And as I speak here of mixed bodies, such as republics or religious sects, I
say that those changes are beneficial that bring them back to their original
principles. And those are the best-constituted bodies, and have the longest
existence, which possess the intrinsic means of frequently renewing
themselves, or such as obtain this renovation in consequence of some
extrinsic accidents. And it is a truth clearer than light that, without such
renovation, these bodies cannot continue to exist; and the means of renewing
them is to bring them back to their original principles.
Machiavelli, The Discourses
Introduction. Communitarian theorists, following Machiavelli, have argued
that patriotic sentiment—a deep emotional identification with one’s fellow
citizens—is vitally necessary to support, defend, and sustain liberal
democratic institutions. Without patriotic virtue, the institutions of
liberal democracy are likely to decay under the weight of self-interest,
greed, and corruption. Theorists rooted in the tradition of liberal
individualism, however, have been a good deal more skeptical about the moral
value of patriotic feeling. Strong emotional attachment to the community
tends to overshadow and eclipse the independence and freedom of individuals.
As George Kateb argues, "If groups are imagined too vividly, individuals lose
sight of themselves and are lost sight of."
There is, no doubt, some justification for the liberal's
skepticism: patriotism too often results in the exclusion and repression of
people in the name of preserving group integrity. On the other hand, it is
likely true that some sort of civic obligation needs to be observed in order
to sustain liberal institutions. Widespread civic participation and
commitment to liberal constitutionalism are likely neither self-generating
nor self-sustaining. In this chapter, my aim is not so much to resolve this
apparent tension between (a) the dangers of strong patriotic or national
identification and (b) the alleged necessity of these emotional attachments
to motivate participation and commitment to public institutions. I have a
more modest purpose to put this tension in its proper context in light of the
findings of this study. Once the problem is set in its rightful empirical
context, I think it becomes slightly clearer that patriotic allegiance both
sustains and subverts liberal constitutionalism.
In the next section, I briefly review the questions, answers, and evidence
regarding the way in which war and nationalism affected the character of
civic life. Then, in the last section, I attempt to clarify what is more
generally at stake for our understanding of the vitality and functioning of
civic life in a modern republic. While I do not reject nationalism or
patriotism as important values, I will offer a tentative conclusion that the
marginal benefits of deep emotional connection to the...