Monday’s Mtg: What Is Patriotism?

I timed this topic for now because we are about to see an orgy of patriotic expression at the two major party conventions.  The GOP convention next week, in particular, is sure to feature endless paeans to our national greatness and to American Exceptionalism.  Of course, as we discussed last week, this in part will just be another chapter in the long-running campaign to question President Obama’s patriotism – and in the even longer conservative effort to declare exclusive ownership of the concept.  All in good fun.

While the Democrats’ claims to patriotism won’t bring much nuance to the subject, either, I still think it’s a good time to reflect.  What exactly does being “patriotic” mean?  Is it love of country, “right or wrong?  How is it differ from nationalism and chauvinism?  How much room does patriotism allow for criticism of what we do and who we are?  Who owns patriotism?

I’ll give a brief – five minute! – introduction just to frame the issue.  Then, as is usually the case when we talk about a particularly abstract concept, I’ll try to use the Discussion Questions, below, to guide us and keep us on course.



  1. What is patriotism?  Does the term mean anything today that it hasn’t always meant?
  2. How does patriotism differ from nationalism?  From chauvinism?
  3. What role should national introspection and self-criticism play in patriotism?  Is too little willingness to criticize the country as unpatriotic as too much willingness?
  4. What about American patriotism?  Is ours more of an attachment to ideals and political values than in other countries where patriotism traditionally was more intertwined with the State or to a religious or ethnic identity?
  5. It’s been said that, “American patriotism wears two faces: a patriotism of affirmation, which appeals more to conservatives, and a patriotism of dissent, particularly cherished by liberals.”  (link below.)  True?  Are the two views incompatible?
    Is this just politics, or is something deeper at work (hint: maybe the fundamentally divergent worldviews that we’ve talked about so many times before)?
  6. Why are some liberals reluctant to express patriotic sentiment openly?  Do they fear it will be mistaken for blind nationalism, or are they having trouble reconciling our troubled past with our lofty ideals?  Why do some conservatives insist that they have a monopoly on patriotism?


LINKS –   Lots!


Spread the word!


2 responses

  1. James H. Zimmerman | Reply

    Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel (Dr. Johnson)

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