The dominant ideologies in the West are individualistic. Libertarians, who have a much larger following than the number of people who vote for libertarian candidates for public office would suggest, see the world as composed of individuals acting as free, autonomous agents. As they see it, the aggregation of their votes guides the polity just as the aggregation of their purchases guides the economy. In their judgment, any intervention in their preferences is suspect and should be minimized. Laissez-faire conservatives hold similar viewpoints. The government that governs least governs best. Liberals are much more attuned to social factors, yet to the extent that they are preoccupied with human and individual rights, they too are individual-centered.
However, as communitarians like me have shown, individuals—at least the kind who can be reasonable and responsible citizens—are the product of communities and need communities to ensure their stability and flourishing. As I once put it, in a popular vein: The Me needs the We to Be. The patriotic movement will have to take note that the erosion of community is a major factor that drives populism, which in turn undermines both democracy and social stability. As Yoram Hazony put it, “National cohesion is the secret ingredient that allows free institutions to exist, the bedrock on which a functioning democracy is built.”1 Hence this movement will have to make shoring up communities a key element of its agenda.
The idea of community evokes various responses—including hope, a sense of connectedness, fear, and cynicism. This variety is understandable; community is a complex, variegated concept. Communities can be morally uplifting or highly troubling, because they can promote rather different values. Gangs are communities. So are the chapters of the KKK. It is best to think about communities (and the social bonds they entail) as pipelines: the stronger the bonds, the more social “business” the community can carry. However, what flows in these pipes, the content of the values the social bonds help introduce and enforce, can vary a great deal. We shall see that a new core of national values is what is now called for. We do not just need to shore up communal bonds; we need also to ensure that they support the appropriate values.
Social movements typically form new communities. There was no working class before socialism. There were workers, to be sure, but they had no sense of shared communal bonds, values, agenda, and future before Fabian socialists and Marx. There were no environmentalist communities before Rachel Carson. Now people from various social groups need to come together to form new communities, to provide the social base for the patriotic movement.
There is a widely held belief that if people of different backgrounds meet, they will listen to each other and form new bridges. (A whole school of sociology at the University of Chicago was based on this assumption.)2 Such meetings, however, often reinforce rather than transform their participants’ prejudices, including about each other. A study found that Republicans and Democrats formed even more conservative or liberal views, respectively, after being exposed to messages from elected officials, thought leaders, and think tanks from the opposing party on Twitter.3 When people meet as partisans, framing their encounter with each other in terms of their party identifications, they tend to fit new facts into their old gestalts by interpreting the facts to suit their predispositions.4 Hence the importance for the patriotic movement to fashion new meeting grounds that encourage people to draw on other identifications they have—we all have multiple identities—and be more inclined to form new gestalts.
For instance, if people meet at firehouses as firefighters or emergency medical services (EMS) providers rather than as Democrats or Republicans, they will tend to leave behind their political preconceptions and work together for a common cause. (Of the 1.2 million registered fire department personnel in the US, approximately 865,000 are volunteer workers, and 195,000 are classified as “mostly volunteer” workers.)5 These meeting grounds serve as a good example of places in which one can find or develop the kind of leaders and founding members the patriotic movement needs to take off and grow.
Many veterans are similarly well suited to launch patriotic chapters because many of them are accustomed to and comfortable with speaking in terms of service to the nation. Historically, veterans groups in the US have been associated with conservative causes, and liberals often have ceded patriotism to the Right. Richard Rorty called the American Left “unpatriotic,” claiming: “It refuses to rejoice in the country it inhabits. It repudiates the idea of a national identity, and the emotion of national pride.”6 However, just as liberals have learned not to cede family to the Right (but to redefine it), liberals now need to reembrace patriotism (and help ensure it does not turn into xenophobia and jingoism). Veterans should join with others to refurbish the national bonds that can contain and curtail polarization and enable the democratic polity to function again. One may view the fact that many of the most successful Democratic candidates in the 2018 election primaries were veterans as a sign that this approach has political legs.
To proceed, the patriotic movement needs to develop a political strategy that puts on one side the people, the public, the 99 percent; and on the other side the small elites, those with deep pockets, the special interest groups, the 1 percent. It differs from strategies that seek to build coalitions based on color or gender or age, or some combination of these, strategies that, by definition, leave out one or more major segments of the population. The patriotic movement should view all Americans as potential allies and not a priori write off anybody. This strategy does not prevent anyone from pursuing identity-specific agendas, but they should follow those through other associations. Just as the environmental movement does not deal with women’s right to choose or absorb the missions of the ACLU, the patriotic movement should focus on issues directly tied to its missions and that speak potentially to most if not all members of society.
A Preliminary Platform
The patriotic movement’s platform must rise from a national moral dialogue—and cannot, and should not, be forged by some public intellectual or a handful of them. I can imagine that such a platform would include the following:
The Patriotic Movement is seeking to promote national unity and the common good.
As patriots, we love our country. We are not blind to its flaws but refuse to allow these to define who we are, as we dedicate ourselves to work for a “more perfect union.”
We strongly favor candidates for public office who are committed to supporting the common good while they advocate for the special needs and interests of the various constituents or social groups they represent or speak for.
We are troubled by the polarization that prevents effective government. We hence strongly favor candidates for public office who do not consider working with the other party a betrayal, who do not demonize their opponents, and who compete fairly.
We strongly favor candidates who are seeking campaign finance reforms that limit the role of private money in public hands.
We are keen to protect our national sovereignty. We support multilateral and international institutions but only to the extent their policies do not harm my country’s interests and do not violate its values.
(I use the phrase “strongly favor” to indicate that I realize that the extent to which a candidate is patriotic cannot be the only factor determining one’s support. However, it should be a very major consideration.)
The Patriotic Movement is out to promote:
- • A year of national service for all Americans. Initially, enrollment will be voluntary but encouraged by colleges and employers according special recognition to those who served, akin—but not equivalent—to the recognition awarded to veterans.
- • Teaching civics in all public and private schools. These classes should be dedicated to introducing the next generation to the values we all share and the nation we cherish.
- • Welcome English. Finding volunteers to teach new immigrants English. In the process volunteers would learn to know the immigrants personally, introduce immigrants to the values of their new homeland, and, in turn, learn about the contributions immigrants can make to the community.
