“Is Our Patriotism Moral?” 1

Outstanding moral reflection Gary Gutting for today. Be sure to read the whole thing (On another day I would reflect that the universality of morality can be found in both testaments of the Bible, not just in Socrates.), but here is the nub of his argument. 

It may seem, then, that we must either accept modern universalist ethics and reject patriotism as a basic moral virtue or accept patriotism along with MacIntyre’s traditional localist morality. But perhaps, at least in the American context, there is a way of avoiding the dilemma.

For what is the animating ideal of American patriotism if not the freedom of all persons, not just its own citizens? This is apparent in our Declaration, which bases its case for independence on the principle that governments exist to “secure the rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to which all persons are equally entitled. This principle is the avowed purpose of all our actions as a nation, and we may read our history as the story of our successes and failures in carrying out this principle. America, then, is the paradox of a local historical project that aims at universal liberation. Through this project, we have a way of combining traditional patriotism with universal morality.

Is Our Patriotism Moral? – NYTimes.com.


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One thought on ““Is Our Patriotism Moral?”

  • Jamie Oberdick

    I recall my father, who served in WWII including Normandy, wrestling with this. His mother was Eastern Band Cherokee. My father’s fighting in WWII would be considered patriotic.

    However, his reason for doing so and my grandmother’s pride in his doing so would be considered shocking to many Americans – to them, Adolph Hitler needed to be stopped because in their mind (and mine), my ancestors dealt with our own Hitler in the form of Andrew Jackson. Yes, the very same man on the $20 bill – my grandmother refused to have a 20 in her purse.

    Jackson is lionized in American history, and many people who think of themselves as patriotic think highly of him. But to anyone Native American, he was a genocidal racist. I butted heads with several history teachers over this. But if you look at how he viewed American Indians, and how he acted on those views, it’s tough to find anything moral or related to liberty.

    So, in light of this, why did my father serve? In his mind, he believed America had potential to move on from this dark chapter in history. He felt that perhaps one day American Indians would be treated better (that’s happening but still have a long way to go). Plus, based on his ancestors’ experience with people like Jackson, he felt the urge to help people who were being persecuted by a tyrant like Jackson.

    So, as I read that article, I believed that if my father was around still, he would appreciate what Gary Gutting wrote.