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January 21 2020

Respected Scholar Learns that It Is Hard to Be a Patriot

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

I wanted the book’s cover to show the American flag, but the publisher worried that such a cover would signal chauvinism, and my liberal granddaughter at Yale said that she would not be seen carrying such a book on campus.

--Sociologist Amitai Etzioni, who has just written a book on patriotism

Love of country. Remember when that was encouraged and assumed?

Now, love of country is all too often equated with some destructive idea, such as white supremacy.

The sociologist and communitarianism advocate Amitai Etzioni found out just how patriotism is regarded when he wrote a book on the subject. He describes what happened in a City Journal article headlined “It’s Hard to Be a Patriot.”

When she learned of the project, Etzioni’s wife referred him to an Anti-Defamation League website that tied patriotism to white supremacy. Etzioni’s editor at the University of Virginia Press loved the book but was “troubled” by the working headline—In Defense of Patriotism.

The editor suggested “Reclaiming Patriotism” because it “acknowledged” that patriotism can be “perverted.” Etzioni took pains to address these concerns in the book, while still praising patriotism:

I was thus careful to include, on the book’s front page, a quote attributed to Charles de Gaulle: “Patriotism is when love of your country comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”

I argue in the book that people find identity and meaning in their national communities. Indeed, millions are willing to sacrifice their lives for their nation, which they’re not willing to do for the EU or UN. True, such loyalty can be abused when it deteriorates into hatred against outsiders. But we shouldn’t let the abusers of patriotism monopolize a strong and healthy impulse—love of one’s community.

Because Etzioni wanted to educate people about patriotism, the book can be downloaded for free. He would thus get no royalties. But people may have a hard time finding out about the book. Facebook rejected Etzioni's ad for the free book because it did not “comply with our advertising policies.”

This, by the way, is not a pro-Trump book. Indeed, Etzioni emphasized “reshaping” political and social life after Trump. That was included in proposed ad copy submitted to NPR. It wasn’t enough:

“It’s too problematic to accept,” [NPR] said, “because the book calls for a social/political movement to rebuild the U.S. post Trump Presidency, and crediting the author with reference to a polemical book is still a problem from a news/ethics perspective.” 

I responded: “Kindly explain the ethical issues that arise from advertising a book about life after Trump. Note that the ad does not suggest that he is a good or bad president or that he should not be reelected; merely that one day there will be a post-Trump period.”

I’m waiting for a response. I have written about Aristotle, Kant, and other thinkers; spent a year studying under Martin Buber; taught ethics for two years at Harvard. I am not untutored. But I cannot figure out what anyone would consider unethical about advocating patriotism. Clearly, some consider it unpatriotic to be patriotic. That’s a position that should be vigorously challenged.

It has always amazed me that the most generous nation in history is so unloved in some quarters. And the added insult is that it is in the most privilege precincts that this lack of appreciation most flourishes. Go figure.

 

 

 

 

 

 





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