- • Conducting local and national moral dialogues on defining the common good and ways to advance it.
One may well ask, What is the position of the patriotic movement on inequality, the wars in the Middle East, and many other issues? Some of the answers can be derived from the principles already laid out; others will arise out of moral dialogues. However, one should not expect the patriotic movement to have a position on all issues. Thus one may draw on another organization if one is keen to promote animal rights or oppose gentrification and so on.
I further can imagine people creating a lapel pin composed of their nation’s flag and a “P” imposed on it, an image they would carry as well on the cover of their laptops, notebooks, and T-shirts.
Naturally, to a significant extent, the initial efforts of the patriotic movement will be focused, like other movements before it, on mobilizing support, finding members, and forming local chapters. At the same time, the movement will need to launch and nurture moral dialogues to develop its platform beyond the elementary planks outlined above that flow from the essence of the movement’s nation-building purpose. The patriotic movement will be well served if it adds activities or projects for its members to engage in, above and beyond the “normal” ones of forming positions and promoting them through the political process through voting and lobbying.
One major candidate for such projects is to find volunteers to teach English to immigrant adults, many of whom experience great difficulties when they seek to find such classes. The greater the number of immigrants who learn English, and the more quickly they do so, the more they will find their way into society, and the easier it will be for current members of society to learn to know them. Moreover, the volunteers would “automatically” share American norms with their immigrant students. And the volunteers’ personal relations with the immigrants would help the volunteers to see the immigrants as humans rather than viewing them in terms of the labels “foreign born” and “undocumented immigrants.”
The same may be said about mentoring. Mentorship programs exist in many forms. Some of the most common include community members mentoring at-risk youth by providing educational support and life coaching, often through a structured program such as Big Brothers Big Sisters; university-level mentorship, where academic or professionals provide guidance and support for undergraduate or graduate students studying in the same field; peer-to-peer mentorships, where youth separated by only a few years cultivate a mentor-mentee relationship; sports mentorships, where an adult volunteers time and energy to coach youth and foster relationships with team members; and professional mentorships, where a mentor teaches a protégé the trade.
Studies consistently show that students in mentorship programs have fewer unexcused absences than students who are not in mentorship programs, have better attitudes toward school and education, and demonstrate a greater investment in their studies.7 Undergraduate students receiving mentorship typically demonstrate higher educational attainment and are more likely to return to school the subsequent year.8 Students in mentorship programs are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than their nonmentored peers.9 Further, individuals who are career mentors are found to be more satisfied by their job, more committed to the organization, and have higher perceived career success than those who are not mentors.10
Civic Education: Essential but Woefully Inadequate
An important way to promote patriotism is to include it in the curriculum of school education on all levels, in a form of enriched, “thicker” civics education. True, civics education of any kind has never been paramount in the US. And it has been on the decline since the early 2000s, as growing pressure by parents and policy makers to teach “academics” has resulted in schools devoting more educational resources to math and sciences and cutting civics classes.11 Currently, only nine states and the District of Columbia require a year of “government” or civics, while thirty-one require simply a half year of either.12 Moreover, “many of the failures in civic education seem to originate from a disagreement regarding what a civics education should include.”13
Further, many states focus on knowledge acquisition such as explaining the differences among the three branches of government, how bills become laws, and so on.14 However, civics education typically does not teach students how to be a responsible citizen, to care about the common good, and to embrace the core values of the nation. Yascha Mounk holds that civics education should take a historical long view of both liberal democracy’s successes as well as its injustices, writing, “One integral part of this education should be an account of the reasons why the principles of liberal democracy retain a special appeal.”15
A still thicker conception is called for. Thick civic education should include the kinds of communitarian ideas that have long played a key role in the American faith, although at various periods have been neglected. E. J. Dionne Jr. sees American history as an “ongoing tension between two core values: our love of individualism and our reverence for community.”16 Dionne finds that all Americans hold these values to varying degrees and that what is now needed is a balance that accepts commitment to both individualism and community.17 Indeed, communitarians have shown that the US tilted too far toward individualism following the Reagan era (and the Thatcher era in the UK), and hence the age requires a rededication to communal values.18
For all these reasons, the patriotic movement should promote the teaching of civics in all levels of school and college.
National Service: Voluntary and “Expected” for Now
Among the major efforts that can be undertaken to shore up the national community, national service is often mentioned. Its advocates hope that it will bring together people from different backgrounds and instill in them the value of service to the common good.19 It is mandatory in some liberal democracies (such as Denmark and South Korea) and has strong supporters in countries where it is not.
Retired US Army general Stanley McChrystal supports a voluntary but socially expected “service year” where “young Americans from different income levels, races, ethnicities, political affiliations and religious beliefs could learn to work together to get things done.”20 Brookings Institution scholar Isabel V. Sawhill favors a universal national service that may not be mandatory but is socially encouraged. Sawhill says national service has strong bipartisan support: Republicans regard it as an obligation or responsibility of citizenship, and Democrats see the value in youth earning work experience.21
Having served myself, I have never doubted the merits of national service, both in terms of forming social bonds among people of different backgrounds and promoting patriotism. However, I was concerned about the high costs involved, and I feared that unless meaningful tasks could be found for those who serve, national service would not bring about an enhanced level of patriotism. However, Isabel Sawhill came up with an ingenious proposal, namely that those who serve be hosted in homes of people who volunteer to take care of them, the way many families do for foreign students. And having observed the Zivildienst in Germany, I have concluded that it is possible to make national service meaningful. I still hold that it would be best to start by making such service expected rather than mandatory, for instance, by asking applicants for work and candidates for public office if they had served. The patriotic movement should encourage its members—and all others—to serve and host, and treat those who served with the respect now accorded to veterans of just wars.
These are but a few examples of projects that patriotic movement members can undertake to combat growing polarization. They all create continual and meaningful relations among people from different backgrounds and engage in pro social activities.
