Patriotism and Philosophy

Steven Den Beste recently posted an email dialog between him and Andreas from Sweden, in which they talk about how patriotism affects (or should not affect) a person’s view of right and wrong.

Andreas suggests that maybe Steven’s take on the war is being unduly influenced by his patriotism for the USA, and goes on to say, “Of course one feels for ones country but great thinkers don’t let that affect the thoughts.”

Steven’s response:

I absolutely disagree that “great thinkers don’t let [patriotism] affect the thoughts”. I would say exactly the opposite: someone who refuses to let love-of-country affect their thoughts is a moral cripple irrespective of their intellectual prowess.

I have to start by saying that on socio-political matters, it is extremely rare for me to disagree with Steven. His is the first blog I read every day, and his insight into complex matters is second-to-none. That being said, his statement above is dead wrong.

Oddly, it’s also a surprising statement coming from him, considering his previous entries (here, and especially here) in which he argues essentially that there are people in the world who are really “Americans”, even though they technically have a different nationality. He talked about “American” as a philosophy of sorts (which by extension also meant that there are people born in this country, who live here, but aren’t really Americans).

I thought it was an very powerful statement, and true; however, it clashes with his newest statement. Steven’s newest statement holds true for him, but only because he’s a philosophical “American” who is also an American national.

To put it another way: If he were born in and lived in France, would he be a “moral cripple” for believing what he believes now about the war, or would patriotism (or as he phrased it, “being partisan for [his] country”) require him to let his French nationality affect his thinking?

We as Americans are right in this conflict. I have no doubt in that statement. However, the rectitude of our fight has nothing to do with our specific nationality, and a lot to do with “right vs. wrong”. The people we are fighting are murderers and demagogues.

I guess in a sense, I agree with one of Andreas’ points, but he takes it to the wrong conclusion. Steven turns around and take the wrong side of that argument, and steers it to the right conclusion. Hmm….

6 Responses to “Patriotism and Philosophy”

  1. murdoc Says:

    Agreed that SDB’s point on national loyalty being important to our thought process is wrong. You are dead on accurate.

    I do agree with SDB’s message, though, as do I agree with yours.

  2. JB Says:

    It may depend on what is meant by national loyalty. If you mean blindly following the dictates of those in power in your country, then it interferes with your thought process. If you mean coming to understand with rational self-interest what is best for your country, then maybe not.

    If he was born and raised in France, then rational self interest would have caused him not to want France to overplay it’s hand in UN Security Council, and not be reflexively anti-American.

  3. Greg D Says:

    I think you misunderstood him. If you love your country, that SHOULD affect you. Otherwise your "love" is meaningless.

    That doesn’t mean you HAVE to love your country. If it’s consistently in the wrong, you’re free to love someplace else. If it’s screwing up once, you can love it, and so feel sad that it’s failing this time. If you find a better one, you can move.

    But to say you "love your country" but then also say "but I don’t let that affect how I think" is to mark you as either a liar, or someone whose love is worthless. Which is to say, someone who is worthless.

  4. Strider Says:

    Greg D — that’s a reasonable point. In light of how SDB’s one statement doesn’t jibe with his other posts, I might just have to agree with you there. 🙂

    At any rate, it was poorly phrased if that _is_ what he meant. Nobodies perfect.

  5. Louis Wheeler Says:

    The problem with Andraes’ position is that it is an aspect of multiculturalism in disguise. Andraes implies that no great thinker will take the side of an issue based on morality or patriotism. But, this is what great thinkers have always done– what great philosophers have always done. Science and philosophy are an ongoing search for truth. This says, despite the current political correctness, that there is such a thing as truth, no matter how often we fail to grasp it. This means that there is a right answer to moral and political questions. You don’t have the option of standing on the sidelines. You must choose and take the consequences. Refusing to choose is to choose the other side.

    Andraes’ position is also a disguised ad hominem attack. He says we can’t trust what Den Beste says because Steven bases his position partially on morality and patriotism. Den Beste correctly states that anyone who discards morality in decision making is at best amoral.

    Love of country does not mean that you will automatically agree with what your government is doing, but even so, it will affect your positions. If you have no love of country this says that you have made no commitment to it. No commitment means that you think your country is not worth saving, and this is what renders Andraes’ position irrelevant and decadent.


    one must always base decisions on what one feels is important. (i have decided this becuse I feel such thinking is important oddly)

    If one dose not feel that anything is important then decisions are fairly meaningless (chaotic) and pretty random.

    Is winning more important than siding with anyone or any viewpoint? In such a case a party might vassilate between sides depending upon who was percieved as most likely to win.

    Regardless, this question is about country and reason and ‘facts’ (whatever you might believe them to be at the present, depending upon what sources you trust.)

    Hence, if Denbeste puts value upon his country OF COURSE that should figure into his decisions. How much value he places upon his love of country will determine to what degree that might override other considerations. (and rightly so)Robert E. Lee loved both his country and his state, he chose his state rather than his country. (unfortunate, that war would have been pretty quick otherwise)

    However, part of what Denbeste loves about this country is the ability to discuss and decide being integral to the political process.

    If you are truly interested in what viewpoint Denbeste hold you might ask him what he would do were america to embark (hypothetically) upon an unnecessary war. I have an idea he would need specific data because he would have to weigh one against the other on a case by case basis.

    This being in his opinion a necessary war then there is no conflict, so support is quite storng.However, one should never use someone elses opinion as a substitute to forming their OWN opinion. perhaps that is where the problem arose. I won’t include a linktext to denbestes article on WHY he writes his blog, but there are several those who are confused should search his archives and read his essential library.

    Additionally, one should keep in mind that if there is an inconsistency perhaps he has changed/revised his opinon… one never knows.


Comments are invited and encouraged

Anti-Spam Quiz: