On Patriotism

Bradley Lecture, American Enterprise Institute, September 16, 1996.


Patriotism means love of country (patria, in the Latin) and implies a readiness to sacrifice for it, to fight for it, perhaps even to give one’s life for it. In the traditional, or Spartan, sense, patriots are those who love their country simply because it is their country—because it is their birthplace and the mansion of their fathers,” as Alexis de Tocqueville put it in his Democracy in America. It is a kind of filial piety.

But no one, not even a Spartan, is born loving his country; such love is not natural, but has to be taught, or inculcated, or somehow acquired. A person may not even be born loving himself—the authorities differ on this—but he soon enough learns to do so, and, unless something is done about it, he will continue to do so, and in a manner that makes a concern for country and fellow countrymen—or anyone other than himself—difficult if not impossible. The problem is as old as politics, and we Americans are not exempt from having to deal with it.

AEI Program on American Citizenship
National Affairs [pdf]