Democracy and Homeland Security: Strategies, Controversies, and Impact

Part I. Papers Presented in Panels 1–4

Patriotism and the Conflict Between Homeland Security and Liberal Democracy

Polycarp Ikuenobe, Kent State University


I examine the conflict between homeland security policies, which seek to protect the state and restrict some individuals’ freedoms, and liberal democratic principles, which seek to preserve and protect individuals’ freedoms. Attempts have been made to resolve this conflict in favor of homeland security and to justify such a resolution based on the idea that the restrictions are necessary for the protection of the country. As such, a patriotic citizen must, based solely on the love for his/her country, make sacrifices by accepting these restrictions in order to preserve his/her beloved country. I question the propriety of using the idea of patriotism as a justification for homeland security, especially within the ambit of liberal democratic practices and values. I critically examine the effort to defend patriotism as a moral virtue, which implies that citizens have a special moral duty to care about their country. Such duty implies that patriotic citizens have a justifiable basis to be partial toward their country and its citizens and discriminatory against others. I argue that this effort is unsuccessful because the underlying arguments are specious. I argue that the notion of patriotism (as it is currently used in political discourse) implies irrational, uncritical, and unconditional acceptance of a country’s policies. And because such an idea of patriotism cannot be morally justified, it is unreasonable to enshroud homeland security policies in the rhetoric of patriotism. One may justify homeland security policies by using principles that are conducive to both the protection of the state and the universal and impartial moral respect for all persons.


After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft, proposed a number of policies to ensure homeland security. These policies include a set of laws, dubbed the USA PATRIOT Act, which is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. This act was enacted to expand and strengthen the investigative and intelligence gathering abilities of law enforcement agents. Sections 203, 206, 213, 216, 217, and 218 of this act, among others, gave overwhelming powers to law enforcement agents to perform electronic surveillance and to operate in secrecy, unchecked. I do not examine the specific provisions of these laws and how they threaten individuals’ rights and privacy. I simply rely on the fact that these provisions have indeed expanded the powers of law enforcement agents. Such expansion has allowed greater intrusion into individuals’ privacy and has violated or placed restrictions on individuals’ rights. My focus is to examine the problems raised by the efforts to use patriotism to justify such expansion, which most people agree threatens the civil liberties of citizens and liberal democratic ideals.

The procedures for enacting the USA PATRIOT Act and its provisions have three troubling features that indicate some threat to liberal democratic values and individuals’ rights, freedom, and privacy. The first is that there is no sufficient judicial review and oversight for these provisions: The expanded powers of law enforcement agents do not have adequate checks and balances, which are necessary and traditional for protecting civil rights and liberties. These provisions indicate that the executive branch of the government has the sole responsibility of supervising law enforcement agents, as opposed to a neutral and independent judiciary or magistrate. The second is the rapidity and relative secrecy surrounding the passage of the bill; there was lack of openness and adequate rational debate of its provisions. Perhaps a recognition of this troubling feature may have led the Congress to stipulate a “four-year sunset” requirement for most of the provisions of the law. This means that after four years, the provisions of the law will lapse, and the Congress can take a fresh, critical, and calmer look at them. The third is the fact that it is dubbed the USA PATRIOT Act. The ideas of “patriot” and “uniting and strengthening America” indicate a subliminal message, which is the underlying justification for the act. The message is that the act is a product of, and is motivated and justified by, patriotism and the aim of uniting and strengthening America.

This current use of the notion of patriotism is couched in terms of the love for America and is manifested in the efforts to preserve and protect it, its values, and its citizens from terrorists. According to the lexical definition, patriotism involves the devotion and loyalty to and love for one’s country or homeland. In Primoratz’s view, a “patriot’s love is expressed in, and tested by, what she is willing to do, and indeed sacrifice, for her country.”1 Patriotism is not a passive or negative attitude: an anarchist who wants to destroy the state or someone who is apolitical cannot be patriotic. Patriotism involves a positive and active disposition and the political acts of showing partiality, loyalty, and devotion to a country, its interests, and the welfare of its citizens. This point is underscored by Pettit’s view that the idea of love implies that “it is quite intelligible under received norms that a lover should favor a beloved, for example, displaying a partiality of attitude; or that a lover should be utterly self-sacrificing towards the beloved.”2 Partiality on the part of the lover is understood as loyalty and devotion; lack of partiality means lack of loyalty and devotion. The subliminal message of patriotism in the justification of homeland security policies is that every patriotic citizen must accept the provisions of the act. Accepting the act is a manifestation of the love for the county and the willingness to make sacrifices for it. Not accepting the act or criticizing it implies lack of patriotism and a threat to America’s unity.

The underlying justification of the act made it difficult for patriotic citizens to object to its provisions because people wanted to avoid being seen as unpatriotic. This idea of patriotism and its use in political discourse seem to create a chilling effect or an uncritical attitude that does not allow for dissent, critical debates, and rational disagreements. Moreover, the act was passed after September 11, 2001, in an emotionally charged and tense environment, where every person wanted to exhibit patriotic attitudes and solidarity. The environment that was created by the sentiments of the attacks, and the efforts to be patriotic, motivated the rhetoric of patriotism and created the fear of being characterized as unpatriotic. This general environment also vitiated critical and rigorous debates of the provisions of the act. Members of Congress who had some concerns and reservations were afraid to raise questions about the provisions of the act, or else they would be seen as unpatriotic. Patriotism has become an honorific notion in political rhetoric. As such, no one, especially politicians, wants to dissent for fear of being seen as unpatriotic. It is obvious why politicians will be afraid of being seen as unpatriotic. So, many members of Congress acquiesced under the circumstance and voted in favor of the provisions of the PATRIOT Act.