Patriotism Meets Globalism
The patriotic movement will find itself challenged, opposed, and confronted by globalism. Given that this is a relatively new concept and often loosely defined, a few lines follow on what it entails. Globalism approaches issues from a postnational perspective, imagining or fighting for a world in which national values and bonds and hence borders matter much less than they mattered in earlier years. Indeed, some advocates of globalism call for overriding national loyalties altogether. A dictionary defines globalism as “the attitude or policy of placing the interests of the entire world above those of individual nations.”22 Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal writes that globalism is a “mind-set that globalization is natural and good, that global governance should expand as national sovereignty contracts.”23
A major globalist tenet is support of free trade policies that allow goods and services to flow across countries without regard for state borders. Another calls for open borders, allowing people to move freely from one nation to another. Still another promotes universal advancement of human rights. To the extent that human rights advocacy is not combined with a recognition of moral commitments to one’s local and national community, this is an exemplary globalist position. Many public intellectuals, policy makers, and hundreds of millions of citizens subscribe to one or two of these positions but not necessarily to all of them. Globalists may be defined as those who subscribe to several of these positions.24
Anand Giridharadas points out that globalist ideology allowed corporations to pursue “a vision of globalization in which they owed nothing to any community.” The ability to tap into global markets resulted in companies no longer acting with a sense of citizenship or loyalty to the nations in which they started. These corporations skirt the responsibility of serving the community that made them possible by moving their business across the globe to the location that allows them to maximize profits.25 Dani Rodrik points out: “The reality is that we lack the domestic and global strategies to manage globalization’s disruptions. As a result, we run the risk that the social costs will outweigh the narrow economic gains and spark an even worse globalization backlash.”26
Globalists can draw on the works of some very highly respected and influential philosophers and public leaders. They can draw on Immanuel Kant, who hoped that eventually all states could order their polities on these principles and form a global political community. On Woodrow Wilson, who sought a world governed like a federal state.27 And on Peter Singer, who suggests that the utilitarian maxim to seek the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people entails that we owe as much to children on the other side of the world as we owe to our own.
Globalists typically hold at least one of the following three positions: support for free trade; open or more-open borders; and recognition of universal human rights.
Free trade: Milton Friedman, a leading figure of the Chicago school of economics, exemplified globalist trade policy by asserting that “since Adam Smith there has been virtual unanimity among economists, whatever their ideological position on other issues, that international free trade is in the best interests of trading countries and of the world.”28 Think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute in London explicitly state that they are “Globalist in outlook”29 as they advance “free markets to create a richer, freer, happier world.”30
Open borders: Several noted academics have proposed that state borders are inherently unjust and that people should be allowed to move more freely across them. The libertarian scholar Alex Tabarrok made a case for open borders to allow for the free movement of people on economic and moral grounds.31 Joseph Carens has argued that borders should “generally be open” as there is a moral imperative to allow people from developing states to freely move to more developed states to gain access to a higher quality of life.32 Jacob Hornberger writes, “Freedom entails the right to live your life any way you want, so long as your conduct is peaceful.” Thus, “There is only one libertarian position on immigration, and that position is open immigration or open borders.”33
Universal human rights: Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International give primacy to international human rights and humanitarian law over the laws of any particular state. Members of these organizations work to hold state officials and citizens to international law irrespective of whether a given country is a signatory to relevant human rights treaties.
Samuel Huntington coined the term “Davos Men” to describe globalist elites who “have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.”34 Jonathan Haidt proposes that the song “Imagine” by John Lennon serve as the anthem of globalists. Speaking of “Imagine,” Haidt quips: “It is progressive in that it looks forward to a utopian future. It is anti-nationalist and anti-religious. It is, in essence, anti-parochial. Anything that divides people into separate groups or identities is bad; removing borders and divisions is good.”35 As globalist sentiments grow, “local ties weaken, parochialism becomes a dirty word, and people begin to think of their fellow human beings as fellow ‘citizens of the world’ (to quote candidate Barack Obama in Berlin in 2008).”36 Theresa May may not be an outstanding prime minister, but she put it well when she stated: “Too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street. But if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”37
Many who hold one or more globalist positions are willing to allow some qualifications, for instance, exempting farmers from free trade. Martha Nussbaum writes that the Stoics held that “we should give our first allegiance to no mere form of government, no temporal power, but to the moral community made up by the humanity of all human beings.”38At the same time, she argues that while it is “permissible” to be concerned with local and national issues, being global is the best way to advance national goals. Nussbaum argues that nations should develop education systems that give special attention to the history and current affairs of their own country but teach children that—above all else—they are citizens of the world.39
Yuval Noah Harari thinks people are able to maintain nested loyalties, wherein loyalty to the global community does not diminish one’s loyalty to the nation, community, or family.40 As I see it, national and global commitments often come into conflict, for instance when international law and national laws point to different conclusions, and when people must choose between foreign aid and aid to the domestic poor. Harari commented: “In order to confront climate change, we need additional loyalties and commitments to a level beyond the nation. And that should not be impossible, because people can have several layers of loyalty. You can be loyal to your family and to your community and to your nation, so why can’t you also be loyal to humankind as a whole? Of course, there are occasions when it becomes difficult, what to put first, but, you know, life is difficult. Handle it.”41 This flippant line ignores that there are major conflicts between the national level and the global one and that in order to combine them one needs difficult and complex deliberations on how to proceed. For instance, when national laws should take international laws into account and when to ignore or even flout them. Moreover, no one has yet found a way to develop loyalty for the global community akin to the loyalty many hundreds of millions of people feel for their nation.
Globalists tend to view nationalism as a dangerous anachronism. For instance, Jamie Mayerfeld argues that nationalism has the pernicious potential to transpose the darkest parts of human nature onto an extremely powerful entity and that those who identify with it often fail to perceive the violence they perpetrate: “Nationalism is dangerous because it encourages the unjust use of violence. The perpetrators may not see themselves as using violence unjustly. This is not a consolation, however; it is the heart of the problem. When we identify closely with the nation, we are predisposed to see it in a good light, and therefore have difficulty perceiving the injustice it commits.”42
These globalist views fly in the face of often-cited communitarian studies that show that:
(a) Isolated individuals exhibit major psychological problems. James House, Karl Landis, and Debra Umberson, for instance, found that “more socially isolated or less socially integrated individuals are less healthy, psychologically and physically, and more likely to die.”43 John Cacioppo and Louise Hawkley demonstrated that perceived social isolation engenders a ripple of health risks, including depleted ability to cope with stressors, poor sleep, slower healing, hypertension, and so on.44 The same researchers in a later review of the literature concluded that “loneliness is the social equivalent of physical pain, hunger, and thirst.”45 With the literature showing the serious health risks associated with social isolation, the UK has even decided to appoint a minister of loneliness.
