Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 137–138

Igor Primoratz & Aleksander Pavkovic (Eds.), Patriotism: Philosophical and Political Perspectives

Ashgate Publishing, 2008, 250 pages, ISBN 978-0-7546-7122-0, £55.00, Hardback & Ebook.



DOI: 10.1007/s10677-011-9297-4

Cite this article as:
Crean, M. Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2012) 15: 137. doi:10.1007/s10677-011-9297-4

Patriotism, along with the closely associated concept nationalism, is one that has developed distinctly negative connotations within popular political discourse. Indeed it has for some time been commonly referred to as the ‘last refuge of the scoundrel’. Within the disciplines of moral and political philosophy, however, both have recently been subjects of renewed debate. Patriotism is often condemned by cosmopolitan thinkers, as a result of its supposed moral partiality. It is most often defended by communitarians as providing the motivation to act in the common interest that is beyond the merely political. However there is often some conceptual confusion surrounding patriotism. It is often taken to be conceptually akin to nationalism, therefore proponents and opponents of patriotism are commonly found discussing nationalism rather than patriotism. This has lead to a more significant and compelling debate concerning the distinction between nationalism and patriotism and the potential moral and ethical implications of each. Patriotism: Philosophical and Political Perspectives is a collection of essays on the topic of patriotism edited by Igor Primoratz and Aleksander Pavkovic. The book is suitably presented in three sections, the first containing those essays relating to the moral and ethical nature of patriotism. The second section holds those essays distinguishing patriotism from nationalism and those which trace the historical development of patriotism. The final section includes essays concerning patriotism’s relation to other ethical issues such as environmentalism and war.

Perhaps the most significant contributions to this collection of essays are those by Stephen Nathanson, Simon Keller and Keith Horton. Nathanson in his chapter ‘Is Cosmopolitan Anti-Patriotism a Virtue?’ continues his argument (which he previously put forward in his 1993 book Patriotism, Peace and Morality) for a form of moderate patriotism as morally permissible. Keller responds in his essay ‘How Patriots think, and why it matters’ and criticises Nathanson’s defence of moderate patriotism arguing that patriots are prone to fall into bad faith. This is an unusual approach by Keller, though he does point out a significant complication evident in Nathanson’s definition. Nathanson defines patriotism as; 1) Special affection for one’s country, 2) A Sense of personal identification with the country, 3) Special concern with the well-being of the country and 4) Willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good (Keller, p. 63; Nathanson 1993, p. 38). For Keller the definition itself is not the problem; however, it is the manner in which it could be perceived that is problematic. Indeed all of the criteria listed by Nathanson might be interpreted differently by individuals and special affection may not be to one what it is to another. Keller’s argument that the patriot is likely to fall into bad faith is less convincing. In order to better illustrate his argument Keller furnishes the reader with what seem to be over elaborate hypothetical scenarios. He presents the reader with Jennifer, an Australian, who despite considering Australia to be the greatest country in the world, caring deeply about Australia’s fortunes and being devoted to it, does not see her relationship with Australia as an essential part of her identity (p. 65) While this particular example might be hard for some communitarian readers to swallow it is conceivable for an individual not to conflate devotion to their country with their identity. His account of Stanley the Australian born Jamaican is more problematic. Stanley grew up in Australia but seems by Keller’s account to be far more attached to Jamaica than his native Australia. Indeed he spends a great deal of time in Jamaica, donates to Jamaican charities and would do whatever he could to help Jamaica if the country were ever in trouble. Yet Keller insists that, by this account, ‘Stanley is obviously not a Jamaican patriot’ (p. 66). Even when Keller reveals that Stanley was in fact born in Jamaica, he maintains that Stanley does not qualify as a patriot. Keller has, as Keith Horton responds in his Chapter ‘Patriotism and Bad Faith: A Critique of Keller’, removed the ‘phenomenology of choice’ (p. 55) from his description of patriotism. Keller’s ultimate criticism of Nathanson’s patriotism is the supposed danger of falling into a kind of Sarterian bad faith. However this potential descent into bad faith is contingent upon a lack of choice for the patriot. If the patriot cannot choose which country she wishes to devote herself to, she will be forced to deceive herself regarding malicious acts that may have been committed by her country. If there is a choice then the patriot may avoid such self-deception. Keller leaves the essential feature of patriotism as an enigma and fails to explain why individuals cannot choose to which country they should give their patriotic loyalty.

Primoratz and Pavokovic’s book is a welcome publication as it introduces some novel arguments concerning patriotism. Those who perceive patriotism as a mere synonym for nationalism will find Ross Poole’s chapter ‘Patriotism and Nationalism’ particularly informative as he clearly distinguishes both concepts, allowing the reader to better understand the political and moral character of patriotism. Primoratz also introduces the topic in a manner suited to those who may not be familiar with it. In his chapter, ‘Patriotism and Morality: Mapping the Terrain’, he outlines the many arguments which have influenced the debate on patriotism, from classical republicanism to contemporary communitarians such as MacIntyre. For these reasons alone the book should prove useful for those within moral and political philosophy and political science who wish to familiarise themselves with the subject of patriotism. The book’s clear and accessible elucidation of what patriotism is not, its distinction from nationalism as well its historical progression from classical republicanism to present day political theory, make it an excellent introduction to the topic.

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011