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Studies in Philosophy and Education 18: 157–173, 1999.

© 1999 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

Should We Teach Patriotism?

Moral Philosophy, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland KY16 9AL

Abstract. This article examines a particular debate between Eamonn Callan and William Galston
concerning the need for a civic education which counters the divisive pull of pluralism by uniting the
citizenry in patriotic allegiance to a single national identity.
The article offers a preliminary understanding of nationalism and patriotism before setting out
the terms of the debate. It then critically evaluates the central idea of Callan that one might be under
an obligation morally to improve one’s own patriotic inheritance, pointing to the ineliminable tension
between the valuation of one’s own patria by its own terms and a detached critical reason.
It concludes by suggesting that we are, in advance of our education, members of a particular
patria and that any education must be particularistic. Finally, the danger is noted of presuming that,
in each case, there is a single, determinate national tradition.

Key words: civic education, patriotism, nationalism, pluralism, liberalism, tradition, patria, critical

In 1916 ‘in connection with the observance of the national anniversary of St

David’s Day’ the Welsh Department Board of Education issued a small pamphlet
with the title, Patriotism. Suggestions to Local Education Authorities & Teachers
in Wales Regarding the Teaching of Patriotism.1 The date of its publication is obvi-
ously significant being ‘in the midst of the greatest war which the world has ever
known’ and one which requires of the present generation that they be prepared to
make sacrifices to ‘retain what is most precious of all – the very soul of our national
life’. In brief sections the pamphlet answers such questions as ‘what we mean by
“our country” ’, ‘what our country has done for us’ and ‘how we can serve our
country’. The answers to these questions are followed by short notes suggesting
suitable supporting teaching material. Thus, as to ‘What our country has done
for us’ the pamphlet answers, Our fathers have worked and fought to give us our
liberty, our free institutions, our homes, and our security. A note adds: ‘It might be
well to illustrate the foregoing lesson by examples of “great names,” such as Henry
VII, who first saw a vision of the British Empire; or Richard Wilson, who was one
of the first British artists to depict the wild beauty of the home-land; or each school
might take one of the great men of its own county. Thus, Montgomeryshire schools
might take Richard Roberts, the inventor, or Ann Griffiths, the hymn-writer, or
Robert Owen, the apostle of labour’.

The last section is particularly fine. Entitled ‘True Patriotism and False Patri-
otism’ it includes the following wonderful passage: ‘Patriotism is very like loyalty
to our side in a school game. We do not feel proud of, and ought not to support,
our side if it cheats or fouls the other side, or loses its temper and does not play
a fair game. Wrongful actions by one’s country (and our country has not always
done right) [are] just as despicable as foul play in a school game. . . . Any other
standard of patriotic conduct [is] really unpatriotic because it does harm, not good,
to our country and it injures its good name. Such a false standard would justify the
Germans in their treatment of Belgium; in their making war (as they have done)
on defenceless citizens; in sinking the “Lusitania,” a passenger ship full, not of
soldiers, but of civilians – men, women, and children; in killing Nurse Cavell.’ The
teaching note adds – and it is hard to miss the tone of self-satisfied rectitude –
‘To the older children it might be explained how false Patriotism takes the form of
Materialism (counting a nation great by what it has rather than by what it is) and
of Militarism (seeking to advance a nation’s ends by brute force)’.
What strikes one on reading this tract is the unabashed, self-confident and
assured assertion of not just its patriotism – the unalloyed love of and deep respect
for one’s country and its heritage – but also of the evident rightness of teaching
this patriotism, of instilling in children that same uncomplicated love and respect.
Moreover, this is British patriotism whose devotion to its cause lacks any doubt
as to the appropriateness of such devotion, yet is gracious in its concession of the
right of other less fortunate nations to exist. A patriotism whose country does not
have to cheat in order to succeed whilst others do, which is confident of victory but
temperate in enjoyment of its triumph, a country, in short, which both always plays
by the rules and always wins.
It is clearly a patriotism of its time and, it will be added, that time is thank-
fully no longer the present one. The belief in an Empire on which the sun never
sets, guardian of a glorious past and protector of the values of civilisation against
Teutonic barbarism, is dated and passé. And so it should be. But is patriotism and its
teaching outmoded? Is there no place for it in our present world? I want to examine
the terms of a particular debate about the teaching of patriotism with a view to
getting clearer about what pedagogic role there should be for patriotic identification
with one’s nation. This is a debate between Eamonn Callan and William Galston.
Both see the need for a civic education which, in uniting the citizenry in patriotic
allegiance to a single national identity, counters the divisive pull of pluralism, of
various other attachments. Both worry about the tension between ‘critical reason’,
as a regulative educational ideal, and the demands of a partial attachment to one’s
own nation. It will be suggested that the proper educational goal is, consistent with
critical reason, clarification of a particular identity which has been acquired and is
valued independently of education. However such clarification cannot assume – as
Galston and Callan appear to do – that there is a single identity. This means that
the fact of pluralism may enter into the very form of any civic education. First, let
me note the background to this debate.