In addition to the USA PATRIOT Act, the attorney general also proposed a set of far-reaching policies, which include using military tribunals for trying foreign terrorists. Some of these policies allowed foreign nationals and U.S. citizens to be arrested without probable cause, based on some specious and spurious suspicions.3 The policies allowed suspects to be detained for extended periods without being charged with any crimes. They were interrogated without access to lawyers, thus violating their civil rights. For instance, some suspected foreign terrorists have been detained indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without any charges and have not been accorded any legal rights. When some senators criticized these policies, claiming that they are too sweeping and broad and that they infringe on people’s civil and human rights, Ashcroft accused them of being unpatriotic and of offering the terrorists the tools to destroy America. Such accusation seems to underscore the subliminal message underlying the justification of the USA PATRIOT Act and homeland security policies. Patriotism has been used by Ashcroft to mean the unconditional devotion and loyalty to America, the uncritical support for its leaders as symbols of the state, and the irrational acceptance of their policies to use any means whatsoever to protect America and its people, values, and ways of life. The implication of his view is that a patriotic and loyal citizen ought not to criticize homeland security policies.

The rhetoric of patriotism has been used to create a chilling effect, to prevent further criticisms, and to engender blind acceptance. The significant point is that the rhetoric of patriotism created an environment that made politicians shirk their democratic responsibilities by not raising critical questions and engaging in rigorous debates. The fact that the rhetorical use of patriotism can create this kind of situation intuitively indicates that it is unreasonable to justify and enshroud homeland security policies in the idea of patriotism. The arrests and indefinite detention of those characterized as “foreign terrorists” and the proposed military tribunals are simply immoral and discriminatory against foreign citizens. They violate their civil and human rights, which as moral persons, all humans—even criminals—ought to enjoy. Ashcroft’s view implies that such detention and military tribunals are acceptable because foreign terrorists do not deserve the rights that the liberal principles of the U.S. legal system accord similar criminals who are American citizens, even a criminal or domestic terrorist such as Timothy McVeigh. It is pertinent to note that the adversarial and liberal principles of the U.S. legal system are founded on the protection of individuals’ human and civil rights from the power of the state.4 As such, one cannot, within the American legal system, use the goal of homeland security and the current idea of patriotism to vitiate the fundamental principle of protecting individuals’ human and civil rights.

This point is bolstered by the historical pedigree of the notion of patriotism. According to Primoratz, “In the late seventeenth century, when the words ‘patriot’ and ‘patriotism’ appeared in the mainstream of English political debates, they belonged to the Whig side of the great divide and stood for liberty and the rights of subjects against the throne.”5 Thus, patriotism is, historically, and perhaps, conceptually, connected to political liberalism and the values of liberal democracy. The protection of individuals’ rights is justified by the intrinsic value of individual autonomy. The idea of liberal democracy is founded on the principle of morally respecting the autonomy of persons as self-governing individuals. This idea is based on the primacy of a person’s ability to make free choices and the intrinsic value of an individual’s rights. These values are also the basis for the democratic principles of voting; representation; participation; and the open, rational, and critical debates of public policies. In this sense, the senators’ criticisms of homeland security policies were based on the liberal democratic principles and values of protecting individuals’ freedom and rights, which require respect for the dignity of all persons as moral agents, irrespective of whether they are U.S. citizens.

Liberal democracy is a normative theory about the moral nature of individuals’ rights and how to balance individuals’ rights versus the state’s power. Liberalism implies that all persons have basic and equal human rights that must be protected. Such protection requires placing limitations on the power of the state. As a normative theory, liberal democracy may be seen broadly as (1) a moral theory about acceptable political procedures, (2) a moral theory about acceptable political outcomes, and (3) a moral theory about both acceptable political procedures and outcomes. Liberal democracy is a theory about procedures because it provides political and legal frameworks for how to balance the respect for individual persons and the protection of their rights against the power of the state. This involves creating the relevant environment in which individuals can actualize their freedom. Liberal democracy may also be seen as a theory about acceptable outcomes, essential among which are equality, rights, and freedoms. These are the relevant values and outcomes that define the United States as a liberal democracy.

Usually, the acceptance of these values, and the willingness to achieve them as outcomes, is associated with democratic citizenship. Yet the idea of patriotism is being used in the United States as a shroud or cover for vitiating these values and for refusing to examine the scope of homeland security policies critically. The current use of patriotism in the political discourse of homeland security suggests that liberal democracy may be seen solely as an outcome theory, which emphasizes the overriding outcome of protecting the state, without any regard for the legal and political procedures that are designed to protect individuals’ rights. But a more plausible view of liberal democracy is that it is both an outcome and a procedural theory. A liberal democratic state does not only seek to achieve the outcome of protecting autonomy, but it also provides acceptable procedures for doing so in a way that allows individuals’ rights to be protected. These procedures include accountability on the part of representatives, as is usually indicated in periodic elections. In the United States, these procedures are entrenched in the Constitution, which specifies the functions and powers of the different arms of government and the limits and scopes of their powers and functions.

