There is something amusing about the fact that Obama gave his address on patriotism the same day that this argument came out, since whatever truth there is about Obama’s alleged foreign policy “particularism” he reminded everyone today that he is not interested in any other kind of particularism:

That is why, for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America’s ideals – ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion [bold mine-DL].

Presumably, by “anyone” he means anyone in or from America, but that might be all together too geographically limited. 

There are two ways universalists set up the distinction between what they think patriotism is and more common definitions that they reject.  The first way is to say, “not that, but rather this,” which is the formulation preferred by George Bush and Joe Lieberman.  As Michael related in his story on Lieberman:

His love of country is “rooted not in arbitrary attachment to our country’s land or its borders, but in a recognition that the values that were present at the creation of America and animate it still—the values of freedom and justice and opportunity—are not just our own national values; they are universal and eternal values, which are right and true not only for us in our own time, but for all people in every time [bold mine-DL].”

As I have already remarked to Michael, the attachment to “values” is far more arbitrary than attachment to “our country’s land or its borders.”  There is something much flimsier and more malleable in attachment to “values” that makes reaffirming that attachment a constant refrain of universalists.  The “arbitary” attachment to one’s land does not usually require so much articulation and constant reinforcement, because it essentially a far more visceral and natural attachment. 

The second way is to say, ”not just this, but that.”  That is how Obama has laid things out in his speech.  So his patriotism is similar to James’ civic or constitutional patriotism (except that for James the relevant question is, “Are you a citizen?” and not “What do you believe?”).  This is predictable enough for a politician, but there is something about such propositional patriotism that I find rather too dismissive of the “place on the map” and certain kinds of people.  Of course, the “place on the map” isn’t your home, it isn’t the place itself, but a representation of that place through an act of abstraction and imagination of one’s land as part of this or that polity.  Propositional patriotism is marginally better than the other “values”-driven patriotism, which defines itself by how unlike attachment to the country it is, but it still maintains the fiction that to be attached to the land and to certain ideals is clearly superior. 

Why do American universalists maintain this fiction?  It is to make an Americanist and exceptionalist point–your average, run-of-the-mill patriot in other countries whose patriotism is “just” loyalty to his place and people is somehow espousing a weaker or poorer form of patriotism.  But it seems to me that a patriotism that is too tied up in “ideals,” like the “values”-driven patriotism, is more susceptible to the virus of ideology and exactly the destructive flinging of charges of disloyalty and lack of patriotism based on one’s political views that Obama deplores.   

It also leads one to make rather bizarre arguments such as this:   

I believe it is this loyalty that allows a country teeming with different races and ethnicities, religions and customs, to come together as one. It is the application of these ideals that separate us from Zimbabwe, where the opposition party and their supporters have been silently hunted, tortured or killed; or Burma, where tens of thousands continue to struggle for basic food and shelter in the wake of a monstrous storm because a military junta fears opening up the country to outsiders; or Iraq, where despite the heroic efforts of our military, and the courage of many ordinary Iraqis, even limited cooperation between various factions remains far too elusive.

Pretty clearly, a whole lot of things separate us from Zimbabwe, Burma and Iraq, and the reasons for tyranny or chaos in these places are many.  Besides, it is rather disquieting to think of our patriotism entailing loyalty to certain political ideals, even when we may agree that these ideals are desirable.  We may all find liberty to be a very desirable and worthy ideal, but besides the problem that we know how easily things done in the name of liberty can actually be detrimental to its substance there is also something, well, quite illiberal about making attachment to political propositions the basis or a substantial part of patriotic loyalty. 

This is at the heart of “credal” or “propositional” nationalism, and reveals the land-plus-ideals patriotism to be a species of the same, and yet it bizarrely sits side by side with a claim about Americans entering our “fourth century as a nation.”  While it is debatable whether you can refer back that far to only one nation, to speak of a nation that dates back four centuries is to make nonsense out of tying it to a creed or a set of ideals or political propositions, especially when most of the latter had not yet been fully formulated when the first colonies were established.