Intricacies of Patriotism

Towards a Complexity of Patriotic Allegiance

by Maciej Hułas (Volume editor) Stanisław Fel (Volume editor)
©2016 Edited Collection 229 Pages


Intricacies of Patriotism presents a selection of concepts of patria along with their corresponding forms of patriotism. The various contributions represent different backgrounds and draw a picture of patria as a universal value that is indispensible to one’s sense of self-awareness, and the identity of groups. The different understandings of patria in this collection are examples of employing patriotism to advance the identity of the group, or the individuals within it. While eulogists of cosmopolitanism tend to portray patriotism as anachronistic and irreconcilable with the «man-of-the-world-style», the notion of patria seems to be motivated by a deep concern to preserve patriotic feelings in an undistorted fashion, and to preserve them as a value of utmost importance.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Titel
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Is Cosmopolitan Anti-Patriotism a Virtue?
  • Patriotism as a Virtue for the Ecological Age.
  • Patriotism The Human Family, and a Christian Prophetic Stance.
  • Imaginary Love: Patriotism as Transitional Phenomena.
  • Kant’s Cosmopolitan Patriotism.
  • Patriotism: A Mapping of Theoretical Understandings and Empirical Studies.
  • Beyond the Individual-Society Dualism. Georg Simmel’s Lesson.
  • Constitutional Patriotism and the Scottish Referendum.
  • Patria as Biography. An Argument for Biographical Patriotism.
  • Contributors

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The term, patriotism is drawn from the word patria, that is, what is related to fatherhood. This concept is founded in social science, political theory and social philosophy, and despite being commonly used and intuitively comprehended, is not subject to precise definition. Up to now, there is no clear-cut consensus of opinion as to exactly what patria consists of, and what constituents determine it. For some, it may be synonymous with ethnicity in a broad sense, which encompasses, family, commonly shared truths and beliefs, significant moments of history, a native tongue along with a specific high culture and literature. Others tend to define patria in terms of political conditions and constitutional arrangements, which are indispensable to political security, civic freedom and collective welfare. This marks a shift in the notion of patria, that transposes it from primordial and ethnic determinants, into the realm of politics and negotiable arrangements, on which citizens agree, in order to the secure its basic rights and freedoms. Still others associate the notion of patria with the specifics of the particular region in which they dwell. This concept is characteristic of the mobile societies of today. In each of these three variations of patria, an attempt is made to find the locus, which accommodates this very sense of belonging. To put it more precisely, patria relates to the source of the identity by which individuals and groups define themselves. These origins are a springboard for those who wish to reacquaint themselves with their roots. It is important not to become indifferent to that which so intimately defines us. That concept of patria seems to be universal, having a lot in common with the idea of background portrayed by Charles Taylor1, or with David Randall’s notion of human ethos2. This means that individuals and groups, regardless of their geographical locations and historical contexts tend to discover their identity instinctively, by reference to their origin.

This understanding of patria evocatively induces loyalty. It underscores the way in which our existential background influences our perception of ourselves and the world around us. Patria and patriotism are being researched under numerous scientific disciplines. They are regular items in many political narratives. Because of their close and direct affinity with values of the utmost importance, such as the ← 7 | 8 → sense of belonging and loyalty, they can easily be utilized as devices, which can mobilize individuals and communities to focus on particular courses of action.

Each era in the history of Western civilization has had its moments of upheaval, in which men, women and children muster the courage to defend ideals to which they have pledged their allegiance. Some square up to fight in national uprisings, or risk their lives in acts of protest, against oppressive systems. There is a plethora of less commendable instances, however, in which patriotic loyalty had been utilized for dubious purposes of propaganda, as in Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. In such cases, patriotic allegiance has been abused, in order to exacerbate ethnic conflicts or instigate tribal resentment, which has resulted in ethnic cleansing, as was the instance of Wołyń in the 1940s or Rwanda in the 1990s.

The European continent is like a chess board, consisting of pieces that vary in historical and ethnic background. The widely-accepted notion that patriotism is connected with ethnicity causes Europeans to have a particular attachment to patriotic values. The upholding of these values, ostensibly for the good of all, has proved to be self-serving in many cases. Not infrequently, ordinary people fall victim to abuses committed under the banner of patriotism. This is mostly due to two reasons.

