Finally, someone in that Cato debate is making (a little) sense:
My reservations about George Kateb’s splendid invective against patriotism stem, then, from my fear that he takes the state far too seriously, and fails to realize that it is the state, and not patriotism itself, that is the source of the problem.
Kukathas does preface this, however, by linking patriotism and the state so closely that he is still forced to regard patriotism as an expression of something undesirable:
For the patriot, the state is an institution that has to be taken very seriously. It is difficult to be a patriot and regard one’s state as a construction of no great ethical importance. Equally, it is not possible to take the state seriously and not be at least something of a patriot. Patriotism is a solemn business.
In my view, the state has to be taken seriously because it is a very real institution (or set of institutions) that wields enormous power and one inevitably has to take account of what it does. To the extent that it possesses legitimacy, there are obligations to obey its laws, but outside of this there are very few obligations to the state. Most of the things that all of the participants keep attributing to obligations to the state are, in fact, obligations to other things that are being usurped or exploited by the state: loyalty, defense, sacrifice, love. I would argue that there are many nationalists who invest their states with “great ethical importance,” who see it as the embodiment of the nation and deserving of all the devotion owed to one’s country and people, while patriots tend to see it as a necessary evil or something that must exist at some level but, preferably, with the least concentration of power possible. Public authority is necessary to maintain some measure of order, and to coordinate a common defense, but beyond these pragmatic ends it is difficult to see much “ethical importance” in something that exists principally to coerce and punish.
By granting the close bond between patriotism and the state, the very bond that all the participants see as the source of so many problems, Kukathas has once again given credit to a connection that does not exist. They are describing a species of statism, which various states have deliberately confused with patriotism to their advantage, and many people accept this confusion of terms. Those who are inclined to be critical of the state take it for granted that patriotism is a pillar of the state, and those who have patriotic sentiments believe that they must submit to the state far too often in order to be truly patriotic. This confusion comes from the failure to use the proper names for things.