(b) People are much more content in meaningful, lasting relationships than in isolation. A study across seventeen countries showed that married people, for example, report significantly higher levels of happiness than unmarried people.46
(c) People cut off from their social moorings are more likely to turn to hostile demagogues for meaning in a society that they believe has alienated them. Sociologists and critical theorists, including the proponents of “mass society theory” in the mid-twentieth century who built on earlier work by Émile Durkheim, have long held that an atomized citizenry of isolated individuals is more easily mobilized by extremist leaders.47 Social media allows charismatic leaders to reach directly to the masses, whereas in the past such communications were largely mediated via the press and local leaders. The individual who is able to deliberate and make considered choices—the basis of both the democratic polity and free market economics—is found among people who feel emotionally secure. That is, if liberalism is to endure, people who have developed communitarian bonds are much more likely to have the temperament that demands than are those who lack such involvement. (Recall that we are dealing with a continuous variable. The reference is not to people who have versus those who do not have communitarian bonds, but to people who have more or less of such support.) In short, a liberal society assumes a communitarian foundation.
Many rest here. However, communitarian bonds provide people with much more:
(d) A core of shared values promoted by informal, noncoercive means. In other words, communities enable people to regulate each other and sort out a great deal of social business without recourse to the power of the state. Bans on smoking in select public places in recent decades, for instance, have resulted in very widespread compliance without the coercion of law enforcement.48 The stronger the communitarian bonds, the less need for policing.49 True, the bonds can become oppressive when they grow too strong; however, this is hardly the case in societies in which populism thrives. (Amy Gutmann has charged that communitarians want Salem but without witches, suggesting that bonds ipso facto go with oppression.50 My answer up to a point is that firm social bonds minimize coercion, but like many other good things, they can become overpowering.)
(e) Nationalism is not dead or dying. On the contrary. Attempts to form more encompassing communities, like the European Union, are halting. For now at least, in many societies, especially in developed ones, the nation is a very powerful community, as evidenced by citizens’ willingness to die to protect it. In an informal survey asking which layer of society people feel most connected to, David Brooks found only 5 percent of respondents felt most connected to humanity as a whole.51 The French philosopher Ernest Renan elucidated the virtue of nationalism by describing the “essential conditions of being a people: having common glories in the past and a will to continue them in the present; having made great things together and wishing to make them again. One loves in proportion to the sacrifices that one has committed and the troubles that one has suffered.”52 I return below to the matter of how thick a community needs to be to counter centrifugal forces and what this entails.
(f) Globalists tend to vastly overestimate the capacity of deliberate social change. They, in effect, hold that even if it is true that people are keen to maintain their identity communities and sense of nationalism, these positions can be reformed through public policies. Hence the notion that the US could construct a liberal society in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan; promote human rights and democratic regimes in scores of other countries; and the thesis that free trade will bring with it a growing commitment to a liberal world order. The failure of these policies in the Middle East and Africa is obvious. The EU is losing support precisely because its commissioners assume that they can centralize decision-making in the EU capital and overcome national sentiments that oppose such changes. Actually the record shows that deliberate social change (i.e., social engineering) is very difficult even within one’s own nation, as we see from the great difficulties of dealing with drug abuse, reducing inequality, curbing global warming, among other issues. Far from preparing the ground for liberal regimes, attempts to overcome nationalism actually feed populism. Realistic responses to populism must accept identity communities and nations as given and seek to effect the values they embrace rather than ignore or seek to minimize these major sources of communitarian bonds.
Among the recent studies of the essential role of communitarian bonds, Amy Chua’s Political Tribes stands out.53 It is mostly dedicated to showing the high costs of public policies that ignore communities both overseas and within the US. Failing to understand, for instance, the tribal lines extant in Vietnam led American strategists to misjudge the contours of the conflict and to attempt to implement doomed-to-fail pro-capitalist reforms: “The group identity America offered the Vietnamese was membership in a puppet state—the ultimate affront in a country where many Vietnamese soldiers wore trinkets dedicated to the Trung sisters, symbolizing resistance to foreign invaders at all costs.”54
More recently, Chua shows, American policy makers’ poor understanding of the web of tribes in Iraqi society led to historic blunders in the region, especially following the 2003 invasion: “The Shias had a collective ax to grind, and the Sunni minority had every reason to resist and fear majority rule. Yet most of America’s foreign policy makers, politicians, and thought leaders seemed to think that the Sunni-Shia divide was no big deal, repeatedly minimizing its significance.”55
In contrast, Francis Fukuyama, in his Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018), sees the loss of community as the source of much that ails us. People, he holds, have a profound need for recognition and respect (to which he gives a Greek name, thymos, defined by Fukuyama as “the seat of judgments of worth”). Thymos in turn is based on one’s sense of identity and community. As we have lost these, we have been beset by alienation, populism, Brexit, and Trump.
Communitarian Bonds Are Primordial, but Differ Greatly in Their Normative Content
To reiterate, communitarian bonds are a force of nature; they can be reshaped to some extent, but when they are ignored or attempts are made to eradicate them (as globalists are prone to do), such moves engender backlash, often in the form of populism.
If one grants that communities—on both the national and subnational levels—will continue to be a major source of essential communitarian bonds, it does not follow that we should ignore their illiberal tendencies. To cope with these tendencies, an essential distinction is needed. Communities have some built-in, hard-wired attributes that are widely considered negative from a normative viewpoint. The most important is that, by definition, they are exclusionary. Communities divide members from nonmembers and exclude the latter. Indeed, there is no community that opens its membership to one and all and sets no limits on its numbers. To seek elimination of communal boundaries entails elimination of communities per se. In short, borders must be tolerated.