Firstly, Europe is a compact conglomeration of nations, sometimes tensely coexisting side by side. Each nation has a distinct background and unique origins, and has developed according to a distinctive culture. Each has grown in ways which reflect a specific national and political identity. Often, problems linger from previous eras, owing to cultural, lingual or religious diversity. Modern European nations differ in many respects. They are of diverse temperaments, each with its own civilization, standard of living and potential for economic development. This finds expression in intra-continental international relations. Invoking patria and patriotic values has always helped to define the distinctiveness of one’s national heritage, in relation to others. It has also helped to heighten each nation’s motivation to defend that uniqueness.

The second reason that explains why patriotism appeals particularly to Europeans, is the continent’s predilection for explaining things by reference to ideas and ideologies. Europe is a breeding ground for ideas, which spawned from intellectual circles, and were proven in the fire of political and other social upheavals. Ideologies have often been put into practice in Europe first, and then exported to other regions of the world. Not infrequently, they became an irreversible part of the effects of the colonization of these areas. Communist China, Soviet Russia and North Korea are among the most blatant instances of countries that have incorporated a European ideology, and imposing it on their people, as a means of control. The heritage of European civilization spans ancient Greece and Rome; ← 8 | 9 → medieval speculative science; seventeen century religious wars that coincided with formation of nation-states; scientific, technological, religious and political revolutions – all this inter alia constitutes a particular intellectual set of circumstances for the birth of new ideas, and their conversion into ideologies3. If patria is to be considered to be the fruit of such a lofty idea, since it explains significant components of human identity, then patriotism, and its imperative of care for the patria is to be considered its ideological implementation.

Intricacies of patriotism presents a selection of concepts of patria along with their corresponding forms of patriotism. Contributors to this book, representing different backgrounds, draw together a picture of patria as an universal value, that is indispensable to one’s sense of self-awareness, and the identity of groups. The different understandings of the notions of patria and patriotism in this collection are examples of the effects of employing patriotism to advance the identity of the group, or the individuals within it. The authors do not wish to denigrate the notion of patria. On the contrary, they are motivated by a deep concern to preserve patriotic feelings in an undistorted fashion, and to preserve them as a value of utmost importance.

In these times of all-embracing globalization, patriotism is portrayed by ‘eulogists of cosmopolitanism’, as anachronistic and irreconcilable with the ‘man-of-the-world-style’, which prevails in today’s society. Nothing could be more wrong. This trans-national, global social homogenization, which is due in large part to technology, is only meritorious, thanks to the degree to which its participants can contribute their bountiful ethnic and cultural richness. In addition, the price that has been paid in the past, in matters relating to patriotism, makes it impossible to relegate the matter to a diminished status, or allow it to be melted into a propaganda narrative, for proponents of globalization.

As to the content, Intricacies of Patriotism is a collection of academic essays on patriotism. The authors represent different academic and geographical backgrounds and therefore different outlooks on patriotism: Irish, British, Australian, Italian, American, German and Polish. The occasion for the publication of this collection was an international conference on patria and patriotism, organized in May 2013 by the Institute of Sociology at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. This volume includes materials presented within the confines of the conference. It has been expanded by texts received from other authors. ← 9 | 10 →

In the first chapter, Is Cosmopolitan Anti-Patriotism a Virtue? Stephen Nathanson, makes reference to the traditional stances represented by Russian intellectualist Leo Tolstoy and American communitarian Alasdair MacIntyre. He points to various types of patriotism and cosmopolitanism, dividing them into radical and moderate. He strongly supports the concept of moderate patriotism, in which the concern for one’s own patria is not made at the expense of another country, nor other ethnic groups. Nathanson brings up an old problem concerning the priorities of one’s duties. He asks, whether being of help to others is an act moved by universal motives, or rather an attempt to address the interests of one’s own compatriots. By asserting that no one can manifest loyalty and concern for humanity in general, while ignoring at the same time problems of those living around them, Nathanson adopts the stance of realism. Concern for others takes place primarily on a local level. Patriotism is not necessarily associated with animosities, as one may assume. On the contrary, it can give great respect to strangers, and it may serve a given community to create the climate of positive realism, in which legitimate and noble ideas are nurtured. Different types of patriotism create different forms of cosmopolitanism. Thus, an extreme patriotism can be viewed as a reaction to extreme cosmopolitanism. Nathanson turns down categorically the stances of both extremes – cosmopolitan and patriotic being in favour of moderate variants. He encourages moderate patriots to enter into an alliance with moderate cosmopolitans, with the aim of protecting universal values and basic rights.

