Communitarianism and Patriotism

Ethical Perspectives 4 (3):180-190 (1997)
The collapse of communism and the transition to a market economy and political democracy in Eastern and Central Europe have been accompanied by an outburst of nationalist and patriotic passions. Most commentators see this as a negative phenomenon, a narrow-minded reaction to the void after a long period in which politics was inspired by ideological excess, or a retreat toward a mythical past when confronted with a highly uncertain future. Others look at it in a more positive way: after all those years of mindless abstractions, should we not welcome this return to concrete, tangible commitments? But of course, especially in the Balkans, nationalism is so tangible that we would rather have a void than this frightening concrete reality. From an ethical point of view, patriotism and nationalism are suspect because most moral philosophers would like authentic ethical rules to be inspired by universalistic schemes of thought. On their view, morality and ethics are rational matters and as such they are threatened by strong emotional attachments.Although I distrust all forms of fanaticism and romanticism, I would like to argue that the communitarian criticism against universalistic ethical and contractarian political theory should be taken seriously. At the same time, I believe that the reference to communitarianism cannot be a permit for irrationalism, the glorification of unquestioned tradition or the creation of scapegoats. In an unmitigated form, neither a strict universalism or contractarianism, nor a myopic communitarianism look very attractive. The former neglects the problem of the motivation of the actors, the latter can be suspected of underestimating or completely ignoring the question of pluralism in contemporary society. Therefore I would plead for an amended communitarianism, and I would like to show that patriotism has some very desirable consequences as well, especially for an individualistic society.
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DOI 10.2143/EP.4.3.563001
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