Political philosophy long neglected the topic of nationalism and nationality2 but
these ideas have now found sympathetic defenders. A number of writers – I am
thinking here principally of David Miller and Yael Tamir, but also Allen Buchanan,
Charles Taylor, Michael Walzer3 – have argued persuasively that there is a place,
even if a limited and carefully constrained place, for a principle of national iden-
tity that is consistent with liberal ideals. Previously liberalism and nationalism
were characterised as radically opposed contraries, the conflict between them
being memorably defined by Ernest Gellner as ‘a tug of war between reason and
I do not want to enter here into the debate about nationalism. I want only to
do two things: first, to offer some basis for a distinction between nationalism and
patriotism; second to provide the main relevant reason people have for thinking
a principle of national identity defensible. Patriotism is love of one’s country or
nation, and this love is, in terms of the ideal, prescribed as a virtuous disposition
to act in certain, often self-denying and self-sacrificial, ways on behalf of one’s
country. Nationalism is, as a political theory, a normative claim about the proper
consonance of nation and state; it claims that a nation should have independent
sovereign statehood and that states are political communities which should be
bound together by a single national identity: states should be nations and nations
should be states. Nationalism, Gellner stated, is ‘primarily a principle which holds
that the political and national unit should be congruent.’5
Nationalism and patriotism share a factual belief – that nations do exist and
have enjoyed continuous historical existence – and they share a moral view –
that the existence of one’s own nation has moral significance, that the nation is
worthy of one’s special attachment to it and action on its behalf. A nationalist is
also certain to be a patriot. ‘Loyalty to the nation-state overrides other loyalties’ is
one of the seven propositions which A. D. Smith identifies as constiuting the core
doctrine of nationalism.6 A patriot is committed to thinking that her nation warrants
her devotion but she need not be a nationalist in the further sense of seeking the
congruence of nation and state. She need, as a patriot, have no further views about
her nation’s political status even if it is probable that she will.
Why is a principle of national identity thought defensible by its present-day
friends in political philosophy? The defense has a negative and a positive half.
Negatively nationalism is defended by showing that the familiar criticisms of it –
that nations do not, as claimed, have real existence; that nations should not have any
moral significance – are misplaced. Positively nationalism is defended by arguing
that a principle of national identity has value. Most centrally it is claimed that
nationality can supply that sense of community – what Mill in his Considerations
on Representative Government called ‘fellow-feeling’7 – which is essential to the
success of the liberal polity. It, and it alone, will sustain the acceptance by the
citizenry of the state’s constitutive principles of justice, will motivate their allegi-

ance to its rule of law, and define the democratic public culture in which all must
It is alleged that Rawlsian liberalism in which the citizens are bound together
only by a shared acceptance of the state’s constitution is too ‘thin’. It could not,
as Rawls and his defenders believe, display continuing ‘good order’, a phrase
which means both the enduring stability of the polity and a general belief in its
legitimacy by the citizenry. Yael Tamir, for example, endorses Michael Sandel’s
criticism of Rawls to the effect that general social acceptance of the difference
principle – which Rawls says amounts to a willingness to see one’s natural assets
as shared – illicitly presupposes a sense of community which Rawls’s own theory
cannot provide. The liberal belief is that agreement on principles of justice can by
and of itself provide the social support for the operation of these principles. Tamir
thinks that such ‘agreement is too thin and . . . insufficient to ensure the continued
existence of a closed community in which members care for each other’s welfare,
as well as for the well-being of future generations’.8 She looks to the nation to
provide the essential terms of unity and membership within a clearly defined and
demarcated population. The unity of a ‘liberal national entity’ ‘rests not only on an
overlapping consensus about certain values essential to its functioning, but also on
a distinct cultural foundation’.9
In a series of published articles which pre-dated On Nationality David Miller
argued that a shared sense of nationality could supply the grounds whereby a given
population was motivated to accept, and live by, a set of principles of justice.10
In On Nationality he has argued, further, that the success of ‘deliberative democ-
racy’ requires trust amongst those deliberating and a willingness to find agreed
terms of social co-operation. Sharing a national identity provides that trust and
willingness.11 Miller and Tamir defend a principle of nationality from, respectively,
socialist and liberal perspectives. Roger Scruton, from a conservative position, has
similarly defended nationality and criticised Rawlsian liberalism for its inability
to explain how and why citizens could make the sacrifices and undertake the
considerable burdens which are entailed by civic membership of a successful

I turn now, against this background, to the particular debate about the teaching
of patriotism which I want to explore. Its protagonists are William Galston and
Eamonn Callan. Both accept that liberalism has a problem of securing the condi-
tions of its own success as a political project. The modern polity is beset by the fact
of pluralism, the various and divisive attachments its citizens have which subvert
the engagement needed if all are to participate in and support the maintenance of
its just institutions. Both see the need for a strategy of integration, of ensuring the
attachment of citizens to the political institutions of the liberal society. And both
see a civic education as essential to the achievement of that end. They both worry

