The Corner

“Patriot Games”

You may be tired of the nationalism/patriotism debate, but it isn’t tired of you. I have a piece on the home page responding to Jonah’s G-File last weekend, which elaborated on his first reply. One of my counter-counter points: 

Jonah is slicing it very, very thin here. In his first reply to our piece, Jonah wrote, “Everyone is born a nationalist, to one extent or another,” and that’s because nationalism isn’t a doctrine “but an emotional or psychological state.” It is a “natural human passion” that needs “proper channeling.” Becoming a patriot, per Jonah, takes careful ideological training of the sort set out by a Walter Berns. 

Then, in the G-File, Jonah writes, “People all over the world love their countries.” This makes patriotism sound, if not universal, quite widespread. And what is love, if not itself an emotional or psychological state that needs careful channeling? Indeed, Jonah talks about how we need to distinguish between different kind of loves.

His discussion of this point is genuinely interesting, but it seems to me that Jonah has given away whatever categorical distinction he wanted to maintain. By his account, both nationalism and patriotism are natural to some extent or other, both are passions, and both need to be channeled in constructive directions.

So what’s the fundamental difference between the two? At the end of the day, Jonah’s definition seems to come down to patriotism is everything good and right and nationalism is (mostly) everything intolerant and dangerous. If we take this literally, patriotism is the only human passion that can never be distorted or go wrong. Patriots never become chauvinists. Patriots never, in an excess of zeal, trample on another country’s interests or honor. They never, during a time of war, clamp down on dissent. Patriots are paladins of truth and justice, and if they ever misstep they, by definition, becoming something else — nationalists, presumably.

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: 

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

John Brennan’s Bad Behavior

My Bloomberg View colleague Eli Lake is right about this: "[W]hen Brennan uses his authority as a former CIA director to launch flimsy attacks on the president's legitimacy, he validates Trump's claim that the intelligence agencies are biased against him." Over the last two years the president's critics have ... Read More
White House

Bill Clinton Redux

Stormy Daniels could have stepped right out of the 1990s. She would have been a natural in a Bill Clinton scandal, and, in fact, all the same means would have been used against her. Donald Trump’s tactics in these cases are almost indistinguishable from the Clintons’. The effort to shut down the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

California’s Pro-Nuclear Renegade

If California’s upcoming gubernatorial race gets decided solely by money, Michael Shellenberger doesn’t have a chance. The latest campaign filings show that Shellenberger, an environmentalist from Berkeley, has about $37,000 in cash on hand. The frontrunner in the June 5 California primary, Lieutenant ... Read More

Encouraging Signs in Iraq

Last year, relations between the Iraqi central government and the Kurds reached what was possibly an all-time low when the Kurds held an independence referendum in which 93 percent of voters opted to secede. The timing was no coincidence: Iraqi forces had retreated from Kurdish territory in 2014 as the Islamic ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Do Not Congratulate

Do you want some good news out of the gargantuan budget bill now making its way through Congress? Buried among the mountains of pork and assorted unmentionables, there is one random provision I really like. It requires the Congressional Research Service -- which does a huge amount of very valuable policy research ... Read More
Film & TV

Superannuated ‘Idol’

In the pilot episode of Fox’s American Idol, Simon Cowell defined the show’s thesis: “We are going to tell people who cannot sing and have no talent that they have no talent. And that never makes you popular.” The show’s producers and its three judges -- Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson -- kept ... Read More