New world needs a new definition of patriotism

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Today's rapid globalization has brought the world closer together. As debate over the moral consequences of global interdependence spills into our foreign policies, trade agreements, commerce and environmental initiatives, the demands of global citizenship are becoming all too evident.

But how does this newly emerging vision of global responsibility relate to our traditional patriotic concerns? Answering this important question requires a critical appraisal of how we live our lives as good citizens.

For starters, one might note that super-patriotism, which is parochial and anti-global, is less a virtue and more of an obstacle to the cosmopolitan vision needed to respond appropriately to the challenges of the new global realities. Unfortunately, our country is steeped in this blind euphoria. This is not good for the country, nor is it good for the world. Our national fate is tied inevitably to the fate of the larger community of nations, and this must be understood and accepted.

The other extreme is political cynicism, but this is not patriotic either. Though they have their uses, cynicism and apathy are ultimately as misplaced as super-patriotism. If we care for the collective well-being of our country and the world, we have to get involved in the effort to make changes, not simply yield to the status quo that the cynic finds so alienating.

The demands of global citizenship require that we move beyond conventional patriotism, which often degenerates into nationalism. Nationalism does not carry democratic legitimacy in a global world.

Democratic legitimacy is the idea that, in a democracy, the affected parties have a say in the governance. This principle of affected interest indicates that in today's interconnected world, where the consequences of national policies and individual actions have potential global impact, the domain of political legitimacy need not coincide with national boundaries. This raises new and challenging questions about how to agree on the morality of political allegiance.

At the very least, we must strive to strike the right balance between our duties toward compatriots and our obligation to the world. Patriotic ties, valuable as they may be, should be limited by impartial demands of global justice, just as partiality toward our friends, though commendable in itself, should nonetheless be allowed only within the regulative principle of impartial morality. How to work out this nuanced relationship is the challenge of this global era.

This is what is meant by responsible global citizenship. It requires a broader vision based on universal principles and compassion for humanity.

America's lofty peaks are many. Here I cite only a few. On the domestic front America inspires with her secular Constitution and Jeffersonian democracy. In the global arena, the Wilsonian idealism of a collaborative international order based on diplomacy has been a shining beacon. Along with this, there is the basic goodness of the American people - their kindness, openness, ethic of hard work and sense of fairness - as well as their reservoir of talent, ingenuity and a buoyant spirit. All this and much more highlight the American tradition. How can we not appreciate all this and not be grateful that we live in this great country?

On the other hand, if there is good reason to believe that our national and foreign policies are causing massive discontent and deprivation at home and abroad, then as good citizens it is our responsibility to point this out so that there can be a public debate about it. To stifle such criticism by branding it as unpatriotic is profoundly un-American, yet this is what the Bush administration is doing.

In his short time as president, George W. Bush has seriously undermined international law, global cooperation, and global justice. He seems to have no concept of global citizenship.

All this is bad for America and the world. America needs a leader who is a responsible citizen in a global age. To point this out and encourage debate is not unpatriotic.


Deen Chatterjee, who teaches philosophy at the University of Utah, is the editor of The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy (Cambridge, 2004) and co-editor of Ethics and Foreign Intervention (Cambridge, 2003).