RE: Give Me Compromise Or Give Me Death

by Mark Hemingway

Given his “mixed feelings” about the American Revolution he blogged about on the Fourth, Matt Yglesias saw fit to further explain his thoughts on patriotism:

American liberals and American conservatives are both Americans so our American patriotism is very similar. We just have different ideas about politics. Specifically, I would say that liberals do a better job of recognizing that much as we may love America there’s something arbitrary about it — we’re just so happen to be Americans whereas other people are Canadians or Mexicans or French or Russian or what have you. The conservative view is more like those Bill Simmons columns where not only is he extolling the virtues of this or that Boston sports team or moment, but he seems to genuinely not understand why other people don’t see it that way. But of course Simmons is from Boston and others of us aren’t.

All of which is to say the liberal doesn’t, as a political matter, confuse the emotions of patriotism with a description of objective reality or anticipate that the citizens of Iraq or Russia or China or wherever will drop their own patriotisms and come to see things our way. Patriotism is a sentiment about your particular country but it’s also a sentiment that’s much more widespread than any particular country, and if you can’t understand the full implications of that then you’re going to go badly wrong.

The Armed Liberal has a pretty good response to this which I encourage you to read. But personally, I’m curious — is there anything unique about America and its founding that Yglesias would argue is superior to the rest of the world and worth celebrating? I have always thought that one of the great things about this country is that, though its citizens may disagree on politics, everybody agreed that the way freedom was inherent in America’s founding onward was special and unprecedented in human history. That there wasn’t “something arbitrary” about being American, but rather fortuitous. That’s why frequently the most patriotic people you encounter are immigrants. Yglesias’s crudely explaining the undercurrents of American patriotism as cosmopolitan liberals dismissive of American uniqueness vs. conservatives too parochial to understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism doesn’t do anybody any favors.

More to the point, Yglesias claims to be extolling the virtues of liberals, but I think the the vast majority of liberals in America would reject this view outright. Liberals may think America isn’t nearly as sensitive to the concerns of the world as they ought to be and may be currently unhappy with their government, but the vast majority still recognize that America is superior to other countries in fundamental ways and are correspondingly patriotic.