Love of country can mean a lot of things. Many of them don’t seem to apply from my standpoint. It can mean:
- Love of the principles for which the country stands. What are those principles in America today, though—individual economic success? National strength? Global democracy? Inclusiveness and tolerance? Those are all good things within limits, but taken literally as final comprehensive goals—which is how people seem to take them—they strike me as destructive and certainly not lovable. “One nation under God” suggests limits to the other principles, but it’s probably too content-free to do much, and in any event seems to have dropped out of polite discourse.
- Love of a particular people. But the whole point of American national thought, feeling and public morality today is that there is no particular American people. Those who think there is are evil and un-American. And if the whole of America with one voice says that acceptable definitions of the American people have to limit themselves to some combination of legality, ideology and team membership, who am I to disagree?
- Love of a particular place. America’s too big for that as a whole, though, and American localities are becoming less distinctive and less important in the scheme of things. Also, the American built environment tends to be inhuman, alienating and generic. It’s possible to love New England villages or mid-American county seats, but we’re not in the 19th century so that kind of place does not define America.
- Love of characteristic ways of doing things, or characteristic people, places, habits, connections, situations and attitudes. Someone might like American popular culture, California girls, the American supermarket, the American attitude toward enterprise and mobility, or all of the above. Even people who don’t especially like such things might be used to them and find it uncomfortable to live away from them. Those things change, though, and a lot of them seem to be going downhill, losing their distinctiveness, or both. Also, love of country can’t simply be love of minor habits.
- Love of a reconstructed or idealized America: America as it was or could be or perhaps—one might claim—most truly is. Is that love of the actual country though?
To my mind love of America seems somewhat like love of a large and troublesome extended family operating a loosely organized business, if such a thing can be imagined: you depend on them, they’ve made you what you are, you care what happens to them and wish for the best, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with them or approve of what they do or who else they bring into the family. Nor does it mean they necessarily have much in common except family membership.
It’s likely to mean you have some idea of how things could be better that’s connected to your idea of what they’ve been and what’s best in them. To that extent love of family is connected to a vision of reconstructed or idealized family life. Most basically, though, it’s attachment and concern with people just as they are because you’re connected to them. For that reason another analogy would be to for a small and somewhat isolated town where your family, and most families, have lived for generations. You don’t idealize the place, but you’re part of it and it’s part of you so you want what’s best for it and for those who live there.