Virtue of the Week: Patriotism


Patriotism is a virtue so long as the actions it encourages are not themselves immoral. So long as devotion and loyalty to one’s country do not lead to immoral actions, then patriotism can be quite laudable. When concern for their own country blinds people to the legitimate needs and interests of other nations, then patriotism becomes a vice. That a morally acceptable form of patriotism is possible can be seen by comparing patriotism to love or family loyalty. People may (and, one hopes, typically do) have a special interest and concern for their parents, spouses, and children. They really do care more about those “near and dear” than about strangers. Yet, so long as this concern is not an exclusive concern, there is nothing the matter with it. That is, so long as family loyalty does not violate the rights of nonmembers of one’s family, then actions inspired by family loyalty or love are perfectly permissible. When patriotism is in the service of valuable ends and is limited to morally legitimate means of attaining them, then it is a virtue. When patriotism leads to support of immoral ends or immoral means to achieve
otherwise legitimate ends, then it is a vice.

We should behave toward our country as women behave toward the men they love. A loving wife will do anything for her husband except stop criticizing and trying to improve him. We should cast the same affectionate but sharp glance at our country.J. B. Priestley

If patriotism is "the last refuge of a scoundrel," it is not merely because evil deeds may be performed in the name of patriotism, but because patriotic fervor can obliterate moral distinctions altogetherRalph B. Perry