In sharp contrast, one can seek to ensure that the bases for membership will not be discrimination against people who differ in color, religious or sexual orientation, and other such protected statuses. Communities can insist that all members’ homes adhere to a given building style, respect resting periods, and thousands of other such considerations (as long as they do not serve as an indirect way to discriminate along the banned lines).
In effect, much of American national history, over the longer run, has moved in the direction of making the nation less illiberal. Thus, voting rights were first extended to non–property owners, then to women, then to African Americans, and to younger people. The civil rights movement has a long way to go to achieve its goals, but the US is less racist than it was in earlier generations.56 In recent years, same-sex marriage was legalized. Most recently, moves have been taken to develop the rights of transgender people. The process of reform on the national level is a familiar one and needs no retelling here.57 Making headway on liberal values does not imply that history is irreversible or without serious setbacks. One notes, first of all, though, that nations can move in the opposite direction (in contrast to Fukuyama), as we have seen in Poland, Hungary, Venezuela, and Turkey, among others.58 And that the march of rights, combined with an expansion of free trade, automation, and immigration, can drive illiberal populism. Hence the patriotic movement needs to ensure progress in the face of continued efforts to reintroduce illiberal policies.
I turn next to ask what can be done to promote liberalism in conjunction with communitarian bonds—without engendering more populist pushback.
Before I review some suggestions for specific positions the patriotic movement may wish to consider, a general observation is called for. It concerns the relative importance of economic versus sociocultural responses to populism.59 I write relative importance because clearly both responses are needed. Before the recent rising interest in populism, Benjamin M. Friedman showed that economic growth “more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy,” that is, economic factors are considered the main determining factor of social and political well-being.60 Along similar lines, several analyses of populism are mainly economics-oriented, focusing on class rather than culture.61 They see the fact that American workers’ wages have largely stagnated since the 1970s, with the effects of the 2008 Great Recession, automation, and loss of jobs to other nations as the driving forces. Hence, their response is couched largely in terms of restoring jobs, improving wages and benefits, guaranteeing free college tuition, and so on.
This approach featured heavily during the 2016 presidential race in the rhetoric and platform of Senator Bernie Sanders, who vowed to take on a “rigged economy” and “the one percent.” In his stump speech, Sanders called for increasing the minimum wage, making public colleges free of tuition, installing single-payer health care, and increasing taxes on wealthier Americans. While his campaign was themed on both “economic and social justice,” the candidate notably said little about community or identity.
“In its early stages, the populist revolt appeared to be motivated by economics,” commented William A. Galston. However, Galston points to larger forces at play: “This narrative was valid as far as it went. But a purely economic explanation obscures the more complex reality, which includes fears about immigration, concerns about culture, and frustration with politics itself.”62 Among those who focus on economic factors but who are fully cognizant of the importance of social and cultural factors, two works stand out. Paul Collier, in The Future of Capitalism, provides a valuable and imaginative attempt to bridge the economic and ethical, which leads him to the following suggestions: make corporate directors legally liable when they do not take into account the public interest in their decisions; tax people who benefit undeservedly from capitalism, such as the owners of land whose value rises for reasons that have nothing to do with their endeavors; and place a tax on every financial transaction.63 And of special interest is Isabel Sawhill, who, in The Forgotten Americans, supports vocational training and adjustment assistance for workers left behind by the global economy; a broad-based tax credit to increase wages; the private sector improving its workforce training programs; and a social insurance system that supports education and family care, as well as retirement.64
Others note that workers who were believed to have voted for Trump because he promised to bring back the coal and steel industry stuck with him when his policies did not achieve much on these fronts. These workers felt that he represented their values in matters concerning immigration, cultural issues (e.g., transgender bathrooms), and nationalism.65
Poland’s recent history reveals the same interplay of sociocultural anxiety and populist politics. According to Jordan Kyle and Yascha Mounk, Poles succeeded in tamping down a populist near-takeover in the early 2000s only to re-create the conditions for another rise: “For eight years, Poland went back to being relatively stable. Thanks to a highly competent government, the country barely suffered during the Great Recession. But many voters were frustrated with the prominent role that some former communists continued to play, afraid of rapid cultural change in a country long dominated by Catholicism and livid at a series of corruption scandals.”66
In short, those who believe that populism is mainly driven by economic deprivation ought to pay more mind to the challenges to communitarian bonds and values engendered by globalism, mass immigration, and culture wars. It follows that an effective response to populism must include major communitarian elements, the kind of factors Émile Durkheim flagged, addressing social, cultural, and normative deficits rather than focusing solely on economic considerations.
Community Building Lite
There is merit in fully recognizing the value of communitarian bonds; however, this understanding alone cannot bring about the kinds of Durkheimian changes that are needed. Proclamations of national unity, often vague if well-intentioned, were President Obama’s stock-in-trade. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, then senator Obama famously declared: “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”67 Such worthy sentiments need to be backed up with richer narratives and related policies in order to be effective.
Amy Chua suggests that the first step to reestablishing a unified American identity is for individuals to come to know each other personally, to engage each other, across tribal divides. To support this idea she refers to Gordon W. Allport’s 1954 work The Nature of Prejudice, which theorized that face-to-face interactions between members of in-groups and out-groups could reduce mutual prejudice.68 Yet a few pages later, Chua herself acknowledges that “merely putting members of different groups in the same space is not enough and indeed can aggravate political tribalism.”69 Chua is correct—prejudice is multicausal, and even Allport’s contact theory proposed that a significant reduction of prejudice would occur only under conditions that were strict and hard to attain.
Furthermore, we learned that even when people of different backgrounds are placed in the same environment, they tend to interact with each other sparingly.70 In any case, it is difficult to imagine millions of members of liberal communities going out for dinner and drinks with coal miners or steelworkers, or millions of Trump supporters “engaging” with one kind of progressive people or another. It is heartwarming when it happens; one finds instances of such dialogues, some of which even lead to increased mutual understanding and tolerance. However, they are few and far between and cannot begin to carry the burdens that must be shouldered.
