As politics have become more partisan, even the idea of patriotism—a fidelity meant to unite opposing factions—has become divisive. To some, patriotism is a dirty word, and not just because politicians morph its meaning to suit their ends. In its defense of a particular country, patriotism defines an in-group which is opposed to outsiders. That view, however, conflicts our current, cosmopolitan view of morality, that “requires an impartial, universal viewpoint that treats all human beings as equals.” While that view sounds more correct, imagine if an American president acquiesced to another country’s policies which clearly harmed US citizens in the name of some greater good. How would you feel then?
What’s the Big Idea?
Notre Dame moral philosopher Gary Gutting believes that American patriotism is unique, and avoids the dilemma outlined above, because it is expressly in favor of a universal humanity. “For what is the animating ideal of American patriotism if not the freedom of all persons, not just its own citizens?” asks Gutting. “This is apparent in our Declaration, which bases its case for independence on the principle that governments exist to ‘secure the rights’ of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ to which all persons are equally entitled.” To be sure, Gutting recognizes there have been failures along the way, but that affirming the principles of the US constitution makes patriotism morally correct.