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Reclaiming Patriotism

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
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November 21, 2022 10:03 am

Reclaiming Patriotism

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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November 21, 2022 10:03 am

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Dr. Steven Smith to discuss what healthy patriotism amidst the battle between nationalism and multiculturalism.


Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, this is John Rustin, president of NC Family, and we're grateful to have you with us for this week's program. It's our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged, and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better and equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation. And now here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracey Devette Griggs.

Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. It's no secret that Americans are experiencing a period of intense polarization. Even the term patriot and our American flag have become contentious to some people. Our guest today argues that we need a quote, patriotism that is broad enough to balance differing loyalties and capable of bringing the country together. Well, Stephen Smith is a professor of both political science and philosophy at Yale University. He's authored numerous books, including Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes. Dr. Stephen Smith, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

My pleasure to be here with you. Tell us why you believe that true patriotism is broad enough to balance all of what seem to be competing goals and views of what our country should be. Okay, well, let's talk about patriotism, because that seems to be a key word that you're grappling with here, specifically American patriotism. Equally important, what is it and what is it not? Well, one of the things I do in the book is I try to distinguish patriotism from when the book is called Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes.

I try to distinguish it from what are the extremes, for one thing. And I would say it stands on a continuum between sort of kind of multiculturalist politics to the left wing of patriotism, and nationalism on the right wing of patriotism. And patriotism is different from both of those.

We could talk about that. But what is patriotism? And what it specifically is American patriotism. One of the points I make in the book is that our patriotism is in many ways uniquely a patriotism of ideas. Our patriotism is grounded in our fundamental texts, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, goes back to the declarations, as it were, first principle that all men are created equal, endowed with rights, and so on. And our patriotism, for this reason, has an aspirational quality to it. I want to distinguish American patriotism, often from the kind of dark history of patriotism that has existed here to some degree, but also existed elsewhere, which tries to ground patriotism in a particular religious group, in ethnic identity, in some kind of tribal loyalty, in the longevity with which you or your family have been a resident or a citizen of a place. Those are quite different from the kind of patriotism that I defend in the book.

Because I think once again, we go back to our founding ideas and principles, which are aspirational, and it gives our patriotism this different and I think unique status among the various patriotism that exists in the world. The same thing with the two terms that you chose for the extremes, right? I mean, multiculturalism, nationalism, they aren't necessarily bad things, but they have become a representative of those extremes.

That's exactly right. I mean, neither is in itself bad. I mean, nationalism has had a noble lineage. I mean, if you go back to the 19th century, all of the great political leaders from Lincoln to Gladstone to, you know, they were all nationalists, too. There's nothing wrong with that. It was in relatively recent times that nationalism took kind of a dark and dangerous turn.

I talk about that in the book. And in a certain way, some multiculturalism, it grew up in the early part of the 20th century, it didn't go by that name. But it was a recognition that people bring different identities, backgrounds, ethnicities to the table, that this can all be part of the American family.

Nothing wrong with that at all, except that in recent terms, it has been used as a way of dividing people and creating divisions and sort of denying what people have in common for the sake of pitting one group against another. So these have both morphed into a sort of extremist position, both of which I find an opposition or intention with patriotism as I look at it. You talk about the concept of having a lovable country.

And when I think about that, I think of about a big teddy bear. But of course, I'm sure that's not what you mean. So how does having a lovable country relate to patriotism? The passage you're mentioning references a quote from Edmund Burke, famous conservative philosopher, who said, for us to love our country, our country must be lovable. And yeah, it is sort of an enigmatic statement.

What did Burke mean by that? And I use that to argue that we need to be able to take pride in our accomplishments to establish a kind of usable narrative that helps us take pride in our country. And what I mean by that is not just some kind of Pollyanna-ish view of American history. No, one that certainly takes account of our failings and our missteps and misdeeds, but one that is overall, I think, a kind of hopeful and progressive story of accomplishment and achievement. And the last chapter of the book sets out a number of topics or a number of themes that I think constitute this narrative of hopefulness that I say that makes a country lovable, not just wallowing in our sins and wallowing in our misdeeds.

No, I mean, we can recognize these, but nevertheless see them as learning to accomplish and achieve a goal that we hope to aspire to again, not forget our aspirational qualities. You're listening to Family Policy Matters, a weekly radio show and podcast of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. This is just one of the many ways NC Family works to educate and inform citizens across North Carolina about policy issues that impact North Carolina families. Our vision is to create a state and nation where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished. For more information about NC Family and how you can help us to achieve this incredible vision for our state and nation, visit our website at Again, that's And be sure to sign up to receive our email updates, action alerts, and of course, our flagship publication, Family North Carolina Magazine.

