Washington Post: “Patriotism is a contested concept. But it shouldn’t fade to something only dimly remembered.”
By George F. Will
“The philosopher’s task is to facilitate clear thinking by making clarifying distinctions. People are not always grateful for this service, as Socrates discovered. The political philosopher’s task is to clarify contested concepts, such as patriotism. Regarding this, Steven B. Smith has drawn intelligent distinctions that might have some on the right and left competing for the pleasure of serving him a cup of hemlock.
Patriotism is a species of loyalty and a form of love. In “Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes,” Smith, a Yale philosopher, argues that many on the right profess to love the United States but misunderstand — or, worse, reject — the essence of what makes this creedal nation distinctive. And, Smith says, the patriotism that many on the left profess — on those occasions when they warily, gingerly embrace the idea — is a cold, watery affection for an abstraction. It is loyalty to a hypothetical United States that might be worthy of their love-as-loyalty…”
Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes
By Steven B. Smith
The concept of patriotism has fallen on hard times. What was once a value that united Americans has become so politicized by both the left and the right that it threatens to rip apart the social fabric. On the right, patriotism has become synonymous with nationalism and an “us versus them” worldview, while on the left it is seen as an impediment to acknowledging important ethnic, religious, or racial identities and a threat to cosmopolitan globalism.
Steven B. Smith reclaims patriotism from these extremist positions and advocates for a patriotism that is broad enough to balance loyalty to country against other loyalties. Describing how it is a matter of both the head and the heart, Smith shows how patriotism can bring the country together around the highest ideals of equality and is a central and ennobling disposition that democratic societies cannot afford to do without.
JMC Webinar: “Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes” with Steven B. Smith
While patriotism cannot be “an absolute attachment to one’s own way of life,” cosmopolitanism is also insufficient, as a “citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere.” Ultimately, Professor Smith argues for a patriotism that is a civic faith founded in America’s history and founding documents and their commitment to equality, rule of law, pluralism, and individualism.
JMC’s Director of Academic Programs, Tom Cleveland, acted as the moderator.
Steven B. Smith is the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science and Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. He is also the Co-Director of Yale’s Center for the Study of Representative Institutions(YSCRI) which focuses on the theory and practice of representative government in the Anglo-American world. His research has focused on the history of political philosophy with special attention to the problem of the ancients and moderns, the relation of religion and politics, and theories of representative government. Aside from Reclaiming Patriotism, his best known publications include, among others, Spinoza, Liberalism, and Jewish Identity (1997), Reading Leo Strauss (2006), Political Philosophy (2012), and Modernity and its Discontents (2016).
Professor Smith is a JMC faculty partner.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.