thinking more in terms of how we make and continue our trade arrangements. Understandably, when dealing with a less modern, less wealthy nation we have to open our markets up in a way they cannot initially do for us. What is unconscionable is that after that nation starts to modernize and build wealth, we do not demand as a price for continued access to our markets that they evolve their policies towards a more transparent economic and legal system. In the truly bizarre case of China, their government has created a dichotomy where foreign investors have legal freedoms that its citizens cannot have. Their internal abuses of power and support for tyrants around the globe continue with limited publicity, but nothing is allowed to interfere with Wall Street achieving its maximal profit potential.

On the flip side of the coin, I don't believe trade is a zero-sum game if both sides are acting in good faith, so I think it possible that many countries could achieve a much higher standard of living, even if it is less than our own. On consumption, you are correct that the current Western lifestyle is unsustainable. That consumption needs to be changed to a self-reliant model that conserves and invests in renewable sources of energy and more efficient use of materials.

I also agree that the number of immigrants is important, but as long as they work at an effort to integrate, I think large influxes can be absorbed by a host nation. My point is that the impetus favoring integration must come from the immigrants, not from the society willing to accept them. What is volatile is a large number of immigrants with weak ties to the host nation combined with constant mistreatment as second class citizens. As I understand it, this was a major reason the Visigoths rebelled against Rome.

But it seems to me that we can't entirely get away from talking about propositions and ideas. For example, we know it's possible (though not as probable as some people would like to believe) for people to adopt traditions that they weren't raised with, particularly legal and political traditions. It seems to me that such adoption must have something to do with their being attracted to the ideas embodied in those traditions. For example, someone might be thrilled by the notion that everyone is equal before the law, that a woman (for example) can testify and have her testimony counted equally with a man's in court, which is not true in Islamic law. Such a person might make an excellent U.S. citizen (depending on a lot of other things, of course) and assimilate well.

I think we've been fools, however, to pretend that all traditional backgrounds are equally likely to make a person ready to assimilate. A young man who has been raised to believe he can use private violence against the women of his family for reasons of "honor" is not likely to adapt well to a culture with traditions (if you will) either of equality before the law or of the rule of law.

Similarly, we rightly judge some traditions to be bad and others good, and it seems to me that part of that discussion will have to do with the ideas that the traditions embody.


Thanks for the clarification. You are, of course, perfectly correct on this point; unfortunately, the present arrangement is the very point of the trading system, as it enables multinationals and investors to keep their costs low for foreign operations, and to create downward pressure on wages and benefits at home. Occasional bleatings about human rights abuses and political reforms in China, for example, are little more than boob-bait for those who are not completely amoral. Though, to be fair, I'm skeptical about the efficacy of efforts to encourage reforms in nations such as China; I see little evidence to suggest that such policies are effective.

I'm also skeptical of the very viability of the level of integration globalization is making possible; this level of interconnectedness in trade and agriculture, and so on, is all contingent upon the security and relatively low costs of energy supplies. Even upon the assumption that Islamists will not succeed in creating significant disruptions in energy supplies, the economic growth in Asia and elsewhere will eventually create demand pressures sufficient to render American export of agricultural products abroad, and importation of similar products from China, for example, completely uneconomic. This sort of thing already makes little sense, but it is only sustainable so long as energy prices remain, well, not too much higher than they already are. Good luck with that.

No, as we've hashed out in earlier threads here, trade is not zero-sum; but quite aside from the prospects for lifting the third world out of some of its misery, many of these interactions have domestic implications pertaining to questions of justice, and also to the matter of creating a more sustainable and self-reliant mode of life. Globalization, by depriving the nation of the capacity or willingness to accomplish many things essential to that sustainable future, exacerbates the problem; globalization is promoted on the basis that it facilitates increased consumption, anyway!

As regards immigration, majorities of the new immigrants who have figured in the recent controversies really have no desire to actually assimilate, preferring to recapitulate indigenous cultural practices and habits. And while we must be mindful of the lessons of history, a modern world covered by nation-states is not exactly analogous to an ancient world in which there remained wild, untamed frontiers teeming with literal barbarians. The Visigoths and others were going to enter Roman territory regardless, given events in Central Asia and the wild steppes of what is now Russia. That's not really the case today.


Let me attempt an explanation. This matter of the relationship between creeds and traditions, the living and vital modes of being which Paul and I wish to defend from the ideologists and proposition-mongers, has a clear theological analogue.

The Nicene Creed, let me state, neither constitutes, nor is the constitution for, Christianity. The Creed, like all attempts to render concrete something mysterious and ineffable, is a fence, a hedge, a surety for elements of the Faith absent which we are liable to fail to apprehend rightly the very basis of our salvation. It is, by its very nature, not exhaustive, and therefore subscription to it does not suffice to make a man a Christian, as a moment's reflection will reveal: would we call a man a Christian if he never repented his sins, never attended a service, shunned the community of the faithful; if, in short, he confused the intellectual affirmation of the Creedal propositions with the actual lived reality of a Christian life? I doubt it, and if there are those who would deem him a Christian, I think that they ought to be regarded as profoundly mistaken.

So also, it seems to me, are matters with respect to the Constitution and the American Creed, whatever that is supposed to contain; it is an adumbration of a tradition, a hedge with which certain critical aspects of the tradition are encircled, to set boundaries to the polity. But it neither constitutes the American tradition nor exhausts it; and what follows from this is that merely affirming the Creed does not suffice to create Americans. Truly being a member of a religious community entails participation in the lived forms of communal life, of initiation into its mysteries and rites, incorporation into the mystical body. It is an existential matter, one with an intellectual component, to be certain; but what is crucial is that the architecture of dogma exists to safeguard the mystery, and not vice versa. So also, I argue, is it with national creeds.

Well said, Jeff. This is also why Chesterton's famous remark that America is a country with the soul of church is so fine, despite the fact that the propositionalists have abuse it.

A church is not a creed. The creed is emphatically subsequent to the living tradition of the church. And while we all love the creeds -- one of our worship leaders at my church used to call out to us, "Christian, what do you believe?" before the creed was recited; I loved that -- we do not imagine they constitute the church.

That remark is more apt than most will appreciate. America is indeed a nation with the soul of the church, and her peril is that, being a nation with the soul of a Protestant church, she is more likely to forget the distinction between creed and cult, to mistake the former for the whole. The many Protestant struggles against the hierarchical and established churches - usually doctrinalized - and the struggles of Protestants among each other, have made this confusion of creed and tradition a besetting one, particularly in America, a nation born of the very dissidence of dissent.

I, too, think the analogy to a church has a lot to be said for it, but I'm not sure how much that will help. For example, it's my understanding that Western theology teaches that we can know essential truths about God whereas Eastern theology has a stronger apophatic tradition according to which it is strictly impossible for us to know God's essence. So when it comes to creeds, I--as a Western, rationalist type--might place more weight on them as really, literally true and as extremely important than would someone from an Eastern theological tradition.

Then, too, there is an important disanalogy. One of the reasons creedal belief is insufficient to make you a Christian is far simpler than any named here so far, and it is this: To be a Christian, you have to love the Christian God and be committed to following Him. It's entirely possible ("The devils also believe") to believe the Nicene Creed but hate God and be in explicit rebellion against Him. But usually when I think of propositions that are part of what makes America what she is, I'm building into those propositions the idea that this or that idea is _good_ or _important_, so the commitment and love aspect is impossible to separate from the propositions themselves. One such proposition might be, for example, "All men _should_ be equal before the law" which is not just a metaphysical statement but a moral one. It's, perhaps surprisingly, easier to separate theological belief from moral commitment when it comes to religious belief than when it comes to political beliefs.

