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Patriotism (again). Is It a Virtue?

Inspired by the Bay Area's tradition of parallel fireworks displays over the bay on the 4th of July, our group and the Berkeley Philosophy Reading Group, organized by Peter M., will be holding parallel meets in the last half of August on the topic: Is patriotism a virtue? Peter was inspired to frame this new topic by the meet on patriotism our group had a few meets ago, and we thought it might be interesting to experiment with providing two opportunities to discuss the same topic. The Berkeley group's meet will be Thursday, August 23rd in the evening; please see their website for details:


The question of whether patriotism is a virtue naturally touches on both the nature of patriotism and that of virtue, so those are both things to be thinking about.


The reading list, finely composed and annotated by Peter, is below. The Berkeley group, being a reading group, requires attendees to do all the reading. For our group, being less of a reading group, only the MacIntyre essay (in bold) is required, though reading as much as possible is highly encouraged.


I look forward to the conversations. Cheers, Paul



1. Leo Tolstoy, "Patriotism or Peace" (1896), 5 pages
Tolstoy answers our question with a resounding "no".

2. Alasdair MacIntyre, "Is Patriotism a Virtue?" (1984), 15 pages
This important essay acknowledges how patriotism can be viewed as "a morally dangerous phenomenon", but then argues for patriotism as a moral virtue because it is our community that defines our moral sytem, and patriotism is an essential part of that moral system because only with patriots willing to defend a country can a community survive. An outline of MacIntyre's argument is presented by Nancy Stanlick of the University of Central Florida here:

3. Stephen Nathanson, "In Defense of 'Moderate Patriotism'" (1989), 18 pages
Against Tolstoy and MacIntyre, Nathanson argues for a form of "moderate patriotism" that takes care not to override more universal principles of morality.

4. Richard Rorty, "The Unpatriotic Academy" (1994), 2 pages
An American academic of the political left decries the lack of patriotism of fellow American academics of the political left.

5. Martha Nussbaum, "Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism" (1994), 15 pages
Another American academic of the political left responds to Rorty with an essay advocating cosmopolitanism over patriotism.


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  • joel h.

    Excellent and incisive; totally relevant to the events buffeting us in the world today and our response to them.

    August 27, 2012

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