I’m less clear, though, that one can be a patriot while radically critiquing the very definition of one’s country’s polity. ~Noah Millman

Noah has a serious and worthwhile reply to my earlier post on this subject (Noah’s original post is here, and James Poulos’ comments are here). The several cases he mentions are worth pondering, and he has hit upon the part of my argument that is most vulnerable. After all, there is a difference between the polity and its regime at any given time. For example, France has been an identifiable polity under numerous different regimes over the last 220 years, even if it has come into being at the expense of regions that were once countries in their own right, and one might argue that there have been significant revisions in our government in our history such that the same can be said of the United States.

However, I would maintain that before there is a regime, and before there is a polity, there is a country to which we have obligations that come first and which may come into conflict with our duties as citizens of a polity and as subjects of a regime. That is, patriotism is among our pre-political obligations, and one in which we initially have the least choice. Constitutional patriotism is slightly different, in that it takes into account the nature of the regime and the regime’s effect on the polity’s well-being. Constitutional patriotism permits dissent and even resistance against a regime when it begins to threaten the established constitutional order, because it tends to assume that the country and its formal political constitution are closely tied together. Behind even constitutional patriotism, though, is a recognition that it is the country, and not even the political constitution, that is most deserving of love and loyalty. As I wrote about Bolingbroke the last time we were debating patriotism at the Scene:

…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.

Noah at one point mentions Petain. Collaborationist regimes, it seems to me, are a product and a good example of what Lukacs has called anti-patriotic nationalism. In practice, beyond sparing their countries some of the direct ravages of occupation (though, obviously, in the Greek experience, the occupation grew worse precisely during the period of active anticommunist collaboration under Rallis because the main resistance group had been organized by communists), collaborationist regimes aligned themselves during the war with invaders out of fear of socialist, communist and Western imperialist menaces. Petain may have been a patriot before the surrender, and even as the head of a collaborationist regime he may have believed he was doing what was best for his country, but if there is a red line that must separate patriots from traitors it is whether or not one collaborates with an invader. It really makes no difference why the invader is there. I might go so far as to say that even if one lived under a monstrous regime that cruelly misruled one’s own country, it would not be a patriotic act to aid its foreign enemies.

My final point would be that it seems to me that all patriotism, properly speaking, is local or at most regional. One of the frauds of nationalism is the idea that one can feel real loyalty and attachment to a part of a nation-state that is hundreds or even thousands of miles away. This is not natural, but to the extent that it is even possible it is the product of conditioning and constant indoctrination. It is often remarked that in the antebellum Republic most people identified with their states as their countries, and their patriotism obliged them to side with their states. Their natural attachments had not yet been so vitiated that they could imagine identifying with a continental empire simply as their country. One of the great problems with a consolidated regime and a large nation-state for a polity is that loyalty, while broad and superficial, is also remarkably shallow, because it is far too abstract for people to maintain loyalty to a regime or to a polity that is so large.