Chua adds that one of the US’s greatest achievements was to build a “super group” in the form of a national identity that is not mono-ethnic, resulting in a nation that has been able to accommodate and embrace a variety of ethnic communities.71 She points out that much of super groupness is being lost, as we now face white mono-ethnic movements, egged on by leftist identity groups: “But white identity politics has also gotten a tremendous recent boost from the Left, whose relentless berating, shaming, and bullying might have done more damage than good.”72 In response, she calls for restoring the super group. “It’s not enough that we view one another as fellow human beings,” she writes; “we need to view one another as fellow Americans. And for that we need to collectively find a national identity capacious enough to resonate with, and hold together as one people, Americans of all sorts—old and young, immigrant and native born, urban and rural, descendants of slaves as well as descendants of slave owners.”73 She wonders if the moment is ripe for such a reconstruction of America as a super group but offers no way this might be achieved.
Democracy Per Se Is Too Thin
Mark Lilla argues that progressives should dispense with identity politics and instead secure power by appealing to a sense of citizenship. According to Lilla, today’s identity politics are the product of the excessive individualism of the Reagan era (or a shift “From We to Me,” to use his words).74 And, while the civil rights movement pushed solidarity, sacrifice, and a call for Americans to live up to their founding principles—particularly, “all men are created equal”—Black Lives Matter, Lilla says, appeals to group difference, outrage, and calls for a societal indictment.75
Lilla holds that one ought to recognize that we have a duty to fellow citizens and that our destinies are intertwined. This recognition is particularly important as America moves toward its inevitable status as a majority-minority state. That is, “because America has become more diverse and individualistic in reality, there is greater, not less, need to cultivate political fellow feeling.”76 In other words, the more diverse we become, the more citizenship seems the sole potential source of solidarity.
The idea needs to be unpacked. Lilla stresses the importance of what he calls democratic citizenship—the notion that we are all political equals and should be treated as such—which is a sound idea. However, politics are mainly not processes through which three hundred million–plus individual choices—all equally weighted—can be harmonized to form public policies. They are, to a large extent, a give-and-take among groups of citizens who have different values and interests and seek common ground. Voters come, to a large extent, in packages called communities. In other words, in a pluralistic, diverse society, one cannot ignore group differences in politics—but one can ensure (a) that they are not radicalized to the point that parties refuse to compromise and negotiate, and (b) that they are contained by a core of shared values. Democratic citizenship, to the extent that it treats people as atomized individuals, is one of the forces driving populism rather than its antidote.
To his credit, however, Lilla views citizens not only as voters and the bearers of rights but also as people who have duties to serve each other and the common good. This observation suggests that we need a much more profound sense of civility than can be achieved by promoting citizen education, political awareness and participation, and mutual tolerance.77 What is needed in addition are shared understandings of what these duties entail and what core values they draw on.
Yascha Mounk recognizes that the post–Cold War momentum toward supranational institutions and identities is failing and that renascent nationalism is rippling throughout the international system. “Institutions like the European Union,” he writes, “are on the back foot.”78 According to Mounk, liberals today act futilely when they try to reject or transcend nationalism. He notes that liberals/progressives view nationalism as inherently suspect and have abdicated their role in constructing their nation’s identity. Instead, he argues that liberals ought to reclaim nationalism: “To win the fight for an inclusive form of patriotism, countries will have to do much more to facilitate a real sense of community among all citizens and ease lingering fears about future migration.”79 So far, so good.
Mounk’s suggestions regarding what can be done start from a similar point as those of Lilla. In fact, both thinkers point to President Obama’s 2015 speech on the fiftieth anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery: “What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there, than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?”80
The question, though, is, What is going to be the normative content of the “good” nationalism (sometimes referred to as patriotism)? And how can it also speak to the communitarian needs of those now driven to populism and “bad” nationalism? In Mounk’s view, one ought to make nationalism as inclusive as possible. The first step he proposes is to monitor and reduce discrimination to the fullest possible extent, especially through reforms in education. By the same token, Mounk argues that nations cannot afford exemptions on cultural grounds to practices like domestic violence and female genital mutilation. Mounk goes on to propose practical policy fixes in the areas of taxes, housing, jobs, and social security.81 Although these all may be sound liberal ideas, they need a communitarian underpinning that these policies cannot provide.
To curb populism and polarization, to enable democracy to function effectively, commitments to the overarching community—the nation—must be strong enough so that when they come into conflict with commitments to subnational communities, the national commitments will take precedence. This is in contrast to the view that these subnational communities are disappearing or can be kept out of politics, the ending of identity politics.
Much has been written about the need to ensure that nationalism will not be aggressive. More needs to be said about how to make its bonds sufficiently potent in those countries in which the national community was never strong or commitments to it have weakened unduly. I turn next to outline key elements needed for such community building:
(a) Communities find meaning, and public policies and regimes find legitimation, in historical narratives. These must, in the main, be affirmative, a source of pride, an account with which one wishes to be identified. There is no need to whitewash darker periods, but they cannot dominate the narrative. For example, one can retell the story of slavery but focus on the great sacrifices the nation made to end it rather than dwelling mainly on the shame of introducing it in the first place. One can point to the progress made since 1865 for the rights of African Americans while acknowledging that the effects of slavery still linger and need to be countered. In contrast, arguing that little progress has been made and that racism has mainly changed only its form will not do. The same holds for other darker parts of the shared history, for instance the treatment of Native Americans, Japanese Americans, or women.
(b) Communities do best when they have a core of shared values, a sense of shared destiny and purpose. While initially major segments of the American public were quite reluctant to join the fight in World War II, once the US did, many saw a compelling virtue in fighting fascism. The US saw itself as championing liberty against tyranny. After the war was won, the US prided itself in turning two enemies, Japan and Germany, into flourishing democracies and allies. The US soon embraced the virtue in fighting communism during the Cold War. And following the Cold War, it saw itself as bringing democracy to the rest of the world.82 Since 1990, however, these narratives have lost their power. Democracy is in retreat in many countries. Russia and China are asserting themselves. Many have come to fear the challenge of terrorism. Restoring a sense of purpose is now called for. There is nothing wrong with seeking to make America great again. The question is, How does one define greatness?
