The Corner

National Security & Defense

Re: What Is Patriotism?

In response to More On Battleships

I’m sure most of us have already had enough of what Rudy Giuliani said about Barack Obama, and all the commentaries upon commentaries that it has inspired. I’ve weighed in on this before, and perhaps we’re all devoting too much time to a single offhand remark . . . but after all, that’s our job, and I couldn’t let Jason’s thoughtful commentary pass without chipping in my final two cents.

First of all, many abolitionists were patriotic, but certainly not all. Thoreau had no use for the United States, as a government or a people, and William Lloyd Garrison wanted the northern states to secede from the union.

Yet that’s not really the issue. No one denies that slavery existed, or that it was bad. But Giuliani’s remark wasn’t about patriotism; it was about love. And if you love your country, you love it in the present tense.

People who don’t love America tend to be embarrassed, not just by its supposed political or foreign-policy deficiencies, but by its economy, its culture, and its people. Conversely, if you love America, you love it in the Cookean sense (as set forth here for a mere 25 cents, lyrically as only a resident alien can): Apollo 11, the Grand Canyon, free speech, a powerful military that defends freedom. To be sure, most American patriots are dedicated to “a set of principles,” as Jason says, but it’s more than that. If you love America, you can even take pride in things like our cheap, clean roadside chain motels.

Loving a country is like loving a person: a mix of physical attraction, admiration for her character, and just plain enjoyment in being around her (and, of course, a surplus of any one of these things can make up for deficiencies in the others). While I can’t say I’m privy to President Obama’s thoughts, I do not get the impression that he truly enjoys the quotidian aspects of America, or the bitter clingers who populate our nation. (It’s true that Obama has said he loves America, but sometimes he says things he doesn’t mean.)

Perhaps the best analogy is rooting for a baseball team — something Obama, as at least a theoretical Cubs fan, should understand. Your team may not have won the Series since Theodore Roosevelt was president, and you may spend all your time grumbling about the players and the management, but you never stop rooting for them to win, and you enjoy a day at the ballpark, win or lose. I can’t read Giuliani’s mind either, but I suspect that he was thinking about this kind of love as much as he was about political theory.

Fred Schwarz — Fred Schwarz is a deputy managing editor of National Review.

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