A penetrating examination of the meaning of patriotism.

“To be an American,” writes Yale professor and political scientist Smith, “is to be continually engaged in asking what it means to be an American.” This question, he asserts, has made patriotism a contested term in debates between the political right and left, conservatives and liberals, main streets and campuses. In an erudite study, drawing on philosophers, scholars, political figures, and popular culture (Casablanca, Hamilton, Bruce Springsteen), Smith argues for the centrality of patriotism in American life. Defining patriotism as “a form of loyalty to one’s own, one’s people, one’s community, but especially to one’s constitution or political regime,” he distinguishes patriotism from nationalism, which he deems “a deformation of the patriotic spirit” that “holds an absolute attachment to one’s own way of life—one’s country, one’s cause, one’s state—as unconditionally good and superior to others.” The political right, he claims, “has weaponized patriotism, turning it into a litmus test for determining who is a real American,” while the political left sees patriotism as anachronistic, often co-opted by illiberal democracies, arguing instead for cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism. However, “a citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere,” notes the author, and multiculturalism “has turned our national narrative into a cacophony of conflicting voices.” American patriotism, Smith argues over the course of a text geared toward intellectually sophisticated readers, is not based on ethnicity or loyalty to blood and land but instead is “a form of civic faith” in the tenets of constitutional democracy, the nation’s foundational texts, and in what Lincoln called the “political religion of the nation.” That “constitutional faith,” Smith asserts, involves a commitment to equality, rule of law, a government restrained by checks and balances, pluralism and respect for diversity, and a celebration of America’s culture, arts, economic opportunity, scientific progress, and individualism. “American patriotism,” writes the author, “is aspirational.”

A well-argued call for civic renewal.

Pub Date: today


Page Count: 256

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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