As elements of the requisite outcomes and procedures of liberal democracies, the U.S. Constitution also indicates some inviolable rights of individuals and the principles of checks and balances. The practical relevance of these principles to the issue of homeland security policies is that the judicial and legislative arms of government have the various responsibilities to oversee, question, or determine the legality of the policies that are initiated and instituted by the executive arm of the government. In keeping with liberal democratic principles, the senators who criticized homeland security policies were trying to examine such policies critically as a way of overseeing and providing checks and balances. In addition to the ideas of checks and balances, the goals of critical debates, openness, and active participation are to curtail the power of the state or its abuse by leaders so that the rights of individuals can be protected. These democratic principles are underscored by freedom of speech, which entitles people to participate, raise legitimate issues, criticize, and question government policies. Freedom of speech is important for protecting individuals’ rights; hence, it is unreasonable for anyone to make efforts to squelch it or to create an environment that will inhibit it by unfairly and groundlessly accusing people of being unpatriotic.


Homeland security policies have sought to protect the state by placing restrictions on or violating people’s rights. Such restrictions may be legitimately justified in a liberal democracy by the idea that protecting the state will engender greater rights and freedoms for individuals. This argument is different from the one that is couched in terms of patriotism because its legitimacy derives not from the love for one’s country, but from the intrinsic value and overriding goal of protecting individuals’ rights and the role that the preservation of the state plays in achieving this goal. It seems paradoxical, according to this argument, that the state may have to restrict the rights of individuals in order to ensure greater rights. This suggests that there are two competing values: the freedom and rights of individuals versus the stability and peace of the state, which make greater individuals’ rights and freedoms possible. The argument that is based on patriotism does not appreciate the significance of this conflict. Hence, such argument insists that the love for one’s own country must be unconditional and uncritical of efforts to protect the state, even if such efforts fail to respect individuals’ rights or violate liberal democratic principles. And this argument does not indicate that there must be acceptable reasons for loving one’s country: One simply has an obligation to love it as one’s own—period! So, the love for one’s country trumps any critical examination of homeland security policies, which may restrict individuals’ rights. The emphasis is the love for one’s country and its protection at all cost.

Patriotism is seen as a moral virtue that implies a moral duty. As such, whenever a person is accused of being unpatriotic, it implies that such a person has done something that is unacceptable. The pertinent issue is whether this moral view of patriotism is legitimate. Baron has argued that patriotism involves a moral virtue. Such virtue derives from the idea that one’s flourishing or perfection, which is a moral goal, is tied to one’s country. Liberal principles are moral because they are conducive to human flourishing or perfection.6 Human beings have a moral duty to achieve moral perfection. As such, one has the moral obligation to be patriotic in order to protect a liberal democratic state. Baron argues, however, that what may lead to human flourishing and perfection in one country may not do so in a different country. Hence, one has a moral duty to be patriotic relative to the particular and unique values and culture that engender one’s perfection and flourishing in one’s own country. Baron indicates that her view of patriotism “is suitably replete with particularity, in keeping with the requirement of impartiality, not entirely disconnected from what we usually think of as patriotism, and a plausible candidate for being a virtue—all the more possible because it recognizes the responsibilities we have, especially as citizens in a democracy for our country’s policies.”7 Baron’s view seems to imply that if homeland security policies within a liberal democracy will lead to human flourishing and perfection, then one has a moral duty of patriotism to accept them.

Baron’s view implies that the moral duty of patriotism involves preference and partiality toward one’s own country, in virtue of which one achieves moral perfection. As such, patriotism provides a basis for justifying partiality toward special groups from which one derives benefits and for discriminating against those who do not belong to the group. Patriotism justifies racism, sexism, and tribalism because it indicates that one has a moral duty to give back and to be partial to such groups because of the benefits of flourishing and perfection that one derives from them. Thus, Gomberg has argued that patriotism is similar to racism.8 Primoratz also argues that patriotism is not a moral virtue that can impose a moral duty.9 Patriotism is not intrinsically valuable because it cannot be morally justified as a universal moral principle; it can be justified only on partialistic and particularistic grounds that are relative to one’s own country; hence, it seeks to place the love for one’s own country over and above the universal respect for all persons. This is inconsistent with the moral paradigm that one finds in Mother Teresa’s attitude of caring for the suffering and needy, irrespective of their country of origin. Primoratz argues that patriotism has lost its original critical stance, which was based on the Whig’s defense of individual rights against the power of the state. He indicates that “by the late nineteenth century, against the background of the ever stronger state power and the rise of nationalism, patriotic discourse lost its original critical bite, and got harnessed to the service of the nation-state. As a result, it can no longer be easily distinguished and disconnected from the rhetoric of nationalism.”10 The rhetoric of nationalism, which is associated with the current use of patriotism, indicates that patriotism lacks impartial reason; hence, it cannot engender rational debates.