about the corrosive powers of a detached critical reason. They differ about the form
a civic education in the service of some form of liberal patriotism should take.
Let me first quote at length – as Callan does – the key passage from Galston:
On the practical level, very few individuals will come to embrace the core
commitments of liberal societies through a process of rational inquiry. If
childern are to be brought to accept these commitments as valid and binding,
it can only be through a process that is far more rhetorical than rational. For
example, rigorous historical research will almost certainly vindicate complex
‘revisionist’ accounts of key figures in American history. Civic education,
however, requires a more noble, moralizing history: a pantheon of heroes
who confer legitimacy on central institutions and constitute worthy objects of
emulation. It is unrealistic to believe that more than a few adults of liberal
societies will ever move beyond the kind of civic commitment engendered by
such a pedagogy.13
Callan dubs this non-revisionist moralising form of civic education ‘sentimental’
where sentimentality involves a ‘sustaining fiction of moral purity’.14 A senti-
mental civic education incurs three moral liablities: first, a ‘truncated historical
imagination’, a limiting of one’s ability to know and understand one’s own
communal past; second, a ‘propensity to filter complex political problems through
a network of mutually supportive moral fictions’, a general ‘coarsening of moral
vision’ which comes in the wake of acquiring secondary falsehoods to protect the
primary lie of national purity; and, third, a ‘debased conservatism’ which regards
the inherited political present as incapable of improvement.15
These liabilities are not just moral, they are also political for the ‘disposi-
tions instilled through a sentimental political education can[not] be reconciled
with the virtues that underpin representative institutions’.16 A flourishing partici-
patory liberal democracy requires that ‘civic virtues informed by critical reason
. . . be widely and deeply diffused among the citizenry’.17 Galston’s ‘sentimental
education’ must of necessity work directly against the grain of such virtues and
Callan wants a role for critical reason but he worries about the political oper-
ation of such a reason when it assumes the form of an ‘implacable scepticism’,18
a detached view from nowhere which eschews all partialities and commitments to
any particular community. We need both engagement in this, our, community and a
proper role for rational scrutiny of that engagement. Callan’s own solution is to see
citizens as the inheritors of a certain political project or tradition who, at the same
time, are enjoined to ‘make the best of this tradition’. Our view upon our communal
legacy is not a view from nowhere; it is the view vouchsafed to us as legatees. Our
view is given us in the light of the traditions of our particular inheritance, but it
is not a vision so obscured as to be incapable of seeing what is better and what is
worse in that inheritance: ‘our rootedness in history shapes but does not undermine
our critical scrutiny of that history’.19 ‘Emotional generosity’ and ‘imagination’
are the key virtues of this engaged criticism.

Callan seeks to articulate a critical and optimising engagement with one’s

own country’s project which represents a third way between a rootless, ‘alien-
ated scepticism’ and Galston’s politically debilitating ‘sentimentalism’. How does
his approach cash out in pedagogic terms? Callan takes the example of teaching
history. Eric Hobsbawm, in another context, has argued that no serious historian
of nations can himself be a nationalist: ‘Nationalism requires too much belief in
what is patently not so’.20 In other words belief in the existence and worth of a
nation could not survive sustained examination from objective historical scholar-
ship. Callan does think Galston ‘right to suppose that history in civic education
differs from history tout court’. He is wrong to think that the difference ‘corre-
sponds to the difference between the construction of a pantheon of heroes and its
Callan’s own suggestion is literature rather than ‘conventional historical schol-
arship’. He gives as an example a Eudora Welty short story in which a white racist
killer reflects on his murder of a civil rights activist in the 1960s. Callan suggests
that one will understand this story, be ‘attuned to its emotional complexities’, only
if one has a sensibility to the history of America and can appreciate the way in
which the killer betrays the ideals of equality and freedom, ideals which he falsely
invokes in his pitiable self-justification, but which are constitutive of his, and the
American readers’, very own political tradition: ‘The story may be about the very
worst of America rather than the best, but its moral depth resides precisely in the
way it tacitly draws on the best of the tradition to make sense of the worst’.22

This is deeply suggestive but I am not sure how far Callan’s alternative works. His
thought, to repeat, is that we can (and ought to) teach patriotism to the extent that
we teach people to make the best of that tradition or project of which they are the
inheritors. Let me try and explore the problems I think there are for this account by
posing a number of questions.
A first set of problems derives from the apparent conflation of distinguishable
terms: political community, patria, and tradition or project. Callan is defending
an ‘integrative strategy’ whereby patriotism secures an attachment to the political
community (and thereby contains or counteracts the divisive tendencies of plur-
alism). In the first place this assumes that the political community is or must be
co-extensive with the patria. A nationalist, as we saw, demands this consonance;
a patriot need not. Patria and political community can be and often are distinct. It
might be possible for a patriot to repudiate the latter, just as someone might endorse
only the constitutive ideals of the community.23
Further, the national community, or patria, is assumed to be constituted as a
‘tradition’ or ‘project’. This thought owes much to Alasdair MacIntyre,24 but there
is a general tendency to see the national or political community as consisting of a
culture of values or ideals. Thus Tamir defines a nation as a ‘community conscious

of its particularistic existence’, exhibiting ‘self-awareness of its distinctiveness’