I certainly and entirely agree that the propositions implied by our Constitution and thus embodied in our constitutive law do not exhaust the American tradition. They don't even exhaust everything about it that is very, very important. That their continued embodiment in our law is not a necessary part of keeping America herself, though, seems incorrect to me. In other words, the upholding of several crucial propositions in law may well be a necessary condition to America's continued identity, even though it isn't a sufficient condition.

I don't have time to work out an elaborate thought experiment, but I'm thinking right now of something like a situation where you still have some great small towns with all their traditions intact, including even freedom of speech, of the press, and of religion. But then suppose that some higher level of government--perhaps the federal government--comes in and starts riding roughshod over those freedoms, abridging the freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble peacefully, to petition the government for redress of grievances, the freedom of religion. This might all be done in the context of some PC mess, or in the context of enforcing "tolerance" for Islam, or heaven knows what. The people in the town say, "But that stuff's in the Constitution. The federal government can't do that." And then it turns out that the constitution has been perverted by some series of court decisions so that now it's interpreted in such a way that the government _is_ allowed to do all that. You get the picture. Now, the problem here can be cast if you like in terms of the feds' abandoning the traditions of American life. But the feds in the scenario are doing something more sharply defined than that: They're running roughshod over freedoms guaranteed to the people in the nation's founding document and thereby undermining the legal basis on which the country was founded and which people have counted on for over two hundred years. _I_ can get upset about that even if the word "tradition" isn't uttered in its description, because I think those guaranteed freedoms are very important. I don't know if that makes me a proposition monger or not, but it just seems to me a correct way of looking at such a situation.

So long as you reject the statement that "America is a propositional nation" -- that is, that she derives her identity primarily from political propositions, rather than, as we would say, propositions embodied in and arising from a living tradition, not mere abstractions but historical facts too -- then you are very far from a "proposition-monger."


I'm having some trouble conceptualizing your objection. If some scenario such as the one you invoke were to obtain, then it would be a manifest case of illegitimate authority overthrowing a 'creedal' aspect of the tradition in order to wage a campaign against the living substance of the culture. The analogy would be to the case of an heretical group negating one (or more) of the statements of the Creed, and in so doing, rendering the actual, historical, liturgical and sacramental tradition of the Church incoherent, devoid of grounding, or twisted toward some perverted end. Corrupt the doctrine of the natures in Christ and you'll end up logically denying that man can partake of the grace of God, or positing that he is assumed into the divine substance - no end of mischief.

Which goes to the point that creedal statements are fences for some substance. To attack the fence is to attack the substance; but to erect the fence is not to create the substance: necessary, but not sufficient.

Maybe it's just a verbal difference. I'd be inclined to say that if something is necessary to the American tradition, it's partly constitutive of it--that it's _part of_ what America is. I'm partly wondering what you mean, Maximos, when you say that the creed does not "constitute the American tradition." I'm quite sure we're agreed that it doesn't exhaust it.

About living traditions, here's a question: Imagine an adult naturalized citizen who was raised in a country and culture antithetical to that of the U.S. Suppose this person has had a "conversion," though maybe we can also suppose that he was never happy with the set-up in his home country to begin with. What sort of living tradition does he have, now? As far as things like foods and so forth, he may still be happy with those of his original country. And he may miss the home where he was born, while for various entirely legitimate reasons not wanting to live there now. But as far as freedoms, forms of government, and many forms of life--like letting his wife walk outside the house alone, for example, and many other things of daily life--he may be totally committed to those of his adopted country. Would we say that he has a hybrid living tradition, then? Or should we rather say that he has adopted the American tradition and made it his own though he wasn't born to it? And in either case, doesn't a commitment to the truth of a whole slew of propositions make up a big part of what has happened to him?

I understand what you are arguing about creeds being partially constitutive of traditions, but I would suggest that the actual relationship should be conceptualized in other terms; the language of "constituting", even in part, seems to imply that the creed in some sense creates, ordains, or summons forth into being the tradition, whereas the reality is the creed is always a product of a tradition, a product typically created at a time of crisis - a time when some aspect of the tradition must be emphasized or defined more precisely. Now, once a creed has been defined and articulated, it exercises a continuing influence upon the development of the tradition; there is, then, a sort of reciprocity. But this, I think, is more on the order of 'orienting' or 'directing', rather than constituting, which is suggestive of there having been nothing, or nothing substantial, prior to the formulation of the creedal statement.

Hence, I'd say of your naturalized citizen that - well, chances are that he will be a cultural hybrid, but leave that to the side - he has, by embracing a set of propositions about America simultaneously embraced an alteration in his way of life. He has perhaps become rationally convinced of the superiority of the American way by reflection upon a set of propositions - though what I believe actually occurs in cases such as this is that one becomes persuaded by both rational, propositional features and nonrational features - but in embracing those propositions he embraces the substantive forms of life that they reflect. A Muslim who mouthed all of the Americanisms (and there are many who do) about freedom might well intend by this a freedom to recapitulate Islamic cultural mores in America, including the revolting ones; by such cases, the necessity of understanding that the propositions reflect a concrete way of life, and that that way of life is essential for the correct interpretation of the propositions, is demonstrated.

I would say that a Muslim who said that wasn't really saying the same things I was saying if I used the same words. In fact, I suspect a certain amount of deception (taqiyya, you know) goes on along those lines. It would certainly be possible to dig deep enough to find out where we differed about what we were really saying. Propositions aren't just forms of words, they involve meanings attached to those words. You've already made a good start at distinguishing what he would mean from what you would mean.

But I agree that often there is more "packed into" certain statements than might be expected and that this packed in content becomes evident sometimes over time among a group of people living as a community. I just tend to think those things could usually be talked about and even argued about. In a sense, that's what Jonathan and I have done in arguing over the meaning of the 14th amendment. I have a certain idea about equal protection. The question is whether that's what's meant by the 14th amendment. But whether it is or isn't, we can discuss whether and how it could be embodied in law.

As for creeds and religions, I don't know what's typically the case, but I do know that at least a simple set of creedal commitments _were_ constitutive of the Christian Church and were not preceded by its existence as a cultic community. This may in fact be atypical of world religions generally and be a result of the specially historical nature of Christianity. If you're talking about the language of "substance" in the Nicene Creed, then I agree that that was a later development. But I would certainly argue that the Christian Church began with the preaching of the apostles from Pentecost on, and that it was those who accepted their irreducibly propositional message and agreed to follow and worship Jesus Christ who were "added to their number" (to use a Lukan phrase). To be sure, the set of propositions was very minimal--Jesus was the Messiah, He was sent from God, He died, was buried, and rose again, and remission of sins is to be found in His name and in none other. These are all found in Peter's inaugural sermon at Pentecost and are apparently what was taught to Paul within a short time of his conversion. The apostles were actively promoting a highly specific and new set of religious beliefs, and their community was joined and way of life was followed by those who believed those, not the other way around. The Church, you might say, started with a bang and with a demand for belief right up front, not osmotically out of people hanging around together and gradually developing forms of life.

How much of this is relevant to the nation is hard to say, since there were probably plenty of blacksmiths and housewives who didn't believe anything in particular about forms of government and still ended up being citizens of the United States in the hurly-burly of history, what with the revolutionary war and all. But certainly the Constitution isn't called "the Constitution" for nothing. It, and before that, the Articles of Confederation (yes?) were constituting documents. There was an idea that things had to be done decently and in order and that specific documents had to be drawn up to constitute the nation in a particular form. Of course there's a lot more to "being American" than is contained in the Constitution--and a great deal that is crucial--but still, I'm not at all sure we can see in the history of our own nation this idea at work of a gradual growing of an explicit and propositional component as opposed to a hammering out of that component in a relatively short time (e.g. at the Constitutional convention) and building it into the nation from the get-go. That, in fact, was why the anti-federalists and the federalists had such a debate before it could be ratified: they realized it was the set-up for the whole country.