(c) An America that works for everyone. No one public intellectual—or even a conclave—can develop a compelling new vision of America that will be both liberal and sufficiently communitarian to guide the forces that are out to arrest populism and launch a period of reconstruction of the institutions, norms, and bonds that populism has undermined, and in the process provide the conditions needed for restoring the guardrails of a liberal democracy. However, one can help nurture the dialogue about such a vision by sketching what its main contours might look like. Because currently, to Americans who see themselves as besieged minorities—including working-class whites—a vision of America as a fair society, in which nobody faces discrimination and everyone gains their due share, may have wide appeal.
It first of all entails that everyone will be treated with respect, that nobody is written off as deplorable or ignorant or “undereducated.” It entails that everyone who seeks work should be able to find a job and that workers in all types of employment situations, including independent contractors and part-time employees, be provided with benefits.83 Menial labor should be accorded the same standing as white-collar and knowledge work. (A movement in this direction is California’s rebranding campaign to eliminate stigma from technical education programs and career options.)84 Health insurance should be available to all. Expanding earned income tax credits should ensure everyone has the income needed to obtain basic creature comforts.
(d) Shoring up a community of communities. As far as subnational communities are concerned, there is no way to keep them out of public life, and their proper involvement is part of a legitimate democratic process. Armenian Americans can quite legitimately call on the US government to declare the Turkish massacre in Armenia to have been genocide. Irish Americans can favor independence for Northern Ireland. Jews and evangelicals can support Israel and so on. Issues arise only when these secondary loyalties conflict with the primary one, to the US as the nation. This issue was raised when Catholic candidates were running for public office and critics claimed that they would take their lead from the pope, and when leftist candidates were held to take their lead from Moscow. Some suggested that Latinos would not have to fight if the US were to engage in a war in Latin America. However, as long as those involved show that the nation will trump when their particularistic concerns come into conflict with national loyalties, ethnic identities can be part of “normal” public life.
The trouble with some of the more extreme forms of identity communities is that they see the primary loyalty to their group and not to the encompassing society—the nation. In the most extreme forms, some groups on the right, as well as Antifa, do not even support peaceful resolution of differences and legitimate use of violence against their opponents. And they view all compromises as treason. These radical forms of identity need to be curbed, but not identity politics per se.
(e) The importance of the third sector. For many decades, much of the public debate about policies in the US and in other Western nations has focused on the relative role of the government versus that of the private sector. In the process one often loses sight of the importance of the third sector, which includes hundreds of thousands of not-for-profit corporations, ethnic, religious, racial, and professional associations, voluntary associations, and communities. These bodies often provide the highest-ranked social, cultural, health, and elder care services. Expanding the third sector—instead of more privatization or government expansion—will make society more communitarian.
To proceed, communities should be allowed to keep the institutions around which their social life tends to center, such as a local school, public library, or post office, even if consolidating these into regional institutions is less costly. Urban design can facilitate community building by carving out public spaces in parks, promenades, and pedestrian zones, among others.
(f) The driving force. New visions and public policies need a social force behind them. Otherwise they are like a shiny new car without an engine. Lilla’s and Mounk’s books are basically aimed at the center wing of the Democratic Party. For the sake of emphasis, let me repeat that, as I see it, there is only one “driver” strong enough to carry the massive changes in culture and society and politics that are needed, the same kind of driver that led to major social changes in the past: a social movement. Major changes did not come about because one party or another formulated a new platform and lined up voters to support it. They came about as a result of social movements such as the civil rights, environmental, women’s rights, and LGBT rights movements. What is needed now is a new social movement that will seek to bring about an America that works for everyone. Call it the patriot movement.
The restoration of shared bonds and core values, a major priority if not the priority of the patriotic movement, is the ultimate social foundation that allows democratic politics to work. This cardinal mission, to reiterate, entails neither suppressing differences in the name of gaining harmony, nor the end of identity politics. It merely requires that various politically active groups vie with each other to influence public policies and allocation of resources in line with their values and interests, and compete in ways that maintain the union and commitments to the common good.
I refer to this kind of competition as the “marital conflict model” because couples that stay together seem to not experience conflict at significantly different rates than those who break up but rather they fight in different ways. The couples that endure are those that fight with one hand tied behind their back, so to speak. The wife may want her husband to do more household chores, or a husband may want to cut back work and spend more time on his hobbies—or the other way around—but both seek to resolve such differences in ways that keep the marriage going rather than threatening it. The same must hold true for various political and social groups that vie for the power to advance their particular agendas in democratic nations.
In part, the marital conflict model is achieved by following rules of engagement. These involve not “demonizing” one another, attacking the issue but not the person, treating all with elementary respect, searching for a third option when two sides are dug in, and not treating compromises as betrayals or violations of principles. Nebraska senator Ben Sasse has added that addressing complex issues “require[s] vigorous debate. And we should always worry that calls for civility can be reduced to a demand to accept the status quo, which tends simply to favor those with status. But again, my point is that even as we debate these contentious issues passionately, we have to maintain the republic that allows us to do so. And so even on these absolutely essential issues, we must approach our opponents in these debates as people created with dignity—and we must demand that both we and they dig in as sincere, fellow countrymen rather than as enemies to be trolled.”85
Attempts to delegitimize President Obama by claiming that he was not American-born; McConnell blocking a Senate vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland; John Boehner, when discussing Obama’s agenda, declaring, “We’re going to do everything—and I mean everything we can do—to kill it, stop it, slow it down, whatever we can”; and Democrats trying to find out what videotapes Robert Bork rented during his Supreme Court hearing to smear him are all examples of kinds of conflicts incompatible with the marital conflict model. The model assumes that people will fight fairly.
A key example of fighting unfairly is the gerrymandering of congressional districts. Both parties are guilty of the tactic. The patriotic movement should support those who call for districts to be drawn by nonpartisan commissions.
The Senate used to follow many of the elements of the marital conflict model. Norman Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann note:
Senators were intensely loyal to the Senate as an institution; they identified first as senators rather than as partisans or through their ideology, and they were fiercely protective of their prerogatives vis-à-vis the president or the House of Representatives. The rules and procedures of the Senate were a key to its unique role as the world’s greatest deliberative body; and even those who were frustrated by them and by their application, especially when an intense minority thwarted the will of the majority, were respectful of their centrality to the Senate itself.86
Members of each chamber crossed the aisle to find common ground on pressing issues—such as ensuring equal rights through the Civil Rights Act of 1964—to uphold the norms of their institution, placing country over party. The patriotic movement seeks to restore such a “club” not only in the Senate but in the nation.
