Patriotism and Monogamy

In the comments below, David Stearns asks:

Is there any room left in the concept of ‘patriotism’ for the deep appreciation of the freedoms and independence of thought that the states are at least supposed to embody, and that they do embody in their finer moments?

I don’t think so. Freedom and independence are general features of a place or people and are valuable wherever they occur. I may love America for it’s freedom, but then I should love Canada for its freedom, too. And I do! To love a place because of its general features implies that love may wane or disappear as the manifestation of those valued qualities change. But Patriotism, the love of country, is particularistic. It is a “monogamous” sentiment. If you claim to be an American, Canadian, Danish, and Japanese patriot all at the same time, because you love qualities all these societies excellently exemplify, people will look at you funny. Patriotism requires that you “pick one,” which implies that it is not about the general features of a place, but about special attachment. (Dual citizens may get away with picking two, but that’s just because there are two attachments, and even this is suspect.)

If you meet a women with all the attributes you claim to love about your wife, only better, and you run off with her because of their excellence, then you never really loved your wife. You loved her attributes. You can rightly claim never to have been unfaithful. Indeed, to stay would have made you untrue — to your values. But to fully love a woman, or a country, is to love some one particular thing. Now, it is surely better to love a woman than to love her qualities. But when it comes to countries, it is better by far to give your heart to freedom, and to love countries themselves incidentally and faithlessly.

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