July 6, 2017


The Patriotism We Need: Principled and Spirited : a review of Steven F. Hayward's Patriotism Is Not Enough: Harry Jaffa, Walter Berns, and the Arguments that Redefined American Conservatism  (Carson Holloway, July 5th, 2017, Public Discourse)

All of the questions that Hayward explores are of perennial interest to students of American politics. Once again, however, none is of more immediate importance than the question of patriotism and its proper basis, which is a key theme of the book, as its title indicates. What does Hayward mean by asserting that "patriotism is not enough"? He seeks to remind us that, at least for a political community like the United States, a healthy politics requires more than just a sentimental attachment to the country and its interests. As he says, "American patriotism is based on ideas." Unlike most countries, America was founded at a particular moment in time and, more importantly, on the basis of certain moral and philosophical principles to which its founders dedicated it. American patriotism, therefore, needs to be an enlightened patriotism, in the sense of being informed by knowledge of the founding principles and reflection on how to preserve them and apply them anew in each generation.

Put another way, America has a political identity much more distinct, and much more central to its being, than other nations, many of which have existed for a long time and maintained some kind of stable identity under a variety of regimes. At least until recently, a perfectly good Frenchman might be a republican, a monarchist, a socialist, or a communist. A good American, however, must be committed to a particular political creed: the natural rights doctrine of the Declaration of Independence and the republican self-government under law established by the Constitution. Accordingly, American patriotism, and American conservatism, is concerned with understanding and preserving this creed, the way of life to which it gives rise, and the institutions and mores that sustain it. This is the kind of patriotism and conservatism taught by both Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns, whatever disagreements they had on other questions.

Hayward's book is so timely precisely because the kind of patriotism he discusses provides a useful corrective for Trump-style nationalism. The patriotism to which Trump appeals is almost entirely affective and hardly at all intellectual. As has been observed many times, he almost never refers to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the founding more generally. Instead of meditating on the country's highest ideals, Trump usually expresses patriotic solicitude for its most elementary needs. He wants America and its citizens to be safe and prosperous.

One can see this, for example, in the way Trump talks about how immigration should be regulated. A conservative in the mold of Jaffa, Berns, and Hayward would remind us that the immigrants we admit should understand, believe in, and have the habits necessary to preserve the doctrine of natural rights and constitutional self-government. Trump has never said anything like this, but has instead simply held that we need to make sure that the immigrants we let in "love our country and love our people."

As Hayward's book rightly reminds us, Trump's emotive patriotism is "not enough." As a candidate for the presidency, Trump was once asked in what sense he is a conservative. He replied that he wants to "conserve the country." There is no reason to doubt his sincerity in this. Trump seems to be animated by a genuine protectiveness for America and its citizens. Nevertheless, one has to admit that the country cannot be conserved or preserved without going beyond sentimental patriotism and adding an intellectual appreciation for the founding principles and disciplined thought about how to carry them forward. An America that is safe and prosperous, but not committed to constitutional self-government and natural rights, would no longer be the same country.

...you can't be a patriot and hate the America that actually exists, as the Left/Right does.
Posted by at July 6, 2017 2:32 PM