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National Review has sparked an important debate about nationalism. As someone who has been accused throughout her life of excessive love of country (can’t count the number of times I’ve been reproached for arguing that despite slavery, Jim Crow, and the internment of Japanese Americans, our country is eminently lovable), I feel a bit awkward rebutting anything that travels under the name “Love of Country.” Nevertheless, I must join Jonah Goldberg, Yuval Levin, Ben Shapiro, and others in demurring from Rich Lowry’s and Ramesh Ponnuru’s defense of nationalism.
Lowry and Ponnuru are two of the writers I most admire (at a time when that group is shrinking fast). If they make an argument with which I disagree, I’m inclined to question my own judgment. So I remain open to the possibility that they are right. But it seems to me that their willingness to believe that nationalism, as opposed to patriotism, can be benign is not convincing.
Everything they assert about the naturalness of nationalism — it arises out of the same soil as love of family, community, church, etc. – is true of patriotism. It’s true, as Lowry and Ponnuru note, that the left has discredited itself over the years by its hostility to sincere patriotism.