The idea of enshrouding homeland security policies in the rhetoric of patriotism and the efforts to justify such policies or engender their acceptance based on patriotism are especially problematic in a liberal democracy. The current idea of patriotism cannot be used as an acceptable, rational justification for the current homeland security policies because patriotism and the relevant policies vitiate the liberal democratic principle of critically examining all ideas and views. Such examination is necessary for engendering good laws, bringing about modifications in bad laws, and improving the political system in order to protect individuals’ rights. Leaders in a democratic state have a democratic responsibility to create an environment that is conducive to and not inimical to these liberal democratic values, principles, and practices. Enshrouding homeland security policies in the political rhetoric of patriotism appears to be inimical to liberal democratic values and practices. An acceptable form of patriotism must be able to engender the constructive participation in the political life of one’s country. Patriotism has been used in political discourse, with respect to the justification of homeland security policies, to prevent the constructive participation in political affairs and the critical examination of ideas.

Against this backdrop, it is my view that the current notion of patriotism is not necessarily a moral value. Its lack of moral virtue may illuminate why accusing one of being unpatriotic, especially if it is unjustified, has the tendency to create a chilling effect and the potentiality of squelching liberal democratic values and practices. The concept of love, on which patriotism is founded, indicates that one’s love—as a citizen—for one’s own country implies that one must be partial toward the country of one’s love or its citizens and discriminatory against others. Love involves an unconditional loyalty and uncritical devotion to a loved one or country, and it implies that one cannot be rationally critical of one’s country if one loves it, since such criticism may be seen as lack of loyalty and devotion. Anyone who disagrees with the government’s policies—whether such policies are adequate or not—is deemed unpatriotic. Such disagreement is seen as either an indication that one does not love one’s own country or a rejection of the values of the state. People are socially or morally united as citizens based on their acceptance of or identification with the relevant values of the state.11 The notion of patriotism and its use in political rhetoric indicate that patriotism is now a “code word” for blind conformity, acceptance, and unconditional loyalty to one’s country and its values and policies as articulated by its leaders. This kind of partiality or devotion is inconsistent with the democratic principle of critically examining all policies and the liberal moral principle regarding the universal and impartial respect for all persons as equal moral entities without reference to citizenship, race, or creed.

Because love involves irrational devotion and partiality, one may understand patriotism as implying that there is no need to examine critically the reasons for loving one’s country that may derive from the values, principles, and features of the country. Besides the fact that a country is one’s own, and one loves it, period, it is not necessary for one’s country to have acceptable principles or practices, which are the adequate reasons for loving it. One may have certain beliefs about one’s country in virtue of which one loves it, but such beliefs need not be true or universally justifiable. MacIntyre and Oldenquist underscore this point by arguing that a meaningful sense of patriotism cannot be based on impartiality or universal values.12 In MacIntyre’s view, patriotism that is based on impartiality is emasculated, and it is not “real” patriotism. Thus, Baron observes that the particularity and partiality requirements in what MacIntyre considers to be “real” patriotism require mindless loyalty or irrational devotion.13 Oldenquist argues that patriotism is a kind of loyalty, and like any other form of loyalty, it does not imply a universal moral obligation to be loyal to any country based on universally valuable properties. Patriotism imposes only prima facie obligations, which require elements of particularity and partiality regarding one’s own country.14 So, the problematic issue is not with the particularity of the prima facie reasons for patriotic obligations but with the meta-reasons for considering the particular-based prima facie reasons as overriding, and why the idea of love for one’s own country alone is an acceptable reason that can override other factors.

In Nozick’s view, one may explain the nature of the loyalty or partiality that is associated with love and the love for one’s country in terms of the view that one’s own well-being is, in some way, connected to the thing one loves.15 Such a view may lead one to the kind of love that Singer calls “bestowal love,” where an individual “makes up” a value and bestows it—over and above its objective value—on the thing that is loved. This “made-up value” is then used to justify or explain one’s commitment to the thing loved.16 According to Singer, there is another dimension of love that may be called “appraisal love.” This idea is useful in trying to understand patriotism, because one may love a country based on either an objective appraisal or an individual’s subjective appraisal. An individual’s subjective appraisal involves determining what a thing is worth to an individual in terms of one’s well-being, including its sentimental value; an objective appraisal involves determining what a thing is worth objectively in the marketplace of values, despite what it is worth to an individual, subjectively. Patriotism, which is couched in the notion of love for one’s country, requires an individual’s subjective appraisal, fidelity, and constancy of love.

In this sense, patriotism is similar to the idea of romantic love, which specifies that a man or woman ought not to have two lovers at the same time. Using the idea of love as a conceptual basis for patriotism implies that one must be devoted to one’s country exclusively. One criticism of bigamy comes from the view that such marriage cannot be based on romantic love, which requires fidelity, unconditional loyalty, and devotion. Bigamy is considered by some to be immoral because it lacks loyalty. This idea of love seems to imply the false view that unconditional, irrational, partial, and uncritical love, devotion, and loyalty are necessarily good. And because patriotism is similar to the idea of romantic love, one cannot truly be a patriotic citizen of two countries. Thus, one cannot love one’s country and its citizens and still care about another country or its citizens, especially where there is a conflict of interests. So, the issue is whether the idea of patriotism alone can be used morally to resolve the conflict between the interests of one’s own country or its citizens and those of another.