Trust is essential. It is slowly built when different sides live up to commitments they made to each other, and it is undermined when such understandings are betrayed. Trust is like capital; one can accumulate it and be richer for it, or squander it and be left high and dry. John Gottman and Nan Silver offer insight from marital relations on how to overcome gridlock and find common ground. They advise that competing sides each create two circles, one containing their core, non-negotiable principles and the other including their positions that are more flexible. Gottman and Silver say the first circle should be small, while the second is more expansive. By clarifying core and flexible positions, the two opposing sides can conduct meaningful negotiations that provide room for compromise.87
To move forward, we now need, first on the local level, new social formations—chapters of a patriotic movement yet to be fashioned—that will include people of different political persuasions, backgrounds, and parties all committed to consenting and advancing the common good.88 This position stands in sharp contrast to those who call for the formation of third parties or centrist parties. These are by definition fragments, which provide one more division when what is called for is finding a common ground. This position is also in sharp contrast to those who argue that we shall not find a common ground until either the Left ideology or that of the Right prevails and becomes the common ground. As the distinguished historian Michael Kazin put it, “Until the left or the right wins a lasting victory, America will remain a society rent in two.”89
What is called for is society coming together under a “big tent.” The term is often used to refer to making a particular political party more inclusive; I use it to refer to an even bigger tent, one that will include people from different parties and independents. As noted by President Obama after securing a second presidential term: “By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock, resolve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.”90
The marital model assumes that all parties seek to maintain the union. It cannot succeed if one of the parties is willing to risk a breakup, say, if he or she threatens divorce whenever the other side does not yield. In such a marriage one does best to attempt to get the uncooperative party to restore its commitment to the union, but if this fails, all bets are off. The model, however, does not call for one party to keep making concessions in a desperate attempt to keep the union going in the face of such obstruction.
What Makes a Great America?
Age-old debates about patriotism and what constitutes a good American have taken on a new significance in the Trump era. Trump’s rhetoric often draws heavily on respect for the nation and its symbolic expressions, such as the flag and the national anthem. He points to athletes taking a knee while the national anthem is played as an act of disloyalty and proudly defines himself as a nationalist.
Many Democrats, especially in the left wing of the party, view the very concept of a “nationalist” as being associated with white supremacy and xenophobia. In a seminal essay in the New York Times, Trip Gabriel describes how the Democrats’ view of patriotism is different from that of the GOP.91 Gabriel finds that Democrats do not consider dissent as unpatriotic but, rather, as the essence of patriotism. During his Senate campaign, Beto O’Rourke declared: “I can think of nothing more American” than protesting. James Baldwin is quoted as saying, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
The right to differ—to disagree—is indeed very American. However, when it is regarded as the essence of patriotism, one overlooks that the foremost meaning of patriotism is love of country. There is a world of difference between showing appreciation for the nation while seeking to cure its flaws and considering the nation to be deeply flawed. Thus, to view America as a racist society dominated by white supremacists is not to dissent but to question the very nature of the American enterprise—its basic goodness. That is quite a different perspective from the one that holds America to be a “shining city upon a hill” that has developed some serious difficulties that urgently need to be remedied.
A telling example is the attitude toward the military. To argue that the military must be subject to civilian control, that the president should not go to war (or more precisely, continue to fight) without authority from Congress, and that the military should not discriminate against people based on sexual orientation can be readily reconciled with patriotism if one acknowledges that one is proud of the millions of young men and women who are risking their lives to keep us safe. However, if one views the military with suspicion and refuses to collaborate with it and considers working on security issues as unpatriotic (as many of the employees of high-tech firms do), one crosses a line.
One can cherish the right to dissent, including the notion that burning the flag is a constitutionally protected expression of free speech. However, one must also note that if people seek to dissent while acknowledging their basic loyalty to the country, they must recognize that there are some symbols that express such loyalty and hence draw on the numerous other ways to protest rather than assaulting the already weakened expressions of national unity.
A similar distinction arises when one finds that many Democrats view pluralism and diversity as major elements of patriotism. Gabriel quotes a Democrat who gives voice to this viewpoint when she says, “I feel very patriotic that I want this country to get back to . . . a place of being who we truly are, which is a very diverse, very eclectic, beautiful mix of all kinds of people.”
While it is true that the US is a nation of immigrants and that diversity makes us better in many ways, the essence of American society has always been that diversity must be contained within a framework of unity. Thus, it is fine for Americans to express special concerns for the countries from which they, or their parents, immigrated—as long as their primary loyalty is to the US. And it is fine for Americans to seek more equality for people of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, incomes, and sexual orientations, but not to deny the significant progress America has made, on all these fronts, one generation after the other.
In short, just as the GOP version of patriotism is truncated because it tends to view dissent as unpatriotic and diversity as undermining unity, the version of patriotism championed by many Democrats—especially in the left wing of the party—is flawed. It views the nation as basically defective, a nation that needs to be transformed rather than reformed. Oddly, combining the two visions may provide a sound concept of patriotism: love of country with tolerance for a critical but loyal opposition; diversity bounded by a core of shared values and a sense of community.
Globalists contribute to populism when they ignore or seek to override communal bonds both on the national and subnational level. True, communities can foster values many find morally troubling. Hence these values need to be examined. Some are relatively benign and ineradicable and can be tolerated as a price one pays for securing communitarian bonds and for curbing populism—for instance, the tendency of communities to view themselves in a positive light and to view others less favorably. Other attributes—racial, gender, or religious discrimination, for example—ought to and can be curbed by public education and law enforcement.
The same holds for nationalism. The fact that many see their nation as exceptional and cast other nations in a less favorable light can be tolerated. The same is not true about aggressive policies. Ensuring that patriotism does not turn into aggressive nationalism entails more than the promotion of individual rights and democratic designs; it includes providing the communitarian underpinnings patriotism requires. These underpinnings include a shared history, a shared vision and a core of shared values, a well-developed third sector, and a community of communities. We have seen that the main engine that could drive such a movement for a good society (a liberal communitarian one)92 is a social movement, not a political party.