CreditLucas Jackson/Reuters
Although abstract logic and conceptual analysis are among philosophers’ primary tools, they must, as John Dewey emphasized, use these tools to “clarify the social and moral strife of their day.” In particular, surprising political events, like those currently unfolding on both sides of the Atlantic, can call for some serious rethinking. In my case, this has led me to reconsider my views about patriotism.
In 2012, halfway through Barack Obama’s presidency, I wrote a Fourth of July piece trying to explain my patriotic feelings for this country. My focus was an apparent contradiction in the idea of patriotism as a moral virtue. Patriotism seemed to require a commitment to the good of this particular country, even when its good was at odds with the greater good of everyone (“America First,” you might say). Love of a particular country appeared to conflict with the universal demands of ethics. I found a solution in the idea, expressed in our Declaration of Independence, that the American commitment to freedom was a commitment to the freedom of all people, not just of our citizens. My patriotism, I concluded, was a love of my country’s shared project of promoting freedom for all.
This ideal solves the logical problem of reconciling patriotism with ethics, but it looks bizarrely irrelevant against the current reality of American politics. . .


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