Philip Cafaro in the chapter Patriotism as a Virtue for the Ecological Age considers patriotism explicitly to be a virtue of particular significance, which when removed from human axiology is sorely missed. Cafaro comprehends virtue in a broad sense. He believes it is to be a particular human quality, that enables people to strive for integral development, being a sine qua non for individuals and communities to thrive, and so to achieve fulfillment. At the same time, the flourishing of local communities is not possible without the dedication and active participation of their members. Cafaro’s communitarian argument portrays patriotism as a force that helps to build up interpersonal bonds. He holds that possible errors and distortions in patriotism tend to come about when its extreme and uncritical variants start taking the floor. They do not create an ambience of acceptance. Rather they enable prejudiced attitudes of division and an aprioristic eagerness for underscoring differences. Differences of opinions and natural divisions may come up spontaneously, when people focus primarily on the problems of their own local communities. They are justified in their own right. A true commitment to finding solutions to problems that are local, familiar and tangible debunks the universalistic and cosmopolitan arguments, Cafaro asserts. He perceives patriotism as one’s commitment to other members of the local community, as well as the ← 10 | 11 → eagerness for maintaining the natural environment. His insistence that patriotism be characterized by a commitment to mutual acceptance fits well within the contemporary debate on sustainable development and intergenerational justice.

Robert Gascoigne in the chapter Patriotism, the Human Family, and a Christian Prophetic Stance calls patriotism a principle of human existence, which is comprised of allegiance to one’s ancestors, one’s country and religious beliefs. Comparing two theoretical approaches towards patriotism represented by Nigel Bigger and Martha Nussbaum, he defines patriotism as a love of the particular, which is grounded in the character of our humanity, which despite its universal nature, is formed primarily by local influences and local contexts. Therefore, Gascoigne claims – patriotism must be subjugated to higher values of charity and justice, rather than something that tends to the extremes. By evoking key documents of Catholic Social Teaching addressed both in the time of decolonization, as well as in the time of globalization, he inseparably links patriotism with the virtue of solidarity, and considers it an ethical posture, which is an important motivator for people to contribute to the common good. Patriotism transforms solidarity from being a simple abstraction into a personal act of grateful commitment to the nation, as the community, which in turn facilitates the development of one’s humanity. When discussing the subject of patriotism, Gascoigne cites transcendental humanism, which calls for thinking in terms of the universal common good. In doing so, he evokes Australian history, pointing to the abuse of patriotism, in the form of the phenomenon of xenophobia, with one of its dishonorable artifacts, namely, the Dictation Test, which was still in use in the 1930s. In modern day Australia, the question of xenophobia remains significant in relation to the issues of asylum seekers, and relations with the Islamic community.

Ryan LaMothe in the chapter Imaginary Love. Patriotism as Transitional Phenomena takes a critical stance on patriotism, considering it to be the love of unidentified objects, of which the nation is one example. Patriotism can be easily manipulated and misused to serve particular ideologies. As an example thereof, he points to the mobilization of patriots around the idea of protecting American imperialism, and promoting an uncritical, idealized image of America and its policies. LaMothe evokes moments from US history as corroborating his cautious stance on patriotism. In the nineteenth century, he asserts, patriotic narratives were broadly employed in justifying the extermination of indigenous people. In the twentieth century, patriotic rhetoric served to promote the image of America, as an exceptional country in every respect, entrusted with the special mission to instill and protect worldwide democracy. LaMothe is skeptical about a mode of patriotism, which is currently common in America, because of its close association with the belief in its superiority. This sets the interest of America above all ← 11 | 12 → others, and gives it the right to scrutinize other political systems in regard to their capacity to realize democratic values. Generally, LaMothe considers patriotism to be a transient phenomenon, and a product of collective imaginations, which may lead to irrational actions, as for instance, the protests of American patriots against an exhibition presenting the aftermaths of the Hiroshima bombardment.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (October)
sociology of economics ecological patriotism constitutional patriotism Catholic social thought
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 229 pp., 11 tables

Biographical notes

Maciej Hułas (Volume editor) Stanisław Fel (Volume editor)

Maciej Hułas is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. His field of research is Catholic social thought and sociology of public sphere. Stanisław Fel is Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Social Science at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin. He is a member of the Association for Catholic Social Ethics in Central Europe in Vienna and on the Scientific Board of Ordo Socialis in Cologne. His field of research is Catholic social thought and economic ethics.


Title: Intricacies of Patriotism
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232 pages