The pertinent issue is, what precisely is rationally and morally acceptable for a citizen to do on patriotic grounds? It may make sense for a patriotic citizen to show partiality and preference toward his/her own country and its citizens relative to a particular matter, such as the treatment of “foreign terrorists,” but the reasons for such differential treatment have to be acceptable and morally relevant to the matter in question. These reasons cannot be arbitrary. Simply claiming that a country is my own is not morally relevant to why one should care for one’s country or its citizens and not others. To love one’s country solely because it is one’s own is irrational. Consider a U.S. citizen who escapes to another country and relinquishes her citizenship because she wants to avoid what she considers the unfairness of its legal systems. In her mind, the United States no longer manifests the values that will warrant her to call it her own country (as a citizen) and to love it (as a patriot). Given this situation, is there any reason why this person, before giving up her American citizenship, must love and treat America differently as her own country? Does this person have any good reason at this time to prefer America, her own country, to the country in which she intends to acquire her new citizenship, which, in her mind, manifests the relevant values that she had loved about America? Rationality demands that she loves this other country in which she is acquiring her new citizenship as much as, if not more than, America, her own country.

It is irrational for her to love America (as a patriot) simply because it is her own country (as a citizen), given her perception or belief that it no longer has the relevant valuable properties that are necessary for her to love it. If one is rational, one should cease to love one’s own country if, at a subsequent time, it fails to exhibit those cherished values in virtue of which the country is loved. Rationality requires one to provide adequate reasons for loving one’s country and why the fact that a country is one’s own and the fact that one loves it may override other relevant moral factors. Without such reasons, the basis for loving one’s country and for being partial and patriotic toward it is arbitrary and capricious. If patriotism is viewed in this light, it may be seen as an inappropriate normative notion that has no meaningful role in a liberal democracy. This blind sense of loyalty that is demanded of citizens by patriotism, which one finds in the political discourse underlying the justification of homeland security, may have led Tolstoy to criticize patriotism as immoral. In Tolstoy’s view, the idea of patriotism is linked not only to war but also to the efforts by one state to show that it is superior to another or that the well-being of one state and its citizens is more important than the well-being of other countries and their citizens.17


The demands placed on citizens by patriotism seem to raise the issue of the nature of the relationship between citizenship and patriotism. It is not clear whether one must be a citizen in order to be patriotic. One implication of the use of patriotism is that one cannot be patriotic without being a citizen. Nathanson argues that patriotism involves a special duty of loyalty that citizens owe to their country. So, one cannot be a true citizen of two countries. In his view, “if being a citizen carries with it special duties [of patriotism] to the country, morality permits us to act on these duties and may even require us to do so. If there are duties that one has by virtue of being a member of a family, team, club, or profession, then there can be duties that grow out of our status as citizens.”18 The idea of patriotism as love for one’s own country (as a citizen) includes the requirements of particularity (that the country is one’s own) and partiality. Nathanson justifies this view by arguing that citizens have special duties to love and care about their country. Such special duties of patriotism come from the notion of citizenship in a similar way in which being a father, spouse, or family member requires the special duties of caring.19 Hence, one cannot be patriotic toward a country of which one is not a citizen. He likens patriotism to the preferential love, loyalty, and devotion that we owe to and develop toward our families, spouses, or children, which imply that we can justifiably show preference, partiality, and more loyalty to them than others. In Nathanson’s view, “patriots seek the well-being of their country and believe that they have a special duty to it. The patriot’s desire for her country to prosper and flourish is a particular goal.”20 Such goal or desire engenders the special duties of patriotism.

He argues that “patriots feel a sense of identification with their country, a sense of ‘my-ness’ that gives rise to feelings of pride when the country acts well or shame when it acts poorly. One can only feel these attitudes about one’s own country.”21 But Nathanson does not explain or justify why one can only have these attitudes about one’s own country. It is not obvious why citizens should have such special duties. Is there anything in the concept of citizenship that logically implies patriotism? It is also not clear why one cannot feel these attitudes about a country that is not one’s own. Nathanson’s view implies that the special duty of patriotism requires showing preference and the attitude of partiality toward one’s own country and its citizens and discriminating against others. However, he argues that the special moral duties of patriotism do not necessarily imply that the partiality toward one’s country involves being immoral toward others. The special duties of patriotism are morally constrained: They encourage devotion and loyalty to one’s own country in a way that is not immoral.22 One may show preference and more love, devotion, and loyalty for one’s family without being necessarily immoral in the treatment of others. He argues that there is nothing strange about such moral preference; it is similar to other kinds of love and loyalty. To show preference for one’s family is not necessarily bad or a violation of the universal and impartial principles of morality. Such preferential love is bad only if it implies the immoral treatment of others.

