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"Inferior Patriotism"

Will Wilkinson does get this much right:

The kerfuffle over Barack Obama’s pastor is in large part about whether the man is patriotic enough.

Instead of rejecting this kind of attack or pushing back against it, he then proceeds to applaud Obama for his allegedly “inferior patriotism,” which he takes as a given because Obama does not engage in demonstrative patriotism to the same degree as others (as if flag-pin-wearing has a necessary connection to real love of one’s country).  Referring to Kateb’s reply, he says:

He implies something that I believe to be correct: the proud and enthusiastic patriotism of Americans bears a large measure of responsibility for the immoral and failed war in Iraq. This administration’s war would have been impossible had our mindless love of country not made the public rather too ready.

But nationalism, and jingoistic nationalism at that, isn’t patriotism.  Furthermore, patriotism isn’t mindless.  Indeed, once it becomes mindless it has already degenerated into something else.  At the risk of repeating myself, this is the crucial difference between patriotism and nationalism: patriotism is love of one’s country and defensive, while nationalism is expressed typically through contempt and fear of other nations and a will to power over other nations.  The Iraq war was made possible by a propaganda campaign by the government, the exploitation of public fear and anger, the warmongering of nationalists and the twisting of patriotic sentiment into support for a war of aggression by casting the war dishonestly as one of self-defense.  That the administration succeeded in this is not a measure of mindless love of country, but rather a fairly mindless foreign policy consensus that says that small states on the other side of the planet pose meaningful threats to the United States.  To cede that it is patriotism is mainly to blame for the Iraq war, rather than the government’s abuse and manipulation of patriotism, is to let the government off the hook much too easily.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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