Lydia makes a profound mistake when she suggests that this isn't the same country as when founded, and that this might cause it to lose its claim to her affections. She also says, "And the changes I'm thinking of here could be profound changes in form of government."

That is more a nationalist view of the country. If the country is good like this or like that it loses claim to my affections. It must meet the standards of some creed. Her love is conditional. And she conflates the State with the Country.

Solzhenitsyn is salubrious reading; now there is a man who is a patriot. He went home as soon as they would let him back. If you can understand how he could love Russia, you understand patriotism.

Gintas, I didn't say that it isn't in fact the same country now as when founded, but only that such a thing _could_ happen.

Would you fight just as passionately for the geographical country with the name "the United States of America" if it became explicitly a communist regime? Would you have the same loyalty to it that you have now, in the same way and in the same sense?

Even my fellow bloggers who wrote the main post, I think, are not with you here. I assume that such a scenario would be a case in which, as Maximos says, "If some scenario such as the one you invoke were to obtain, then it would be a manifest case of illegitimate authority overthrowing a 'creedal' aspect of the tradition in order to wage a campaign against the living substance of the culture."

Surprisingly, Russians rallied to the "Mother Russia" in 1941, even Stalin made his appeal in those terms--very unusual, and very patriotic. People would fight for Mother Russia, even as the government was packing up and leaving Moscow in a panic in December, 1941.

Would you fight just as passionately for the geographical country with the name "the United States of America" if it became explicitly a communist regime? Would you have the same loyalty to it that you have now, in the same way and in the same sense?

My loyalty and love for my home here have nothing to do with the form of government and economic system. So, of course I would. I'm not fighting for a government, or an economic system. I'd be fighting for home and family.

I see. And the fact that the government controls the military is irrelevant? So the German who helped the allies secretly during WWII against Hitler's regime was just a dirty traitor to the Vaterland, I suppose? Because after all, the allies were formally at war with Germany, and even though Germany had started an aggressive war with the rest of Europe, the German on the street was just supposed to think of it as "fighting for his home and family." That was his duty as a true patriot?

I can't work my way through every parameter to arrive at an acceptable Social Contract, I am not a Libertarian. Nor do I pretend to imagine, through thought-experiment, to know what I'd do in such circumstances. But I do understand the Germans who fought bitterly on the East front in 1945 for their homes and families.

From the original post Mr. Cella and Mr. Martin made:

Patriotism is that pull of affection and loyalty, which the normal man feels toward his home. “Home” is a term that should be broad enough to embrace whatever form of political arrangement is dominant in the time and place under consideration.

It's about home, not about what government you have. I feel that pull of affection, even today. Deracinated people don't feel that pull. That's one thing wrong with this world.

Sorry for the multiple posts, but as I've been thinking about it, I want to give some instances that support the following thesis: There are different types or aspects of legitimate patriotism; these can be in tension and, in radical cases, in conflict with one another; that country is happiest and its citizens find patriotism easiest when this tension is minimized.

Instance 1: How must Bobby Schindler feel about America? In this country, land of the free, home of the brave, his own sister was agonizingly dehydrated to death _legally_ over a period of thirteen days, guarded by police from anyone wanting to give her ice chips or moisten her lips with water. Would this not legitimately and understandably put a strain upon the patriotism, the sense of pride in one's country, of those who loved her? I think there would understandably be a sense that one had trouble recognizing one's own country.

Instance 2: When people commit acts of civil disobedience--e.g., those who pray the rosary in the driveways of abortion clinics--they are breaking laws. This means that in one sense they are setting themselves against their country. But they are doing it in the name of a truth that they believe to be more important, such as the right to life of the unborn. They may even plausibly argue that this truth used to be recognized in our country and is more central to our country's identity than the private property rights, defended in laws against civil trespass, of the abortion clinic owners, since those running the clinic are committing murder on their private property. Hence, patriotism in the sense of obedience to the governmental authorities and pride in the just working of the laws of the country is in conflict with patriotism in the sense of love of the truths that the country should and used to stand for.

Instance #3: I'm proud of the fact that bloggers aren't arrested in America and that churches do not have their pastors arrested for "hate speech" if they criticize homosexuality in their sermons. I could give lots of different examples like this. _Part_ of my patriotism is a pride in the goodness of the laws we still have in the U.S., the ways in which we are a free people while, sad to say, many other countries are not. This is to some extent bound up with love of hearth and home. After all, if my own pastor were sent to jail for his sermons, it would disturb the familiar tenor of my life and would upset my children! But the pride is larger and, in a sense, more abstract than just saying, "Phew! I'm so glad Fr. So-and-so doesn't have to worry about what he preaches." It has to do with saying, "America is still the greatest country in the world, and America is great in part because she is free," and meaning by that something about the actual legal set-up in America as a whole. This seems to me a correct and important part of patriotism that is rather hard to capture solely in terms of familiar smells, sights, and traditions.

I think these instances point up the more general idea that patriotism has different facets and that, in extreme cases, a citizen might be justified in opposing his own government in a fairly radical way (as in the case of the German working for the allies in the underground). If we are always obligated to be patriots in _some_ sense, such a citizen would have to be a patriot in the sense of fighting his country for his country's sake. He would have to argue that there was something good about his country that had been overridden or perverted or changed by the government in power and that it was that change or perversion against which he was fighting, for the sake of the soul of the country he still, in an important sense, loved.

Cella and Martin wrote:

To say otherwise is like saying that a man only loves his mother if he also proclaims her cooking as the best in the world; or that a child only loves his toys because they are the biggest and shiniest in the neighborhood. In the formulation of this patriotism of supremacy, the American patriot cannot comprehend a Spanish patriot, because Spain has grown feeble and irrelevant, or a Serb patriot, because Serbia is oppressed and defeated and compromised. He knows nothing of that wild subjugated patriotism of the Poles, which Rousseau spoke of so powerfully in his On the Government of Poland, and which saved Christendom on at least three separate occasions (Mongols, Turks and Communist).

Lydia, you are suggesting that if your country isn't good, if you can't be happy, if you can't take pride in your country, or whatever criterion it fails to meet, then affection is a problem for you.

A patriot loves his country because she's his country, not because she's good, or worthy of pride, or a rich place, or a free place, or better than other places. It's more like familial love than like American Nationalism ("America: love it or leave it!"). That's why the article mentioned your mother's cooking.

Again, I think you, Gintas, are not allowing any place for various aspects of patriotism. Feeling pride in your country _is_ a form of patriotism, and there is pain and tension when one cannot feel that pride. And if my mother were to behave badly, I would feel ashamed and embarrassed _precisely_ because she is my mother. I don't care nearly so much what people do who aren't related to me or whom I do not love. I am ashamed of the fact that the slaughter of the innocent is taking place in America because I love America, and this shouldn't be happening here. If you think "my country, right or wrong" sloganeering takes care of these kinds of painful tensions, then you are treating the issue simplistically. I don't actually think Paul and Maximos meant to do that themselves, and I think they've shown that to some extent already in this comments discussion, despite the fact that some quotations from the original post could be taken in that way. In any event, if your idea is that the only true patriot is one who is not particularly angry and horrified with his country for injustices and atrocities, for perversions and wrongs in her laws and actions, then I say that it is _you_, not I, who do not understand patriotism. You betcha I would feel estranged and alienated if my country becomes a communist totalitarian state, or a Muslim state, or even a repressive liberal regime like Sweden or Belgium. Heck, for that matter, I'm not happy now. That's why I criticize my government and work for change in the areas I think need to be changed. That _is_ patriotism, and if you can't get that, that's too bad.

