Tammy and Tucker: Principles Please, Not Patriotism

There is a tendency in many countries to value the vague and hollow concept of patriotism over principles. This is a mistake. In countless obituaries we read how “he was a great patriot” or “she was a great patriot,” but such remarks are mere platitudes and mean little. Yes, they inform us that the person apparently loved their country (who doesn’t have affection for the place and culture that nurtured them?), but they tell us absolutely nothing about the person’s character, philosophy, humanity, ideals, individuality, or anything that distinguishes the person as unique or honorable. This is because patriotism is an empty vessel and does not indicate what the love of one’s country looks like, how it should be shown, and what that love means in practice. It offers neither a direction in policy nor a solution to problems, and allows any charlatan, radical, scoundrel, cad, or clown to claim patriotism as a badge of honor without having to present anything of genuine meaning or merit.

Not only is patriotism a vacuous virtue, it is not even consistent across people, time, or place, because countries are complex, multi-experienced, ever-evolving entities. As a nation changes, so does its identity, ideas, and character. And who defines and dictates patriotism? An individual, communities, the government? Indeed, does patriotism mean that you must unquestioningly support anything the government of the day insists is your patriotic duty, such as their foreign policy or fighting in a war? Even underlying national structures, such as a constitution, merely offer continuity of process rather than any fundamental continuity of culture, society, or politics. For example, I think we can safely presuppose that the United States loved by many today (urban, materialistic, industrial, bombastic, bureaucratic, and militaristic, with a behemothic government) is the antithesis of the country loved by Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers (rural, spiritual, agricultural, modest, simple, and peaceful, with minimal government). Thus, it is impossible to ascertain what the love of a country means for one person compared to another, either in the present or the past, or from country to country. It is clear that only principles matter or make the difference.

Importantly, whenever a culture elevates patriotism over principles then we inevitably encounter inane and childish arguments about who loves their country more. We had such a spectacle in America recently between the junior United States Senator from Illinois, Tammy Duckworth, and Fox News commentator, Tucker Carlson. It was hard to watch and proved a damning indictment of the level of debate in contemporary politics whereby two people simply bickered about who was the greater patriot rather than asserting what they actually believe in, what values they hold, what their vision for the country and the world looks like, and how they intend to make it happen. This is especially important nowadays as it seems that even longstanding ideals that underpin all liberal democracies, including the American version, such as equality, human rights, and pluralism, are under threat and no longer supported by all citizens.

However, principles are explicit and immutable even if the nation is not. Therefore, it is our principles not our patriotism that should define who we are and what we cherish most. It is principles rather than patriotism that we should salute, honor, and defend.

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Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon

Lived on the streets of New York. Visited over 60 countries. Degrees from LSE, Duke and Cambridge. RAF officer. Teacher. Novelist. Dual citizen of the US and UK