Nathanson’s idea of defining patriotism in terms of the special duty of caring, which is built into the idea of citizenship, fails to address adequately the two vexing moral issues raised by patriotism. The first issue involves how patriotism can provide a rational and moral justification for one’s preferential obligation to one’s country and the acceptance of its policies. The second involves how a patriotic citizen can be committed to impartial moral principles of respecting all persons and, at the same time, love, and show partiality toward his/her country. This is relevant to the issue of justifying homeland security policies because such policies require patriotic citizens to have the preferential obligation of acceptance and support. However, this obligation fails to meet the liberal obligation of morally respecting all persons and their dignity and rights, including those who are designated as foreign terrorists. An adequate justification for homeland security policies must require a proper balancing of these obligations. It is practically impossible to balance the obligations imposed by patriotism, which require preferential support for a country and its policies, and the impartial respect for all persons. Hence, patriotism may not be a good moral justification for homeland security policies because patriotism is not necessarily a virtue, and it cannot impose any kind of moral obligation. As such, Nathanson’s argument is specious. Moreover, it relies and trades on an ambiguity for its plausibility. The idea of my-ness is ambiguous. It could mean citizenship or patriotism. This ambiguity allows him to conflate the idea of citizenship (the my-ness in my country) with patriotism (another sense of my-ness in my country).

Nathanson’s argument not only conflates citizenship (the idea of my country or my-ness) with patriotism, but it also assumes the contentious idea that being a citizen has an intrinsic moral element of caring, which involves the special moral duties of patriotism. He recognizes that—similar to the love for my children, spouse, and family—patriotism and the love for my country, which is one sense of my-ness, may imply the special duties of caring. But he fails to see that citizenship, another sense of my-ness in my country, does not imply caring and love for my country. Hence, citizenship does not imply patriotism and its special duties of caring. Nathanson suggests, based on this conflation, that citizenship implies the moral notion of caring, which is involved in the special duties of patriotism. By trying to derive the special duties of patriotism and caring from citizenship, he suggests that citizenship implies patriotism.23 As a result, his account of the nature of the relationship between a citizen and his/her country of citizenship is problematic. Citizenship is significantly different from being a parent or spouse or a family member. Citizenship does not involve the normative notion and special duties of caring or patriotism.24 One’s relationship with one’s family has built into it a normative element and a special duty of caring.

The analogy between the love for one’s country and the love for one’s family is false. One’s loyalty to one’s family and its demands are different from the loyalty to a country. One’s relationship with one’s family is based on a stronger moral and organic connection that is not, for the most part, voluntary.

The idea of a family indicates an organic relationship with a moral content that implies some special prima facie duties. This is not the case with the relationship that a citizen has with his/her country. Citizenship or the relationship between a state and a citizen is, for the most part, voluntary. One can give up citizenship or acquire it by naturalization. In this sense, citizenship is a legal fact or description about one’s status in a country; it lacks any intrinsic normative content that implies the special duties of patriotism. One cannot build the normative notion of caring, which includes the special duties of patriotism, into the notion of citizenship. The significant issue that Nathanson has not addressed is the basis on which citizens or even noncitizens may develop and justify their love for a country. The significant issue is not the special duties that one has when one has already developed a love for one’s own country. Citizens do indeed have prima facie legal, political, and civic obligations to obey laws, among other things. But one need not be a citizen to have these obligations. Noncitizens who are resident in or visitors to a country, who cannot be meaningfully said to be patriotic, have many of these obligations.

These prima facie obligations of noncitizens do not imply the special patriotic duties of love, caring, and loyalty. It is reasonable to say that noncitizens may sometimes have or display such special duties of patriotism. This point is underscored by the following puzzle posed by Lamb: “My uncle, Sam, has a love for his nation. He is a great patriot. Suppose he loves his nation in virtue of its having certain properties, properties he is able to specify. Now, of a certain nation, he comes to believe that it also has such properties, having no countervailing one either. As a patriot nevertheless striving to be a rational being, must he be patriotic with respect to the second nation?”25 Rationality requires that Sam ought to be patriotic with respect to the second nation, irrespective of whether he is a citizen. Patriotism requires, in Nathanson’s view, the particularity of one’s country of citizenship, and partiality toward that country, irrespective of its values. If Sam’s love for his country is based on universalizable values that are not particularized to one’s own country, those values constitute the rational basis for his love. For instance, there are resident non-U.S. citizens who are members of the U.S. armed forces, who love the United States well enough to be willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Are these people irrational for being patriotic toward the United States? Not quite. This is why the United States has made service in the armed forces—a recognition of the fact that it is a manifestation of “patriotism”—one among many sufficient conditions for citizenship.

This view implies that one’s own country or citizenship is sufficient but not necessary for one’s attitude of patriotism. Citizenship is sufficient only because the relevant values that one loves can supervene on any country, and rationality demands that one must love other countries that exhibit the same values; hence it makes sense for a non-U.S. citizen to be a patriotic member of the U.S. armed forces. The issue raised by Nathanson’s view is whether these noncitizens who are members of the armed forces are patriotic for agreeing to sacrifice their lives, or whether they instantly became patriots simply by the legal process of naturalization. If patriotism is a special duty that applies only to citizens, in the sense that the country of one’s love must be one’s own, it is a “category mistake” to consider members of the armed forces who are not U.S. citizens to be patriots. It is obvious that not all citizens are patriotic. But Nathanson’s argument is consistent with other arguments for patriotism. One such argument derives from our ordinary belief and intuition that patriotism is a moral duty.26 If one is a citizen and one considers a country one’s place of abode, one has a special moral duty to love it and sacrifice for it. For Schaar, this intuition comes from a basic natural human sentiment about one’s home and the need to care for one’s place of abode.27

