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Sunday, July 4, 2021

Happy Patriotism

 Arthur Brooks at AEI:

A number of scholars have studied the link between patriotism and happiness, and have found that it is strongly positive. For example, a 2011 study in Psychological Science looked at 31 countries, and found that national pride significantly predicts well-being. Another study found that the relationship between “national satisfaction” and personal well-being was strongest in poorer countries, which the authors explained by noting that people in the most difficult personal circumstances tend to judge their life satisfaction in terms of societal success.

For millennia, the concept of patriotism was tied to a shared ethnicity, religion, or language; love of country without these elements seemed inconceivable. This changed with the American experiment. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in a letter to his friend Ernest de Chabrol after arriving in the U.S. in 1831, “Imagine if you can … a society comprising all the nations of the world: English, French, German … All people having different languages, beliefs, and opinions. In short, a society without roots, without memories, without prejudices, without routines, without common ideas, without national character.”

And yet, Americans were peculiarly patriotic. Tocqueville would go on to write in Democracy in America about the new nation’s fractious breed of “irritable patriotism.” Some citizens would assemble “for the sole object of announcing that they disapprove of the government’s course.” Meanwhile, another group would “unite to proclaim that the men in office are the fathers of their country.” But as at odds as they were, no American would permit a foreigner’s criticism of their country. American patriotism, Tocqueville found, was the shared civic spirit of competitive riffraff dedicated to building a nation together.
Obviously, there are people in the U.S. and elsewhere who do use patriotism as a cloak for self-interest. But plenty of ordinary people display patriotism at its best: a real and generous love for their fellow citizens and shared ideals. This is the happy patriotism that can bring a nation back together around a commitment to one another, a celebration of values that transcend disagreements, and a belief that progress is possible, together.