We'd also love for you to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. All right, so you mentioned also Abraham Lincoln, and I've done quite a bit of reading about Abraham Lincoln, and I don't think most people, if you haven't read a lot, would understand kind of how unique his presidency was and the leaders that he chose and that kind of thing. So talk about why you think he is, quote unquote, the ideal patriot, and you even give three specific reasons for that.

If you can talk us through that, I would really appreciate it. Lincoln has been for a long time, I would say, hero of mine. He's clearly the hero of my book. This semester, I'm teaching a course on Lincoln here at Yale. So if any of your listeners, you know, want to know what kind of things get taught at Yale, I could tell you there's a course on Lincoln that's been taught. So one of the things I try to bring out, and much of my book is the way I understand patriotism, is sort of seen through the way I've come to understand Lincoln. The three things you mentioned, Lincoln's patriotism always gave centrality to the Declaration of Independence.

You know, his most famous speech begins four score and seven years ago, that was to 1776. And the Declaration for Lincoln meant the principle of equality and equality meant for Lincoln the dignity of all people that people deserve and merit, a kind of moral dignity for each. So that's equality of dignity.

I think that's one thing that's very important. Another thing that Lincoln emphasized and I've mentioned before is the inclusive character of American patriotism. It is open to anyone who, in principle, open to anyone who is willing to endorse these principles of equality and dignity and rights to other people.

It doesn't discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, race, again longevity. Lincoln was very clear that our patriotism is a kind of open and inclusive one. And the third feature that I attribute to Lincoln is that our notion of equality is kind of small p progressive.

What do I mean by that? It means that we are a continual work in progress, that our ideals have not been accomplished. We have not, and of course, Lincoln was living at a time when, you know, slavery was still a dominant feature. So obviously, we have fallen far short of the principles of equality and dignity of labor and the like, that we are a work in progress. And we have to understand that we are and probably never will be exactly what we aspire to be. And he probably thought in some ways that that is a good thing, because otherwise, what would happen?

We would simply become complacent. And he always thought patriotism and America was a kind of work in progress. So these features of equality of dignity, inclusiveness, and a kind of small p progressive idea of aspiration, I think are central to the Lincolnian view of America. You also use, I've noticed, more contemporary examples when making your case for a broader patriotism, and I bet your students really enjoy that. You quote Bruce Springsteen's song, you mentioned a book written by Chuck Norris.

So I'm assuming you feel like there are glimmers of hope that this kind of patriotism exists, or at least the roots of it in our culture right now. Yeah, the book ends with a verse from Bruce Springsteen's, I think, amazing anthem, Land of Hope and Dreams. Everybody, probably many of your readers, or listeners, rather, will know this song. If they don't, I recommend you listen to it. It's a great song and a very patriotic anthem. And I was glad to be able to quote the boss, as he called up in New Jersey, you know, on this book, I do mention the Chuck Norris book, which, you know, when I began looking at other books on patriotism, what what were people saying about patriotism? What was it?

What was the discussion people were having? And I couldn't help notice, there was a book by Chuck Norris on the question, it was called Black Belt Patriotism. It gave me the kind of image of kind of like, we're going to beat patriotism into people somehow, you know, karate them into it. But I should admit, too, I mean, kind of maybe kind of a guilty pleasure.

I'm actually a Chuck Norris fan. So I was interested in what he would say about this. And, you know, I would say it's not a deep dive into the topic by any means.

But I did like the book. And, you know, it just shows that many different kinds of people, as you put it, in contemporary culture, from Bruce Springsteen to Chuck Norris, can endorse patriotism in a way. And I find lots of examples of that in our contemporary cultural scene. You are striking some hopeful tones. I know you're quite aware of it, being on a college campus, that the suicide rate, especially among young people is just so high. And I'm sure there are a lot of factors, but some of them may be just almost a hopelessness about the direction that our country is heading. But you don't seem to feel that hopelessness. I talk about hope at the end. And hope is a democratic virtue, I think, kind of underappreciated virtue, hopefulness. Democracies require hope. Maybe every polity, every society requires hope. But I think we especially, and I like to give our students, and I hope your listeners through my book, some reasons to be hopeful about our country.

We're just about out of time for this week. Before we go, Dr. Stephen Smith, where can our listeners go to follow your work and learn more about your book, Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes? Buy the book on Amazon. If you're interested in some of, you know, hearing some of my other ideas, go to Yale Courses Online.

I teach a course on the Introduction to Political Philosophy, kind of a great books course, everything from Plato to Tocqueville, many stops along the way. And I get listeners from all over the world. There's no charge for it. You can go to it.

People all over the world listen to it. And I think it will, along with the patriotism book, be something that many of your listeners might find of interest. All right.

Sounds good. Dr. Stephen Smith, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters. Enjoy the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to the show online and to learn more about NC Family's work to inform, encourage and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at That's Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-21 12:08:22 / 2022-11-21 12:13:49 / 5

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