by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
His discussion of this point is genuinely interesting, but it seems to me that Jonah has given away whatever categorical distinction he wanted to maintain. By his account, both nationalism and patriotism are natural to some extent or other, both are passions, and both need to be channeled in constructive directions.
So what’s the fundamental difference between the two? At the end of the day, Jonah’s definition seems to come down to patriotism is everything good and right and nationalism is (mostly) everything intolerant and dangerous. If we take this literally, patriotism is the only human passion that can never be distorted or go wrong. Patriots never become chauvinists. Patriots never, in an excess of zeal, trample on another country’s interests or honor. They never, during a time of war, clamp down on dissent. Patriots are paladins of truth and justice, and if they ever misstep they, by definition, becoming something else — nationalists, presumably.
This definition might make some theoretical sense, but it is completely disconnected from how people act, think, and feel in the real world. The French army that swept across parts of Europe after the revolution was nationalist, yes, but these troops were also fired by a sense of French exceptionalism, a devotion to certain universal ideals, and a belief that they should spread their ideals as far as possible. So they certainly seem to fulfill large parts of Jonah’s definition of patriotism — suggesting that even too much patriotism can be a bad thing. …
… If we are going to believe that this is an exceptional country, superior to all others (sign me up), we ought to realize that American nationalism is better than nationalism in other places in the world — more rational and moderate and less aggressive. This, too, is part of our cultural inheritance. I obviously take Jonah’s point that extreme nationalism is dangerous, and obviously there are many examples of European conflicts that were and are tribal in the sense that he uses it. But an American patriot ought to have a little more faith in this country’s nationalism.
Finally, let me say that I consider this country a home. I love its people, its traditions, myths and rituals, its landscape, music, and literature. I love some of these things because they are good, yes, but if I’m being honest, I also love them simply because they are ours. I know Jonah does, too, and so do most Americans.