which is expressed in ‘culture’.25 Miller states that a ‘national identity requires
that the people who share it should have in common . . . a common public culture.’
Such a culture ‘may be seen as a set of understandings about how a group of people
is to conduct its life together’ including ‘political principles’, ‘social norms’ and
‘cultural ideals’.26
The nation, or patria, may be misleadingly characterised as a culture of
values.27 More generally a community may be sustained in the absence of any
shared culture or ‘tradition’. Members of a community may think of themselves
as belonging to and constituting a community without thinking of themselves as
participating in a single culture or as being the inheritors of a tradition or as
contributing to a future ‘project’. Proper consideration of these important points
lies beyond the scope of this article. Let us assume, for the purposes of assessing the
distinctive account of Callan, that a political community can only be sustained by
patriotic identification with the patria, and that the patria is constituted, essentially
or in the main, as an inherited tradition and project.
There are pressing questions. The first is, What grounds my engagement in a
particular tradition or project? That is, why do I find myself as the inheritor of this
country’s legacy? The seemingly obvious answer is that this is purely fortuitous.
I am born with a particular national identity and I can no more repudiate this
contingent brute fact about myself than I can deny that I was born to a particular
set of parents. But of course whilst I cannot deny that these two persons are my
parents I can repudiate them as my parents in the sense of asserting that I do not
care about or value their lives, that I no longer look to them for parental guidance,
that what happens to them is no concern of mine. Many a child sadly if understand-
ably does that. Similarly whoever is born a Frenchman is not encumbered by his
birthright; he can repudiate his Frenchness even whilst he is unable to deny that he
is a Frenchman.
Three comments are in order. The first is that someone may be born and
brought up in circumstances such that he feels himself, with justice, to have no
clear national identity or indeed to have a multiple identity. Consider someone
born in France to English parents who is educated in France and yet retains his
English, familial connections. Or again, someone may enjoy a peripatetic youth
and, in virtue of living in several countries, consider himself rootless, a citizen of
no one particular country. Second it is not impossible that one should change one’s
national identity. Someone, for instance, born in America may spend so long living
and working in United Kingdom, acquiring naturalised citizenship of that state, that
she thinks of herself as having, in some sense, ceased to be American and become
British. The point is that the identities acquired at birth are not changeable at will
and remain, throughout our lives, importantly constitutive of who we are. Third, as
will become apparent later, it would be a mistake to assume that the identity one
acquires is a simple, homogeneous and unproblematic one, similarly shared by all

who are born into a particular nationality. British Asians, for example, are unlikely
to think of themselves as British in the same way as other Britons.
Notwithstanding these qualifications, it is true that most of us find ourselves as
the inheritors of a particular national identity. A further question is then, why is one
under an obligation to make the best of one’s tradition? This is not the same thing
as asking, why make of something the best that it can be rather than the worst. For
to that question there seems to be too obvious a reply: it is better to improve than
to worsen. Rather the question is why one should make the best of this rather than
that. The man who perfects his golf swing whilst neglecting his work and family
has no defence in the assertion, ‘a better golf swing is preferable to a worse one’.
Even if I am the inheritor of a tradition and recognise this fact about myself why
should I not be indifferent to the tradition and choose to devote myself instead to
making myself a better philosopher, a better friend, a better teacher, or a better
Grant that a national tradition or project can be improved and that it is better,
all things considered, for that project to be improved. It is still an open question
whether I, as someone who is in a position to improve it, am under an obligation
to engage in that task of improvement rather than devoting my energies to other
ameliorative tasks. I could redecorate my garden shed and it would be a better
garden shed for being redecorated. It does not follow – so long as there are other
and possibly more important things I could improve – that shed redecoration is
obligatory. Alasdair MacIntyre is perfectly right when he says that however much I
may admire all things French I cannot become a French patriot. ‘Only Frenchmen
can be patriotic about France.’28 But what is also true is that not every Frenchman
has to be patriotic about France. Callan has shown what it is to care for one’s own
country. He has not shown why I should care. He has indicated what a constructive
patriotism might involve. He has not established that one needs to be a patriot.
One answer to this question of why one needs to be a patriot and care about
one’s nation will not do. It may be the case – as both Callan and Galston think – that
a liberal polity needs patriotic citizens. But that fact, even if true, cannot provide a
motivation for individual citizens to be patriotic. I cannot love Britain simply and
only because I recognise that all Britons must love Britain if Britain is to display
good liberal order. Similarly I do not support my football team, Dundee United,
because I think it a good thing that Dundee United, like other football teams, has
loyal fans. I support Dundee United because it is the best if most unlucky team
in the Scottish Premier League being the victim of criminal refereeing decisions
and unfortunate injuries to key players, because of its particular sporting history,
because it has the best fans in the world, and so on. There is here a philosophically
familiar gap between the reason why it would be good for people to be motivated
in a certain way and the motivation itself which cannot be constituted by that very
I have argued that Callan has not shown why one should be a patriot even
if there is considerable merit in his characterisation of what it is to be a good

