On George Kateb’s Patriotism

Cato Unbound, March 12, 2008.


Professor Kateb begins┬áby defining patriotism as love of country; fair enough. He then distinguishes this love from that of a child’s for his parents, pointing out that, whereas a child is not likely to be asked to die for his parents, “the idea of patriotism is inseparable from killing and dying for your country.” What he might better have done here is to have distinguished between loving, or pledging allegiance to, a democracy or a monarchy, or, with a view to our current situation, a liberal democracy or any of the forms of tyranny. This, surely, is the decisive issue in an appropriate analysis of patriotism.

It is significant that Aristotle did not number patriotism among the virtues–courage, for example, or prudence, justice, magnanimity–probably because he knew that it should be praised or fostered only in the case of a country that deserved to be loved. And not all countries, or regimes, deserve to be loved. But Kateb makes no such distinctions; his analysis is abstract; it abstracts from every relevant political consideration; he is opposed to patriotism as such; rather than a virtue, patriotism as such is a vice; it is the cause of “enormous moral perversity.” He goes so far as to say that a “good patriot is a good killer,” regardless of whom, or for what purpose, he kills.

American Enterprise Institute
Cato Unbound