You never know when Bolingbroke is going to come in handy. In his thoughtful post on the subject, Reihan replied to one of my arguments:
(4) Daniel rejects the notion that patriotism is primarily about the state my sense is that patriotism is commonly, and properly, understood as “constitutional patriotism.” If it is not about the state as it exists, it certainly is about the state as it ought to be — an idealized allegiance to a particular regime. That’s not exactly Maurizio Virolo’s view [sic], if I recall correctly: he allows for some amount of liberal nationalism under the guise of fatherland fealty, which he sees as part of patriotism. It does roughly capture the view of plenty of “sober centrists.”
Now Bolingbroke has written, as I’m sure many already know, On the Spirit of Patriotism and The Patriot King, so he has a few things to say about patriotism. Bolingbroke is doubly useful since, as I have mentioned before, he was the first to coin the term “unconstitutional” and laid out his theory of loyalty to the constitution and resistance to unconstitutional government. So, first of all, the regime and the constitution are not identical, and so Bolingbroke might be said to possess “idealized allegiance to a particular regime,” or rather he has an idealised version of how the regime should conform itself to the constitution. I think we can all agree on that much. But is Bolingbroke therefore a “constitutional patriot”? Is his patriotism really just his constitutionalism, or is his constitutionalism just one part of his love for his country? Having set up the problem with plenty of entertaining polemic about the evils of Walpole (bloggers have nothing on this man’s contempt for the minister), he gets to the heart of the question:
The service of our country is no chimerical, but a real duty. He who admits the proofs of any other moral duty, drawn from the constitution of human nature, of from the moral fitness and unfitness of things, must admit them in favour of this duty, or be reduced to the most absurd inconsistency. When he has once admitted the duty on these proofs, it will be no difficult matter to demonstrate to him, that his obligation to the performance of it is in proportion to the means and the opportunities he has of performing it; and that nothing can discharge him from this obligation as long as he has these means and these opportunities in his power, and as long as his country continues in the same want of his services. These obligations then to the public service may become obligations for life on certain persons….
He describes the “real patriot” as someone “who bends all the force of his understanding, and directs all his thoughts and actions, to the good of his country.” That’s a pretty high standard, actually, but we can see here clearly that Bolingbroke understands patriotism to be essentially the desire and work for the good of one’s country. Now when it comes to how to bring about that good, his constitutionalism comes to the fore, because he assumes that there is the possibility of having either a good, well-ordered and constitutional government or one of many degrees of corruption of that government and that this affects the good of the country. But the devotion to the constitution or the practices of the regime are incidental and secondary. His country would never become undeserving of love, even if the government were to overthrow the constitution. It is not the state that the patriot serves; it is not even the constitution, except insofar as the constitution protects and serves the country. Bolingbroke speaks of the patriot’s service being dedicated to his country. To this someone may say, “Well, obviously! How boring, Larison!” But for some reason many people keep wanting to move patriotism from being service to the country (presumably admirable) to service to the state (questionable or even objectionable, depending on the state).
Reihan mentioned Viroli, whose book For Love of Country also touches on rival neo-Stoic conceptions of patriotism. Bolingbroke participated in that side of the neo-Stoic tradition of early modernity that affirmed love of country as a “true and natural love” (du Vair), as opposed to the neo-Stoicism of Lipsius that was quite influential at the Spanish court during the era of Olivares (whose biography by J.H. Elliott is a great, if quite long, read). Appropriately enough, dismissing love of country as irrational passion, as Viroli tells us Lipsius does, is well-suited to an imperial monarchy, not least since local patriotic loyalties (including the patriotism of the so-called ”Little Castilians” who chafed at the burdens of empire) are threatening to any cosmopolitan empire. Patriotism is also a crucial element of republicanism, which Viroli notes that Lipsius is attacking, and Bolingbroke fits into this republican tradition as well–his writings are, as Viroli notes, “replete with republican idioms,” despite his avowed monarchism and his obvious support in The Patriot King for Prince Frederick William. As Viroli relates it, even Milton, who might be closest to the “give your heart to freedom” argument, defines patriotism very, very differently from Kateb et al. Viroli writes, ”For Christian men love of country cannot be a ‘blind and carnal love’; it must be a form of compassion, an affection for our fellows, for their and our liberty, their and our rights that has nothing in common with lust for power, wealth, and the false glory that comes from expansion.” [italics mine-DL] It seems clear to me that this has nothing whatever to do with any kind of nationalism, and to the extent that it concerns the state at all it is an almost entirely negative form. P.S. As a matter of general interest, here is a line of argument that will be familiar to students of the Federalists and the patriot rebels (and which has a certain relevance today as well):
Remember that the opposition in which you have engaged, at your first entrance into business, is not an opposition only to a bad administration of public affairs, but to an administration that supports itself by means, establishes principles, introduces customs, repugnant to the constitution of our governments, and destructive of all liberty; that you do not only combat present evils, but attempts to entail these evils upon you and your posterity; that if you cease the combat, you give up the cause: and that he, who not renew on every occasion his claim, may forfeit his right.
Incidentally, he has some interesting things to say about Cato the Younger:
…but this I will say, that the second Cato driven out of the forum, and dragged to prison, enjoyed more inward pleasure, and maintained more outward dignity, than they who insulted him, and who triumphed in the ruin of their country.