patriot.29 There is merit in his proposal for it avoids the otherwise sterile opposition
between a rootless cosmpolitan critical reason and Galston’s falsifying national
sentimentalism. Concede that there is an answer to the question of why one should
be a patriot, grant that one is under an obligation to make the best of one’s one
tradition. There is a still further problem. How can one discharge this obligation,
how does one make the best of one’s tradition?
At one point Callan comments that ‘Our ability to answer the question [‘what
is the best of this tradition?’] may be circumscribed by the critical resources of the
traditions of political thought and practice to which we have access . . . ’.30 Further
on, he quotes Richard Rorty on the outrage liberal Americans feel at the hopeless
and miserable lives led by young urban blacks. Callan glosses this as Rorty’s use
of an American patriotism which is constituted as a ‘moral resource’, a patriotism
devoted to a ‘patria . . . in which justice must be done’ despite the pull of racial
or ethnic identity’.31 For Callan we must make the best of our tradition and do
so within the terms of that tradition, that is by its own constitutive ideals, values,
and aspirations. In the case of America those constitutive ideals are ones of justice,
equality and liberty. American patriotism contains the moral resources to permit
American patriots to optimise their own legacy.
Yet this is purely serendipitous. If one’s own tradition or project had no such
moral resources then one could not make the best of one’s own tradition. Or rather
– and this is crucial – it would be possible to make the best of it only by the terms
of that tradition, which need not be the best all things considered. If, for example,
my tradition is one whose constitutive ‘ideals’ are those of natural hierarchy and
authority then, as a patriot, I can make the ‘best’ of it only by further refining the
structured inequality and submission to order which my patria manifests. I can
seek to make my feudal nation more perfectly feudal. But in making the best of my
feudal tradition I do not thereby make my nation better. I worsen it.
The point is this. Americans are not just lucky to have a patria whose ideals
are a moral resource, which is a community in which ‘justice must be done’. Their
good luck in being born American is judged good by standards which are not exclu-
sively American. One does not have to be born American to recognise that equality,
justice, and liberty are ideals which any patria ought to have. One recognises this
by employing a critical reason which is independent of any particular tradition or
resource of my own community to which I might have accesss. It is not as an
American that an American thinks himself lucky to have certain ideals constitute
the moral resource of the American tradition. It is as a moral reasoner.
Consider another example. John White has, in an article ‘Education and
Nationality’,32 defended a role for the teaching of our British national identity.
Wary of endorsing all aspects of our Britishness he appeals to the idea that we might
‘refashion’ our national identity, that Britishness might be ‘reconstituted’.33 At one
point he says, ‘We . . . need to redefine Britishness in more acceptable terms’.34 He
commends retaining, within our heritage, its emphasis upon freedom, individuality
and autonomy, and its pronounced display of ‘decency’ towards outsiders.

Now I leave to one side the very difficult question of who ‘we’ are who might
construct a new identity, redefine, reconstitute and refashion British identity. I also
leave to one side the question of how this might be possible, for it is moot just how
malleable national identities are. I leave these questions aside since John White’s
recommendation is interesting in this present context for the fact that it presup-
poses what is also at work in Eamonn Callan’s proposal, namely that there is an
Archimedean point, outside traditions, identities, projects, and communities, from
which one can assess the constitutive elements of these traditions as worthy ideals,
deserving to be promoted. To repeat, it is not as Britons that we know ourselves
lucky to have decency and freedom as part of what it means to be British. It is as
individuals who have critical moral reason as our resource.

The relevant critical points here should not be laboured. The basic claim is fairly
simple. There is an unhappy tension between the demand that patriotism be taught
and the recognition that critical reason is somehow corrosive of the conditions for
the possibility of that teaching. The view that it is good to be patriotic, that it is of
benefit to have citizens who love their country, is one that is defensible by critical
reason. Yet that defence cannot itself motivate people to be patriots. We are patriots
by not reasoning on the merits of our being so. We are patriots because we do not
question whether we should be or not. We are enjoined as patriots to make the
best of our own tradition. Yet we can recognise that it is a tradition which is worth
improving, and we have the means to assess how best it might be improved, not by
being patriots but by being critical moral reasoners. Patriots make the best of their
own tradition but it is not as patriots that they know what is best.
Hobsbawm said that historians cannot be nationalists, for nationalism requires
too much belief in what is not the case. Callan says that a history in civic, that
is patriotic education, cannot be objective history, ‘history tout court’. Galston
argues that, by contrast with history tout court, ‘a civic education requires a
more noble, moralizing history’. If we are to teach in this way we must select,
exaggerate, forget, mythologize, fictionalise, and lie. Yet the telos of education
is surely truth, its regulative ideals those of critical reason. An education which
consciously teaches patriotism is arguably unworthy of its calling. An education
which is faifthful to the ideal of rootless critical reason cannot teach patriotism. An
education which forgets what it is doing when it teaches patriotism is arguably no
education at all.
Is there no way beyond this dilemma? It certainly seems hard to survive in any
conscious awareness of the terms of the dilemma. In a recent piece Yael Tamir has
tried to defend a compartmentalization of belief.35 Acknowledging that national
identities are, and need to be, sustained by historical myths and forgetfulness, Tamir
argues that there may, nevertheless, be good reasons for taking steps to acquire (or
retain) false beliefs. If it is rational to be a patriot it may be rational to accept some

things on less than rational grounds. Yet the success of this strategy requires that
one not recognise that one believes a falsehood. Moreover the ability to believe
what is not true must operate only in the area where holding and acting on such
belief is functional. It must not be a general cognitive failing. The only way this
can be done is by a ‘compartmentalization’ of belief. In some areas I should believe
what is rationally warranted; in others I should believe what is false because so to
believe is functionally beneficial. Yet it seems evident that such compartmental-
ization is inherently unstable. The false beliefs in one ‘compartment’ are likely to
conflict with the true beliefs in the other. Any inspection of which beliefs ought
to be believed because true and which ought to be believed because, despite their
falsehood, belief in them serves valued ends can only expose the latter as false and
erode the grounds for holding them.
One might – to take another tack – argue that one can be faithful to one’s own
tradition without betraying the terms of basic, universal human morality. Thus an
American can make the best of that which is American and realise ideals – of
equality and liberty – which transcend America. This is because a minimal, ‘thin’
morality of universal scope is embedded in the maximal, ‘thick’, morality which is
constitutive of the American, British, French, or whatever national tradition. This
is Michael Walzer’s claim.36 But it is also a pledge of faith in the capacity of all
cultures, all locally constituted patriae, to display, in some form and to some extent,
universal human values. Where that capacity is absent from a particular society
internal criticism of its morality, making the best of its tradition, is exhausted before
these minimal, universal values are or can be broached.37 Moreover the existence
of some kind of division between a universal and a particular morality provides the
basis for tension: By what standards is a tradition criticised, immanently by its own
or by those which are common to all traditions? Is a tradition the best instantiation
of that universal morality or could it be improved?

