“By defining Americanism too narrowly and backwardly, conservative patriotism risks becoming clubby. And by celebrating America too unabashedly–without sufficient regard for America’s sins–it risks degenerating from patriotism into nationalism, a self-righteous, chest-thumping ideology that celebrates America at the expense of the rest of the world.
But if conservative patriotism can be too exclusionary, liberal patriotism risks not being exclusionary enough. If liberals love America purely because it embodies ideals like liberty, justice and equality, why shouldn’t they love Canada–which from a liberal perspective often goes further toward realizing those principles–even more? And what do liberals do when those universal ideals collide with America’s self-interest? Giving away the federal budget to Africa would probably increase the net sum of justice and equality on the planet, after all. But it would harm Americans and thus be unpatriotic.
Eminent thinkers, from Tolstoy to contemporary philosophers like Martha Nussbaum and George Kateb, have denounced patriotism on exactly those grounds: that it’s wrong to prefer one’s countrymen and -women to people in other lands. Patriotism, in Kateb’s words, is illiberal; it “is an attack on the Enlightenment.” There’s a lot of truth in that. Liberals may love America in part because it aspires to certain ideals, but if they love it only because it aspires to those ideals, then what they really love is the ideals, not America. Conservatives are right. To some degree, patriotism must mean loving your country for the same reason you love your family: simply because it is yours.”