Another argument is based on the idea of gratitude as a virtue and the view that all citizens have a moral duty to show gratitude and indebtedness to their country. According to Viroli, “we have a moral obligation toward our country because we are indebted to it. We owe our country our life, our education, our language, and in most fortunate cases, our liberty. If we want to be moral persons, we must return what we have received, at least in part, by serving the common good.”28 This obligation to show gratitude to one’s country may also be justified on the basis of reciprocity. We all benefit from our country because other people came together, cooperated, and made sacrifices to create the necessary facilities and environment. If we enjoy the benefits of such social cooperation, we have a special moral duty, based on reciprocity, to make similar contributions so that other people may enjoy similar benefits. This argument is similar to MacIntyre’s justification for patriotism: that we are indebted to our community in virtue of which we acquire our moral character. He argues that we are moral agents only because our community has imparted in us our values and virtues.29 Our ability to flourish and lead a meaningful life depends on our community. Thus, we have a special duty to love our country because it is in virtue of our country that we are able to develop morally and lead a moral life.30 One may also be patriotic on utilitarian grounds because obeying the laws of the country that one loves will engender peace and harmony and create the right environment in order to lead a good life and maximize general happiness in society.

A similar rendition of these kinds of arguments suggests that we must be patriotic because we acquire a sense of social identity from our country and its values. Such identities determine our self-esteem and self-respect, in virtue of which our choices and conceptions of the good make sense. Copp argues that one’s membership—as a citizen—in a country and one’s acceptance of its values and principles are a significant part of one’s identity, which provides a motivation for obligation and patriotism.31 So, the arguments for patriotism seem to provide a basis for political obligation. People are more likely to obey laws if they love their country based on their view that it is founded on acceptable values, such as liberal democratic values. These arguments assume a community, group identity, or communitarianism, which sees citizenship in terms of a strong organic connection between individuals and their state or community. Such a view is inconsistent with the liberal individualistic and autonomous view of the relationship between individuals and society.

These arguments for patriotism are problematic because they are circular. This is clear in Viroli’s statement: “We have a moral obligation toward our country because we are indebted to it.” The idea of moral obligation toward one’s country, which is expressed in terms of patriotism, presupposes our indebtedness to our country, and the idea of indebtedness presupposes our patriotism or obligation. The question about the justification of patriotism has to do with why anyone should be indebted to one’s country. To use the ideas of gratitude and moral growth as the bases for patriotism seems to presuppose the idea of a united society that we love, are indebted to, and are patriotic about—and vice versa. Without such love and patriotism, we will not have the kind of country that can engender moral growth, reciprocity, and obligation, or provide relevant facilities and values to warrant gratitude. Such assumptions of love and social unity are in turn used to justify patriotism. Perhaps, patriotism is what motivates and justifies one’s gratitude, reciprocity, and indebtedness. One may indicate one’s patriotism and appreciation of the role of one’s own country in one’s moral growth by one’s positive act of sacrifice, devotion, and loyalty.

Primoratz indicates that these arguments for patriotism seem to overexaggerate the importance of the state and the moral relationship that exists between a citizen and the state, in terms of what or how much we owe to the state.32 In his view, the reasons for patriotism may be placed into two categories of patriotism: value-based and egocentric.33 An egocentric patriot loves his/her country not necessarily because it has valuable features but simply because it is his/her own. Egocentric patriotism or love may be motivated by the fact that the country is simply one’s own or that one’s well-being is tied to it. An egocentric patriotic attitude that is not motivated by one’s own well-being would, in Baron’s view, appear irrational.34 In his/her view, the rational basis for patriotism must involve the ability of a state to contribute to human perfection and flourishing. Such egocentric patriotism does not require an adequate justification, except that a country is one’s own irrespective of whether the country is good or bad for the citizen. This implies that a citizen is willing to accept an irrational basis for being patriotic. One may explain egocentric patriotism on emotional and sentimental grounds. Thus, patriotism may involve different dimensions of love, which can range from irrational passion or obsession to rational affection or devotion. However, one is patriotic in a value-based sense, that is, in a way that involves rational affection, if the reason for being patriotic is based on the fact or belief that the country of one’s love exhibits some universal values that one accepts or endorses. One has rationally evaluated the country and made a determination that it has some acceptable values and principles that are worth loving, such as the liberal principles of universally and impartially respecting all persons. This implies that a value-based sense of patriotism may be a valuable concept that is essential to liberal democracy. But this kind of patriotism is not the basis on which homeland security is justified.


