The Puzzle Of Patriotism

Phil Badger in Philosophy Now:

PatriotismMy national identity seems to me to be both contingent and coincidental. Being born British, while quite lucky in terms of my life chances and political rights, wasn’t something of my own doing. Therefore it is no more something for me to be proud of than my being born in the middle of the twentieth century. I was once told a (possibly apocryphal) story about a former Prime Minister of Belgium who, when asked if he was proud of his nationality, replied that the question was ridiculous and that he might as well be asked if he was “proud of being a man.”

Some people will find this idea simply outrageous. For them there is nothing accidental about nationality. Such people hold what I might call a ‘metaphysical theory’ of their identity: consciously or otherwise, they feel that a kind of spiritual thread connects together those who share a particular nationality so that they also share a set of mutual obligations and rights.

Not me. When I was about fourteen, the BBC put on one of its series aimed at educating and informing the population. In this particular case, the actors pretended to be philosophers such as Plato and Socrates. I suspect that the whole thing was a ghastly hamfest; but for me the important thing was that a toga-clad Socrates asked his pupil “How should men live?” Putting aside the inherent misogyny of the question, this was a crucial moment in my young life. First, the revelation that people actually asked questions like that was mind-blowing; second, the seed was planted that there could be an answer to it which pertained to humans in general and not just to those in my own community. At that moment, with deference to Socrates, I became a citizen not of a small town in northern England, but of the world.

In this article I’m going to do my best to get to grips with the idea of patriotism in the most generous-spirited manner I can muster. I will refrain (after now) from references to Dr Johnson, who opined patriotism to be “the last refuge of the scoundrel” and instead examine a trio of philosophical models of patriotism.

More here.