Voting season is in full swing.
We have already been subjected to, from one party, a nativism that extols love of country and, from the other, a globalism that despises it. What attitude should a Catholic agree with?
Should we believe that patriotism is a great good, a great evil, or something else entirely?
Is preserving the distinctions of our own nation, of our own culture, something to aspire to or something to avoid?
Our 'globalists' (those on the left on this issue) seek what they term 'cultural diversity.' What does that mean? For the left, to be "diverse," is to incorporate every other culture within our culture (and indeed every other culture), which, paradoxically, ends all diversity, making each culture just like every other culture.
Anyone who immediately cries out 'bigotry' when someone questions the wisdom of massive non-European immigration into France, Italy, England, etc. probably has an assumption that this cultural homogenization is a good thing, perhaps the only thing that can prevent hatred, war and intolerance.
How can valuing your own culture, how can loving your culture, preferring your culture to all others not lead to intolerance and destruction, they might ask. From this vantage point, all patriotism is unjust.
On the other side, we see a rising of the opposite set of ideals. For those on the right of this issue, patriotism is almost always a good thing. It is something to be celebrated and defended. Patriotism for those ascribing to this view is almost never unjust. Indeed it can even be a kind of duty.
This division exists not just in secular society, but also in the heart of the Church. This shouldn't be surprising as the Catholic Church doesn't (indeed cannot on principle) have a magisterial teaching on the intrinsic value of patriotism. Catholics, both in the hierarchy of the Church and in the pews, are free, on this prudential issue, to take either side. That is not to say that either side can't veer into territory a Catholic cannot follow into, but the issue writ large is not one the Church can settle either by declaring love of country a sin or by declaring globalism one. What then is a Catholic to think?
C.S. Lewis in this, as in so many things, can point us in the right direction. Following the advice St. Thomas Aquinas gives Dante in the Sphere of the Sun,
"E questo ti sia sempre piombo a' piede, / per farti mover lento com'uhm lasso / e al sì e al no che tu non vedi: / ché quelli è tra li stolti bene a basso, / che senza distinzione afferma e nega / ne l'un così come ne l'altro passo." (Paradiso, 13.112-117)
"let this always be as lead upon your feet / to make you slow, just like a weary man, in moving , / whether to yes or no, unless you see both clearly. / For he ranks low among the fools / who, without making clear distinctions, / affirms or denies in one case or another." (Hollander translation)
Or, as the old Dominican maxim has it, "Never deny, seldom affirm, always distinguish."
Lewis distinguishes between a good and a bad patriotism. The good kind is
love of home, of the place we grew up in or the places, perhaps many, which have been our homes; and of all the places fairly near these and fairly like them; love of old acquaintances, of familiar sights, sounds and smells.... As Chesterton says, a man's reasons for not wanting his country to be ruled by foreigners are very like his reasons for not wanting his house to be burned down; because he 'could not even begin' to enumerate all the things he would miss. It would be hard to find any legitimate point of view from which this felling could be condemned. As the family offers us the first step beyond self-love, so this offers us the first step beyond family selfishness.... Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves. In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complete just as we like bacon and eggs - why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would no tie home unless it were different.
This he contrasts with a corruption of patriotism, an evil, deviant form, which
is not a sentiment but a belief: a firm belief, even prosaic belief that our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others.... If our nation is really so much better than others it may be held to have either the duties or the rights of a superior being towards them. In the nineteenth century the English became very conscious of such duties: the 'white man's burden.'... Some nations who have also felt it have stressed the rights not the duties. To them such foreigners were so bad that one had the right to exterminate them. Others, fitted only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the chosen people, had better be made to get on with their hewing and drawing. Dogs, know your betters!
It is this warped form of patriotism that must be extinguished. The left rightly sees that.
However, we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater, as the adage goes. A man can love his home, his culture, in preference to all others without being a bigot precisely as a man can love his wife more than all other women without being a misogynist. For loving what is our own doesn't necessitate despising what isn't. Indeed, as Lewis shows us, it is the only foundation upon which we truly can value the other man's love for what is his own. Destroy the first kind of patriotism and you'll soon find that men have come not only to no longer love their cultures, but to no longer be able to understand how anyone can love their own culture. With that, intolerance, hatred, and warfare will only increase.
Let us in the Church, then, love the universality of the Faith, but also celebrate the diversity of cultures, not by homogenizing the world, but by allowing each culture to remain itself.
What do you think? Is Lewis right about patriotism? Can there be both good and bad forms of it?