The current use of patriotism in the political discourse with respect to the justification of homeland security policies is inconsistent with its historical pedigree, which involves the idea of defending liberal democratic principles and protecting the rights of citizens against the power of the state. According to this pedigree, those who questioned the propriety of homeland security policies were being patriotic because they were fighting for the liberal democratic values of individuals’ rights and liberties, which are intrinsically and universally good. If this idea is plausible, my stance is that anyone who loves his/her country based on these values and seeks to preserve them by caring for his/her country and showing a willingness to make sacrifices is, ipso facto, patriotic. These values represent the normative basis on which the United States is founded. To love these values is to love the United States. To fight for these values is to be patriotic par excellence, and to try to undercut these values is to be unpatriotic. This idea of patriotism implies that irrespective of whether or not a country is one’s own, one can be rationally patriotic based on the belief that the country has liberal democratic values and principles. Thus, one may reasonably conclude that one cannot use the current idea and use of patriotism as a rational basis for justifying homeland security policies. The efforts by Nathanson and Baron to articulate patriotism as a moral virtue or special moral duty fail. One cannot maintain a coherent view of patriotism that requires one to be partial to one’s own country and its citizens and discriminatory against others, and still universally and equally respect all persons, even terrorists who do not wish one’s country well—a country to which one’s well-being is tied. This attitude of patriotism is inherently irrational, uncritical, and therefore immoral. It is tied to nationalism and xenophobia.


1. Igor Primoratz, “Patriotism: A Deflationary View,” Philosophical Forum 33, no. 4 (Winter 2002): 443–44; and Igor Primoratz, “Introduction,” in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 9–23.

2. Philip Pettit, “Love and Its Place in Moral Discourse,” in Love Analyzed, ed. Roger Lamb (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1997), 153.

3. The Jose Padilla case is an example of a situation in which a citizen has been held indefinitely without being charged and without access to a lawyer. The Supreme Court agreed, on February 20, 2004, to hear his case based on the petition by Padilla’s lawyer that his client’s civil rights had been and are being violated by the homeland security policies that have allowed for this indefinite arrest.

4. Monroe H. Freeman, Lawyers’ Ethics in an Adversary System (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975). He argues that the American legal system, which is based on liberal principles and an adversarial process, is fundamentally meant to respect human rights and dignity, even at the expense of the truth or any other overriding goal, which, in my view, includes homeland security.

5. Primoratz, “Patriotism: A Deflationary View,” 444.

6. Marcia Baron, “Patriotism and ‘Liberal’ Morality,” in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 75–76. This argument implies that liberal principles are instrumentally good only if they enhance human flourishing. This is a different argument from the one that indicates the liberal principle that says we should respect individuals as moral persons; this involves respecting their rights and autonomy.

7. Ibid., 79–80.

8. Paul Gomberg, “Patriotism Is Like Racism,” Ethics: An International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy 101 (October 1990): 144–50, reprinted in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 105–12.

9. Igor Primoratz, “Patriotism: Morally Allowed, Required, or Valuable?” in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 187–99.

10. Primoratz, “Patriotism: A Deflationary View,” 444.

11. There are two plausible senses of citizenship: factual and normative. The factual sense simply indicates one’s status, while the normative sense adds on some moral or special duties that are attached to a given person’s status. The notion of a “liberal democratic citizenship” is a normative one.

12. Andrew Oldenquist, “Loyalties,” in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 25–42; and Alasdair MacIntyre, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 43–58.

13. Baron, “Patriotism and ‘Liberal’ Morality,” 65.

14. Oldenquist, “Loyalties,” 33–37.

15. Robert Nozick, “Love’s Bond,” in Philosophical Perspectives on Sex & Love, ed. Robert M. Stewart (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 231.

16. Irving Singer, “Appraisal and Bestowal,” in Philosophical Perspectives on Sex & Love, ed. Robert M. Stewart (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 217–26.

17. Leo Tolstoy, “Patriotism,” in Tolstoy’s Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence (New York: New American Library, 1969), 23–46; and Leo Tolstoy, “Patriotism and Peace,” in Tolstoy’s Writings on Civil Disobedience and Non-Violence (New York: New American Library, 1969), 102–36.

18. Stephen Nathanson, Patriotism, Morality, and Peace (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1993), 44.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid., 35.

22. Stephen Nathanson, “In Defense of ‘Moderate Patriotism’,” in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 87–104; and Stephen Nathanson, “Is Patriotism Like Racism?” in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 113–19.

23. Nathanson, Patriotism, Morality, and Peace, 34–36, 44–45.

24. Ibid., 72–76. Nathanson makes the mistake of comparing citizenship or patriotism and its special duties with the idea of parenthood and the special duties involved in caring and providing for a child.

25. Roger Lamb, “Love and Rationality,” in Love Analyzed, ed. Roger Lamb (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1997), 32.

26. Primoratz, “Patriotism: A Deflationary View,” 446–47.

27. John H. Schaar, “The Case for Covenanted Patriotism,” in Patriotism, ed. Igor Primoratz (Amherst, N.Y.: Humanity Books, 2002), 223–57, esp. 235–38.

28. Maurizio Viroli, For Love of Country: An Essay on Patriotism and Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 9.

29. MacIntyre, “Is Patriotism a Virtue?” 47–51.

30. Nathanson, Patriotism, Morality, and Peace, 42–45, 68–74. The author uses the idea of a special duty that is circumscribed by moral principles to justify the idea of moderate patriotism.

31. David Copp, “Social Unity and the Identity of Persons,” Journal of Political Philosophy 10, no. 4 (2002): 385–88.

32. Primoratz, “Patriotism: A Deflationary View,” 446–55.

33. Ibid., 444.

34. Baron, “Patriotism and ‘Liberal’ Morality,” 59–86.