Patriotism and Creedal America

Sharing a national creed is supposed to enable Americans to avoid the European nation-state model of national identity. In that model, a state is the state of a people, and peoples are defined by a shared territory, religion, language, and ethnicity. A creed, on the other hand, is potentially universal. If what’s required for citizenship is endorsing a creed, then one can belong to any nation or no nation and still be a good citizen.

But if creed is criterial for belonging, it would seem to follow that those who don’t endorse the creed don’t belong.

On the European model, the idea that your nationality would depend on your beliefs is out of place. I don’t believe it has ever occurred to my English wife to worry about the “Englishness” of her beliefs or those of others. In creedal America, things are different. If the creed includes respect for property, does that mean American socialists are somehow un-American? If the creed is egalitarian, are libertarians less than full citizens?

The situation is complicated by the fact that a substantial number of Americans do not regard the country as a creedal polity. One aspect of current partisan hate has to do with changes in what it means to be a Democrat or a Republican. It’s no longer just a matter of left versus right. Now, each party represents a different concept of American national identity. Roughly speaking, these two are in play:

Creedal nationalism, or the cosmopolitan, civic state: American citizenship is based on endorsing a family of principles expressed in the founding documents.

Ethno-nationalism, or the nation-state: Americans are a people based on territorial, religious, racial, linguistic, and cultural commonalities.

What to do? Continue reading

Why do Americans on the left and right hate each other so much?

It’s largely because people increasingly derive their personal identity from their membership in a group, and that makes it much easier to fear and hate members of other groups. There’s more to it, of course, but political identity – whether one is a Democrat or Republican – has become a far more important aspect of personal identity than it once was. And when people see one another as members of groups rather than as individual moral agents, there’s going to be trouble.

If your identity is derived from group membership, and especially if you have no other identity, it is much easier to hate members of other groups than if you regard yourself and others first and foremost as individual moral agents.

If you see others as nothing but representatives of groups, moral considerations based on individual worth are easy to ignore. Members of a group will be held responsible for the injustices you attribute to their group, and the respect you’re required to show members of your group can be denied to members of other groups.

Relatedly, you can hate people, not because they personally are hurting you or your group, but because they belong to a group that is hurting you or your group. Continue reading