Patriotism as Defense of Home

I was just reading the "Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human" chapter of C.S. Lewis' "The Four Loves" and was struck by his definition of what patriotism is and is not.  Lewis explains patriotism as caring for your home country despite of its weaknesses.  He warns that when patriotism becomes based upon the value or worth of your home in comparison to that of others it becomes diseased. It isn't because your home is "good" that you are patriotic, but it is because it is your home.

This was really insightful for me, as I've struggled with the whole concept of patriotism since 9/11.  In fact I think many have struggled with this idea, because it has become so closely linked with "righteousness."  But what is righteous about the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iraq?

And this is where Lewis' words really spoke to me and have made me reconsider my own generations' response to war.  He writes:

Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light.  If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for 'their country' they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country's cause was just; but it was still their country's cause, not the cause of justice as such.  The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burgler, but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds--wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine--I become insufferable.... If our country's cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihiliation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world... 
The glory of the old sentiment was that while it could steel men to the utmost endeavour, it still knew itself to be sentiment. Wars could be heroic without pretending to be Holy Wars.

Instead of arguing about whether or not a war was a just war, we should have been focusing on what does it mean to defend our homeland?  When we focus on the justice of a cause it becomes about our right-ful-ness.  We become the "holier than though" decision makers. But, if we are honest about it being about defending our homeland - than we can recognize the reality that is what our opponent is doing too - and then we can act with both compassion and heroism. We can applaud our troops and thank them for defending us. And we can perhaps be honest about our intentions and whether or not we have met them. We can then decide when it is actually time to end a war.  Justice blurs the lines - protecting your home makes them clear and keeps us honest. Thanks Lewis for these thoughts - they were quite helpful!

That being said - I still recognize there is a time where we might be called to "intervene" in affairs that abound outside of our country and do not relate to protecting our homeland.  The obvious case of holocaust or genocide requiring our active response to defend those who are to some significant degree limited from defending themselves - and request our help.


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