Concerning the content of the Christian affirmation in the early Apostolic period, it may well be that here we touch upon a difference between Catholics and Orthodox, on the one hand, and many - though not all - Protestants on the other. When a man, upon hearing the Apostolic preaching, avowed that he affirmed certain 'propositions' about Christ and His ministry, this was not an act akin to affirming something like a statement of purpose in a modern corporation or university (note that I am not stating that you are reducing Christianity in this fashion; I am merely differentiating, drawing a contrast.), such that the formal characteristics of the affirmation sufficed to constitute his new identity. Rather, that affirmation, that response to the Apostolic preaching was a point of entry, the gateway, if you will, to a path of initiation; what followed upon the profession of faith was baptism - incorporation into the mystical body - and a process of catechesis, and participation in the Eucharist, the corporate reception of the deifying graces of God in the consecrated elements. The formal doctrines and propositions about Christ are evocations of a communal substance or identity, an existential relation between the mystical body and the Head, and of the parts of the body one to another.

In other words, the fundamental 'fact' of Christianity is the Mystical Body, of the community of the faithful united to Christ through the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church; this reality is constituted by the salvific actions of God, and doctrinal statements and professions of belief follow as exteriorizations of this communal reality. The Apostolic preaching did not create this communal identity/substance; it bore witness to it. The Apostolic preaching did not unite professing Christians around a doctrinal statement, leaving them to work out the precise nature of their relations to one another and to God; early Christians could no more have concluded that theirs was a subscription society, and not a Mystical Body, than we can today. This is not to say that the full scope of dogma was explicit from the beginning; it is only to state that the outworking of that dogmatic architecture is an elaboration upon a preexisting communal reality. Dogmatic propositions, even minimal ones, are expression of the logical 'conditions of possibility' for something that already exists.

Similarly, with the American nation, the American people and their culture antedate the Constitution; the Constitution does not create them a nation and people, but gives specific form to an already-subsistent reality.

Perhaps, however, we have in this discussion a difference between a communal/relational conception of identity, and one which, following Protestantism generally, is (excuse the term) more logocentric.

As regards the question of loyalty, it seems to me that a man stands in a different relation to his nation when its authoritative institutions wage war against the substance of his culture than that in which he stands when his nation is involved in a conflict with another nation - regardless of whether his own government is illegitimate. In the former case, a man might well resist his government on behalf of his people and culture, on account of the evils perpetrated against them. In the latter case, to take the example of the WWII-era German, he might well resist his own government on account of its depravities and injustices, or he might resist those waging war against his nation - while seeking to avoid complicity in its evils, as some did - knowing that what the Americans and Russians would visit upon his society would alienate it from itself. In other words, he might resist the Allies simply because the culture and form of life they would impose upon his people would not be theirs; in other words, because he simply loved his home, in spite of the fact that its government was wicked. And knowing something about Soviet Communism, and being able to anticipate the, ahem, excesses of American-led cultural reconstruction, this would not at all have been indefensible. I prefer to be circumspect in judging those in such circumstances; a man can easily loathe National Socialism while not wishing to be Americanized, refashioned into a post-German German, the effective prototype of Universal Man, American-style.

Finally, I should state that upon my conception of patriotic loyalty, we need never affirm our nation as the greatest nation in all of history, or the last, best hope of mankind; it suffices that we loves our nation because it is ours. Upon the realization that we enjoy freedoms denied to Billions, my inclination is to express gratitude to Providence.

Right, so you're saying that the German could go either direction, and his treason to his government because of its wickedness wouldn't make him evil and unpatriotic if he did go that direction. I think that's pretty similar to what I said initially on the subject. But if we hold that a man must _always_ be patriotic, then I think we have to recognize that for that German, if he was dong what people must always do, patriotism could be compatible with being a spy against his own government. That sounds counterintuitive, but it makes sense to me.

I don't think we _must_ affirm our nation as the greatest in all of history. And certainly, we should be thankful to Providence for the freedoms we enjoy. I do say that pride in our freedoms, pride in the wisdom of our founders and the type of constitutional republic they created, is one form or aspect of patriotism. It's not just a matter of loving our country because it is ours. That's a different aspect of patriotism. Both are good; both have a place. And there's a real sadness and pain that comes if and as one feels oneself losing that pride in one's country. If one loses entirely that pride, because one's country changes drastically in its form of government, if all or most of the civil freedoms on which it was founded should be lost, then one will not be able to feel patriotic in all of the same ways and senses. And some people might live in a place that they could love as their home because it was theirs but in which they could not feel this civic pride if they were reasonable and clear-eyed citizens.

You can put me down as proudly "logocentric," btw. I think all Christians should be logocentric. Honestly, I don't think the statement that Christianity was constituted from the outset in part by adherence to particular propositional truths is at all a Protestant/non-Protestant issue. Certainly there have been plenty of Catholics who have thought this. And it's very important to state that if it were not true, and if the apostles did not believe it to be true and teach it to be true, that Jesus was risen from the dead, there would be no church, no sacraments, no community. Belief in this truth did not "arise out of" the community of the Church in some osmotic fashion. It was of its essence and kicked it off at the very beginning. Christianity is irreducibly propositional, though propositional belief does not (as the book of James itself stresses) exhaust what it means to be a Christian. And I say that as someone who believes in the Real Presence, by the way. I really think that matter has nothing at all to do with whether or not one holds sacraments and membership in a body of believers to be important.

But I'll stop on that point here. I just didn't want by silence to seem to be agreeing with the idea that here we are just up against one of those Protestent/non-Protestant issues.

Good comments, all around.

But if we hold that a man must always be patriotic, then I think we have to recognize that for that German, if he was dong what people must always do, patriotism could be compatible with being a spy against his own government.

Lydia, I for one certainly do not hold that a man must always be patriotic. Or, to put it another way, a man's patriotism in life, it seems to me, will be an unlikely subject for intense immediate scrutiny at the crack of doom. The divine attribute of patriotism is the love it inspires, which -- in light of our mention of tragedy -- often orients a patriot toward sacrifice. And here -- just as we have argued that patriotism arises first from concrete things and not abstractions -- we say also that at its highest, at the very end, patriotism will reach back for concrete things, and impel a man toward that charity or love which is the highest perfection. In the beginning a patriot is gripped by love, which may indeed be refined and sharped by reason; at the end, no greater love hath he, for he lays down his life for his friends.

But this divine attribute in patriotism can be misused; for "the hearts of men are easily corrupted." I will not attempt to enter into the hearts of the German patriots, or the Russian patriots, who had to make decisions upon the question of loyalty in the 1930s and '40s; I am reluctant to even attempt with my own ancestors who faced tough decisions in 1860 -- except to say that it is not right that men should be forced to make such choices, and that it is likely that many men, perhaps most, will not succeed in choosing correctly.

Nor will I touch upon the theological question, for I find myself agreeing with whomever (Jeff or Lydia) happens to have written the comment I am reading.

Yes, our hypothetical German could go in either direction, precisely because in either direction could lie the defense of home and the way of life associated therewith. Political principles and creeds, if they are not to be destructive ideological fantasies, must be expressive of, and grounded in, such a way of life. American notions of free political speech, civil liberties, and so on, are rooted in such a way of life - despite ideological perversions of those traditions in recent generations - which is our point.

As regards the matter of logocentricity, yes, all Christians are logocentric in the sense that the Word became flesh, and that words pertaining to this mystery are capable of communicating something of its reality. But it won't do to smooth over the real differences between (some) Protestant confessions and Catholics/Orthodox on this score; Protestant conceptions of identity have been bound up with doctrinal professions and preaching (consider the differences between the average Protestant service and that of one of the liturgical churches) in a way that has not been true of the churches which emphasize sacraments, Apostolic succession, and so on. Yes, certain statements about Christ have been of the essence of Christian faith from the beginning, but this is not the same thing as claiming that they created or constituted the Church. The Church is constituted by the saving actions of God, and subsists as a certain type of relationship between God and man, and man and man. Certain propositions are inseparable from this existential reality, as is true of virtually all creedal statements, and they exist in order to defend the substance of the communal reality: the salvation we experience in and through Christ is not possible unless certain things are true of Christ. The doctrinal propositions do not create this saving relation; they protect it, and, in the case of preaching, serve as a point of entry for converts.

