Is Patriotism Morally Defensible?

Notre Dame moral philosopher Gary Gutting asks whether, morally speaking, an American president could acquiesce to another country's policies that harm US citizens in the name of some greater good. 

What's the Latest Development?

As politics have become more partisan, even the idea of patriotisma fidelity meant to unite opposing factionshas become divisive. To some, patriotism is a dirty word, and not just because politicians morph its meaning to suit their ends. In its defense of a particular country, patriotism defines an in-group which is opposed to outsiders. That view, however, conflicts our current, cosmopolitan view of morality, that "requires an impartial, universal viewpoint that treats all human beings as equals." While that view sounds more correct, imagine if an American president acquiesced to another country's policies which clearly harmed US citizens in the name of some greater good. How would you feel then?

What's the Big Idea?

Notre Dame moral philosopher Gary Gutting believes that American patriotism is unique, and avoids the dilemma outlined above, because it is expressly in favor of a universal humanity. "For what is the animating ideal of American patriotism if not the freedom of all persons, not just its own citizens?" asks Gutting. "This is apparent in our Declaration, which bases its case for independence on the principle that governments exist to 'secure the rights' of 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' to which all persons are equally entitled." To be sure, Gutting recognizes there have been failures along the way, but that affirming the principles of the US constitution makes patriotism morally correct. 

Photo credit:

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less

The world's watersheds, mapped in gorgeous detail

Hungarian cartographer travels the world while mapping its treasures.

Strange Maps
  • Simple idea, stunning result: the world's watersheds in glorious colors.
  • The maps are the work of Hungarian cartographer Robert Szucs.
  • His job: to travel and map the world, one good cause at a time.
Keep reading Show less
Image source: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Though we know today that his policies eventually ended the Great Depression, FDR's election was seen as disastrous by some.
  • A group of wealthy bankers decided to take things into their own hands; they plotted a coup against FDR, hoping to install a fascist dictator in its stead.
  • Ultimately, the coup was brought to light by General Smedley Butler and squashed before it could get off the ground.
Keep reading Show less