Tim Lee on Patriotism

Tim Lee’s response to Tim Sandefur (and therefore to Ilya Shapiro) is spot on. Do read the whole thing.

I especially liked this:

Loving your country because it embodies specific political ideals isn’t patriotism, it’s called having a political philosophy. Patriotism is loving your country because it’s your country, regardless of what political ideals it may or may not embody. Most people would not switch allegiances if they became convinced that another country better embodied their political ideals.

It is not obvious to me that other countries don’t better embody the ideals I most care about. Because I do have a particularist attachment to America, I’m quite glad that its not obvious. I do love America (in much the same way I love Iowa and the Cato Institute). But I love liberty, prosperity, and human flourishing first. If another society does better in securing these things, it’s a better society, and I would indeed switch my allegiances if it came down to it. That is, I have a political philosophy and I seriously.

Tim’s conclusion is especially good:

It’s important to understand the social and psychological processes that lead people to be biased in favor of their own groups in part because it will make us more effective at persuading others to adopt our ideals. Our goal in Iran, for example, should not be to make Iranians patriotic Americans—an impossible task—but to make them (classical) liberals. The way to do that is to convince them that it’s possible—maybe even natural—to view liberalism and Iranian patriotism as compatible. This is one of the reasons I’m a big fan of Tom Palmer’s work to convince people around the world that liberty is not an American invention but the common heritage of mankind. Tom goes out of his way to find home-grown examples of liberty in the various countries where he works—writings of ancient Chinese philosophers in China, Sumerian writings in the Middle East, and so forth. We’re never going to turn Iranians or Chinese into American patriots. But we may be able to help them cultivate a more liberal conception of what it means to be an Iranian or a Chinese patriot.

That’s exactly right. If you really care about liberty, you’ve got to ease up on the Americanism.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center