In other words, what I am saying is that the Mystical Body antedates the Apostolic preaching, and that positive reception of that preaching stood as the initial entry of converts into that Body. The preaching and doctrine did not have to arise in some osmotic fashion; it was integral, though not constituting, necessary, though not sufficient, in the same way that the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church - and the salvation it proposed - always presupposed the full Divinity and full humanity of Christ, even prior to the Council of Chalcedon. The doctrinal definitions issued by the Council did not originate new realities, they merely recognized what must be true if the salvation proclaimed by the Church from the beginning was a reality. So also is it with respect to all Christian doctrinal statements; it is not the "propositionness" of the statements that matters, but the fact that the propositions articulate existent relations, spiritual conditions, ontological realities.

Bonheoffer, a Lutheran pastor during WW II, wrote that patriotism was a Christian virtue; but also, like other virtues, it could be distorted to evil purposes. Even after his capture for his participation in an assassination plot against Hitler, Bonheoffer was conflicted and fearful that his actions were a sin against God.
It also has to be remembered that in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King maintained that when one wages non-violence civil disobedience, one must be ready to accept the legal consequences. There is no "get out of jail free" card even if one's cause is righteous. This is important for the respect of the rule of law.
In general, however, it is quite healthy to love one's country so much that one believes it is the greatest country in the world. This true whether that country is America, England, France, India, Egypt, or Peru.
We all can think of 100 things we would like to be different in America. Yet it is good to love one's country as it is rather than some idealized, non-exist ant America. The question at bottom is whether one thinks America is a force for good in the world.

I'm interested in what Paul says to the effect that perhaps a man need not always be patriotic. This might relate to the love of home if, in some terrible case, a man had been so driven from pillar to post since infancy that he'd never had a chance to come to love any home. Perhaps we can imagine an orphan who never had any family, never can remember ever having had anyone love him, never lived in one place long enough to come to love it, and so forth. And in that case it would not be his fault if he had no patriotism in the sense of a love of home, because he would have been, as it were, forcibly deracinated by circumstances beyond his control.

But I think such situations are rare, and I'm more interested in what we might call contingent patriotisms of other sorts--for example, if one realizes that one's country has never had a decent government or form of government in its entire history, or, on the other hand, if a country's government has changed or decided to do something so evil that one must distance oneself from it.

Perhaps we should talk in terms of "patriotisms," plural, rather than patriotism, singular? And they might, for a given person, go in different directions?

Maximos, since you're happy to acknowledge the integral nature of the doctrines in question, I doubt our difference is that great. I'm a little surprised at the claim that the Mystical Body antedates Pentecost, unless you mean by the Mystical Body (as the Prayer Book says), "the blessed company of all faithful people." But in that case, the Jews were the Mystical Body prior to Jesus' coming, and that Body antedates the sacraments, as well. Whether the disciples were partaking of the Sacrament either during the 40 days after Jesus' resurrection or during the 10 days between the Ascension and Pentecost is an interesting question, but I'm rather inclined to think not. The descent of the Holy Ghost seems to have been necessary to all of that. In which case Peter's sermon comes *smack* at the beginning of the Church, with no Church-cum-sacraments to antedate it. So not only "propositons" in the sense of truths (which need not be uttered to be real truths) but also "propositions" in the sense of overt statements of such truths, seem to me to have been pretty much the same "age," as it were, as the Church. But that may be not as big a difference between us as it appears.

As to style of worship, I should think that as a sheerly historical fact, it's the liturgy that was a gradual development and preaching (sometimes involving very _long_ sermons) that is older. What's-his-name fell out a window during one of Paul's. Jesus preached all day, until the people were about to miss a meal or two and faint by the way on their walk home. People of that 1st century Mediterranean culture seem to have had a tolerance for long teaching and preaching that puts them, in an odd sense, culturally closer to Baptists or even 17th century Puritans than to Episcopalians and Catholics, with their love of the 15-minute homily. All of which is not to deny that they were partaking of the Eucharist regularly. Scripture says that they were, apparently in connection with some sort of meal. It's just that, probably, their services were simpler and plainer than those of most liturgical churches today. Which is no problem for me. I'm not a "primitivist" in the sense of rejecting any development or change of practice. I love the Anglican liturgy passionately, and it's 16th century. I bring up the point only because, if _style_ of worship of the early church is to be used to argue the relative importance of propositional preaching and teaching vs. sacramental practices, the very fundamentalist Baptists (not the rock-worship-band evangelicals) probably have primitive church practice on _their_ side, there.

I'm presupposing two things, both crucial from my perspective.

First, that the Last Supper was, in a very real sense, the institution of the Sacrament, and thus, a critical step towards the full emergence of the Mystical Body. This teaching, of course, was the subject of intimations throughout the teaching ministry of Christ, and its "hardness" prompted many disciples to depart. Moreover, while it might seem pedantic, the Apostolic preaching does occur after the descent of the Spirit and the 'formal' incorporation of the Church.

Second, that the work of many liturgical historians is accurate, and that the earliest Christian liturgies built from the traditions of the Synagogue. Thus, the early liturgy would have begun with what some refer to as a 'liturgy of the word', culminating in the reading of sacred texts, followed by preaching - often long-winded, yes; what followed would have been the 'liturgy of the Eucharist', often associated in earliest times with some sort of communal meal. So, as far as I can determine, those Baptists are further from Apostolic tradition than might be suspected.


The vigor with which Lydia articulates the perspectives which I would generally aspire to make the object of assent tends to make me demure. In service to “the clarity of disagreement” I will however attempt to rephrase what we have argued in the past.

Although you make a bit more room for me by acknowledging the goods of liberties etc., you know I am not in your camp. I shall call it the BECAUSE-IT-IS-MINE PATRIOTISM camp for present convenience, but shall be happy to defer to such a moniker as you may supply. I can recognize that BIIMP has a storied pedigree and a long, perhaps even abiding association with republicanism. The character General Maximos in the movie Gladiator offers an accessible appreciation for this. This description however fails to arouse the essence of my love for America or to articulate the measure by which I believe we generally accept someone’s claim to American identity.

But neither do I identify with what you characterize as IDEOLOGICAL PATRIOTISM. A thing of pure propositional idea, divorced from feeling and living “explodes” an essential property of the concept of patriotism: love.

My American patriotism hovers around a community bonded by a uniquely American system of shared values: SHARED-VALUE PATRIOTISM if you will. Liberty, equality, etc. as well as home all appear as values to me. As values they are *not* simply sterile ideas but rather are ideas at once saturated with feeling; they are not simply intellectual abstractions but rather are associated with concrete experiences in daily life which inspire gratitude and motivate action. Home and country is no more or less an idea, value, or concrete experience for me as any-man American than is liberty, equality, etc. It is by this observation -- that values are the embraced fruit of the compounding evaluation of ideas, feelings and experiences which unite the mind and the passions – that I synthesize the valid conflicting arguments in the dialogue above.

But this alternative explanatory framework is not the end of our difference. For I furthermore observe that the system of shared values that functions to produce American identity is nearly historically unique to this task of servicing patriotism; that it embodies a significant split from the republican past with which you desire to link it. Ethnicity, religious creed, tribe, home/mineness and other parochial categories of value that were ascendant throughout antiquity and which are still prevalent in many forms of patriotism are displaced in America as a result of our Constitutional system and our founding history. The valuation for liberty, equal opportunity, free markets, individual conscience and self-determination, among others are ascendant in our system. The resulting goods of existence are powerful drivers for the assumption of American identity. Our system of values is found not only to be desirable to all who join our common pursuit of human flourishing (h/t Aristotle) but they are in principle accessible to all participants in our society. Hence we rightly observe the incomparable power of America to kindly assimilate.

Out of this latter point arises mutual discomfort. I am discomfited by what Gintas advocates and the comfort he takes in your argument. You will characterize me as disregarding our particular heritage, hostile to its centrality, and so liquidating American identity. Also consequent are polar conclusions on numerous points of policy. On immigration: whereas I am quite confident that American identity will prevail due to desirability you count me foolish for disregarding the ultimate essential power of the conflicting parochial identities. In general my policy inclinations are thus informed by confidence and yours by protection.

Now I do not consider myself in anyway to be after obliterating the distinctions out of which American citizenship, identity or patriotism arises. But I can recognize that the way you are going about defining these concepts – a way which I cannot recognize as ever having been present in my own semantic associations – leads you to just that sort of conclusion about me. How shall I defend my position?

In the later 70’s when I was a senior at the Evangelical Free Church School, Trinity College, I accompanied some boundary testing room mates of mine to Leekum’s Pub, way out in the boonies. I found myself sitting at the bar next to a heavily brogued Irishman – I believe he was of the sort they code-call “a good Irish Republican” – who was emotionalizing to the bartender over a certain controversial Irish political issue. After a time, he acknowledged the effort with which I had strained my ear upon him: “Well lad, what da ya tink den?” Gathering my thoughts and wishing to show sympathy I said: “Well, I’m a part Irish and” but before I could attach the next word to my conjunctive he pounced. “Hold on now lad. You can’t be part Irish. You’re either all Irish or your not Irish a’tall.” And with that their conversation turned its back toward me. This naïve American boy was blindsided on account of a unique American legacy concept of the *-American.

Now when it comes to the question of being Southern, as opposed to Yankee for example, I suppose I would tell you exactly the same thing: You can’t be part Southern. And no matter, I won’t ever consider you, an import from Colorado, a Southerner. No matter how much you adopt the South and her ways you still don’t have that organic (as you like to say) connection to the South that I have. Among other things there is a heritage element of ancestors who fought and died in, and who lost the Civil War and are stained by the cause of slavery. I indeed do feel that bond of fondness and duty to them in terms that Gintas might congratulate.

But my/our American identity has always seemed to me to be of a very different nature than this organic/because-it-is-mine sort exemplified by the Southerner or Irishman. I don’t think my conception so much abstracts away the parochial as elides it by elevating certain very noble but fragile values rooted in the goods of human existence. By the act of sharing those values we are able to live in a society that provides all of us access to human flourishing. And participation in this American identity is just as available to my neighbor’s Panamanian wife -- married while stationed in Panama -- as it is to me whose Pace ancestors saved the first successful Jamestown settlement.

I love my Southern heritage because it is mine and there are actions which may be styled as patriotic which are consequent upon that love. I love America differently, much less because it is mine but – more at – because she makes me hers, and she makes us hers by her comprehension of humanity. Grasping to articulate the feeling I might say that she inspires me, that what she gives us overwhelms me with gratitude. The latter form of love seems to transcend or eclipse the former. It is as if it reaches an object more redolent in rightness and goodness. The love I return to America seems ennobled by its reach; for it manages to escape from that selfishness and exclusiveness that, as I am taught by St. Paul, love eschews. Or in terms of C.S. Lewis’s Four Loves, it is progressed along the continuum of self-interest ranging from eros to agape.

I am just an individual, unschooled in political science until our recent conversations, examining my innate sense of American identity and patriotism. The semantic reality of these concepts seems to me to inhere in the collective consciousness of our citizenry, so my perception is just one small drop in that ocean. From my standpoint the answer to the objection you raise is this. The historical particularities out of which this propitious shared value system arose are certainly worth respectful cognizance. But the past/present/future power of this shared value system over people who are given the opportunity to experience it is due to its effectiveness in producing the goods of existence, and it accomplishes this independently from the mineness of organic parochial heritages that you in prophetic tradition forewarn is the precarious essence of American identity. The parochial elements which produced this accessible and engrossing value system themselves deserve attention because the self-evident value of the value system may vouch for value in those elements. Personally, I here find evidence which advances somewhat toward an individual’s ability to resolve some contentious social issues, such that regarding religion, that were innovatively left as free-floating parameters in our polity’s fabric. But to repeat, I stand in reverence before the self-evident, self-validating effectiveness of this unique American system of shared values for as I observe it in operation it engrosses independently of the organic elements of mineness that your education in reactionary republicanism (that of antiquity) teaches you to rely upon. This is quite in contrast to the continental identity, the Arab, the Islamic or whatever else we may name.

So American identity is associated with the embrace of an American Dream, a dream about flourishing, about attaining the ends of human nature. But one partakes in American identity by engaging in the _pursuit_ of that dream; by participating in a living tradition by adopting a system of values which is optimized much more for the pursuit of comprehending and acquiring these ends than it is for producing a specification of them and preserving its result. So if is that our society is dynamic and growing while flawed with missteps that can be overcome. Its orthodoxy is agitated by much uncertainty and many free variables. But the relative fulfillment that is made generally accessible to the condition of human in society is nearly incomparable. So partakers (those with a proper perspective anyway) are inspired to love and nurture and to preserve and extend to future recipients the social order which has been given and has given so much to them. In that it aspires in this way to an ethic of humanity it must reach for the universal; for as the Natural Law Professor Father Joseph Koterski says: no ethics which does not aspire to universality is worth its salt. That is the shape of the American patriotism that I observe tingling in my spine.

Now let me say by way of disclaimer that I do not think that the attainment of the ends of human nature is fully attainable by purely natural means and certainly not by socio-political means. I comprehend a depravity in our nature that will not be overcome in our temporal social existence. In other words I don’t join with any of those who think, literally or metaphorically, that the kingdom of god is a target achievable by the kingdom of men. But I do think that system of values immanent in our constitutional liberal democratic tradition puts us on the right socio-political footing: that of pursuit; given our human condition, nature and humanity’s present state of comprehension. And that this is vouched for by the engrossing power of the American identity.

I expect your commitment to your own ideological framework will cause you to insist that I am dangerously and foolishly errant. Perhaps the manner in which I propose to dispose of your objections treats you in the same fashion. Clarity would be a grand achievement though and perhaps then I could more readily recognize myself in the positions against which you contrast your own.


Just for the record, I'm very pessimistic about immigration. So my disagreements, such as they are, with Paul and/or Maximos on the definition of patriotism or on how important sheer love of home is in patriotism do not extend to my being more in favor than they are of our open-borders policy. I think it's disastrous.

I think part of the problem there is just that people from other cultures don't have in their bones so many of the very shared values you and I might want to talk about. So they come to the U.S. and simply take advantage or mess up, confuse, defy, or water down the power of those values in our own society. It's worth bearing in mind that, just by thinking of patriotism in some measure as a matter of shared values, we can't guarantee that they _are_ shared by everyone who happens to set foot on our soil--legally or illegally. And furthermore, we need to be clear-eyed enough to recognize that people from other countries are often less likely than Americans to have American values, especially those of (for example) a Muslim background. This should almost go without saying, but I'm afraid it often doesn't. It's hard, of course, to know. I've just been reading about Vietnamese people in New Orleans who have shown a far better American can-do spirit in terms of rebuilding their neighborhood and not waiting for the government to help than all of their native-born neighbors. But here I think we need to use induction regarding groups--to discriminate, in other words. And we can't even begin doing this until we first begin enforcing the immigration laws in place already.