The probem is this. The liberal polity, if it is to survive, requires that its citizens
patriotically identify with one another and with the project which that polity repre-
sents. Yet, if we teach patriotism civic education betrays the ideals which, arguably,
are constitutive of any proper education, chiefly a commitment to the standards of
critical reason. Perhaps the way forward lies in recognising that we should not
teach patriotism because we do not need to. Two facts are relevant here. The first
is that we are members of our patria in advance of our education. The second is
that any education must be particularistic in ways that, without explicitly teaching
it, favour the acquisition of patriotism.
First, it is hard not to care about who we are and, in as much as our nationality is
a constitutive part of our identity, we care about our nationality. David Miller thinks
that our nationality is ‘an essential part of our identity’,38 and Tamir also believes
that ‘membership in a nation is a constitutive factor of personal identity’.39 These

are empirical claims. It is a further psychological fact about human beings that we
seek to represent and understand what we are and have done in the best possible
light. No one is capable of examining herself and her own history with ruthless,
dispassionate and unremitting honesty. We do not see this as a defect of reason
but rather as the endearing immodesty of fallible creatures who must survive in a
difficult world. Enduring and systematic self-deception in respect of some major
personal failing, or a blindness to one’s own serious misdeeds, would rightly attract
criticism. But a failure to depict every wart in one’s own self-portrait should not.
Second it is true that in a very obvious sense every particular state-based
education teaches a national, though not a nationalist, curriculum. Thus the educa-
tion of British children teaches them about the history of Britain – the lives of
British people, the factors that shaped and made the present Britain, the various
constitutive periods, key events and major figures of that history. It teaches them,
in geography, about their particular environment, its distinctive characteristics and
spatial configuration, natural resources, population distribution, and outstanding
features. It teaches them their language and its culture, its literary heritage and in so
doing, of course, introduces them to writers, artists and musicians who have them-
selves celebrated, recorded, and reflected upon, that history and environment.40 A
restriction in scope as to what is taught is understandable and defensible inasmuch
as one is teaching the members of this particular society, its future citizens. Such a
restriction does not, of itself, amount to an unconditional or blinkered endorsement.
One can teach the history or culture of a nation in a manner that is scrupulously
honest and dispassionate.
We care about who we are and any particular education tells us who we are.
It is not that there is any problematic obligation to make the best of what is one’s
own. Rather it is an understandable and brute fact about us that we do. Education
plays its proper part not in teaching us to be patriots but in teaching us what it
is that we are, as we may be so inclined by our natures to be, patriotic about. It
does not commend our identity to us so much as clarify that identity for our own
extra-curricular commendation.
It is perhaps worth adding that education does not, here, do anything remark-
able. Our assimilation of a particular national identity is accomplished by many
mundane, quotidian factors in our environment. We are constantly reminded of
our Britishness by myriad daily occurrences and circumstances: what is reported
and given priority in our newspapers and television; the presumed identification
with national sporting representatives; the prevalence of flags, symbols, and other
emblems of nationality in public spaces; the accepted and barely noticed rituals,
events and ceremonies of Britishness. In this respect we live, breathe, and uncon-
sciously practise a national identity which is ‘flagged’ in numerous ordinary ways
every day. Such nationalism is ‘banal’.41


There are at least two problems with the suggested approach which need to be
considered. The first is whether or not clarity about what is one’s own will not,
at some point, lead one to disown one’s patria. It is, of course, consistent with
being a patriot that one should regret or feel guilt for the actions of one’s patria.
One is no less a lover of something for the recognition of the loved one’s errors.
Indeed one cares more for the failings of something or someone one cares about.
Yet Callan cites the recommendation that Americans honestly confront their past
history of racial brutality and degradation. He comments that the ‘unqualified
revulsion towards the past’ elicited by such a ‘morally critical approach’ is incon-
sistent with the requirement that citizens feel themselves to be united in an ethically
valuable future project of national progress. Against a background of ‘history as
moral wasteland’ there can be no rational belief in such progress.42
Of course it is unlikely that any national history is an unrelieved moral waste-
land. Against the background of general social failure there are stories to be told
of individual heroism and integrity. In such tales will be found the meagre but
important resources for a celebration of what it is possible for a nation to be.
Consider the many isolated, if by no means prevalent, instances of courageous
assistance offered Jews by ordinary Germans during the Holocaust. Moreover,
moral redemption is never beyond an individual. Nor should it be considered so
for a nation.
There are limits. We all live in the constant and unavoidable tension between
what we are, have been, and can be, and what we ought to be. At the limit we
may recognise that this tension is unbearable and that we must abandon one of
the elements which constitute it. Let me cite two examples where the teaching
of history is at odds with the self-understanding of members of a tradition, the
first from Northern Ireland and the second from South Africa. The Battle of the
Boyne, 1689, is celebrated annually by Northern Ireland’s Unionist population
as the victory of religious liberty over Catholic, and alien, tyranny. In fact the
victorious William IV was backed by the Pope, and the war, in which the battle
figured, had more to do with European dynastic struggles than general political
ideals. There used to hang in Stormont, the site of the Northern Ireland Parliament,
a painting believed to be by Van der Muelen showing William being blessed by an
allegorical Pope. In the Thirties it was slashed by Protestants and removed to the
vaults.43 In remarkably similar fashion Eugene Terreblanche and members of the
neo-facist Afrikaans Resistance Movement disrupted a conference in March 1979
at which a leading South African historian was about to deliver a paper sceptical of
claims made concerning the Covenant, and tarred and feathered the speaker.44 The
1838 Covenant is celebrated as a key emblematic moment of Afrikaner history, yet
many of the important claims made in celebration of it are false or exaggerated.
In these two instances the particular terms of an identity could only be preserved
by the attempted literal destruction of the truth. A civic education should not

