From: Essays on the Principles of Morality, and on the Private and Political Rights and Obligations of Mankind (1834).
Author: Jonathan Dymond
Published: Harper & Brothers 1834 Philadelphia


  WE are presented with a beautiful subject of contemplation, when we discover that the principles which Christianity advances upon its own authority are recommended and enforced by their practical adaptation to the condition and the wants of man. With such a subject I think we are presented in the case of patriotism.

  “Christianity does not encourage particular patriotism in opposition to general benignity.”1 If it did, it would not be adapted for the world. The duties of the subject of one state would often be in opposition to those of the subject of another, and men might inflict evil or misery upon neighbour nations in conforming to the Christian law. Christianity is designed to benefit, not a community, but the world. The promotion of the interests of one community by injuring another,—that is, “patriotism in opposition to general benignity,”—it utterly rejects as wrong; and in doing this, it does that which in a system of such wisdom and benevolence we should expect.—“The love of our country,” says Adam Smith, “seems not to be derived from the love of mankind.”2

  I do not mean to say that the word patriotism is to be found in the New Testament, or that it contains any disquisitions respecting the proper extent of the love of our country,—but I say that the universality of benevolence which Christianity inculcates, both in its essential character and in its precepts, is incompatible with that patriotism which would benefit our own community at the expense of general benevolence. Patriotism, as it is often advocated, is a low and selfish principle,—a principle wholly unworthy of 1hat enlightened and expanded philanthropy which religion proposes.

  Nevertheless, Christianity appears not to encourage the doctrine of being a “citizen of the world,” and of paying no more regard to our own community than to every other. And why? Because such a doctrine is not rational; because it opposes the exercise of natural and virtuous feelings; and because if it were attempted to be reduced to practice, it may be feared that it would destroy confined benignity without effecting a counterbalancing amount of universal philanthropy. This preference of our own nation is indicated in that strong language of Paul, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites.”3 And a similar sentiment is inculcated by the admonition,—“As we ban, therefore, opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.”4 In another place the same sentiment is applied to more private life;—“If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith.”5

  All this is perfectly consonant with reason and with nature. Since the helpless and those who need assistance must obtain it somewhere, where can they so rationally look for it, where shall they look for it at all, except from those with whom they are connected in society? If these do not exercise benignity towards them, who will? And as to the dictate of nature, it is a law of nature that a man shall provide for his own. He is prompted to do this by the impulse of nature. Who indeed shall support and cherish and protect a child if his parents do not? That speculative philosophy is vain which would supplant these dictates by doctrines of general philanthropy. It cannot be applicable to human affairs until there is an alteration in the human constitution. Not only religion therefore, but reason and nature reject that philosophy which teaches that no man should prefer or aid another because he is his countryman, his neighbour, or his child:—for even this, the philosophy has taught us; and we have been seriously told that, in pursuance of general philanthropy, we ought not to cherish or support our own offspring in preference to other children. The effect of these doctrines, if they were reduced to practice, would be, not to diffuse universal benevolence, but to contract or destroy the charities of men for their families, their neighbours, and their country. It is an idle system of philosophy which sets out with extinguishing those principles of human nature which the Creator has implanted for wise and good ends. He that shall so far succeed in practising this philosophy as to look with indifference upon his parent, his wife, and his son, will not often be found with much zeal to exercise kindness and benevolence to the world at large.

  Christianity rejects alike the extravagance of patriotism and the extravagance of seeming philanthropy. Its precepts are addressed to us as men with human constitutions, and as men in society. But to cherish and support my own child rather than others; to do good to my neighbours rather than to strangers; to benefit my own country rather than another nation does not imply that we may injure other nations, or strangers, or their children, in order to do good to our own. Here is the point for discrimination,—a point which vulgar patriotism and vulgar philosophy have alike overlooked.

  The proper mode in which patriotism should be exercised is that which does not necessarily respect other nations. He is the truest patriot who benefits his own country without diminishing the welfare of another. For which reason, those who induce improvements in the administration of justice, in the maxims of governing, in the political constitution of the state,—or those who extend and rectify the education, or in any other manner amend the moral or social condition of a people, possess incomparably higher claims to the praise of patriotism than multitudes of those who receive it from the popular voice.

  That patriotism which is manifested in political partisanship is frequently of a very questionable kind. The motives to this partisanship are often for other than the love of our country, even when the measure which a party pursues tends to the country’s good; and many are called patriots of whom both the motives and the actions are pernicious or impure. The most vulgar and unfounded talk of patriotism is that which relates to the agents of military operations. In general, the patriotism is of a kind which Christianity condemns: because it is “in opposition to general benignity.” It does more harm to another country than good to our own. In truth, the merit often consists in the harm that is done to another country, with but little pretensions to benefiting our own. These agents therefore, if they were patriotic at all, would commonly be so in an unchristian sense. And as to their being influenced by patriotism as a motive, the notion is ordinarily quite a fiction. When a Frenchman is sent with ten thousand others into Spain, or a Spaniard with an army into France, he probably is so far from acting the patriot that he does not know whether his country would not be more benefited by throwing down his arms: nor probably does he know about what the two nations are quarrelling. Men do not enter armies because they love their countries, but because they want a living, or are pleased with a military life: and when they have entered, they do not fight because they love their country, but because fighting is their business. At the very moment of fighting the nation at home is perhaps divided in opinion as to the propriety of carrying on the war. One party maintains that the war is beneficial, and one that it is ruining the nation. But the soldier, for whatever he fights, and whether really in promotion of his country’s good or in opposition to it, is secure of his praise.

  All this is sufficiently deceptive and absurd: the delusion would be ridiculous if the topic were not too grave for ridicule. It forms one among the many fictions by which the reputation of military affairs is kept up. Why such fictions are needful to the purpose it may be wise for the reader to inquire, I suppose the cause is, that truth and reality would not serve the purposes of military reputation, and therefore that recourse is had to pleasant fictions. This may however have been done without a distinct consciousness, on the part of the inventors, of the delusions which they spread. I do not wholly coincide with the writer who says,—The love of our country is one of those specious illusions which have been invented by impostors in order to render the multitude the blind instruments of their crooked designs.”6 The love of our country is a virtuous motive of action the “specious illusion” consists in calling that “love of our country” which ought to be called by a far other name. As to those who have thus misnamed human motives and actions. I know not whether they have often been such wily impostors. The probable supposition is, that they have frequently been duped themselves He whom ambition urged on to conquest tried to persuade himself, and perhaps did persuade himself, that he was actuated by the love of his country. He persuaded, also, his followers in arms; and they no doubt were sufficiently willing to hope that they were influenced by such a motive. But, in whatever manner the fiction originated, a fiction it assuredly is; and the circumstance that it is still industriously imposed upon the world is no inconsiderable evidence that the system which it is employed to encourage would shrink from the eye of virtue and the light of truth.

  Upon the whole, we shall act both safely and wisely in lowering the relative situation of patriotism in the scale of Christian virtues. It is a virtue; but it is far from the greatest or the highest. The world has given to it an unwarranted elevation,—an elevation to which it has no pretensions in the view of truth; and if the friends of truth consign it to its proper station, it is probable that there will be fewer spurious pretensions to its praise.

1 Bishop Watson.
2 Theo. Mor. Sent. The limitation with which this opinion should be regarded we shall presently propose.
3 Rom. ix. 3.
4 Gal. vi. 10.
5 1 Tim. v.3.
6 Godwin: Pol. Justice, v.ii. p. 514.

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