I was a bit jubis (as an old-timer around here used to like to say) about referencing you in my comment. Just because I tend to agree with your positions and arguments doesn't mean you will agree with mine. Furthermore, I don't want to take a ride on your creds here. However, I do often salute you.

The last thing I want to do is provoke a maddening immigration policy debate. So abstracting from policy and in the spirit of analysis...

I agree that there is no guarantee. But from what I observe, the power which accomplishes this participation in our shared values is extraordinary. But differences over that observation, the degree of power, ought to be addressable by empirical mechanisms, if we have first settled on the centrality of certain values.

There are some impressive stats about the level of integration of second and third generation Latinos. On the other hand, the ghetto sub-culture seems to have a lot of power too. That seems to me to be due to one of our very own missteps.

I do also take some encouragement in this integrative power over Muslims as well. The effect is quite different here than that in Europe. I have discovered a significant Muslim-American blog community, www.eteraz.org being a prime example, that is directly confronting the pre-modern Islamists by their own claim to authentic Islam. They tend to be progressive liberals. But they fully embrace democracy, religious liberty, representative legislation, equality, separation of church and state, and so on. This is not to say that I feel the bonds of affection with them. And the continued presence of Islamist types, they even show up to debate these Muslim-Americans, is of grave concern to me. But nevertheless I marvel at the integrative power.

Applying induction on broad groupings offers benefits and detriments. Alternatively applying the integrative power offers benefits and risks. This presents a common dilemma doesn’t it? Doby Gillis ain’t going to solve this one in a half an hour.

Well, I gather, John that you really are an optimist here. I'd say the evidence favors the pessimists, on a number of fronts. But as you didn't want to provoke an immigration debate, I won't press it.

John, perhaps I can tease out some fruitful disagreements based on the following contrast:

When you say, "You can’t be part Southern. And no matter, I won’t ever consider you, an import from Colorado, a Southerner. No matter how much you adopt the South and her ways you still don’t have that organic (as you like to say) connection to the South that I have." -- when you say this, I am neither alarmed nor offended, nor even mildly dismayed. But when you say "one partakes in American identity by engaging in the pursuit of that dream; by participating in a living tradition by adopting a system of values which is optimized much more for the pursuit of comprehending and acquiring these ends than it is for producing a specification of them and preserving its result." -- when you say this I am indeed a bit alarmed.

In short, it strikes me a perfectly understandable that a native Southerner would deny me any Southern identity, based on my Western birth, but it disconcerts me to think that other Americans might deny me my American identity based on political abstractions.

As I read you, you say that American identity is ineradicably a progressive identity. One "partakes" of it by means of the "pursuit" of a "dream." Now if, like Maximos and myself, a man is ready to have done with modern political theory altogether, there is some obvious difficulty here. If he believes that modern political theory has been ridden hard to a series of dead ends, many of them sanguinary in the extreme -- then there is a insurmountable problem here. For this progressive construal of American identity insists that he must get on the Modern Theory train somewhere, in order to secure his Americanness.

But maybe things are not so rigid. When you say, "American identity is associated with the embrace of an American Dream, a dream about flourishing, about attaining the ends of human nature," you give even us intractable reactionaries a way out. And I answer: the true "ends of human nature" cannot be achieved by modern political theory, because it conceives human nature as mere will or appetite; likewise it conceives "flourishing" exclusively in material terms. Its character is a reduction of human nature, and narrowing of his aspirations.

So then we can go on arguing about the relation of modern political theory to the American political tradition, which is certainly an argument worth having, but which is step removed from the argument laid out here about patriotism.

What I want is some independence of American identity for politics; what I want is a shared identity rooted in something deeper than political doctrine. So that we are not in danger of putting that identity at auction for politics.

It is worrisome to me, again, to imagine that off at the end of our debate over political theory, one of us could be read out of the American identity.

Paul, I am sensitive to your want and worry. Further, if you show that my construal does indeed “read out” others “based on political abstractions” then I shall be chastened; and by the force of my own intuitions and arguments against exclusivity.

It seems we have uncovered an ironic conundrum regarding our diverse attempt to comprehend and to articulate the American identity. Is it marked by an incorporative power: a force for inclusion; in contrast to prevalent exclusive my-relationship heritable identities like Southern, religion and ethnicity? Ought that incorporative feature to inspire reverence? So then do we both grasp that it is not exclusive and both seek to represent its incorporative force and yet both feel the other is representing it as too exclusive? Then ironically we have important fundamental agreement but enigmatic differences of perception.

In brief defense of my perception: I have tried to articulate a sense of a thing which is concrete, not abstract and which is represented in shared values as opposed to mere doctrine/creed. I _observe_ that the values in the value system we share may be classified as either social or political or both because it is of the essence of the topic, regardless of what you or I may want to be the case.

What precise relations these values have to Modern Political Theory is difficult for me to discuss. I am still confused as to what you all encompass by that terminology and how you treat with American political tradition: as if one should have done with all ideas which are not pre-modern, either mediaeval or of antiquity. In the present political environment I find myself consistently and strongly opposed to “progressives” and so I am unclear as to how to read your application of that term to my construal. I remain conscious of the possibility that this may be due to my admitted lack of education in the political science discipline. (I have been using our dialogues for a springboard to motivate inquiry in this field).

Now I don’t begrudge a man for wanting to have done with political theory. Very early on it appeared to me as a mangle of men making immoderate assertions. We all seem to be indulging in political theory now though, and with fair reason. And to attempt to say what constitutes American identity and American patriotism is by nature a theoretical endeavor of some sort which I suppose cannot escape social and political topics altogether.

What I do begrudge a man in America though is a rejection of the shared values that enable the American life: a concrete thing I know by the many years of the experience of living it. This man is recognized by a life lived by antithetical values, hostile to American life, negligent of the mutual duties we all assume in order to mutually procure our right to pursue the good, that which we judge will allow us to flourish. Yes, in theory I do believe there is an implicit public orthodoxy here which we have received via our tradition and find validated in our experience. I – and I dare say you – join in with many others implicitly by the way we live our lives. For example, whether we can explicitly articulate it or not, we live our lives taking as it were a self-evident cornerstone, a universally applied morality-forming comprehension of a human nature wherein there exists a desire to flourish and a responsibility/authority/accountability for that pursuit at the scope of the individual which is fruitfully realized to our mutual benefit only when we each regard it as a duty to honor that scope. Can I refer to that as “human dignity” without incurring all the trappings that one might infer by recognizing it a term of P.S. art? And I think we as a people – leaving off exceptions among our ideologues -- are also generally inclined to throw overboard those who don’t join in the duty of procuring this way of life for ourselves. There is an inclusive power in this bond of duty and right which is founded upon common humanity, quite in contrast to exclusiveness of commonality founded upon ethnicity, religious belief, creed, and such. We can join to support each other in pursuit of what all good men want, to flourish, while yet recognizing that not one of us has a final and absolute specification of how that is accomplished. We work it out for ourselves and try to settle those aspects which carry over into the wider social arena by consensus. But of course there is a limit even to this inclusiveness. We will have done with the man who seeks to rob us of our dignity by imposing his specification upon the rest of us. This is theory on my part in the sense of explaining the phenomena of a unifying American value system, not in the sense of advocating an ideology. It may have been known as political theory for Blackstone or Jefferson, but it seems to me that as Americans we know it via our inherited way of life.