sanitize or sentimentalise a national past for fear of provoking such reactions.

Nor should it do so – to move to the other pole of the tension between truth
and communal self-understanding – for fear that the truth will alienate, and that
individuals will abandon their patria. Patriotism must have its limit, and that is
given when making the best of one’s own patria is not good enough. Someone
may justifiably feel that she must renounce her own nation because it cannot be
improved or because such improvement as can be made is morally not worth the
effort. Education can and should play its honest part in making that possible.
The second problem with the approach suggested is one that does not appear
to be acknowledged by either Galston or Callan. Their failure to do so is signalled
by their continuous assumption that the tradition, project, history, or culture, which
must be optimally represented or maximally improved, is singular. The talk is of
‘a’ or ‘this’ tradition. Yet such an assumption is problematic for two important
and interrelated reasons. First, we all have several identities. We are members of
nations, but also members of racial, religious, cultural, regional, civic, economic,
and other groupings. Our nationality is but one element of an heterogeneous iden-
tity. It need not be the most important element, nor need it be consistent with the
other elements. Second, a national identity may itself be multiple and fractured.
Consider what it is to be South African or Northern Irish. A Black Briton conceives
of his identity in an essentially different way from a white Briton. As may a black
American and a white American. In sum, our nature as individuals today is marked
by a simultaneous fragmentation and proliferation of identities. As Michael Walzer
marvellously expresses it, ‘There still are boundaries, but they are blurred by all the
crossings. We still know ourselves to be this or that, but the knowledge is uncertain,
for we are also this and that’.45
To be fair Callan sees the problem in part when he speaks of how African-
Americans may feel alienated from a culture which appears to them as that of
their privileged oppressors. He suggests that there are two responses, one a repu-
diation of that culture, the other, more radical, the construction of an alternative
self-contained (Afrocentric) tradition and moral resource.46 He is critical of both,
especially the latter, and insists that ‘what is best in the tradition is the rightful
inheritance of all children’.47 Yet that claim still presupposes that there is a single,
homogeneous tradition of which all are legatees. The disaffection of African-
Americans might be better expressed not as a rejection of ‘the’ inherited tradition
or as the embracing of another tradition, but rather as internal to and divisive of
‘the’ inheritance. Its nature is such that it represents a challenge to the very idea
that ‘the’ tradition is indeed unitary.
This problem has considerable educational import. For it undermines the simple
assumption that the curriculum can be constituted by a single unproblematic
history, or culture, or tradition. It has been argued that a civic education could
continue to be governed by the ideal of truth yet be truthful about the particular
patria in which the education is conducted. On this basis there would perhaps be
no unresolvable tension between civic education and patriotism. Education could

recognise that people start out as the members of specific nations. Teaching a
nation’s future citizens about their nation need not of itself be a patriotic education
in the sense of being a blinkered or sentimental education. Education need not
dispense with the standards of critical reason. Yet if education cannot presume the
singleness of the tradition it seeks to pass on then it cannot play the suggested role.
This, to repeat, was not the patriotic commendation of a tradition but merely the
clarification of a tradition whose members would, independently of that education,
be disposed to care for.
Both Callan and Galston saw the need for civic education to be centrifugal, to
secure an integration of the citizenry in the face of pluralism, the centripetal and
divisive pull in the direction of the various attachments and identities citizens have
in a modern society. If that pluralism does in fact infect the very terms of our shared
membership of the patria, the otherwise simple assumption of all being at least co-
nationals, then the choices are stark. Either a civic education must teach, in the
face of difference, that there is one patria. Or it should accommodate difference
by representing that patria, its tradition, culture and history as multiple. This, of
course, could be accomplished by a literal separation of schooling or by importing
heterogeneity into the common curriculum.
Whatever the choice made there can be no return to the simple pieties of the
pamphlet from which I quoted at the outset. I remarked upon its unabashed confi-
dence in the rightness both of its motivating patrioitsm and of the teaching of this
patriotism. That confidence is no longer with us. Nor can it now be recovered. Once
the ground on which such patriotism, and its teaching, stood has been revealed as
uneven, shifting, fractured by fault lines, it cannot simply be reconstituted. Or, at
least, education cannot play any part in doing so and remain true to its constitutive
ideals of critical reason.

