What he might better have done here is to have distinguished between loving, or pledging allegiance to, a democracy or a monarchy, or, with a view to our current situation, a liberal democracy or any of the forms of tyranny. This, surely, is the decisive issue in an appropriate analysis of patriotism.
Prof. Berns’ distinction is a useful one for thinking about the circumstances that would require the patriot to turn against his government for the love of country, but it seems to me that beginning this way simply reinforces the problem with Kateb’s original argument that conflated state and country. To say that it is “the decisive issue” in talking about patriotism is to give the game away except in those lands where some suitably liberal democratic regime happens to exist. This makes patriotism hinge on the regime type in power at any particular time, which both flatters liberal democracy as the only regime type in which a desirable patriotism can exist (a profoundly dangerous and ahistorical assumption) and makes patriotic sentiment the equivalent of a vice whenever it is felt by anyone who happens to live under an illiberal or non-democratic regime. It seems to me that this sort of conflation opens the door to exactly the dangers of an activist foreign policy Kateb warned against, since this would involve demonising the patriotic loyalty of anyone who lives under a foreign illiberal regime and make a virtue of of their treason against their country in the name of “liberating” it (with the aid of the benevolent hegemon, of course). It would also entail glorifying the patriotism of democratic peoples as inherently self-justifying: we can be patriotic because our form of government is best, and our form of government is best because it is our form of government. The confusion of regime and country leads to a host of such errors and needs to be nipped in the bud.
This confusion continues in Berns’ next paragraph:
It is significant that Aristotle did not number patriotism among the virtues — courage, for example, or prudence, justice, magnanimity — probably because he knew that it should be praised or fostered only in the case of a country that deserved to be loved. And not all countries, or regimes, deserve to be loved.
Now, wait a minute. It is true that not all regimes deserve to be loved–it is questionable whether anyone should ever love any regime–but this is related to the justice of the regime. To say that there are countries that do not deserve to be loved is to create another version of the two-tiered hierarchy of countries mentioned above, as if it were right for the Iowan but not for the Eritrean to love his country (or vice versa). “A patriot does not boast of the largeness of his country, but of its smallness,” Chesterton said through one of his characters in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and likewise a patriot loves his country as a whole, including its flaws, not in the absence of them. It is possible that a foreigner might find many other lands unloveable, but they are not his lands. Not only can no one find any country that does not have at least some people who love it (and if we confuse countries with officially recognised nation-states, we make another mistake in thinking about what a country is), but it is impossible to imagine an inhabited country that is “undeserving” of love. Indeed, the whole language of deserving muddles things, for who or what can be said to deserve love? Love is gratuitous and freely given, not something given to the deserving alone (or else there would be very, very few loved things in this world).
Berns then takes a turn that is in some ways even more unfortunate than Kateb’s broadside against all patriotism:
In a word, the patriotic Clay loved the idea of his country, or its principles.
Please, no ideas of countries! This is very troubling. Berns then goes on to divide this patriotism of the idea from the patriotism of the soil and solidarity with one’s people. In other words, the only way that Berns wants to defend patriotism is by hollowing it out into the meaningless propositional variety.
Berns concludes with the same confusion with which he began:
One prominent American university professor (Martha Nussbaum) suggests that the times require that people get rid of patriotism and, to that end, become citizens of the world and lovers of humanity, and thereby protect all those desirable human rights. But humanity does not have a government (or an army), and there is not reason to believe that, if it did have a government, it would be lovable.
This final sentence is right, and it also has little or nothing to do with patriotism.