When I say that our system seems optimized for the pursuit not the specification I mean to draw attention to its flexibility, its dynamism, its inclusiveness. “Maybe things are not so rigid.” *Definitely not.* I personally agree with you that flourishing is not achieved in exclusively material terms. And I join you in resisting as unjust any forces which would presume to impose this specification on you or me (our shared valued system at work). And I happily find nothing in American life that has constrained me to adopt such a specification. If another man perceives himself as mere appetite(footnote) I may try to persuade him otherwise, but to the extent that he judges the pursuit of that appetite to be his propitious growth I shan’t begrudge him. The school of hard knocks is a stern teacher, some learn in no other. But if he truly discovers in that pursuit the route to human flourishing then a lesson will become available to all of us.

I am grateful for our amoral meritocratic free market economy. It is what I have received as an inheritance and benefited from. I found in it opportunity to receive a valuation of my efforts and abilities. With my economic needs satisfied as a result of realizing the opportunity to “cause my soul to see good in my labor” and invest the fruits of my labor I am securely enabled to pursue musicianship, intellectual and spiritual enquiries, athletic endeavors, charity, gardening, the forms of growth my heart tends to; and happily on an income that would be classed below the poverty level. So I defend the inheritance that has made me grateful.

There is no sense in which I look to Political Theory to provide me/us the specification for flourishing. What I want is to preserve the inherited system which enables its pursuit. A Moral Economics theory proffered as a replacement to our amoral free market economics seems to me to be just such a P.T. boondoggle which projects to tread upon the flexibility of pursuit by imposing some elitist conception of morality by force of law. A free market doesn’t do away with the morality of the individuals who participate in it. The companies I worked for expected ethical behavior and I expected ethical treatment. I expect it from those I do business with now just as I do from those I socialize with. I honestly fear the consequences of elite government bureaucrats and legislators and jurists or clerics imposing the moral code for economic operations and relations.

But back to the conundrum and narrowing the disagreement. You inform me that you are after articulating an intuition of patriotism/identity which does not exclude based on politics, ideologies and theories. Good! So I reread your initial post now. I nod agreement up to the point of the functional definition. I pull away wherein it seems to lump my patriotic feelings toward America into the model that applies to predominant forms of patriotism/identity – the same feeling as the ancient Greek, the Irish Republican or Southerner or WASP (which I proudly and patriotically also am) – my-relations and heritable identity. Am I misreading here then? Are you talking about something with an unusual incorporative power in contrast to the exclusive power of these forms? When the emphasis is turned to what patriotism owes “to the particular character of the culture, people, communities that make up the country” shall I discard the reading of this in the sense of ‘like the Norwegians in Norway or the Arabs in Saudi Arabia?’ What is the basis which forms our shared _culture_ then? What are the elements that make us one _people_? What is the commonality that joins our _communities_ into the _country_?

You claim here that it can’t be a shared value system manifest in a way of life that embraces liberty, self-government, equal opportunity, property, meritocracy, social order by rule of law, etc.. You are willing to endorse these as founding values, but then leap to brush them off as “fashionable political theory”. I have already argued that by treating these as sterile creed and ideology instead of values and way of life you succumb to a fatally flawed comprehension. At any rate, upon excluding these values which so shape our way of life and traditions what basis besides the _exclusive_ identities is left upon which to measure American identity and identify the object of American patriotism? If you could see your way to reframing these things as values/way-of-life rather than creed and political ideology; then I am hopeful that our intuitions and perceptions might extend toward one another just as our wants and worries seem to.

To your subsequent rhetorical questions (continuing along in the flow of reading your initial post) I draw your attention to the fact that discord over the specification is nothing new in American history. And I submit this for your consideration. We are a people organized around a process for resolving the discord over the specification; a process which respects each person’s role, responsibility/authority/accountability, in its pursuit. That _is essential_ to what makes the particular American history (culture, tradition, people) that we so cherish.

To your enumerations, bravo! (Regarding (6) my description entails the “duty” being taken up as a result of desire rather than imposition).

Yes, Americans seem not to be for giving their patriotism or identity over to ideologues or intellectuals either. I am not! Americans, I and I expect you, find it abiding in our values, in the manner in which we may conduct our lives. All this vying for the specification that you so poetically lament is a continuing and prominent feature of the terrain of American life. It has always, as it does now, exposed us to the danger of error. But we in mass are not willing to have it imposed by any human agency. Not an academy, nor a government, nor a clergy of any religion or sect whatsoever. (I hope you will not miss how this point applies to our ongoing dialogue over religion and politics).

What sounds even more dangerous to me is an objective to restrict the pursuit by cutting off the tumultuous individual inquiry through the imposition of a particular specification on the basis of authority that supersedes individual consent. Do you share my intuition that Americans recoil at such an objective? [I suppose there is another form of identity/patriotism, distinct from a Creedal variety. _Assent to authority_: of the king, the State, representatives of the divine]. To your “In sum” I counter with my own. We cannot desire to restrict the tumult of ideas that is inherent in the dignity we accord as the “pursuit of happiness,” the pursuit of flourishing. The authority granted to each individual to take responsibility for oneself in that pursuit is a precious good of our inheritance. We are each responsible for preserving all the good things in our inheritance. If we fail in mass in our pursuit of “the good” then we have ourselves to blame. That is how I incorporate the ‘contemplation of tragedy’ American identity.

To your third objection I can only reiterate. The “smells”, the “tender sense of home and hearth” is made obscure to me by the more prominent features of my American identity. If we equate what I have referred to as system of values and way of life to what you there call “custom” and “habit” then I can embrace the subsequent rhetoric. Except that there _is_ a sense of supremacy in the sense of goodness and rightness that swells my American identity and patriotism. There is also a sense of supremacy present in my Southern and WASP identities, but it seems somehow qualitatively, not just quantitatively different. It would be interesting to analyze. But in neither case is it the sense of supremacy attached to being the most powerful; rather at having a better comprehension of the good which engenders the hope for favorable destiny. Yes, as you propose, I love her (similarly as I do the South) in a way akin to which I love my mother: because she is mine. But I can see that she is not feeble and irrelevant. She is just the “mother” I would choose after having evaluated them all. She does the job better and people’s experience attest to that. She provides the home environment in which her diverse children (natural and adopted) can develop toward a fuller flowering and so she further inspires love and loyalty. Not all actual moms do that on the same scale. Just because I love my mother because she is mine doesn’t preclude me from loving her further because she is also a great cook, very interested and caring, clean, thoughtful, and disciplined as opposed to being a slovenly, selfish, fast-food feeder.

Regarding the Spaniard and Pole, I can comprehend the patriotism of the descendent. But perhaps the descendent cannot comprehend mine. That is no reason for me to reduce mine to theirs.

I shan’t end with an in kind retort to the main post’s demeaning slap down of contrary views. I tried the rereading in order to tease out where I may have exaggerated our differences. I find I agree with many, not all, of your claims, descriptions, intuitions wants and worries. It still seems that the central feature of our disagreement, the point upon which numerous agreeable resolutions would follow, is the dispute over creed vs. value. Treat with the way those enumerated creedal items surface not as political theory but as the habit of American life; recognize the distinction between pursuit (a process of living and acting) and specification (external imposition of constraints or theories); and then I think our ions may align.

(footnote) I can’t think when I have encountered men in my circle of associations actually living as if they actually conceive their lives in that fashion. My father for example was principally devoted to business and economic advancement. My rejection of that orientation as materialism caused severe trauma between us. But his motivations always celebrated the social good that his efforts produced (eg. manufacturing jobs that the lives of many depended on, personal development of business colleagues) not mere self-aggrandizement.


While I don’t want to get into one of the common demeaning debates I certainly am interested in being further educated on the topic. I’ll give it a go if you are after doing it, now that the political furor seems done. I don’t know that I can explain why I seem to be convinced by the arguments on the WSJ editorial boards, for example their rebuttal to Robert Rector which started here http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110010116.
Perhaps my sympathies do color my judgment.

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