1 Board of Education, Welsh Department: 1916, Patriotism. Suggestions to Local Education Author-
ities & Teachers in Wales Regarding the Teaching of Patriotism, HMSO, London.
2 Archard, David: 1995, ‘Political Philosophy and the Concept of the Nation’, Journal of Value
Inquiry 29, 379–392.
3 Miller, David: 1995, On Nationality, Clarendon Press, Oxford; Tamir, Yael: 1993, Liberal Nation-
alism, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ; Buchanan, Allen: 1991, Secession, Westview Press,
Boulder, Co.; Taylor, Charles: ‘The Politics of Recognition’, in Amy Gutman (ed.), Multiculturalism
and the “Politics of Recognition”, Princeton University Press, Princeton, pp. 25–73; Walzer, Michael:
1983, Spheres of Justice, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, Chapter 2 ‘Membership’.
4 Gellner, Ernest: 1964, Thought and Change, Wiedenfeld and Nicolson, London, p. 149.
5 Gellner, Ernest: 1983, Nations and Nationalism, Oxford, p. 1.
6 Smith, A. D.: 1971, Theories of Nationalism, Duckworth, London, p. 21.
7 Considerations on Representative Government in John Stuart Mill, Three Essays, Oxford Univer-
sity Press, Oxford, pp. 381–382.
8 Liberal Nationalism, p. 118.
9 Ibid., p. 163.
10 ‘In What Sense Must Socialism be Communitarian?’ Social Philosophy and Policy 6 (1988), 51–

73; ‘The Ethical Significance of Nationality’, Ethics 98 (1988), 647–662; ‘In Defence of Nationality’,
Journal of Applied Philosophy 10 (1993), 3–16.
11 On Nationality, pp. 96–98.
12 Scruton, Roger: 1990, ‘In Defence of the Nation’, in J.C.D. Clark (ed.), Ideas and Politics in
Modern Britain, Macmillan, London, pp. 53–86, and reprinted in his The Philosopher on Dover
Beach, Carcanet, Manchester, 1990.
13 Galston, William: 1991, Liberal Purposes: Goods. Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State,
Cambridge, pp. 243–244.
14 Callan, Eamonn: 1997, Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy, Oxford,
p. 106.
15 Ibid., pp. 105–108.
16 Ibid., p. 111.
17 Ibid., p. 112.
18 Ibid., p. 113.
19 Ibid., p. 119.
20 Hobsbawm, E. J.: 1990, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality,
Cambridge, p. 12.
21 Creating Citizens, p. 122.
22 Ibid., p. 123.
23 Jürgen Habermas has famously offered an influential defence, in the German context, of ‘consti-
tutional patriotism’, loyalty to the liberal democratic principles of the postwar constitution; see his
‘Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the Future of Europe’, Praxi International
12 (1992), 1–19.
24 See his Is Patriotism a Virtue?, The Lindley Lecture, The University of Kansas, 1984.
25 Liberal Nationalism, pp. 65 and 66.
26 On Nationality, pp. 25–26.
27 I argue this in my ‘Nationalism and political theory’, in Noel O’Sullivan (ed.), Political Theory
in Transition, UCL Press, London, forthcoming 1999.
28 MacIntyre, Alasdair: 1984, Is Patriotism a Virtue?, The Lindley Lecture, The University of
Kansas, p. 4.
29 I endorse something very like his own ideal of making the best of one’s own tradition in my,
‘Three Ways to be a Good Patriot’, Public Affairs Quarterly 9(2) (April 1995), 101–113.
30 Creating Citizens, p. 119.
31 Ibid., pp. 130–131.
32 White, John: 1996, ‘Education and Nationality’, Journal of Philosophy of Education 30(3), 327–
33 Ibid., pp. 336 and 337.
34 Ibid., p. 335, my emphasis.
35 Tamir, Yael: 1996, ‘Reconstructing the Landscape of Imagination’, in Simon Caney, David
George and Peter Jones (eds.), National Rights, International Obligations, Westview Press, Oxford,
pp. 84–101, at pp. 94–98.
36 Walzer, Michael: 1994, Thick and Thin: Moral Argument at Home and Abroad, University of
Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame.
37 See Walzer’s much-cited discussion of Indian caste society in his Spheres of Justice, A Defence
of Pluralism and Equality, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1983, pp. 312–316.
38 Miller, On Nationality, p. 10.
39 Tamir, Liberal Nationalism, p. 73.
40 See, for instance, the sections on History and English in The National Curriculum, Department
of Education, HMSO, London.
41 Billig, Michael: 1995, Banal Nationalism, Sage, London.
42 Creating Citizens, p. 99.
43 The painting is reproduced, and story of its slashing recounted, besides an article by Roy Porter
on the real and mythical significance of the Battle of the Boyne, The Observer, 12 July 1998, p. 31.
44 Thompson, Leonard: 1985, The Political Mythology of Apartheid, Yale University Press, New
Haven and London, pp. 213–214.
45 Walzer, Michael: 1997, On Toleration, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, p. 90.
46 Creating Citzens, §36 ‘Whose Tradition?’
47 Ibid., p. 125.