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In a long posting at Public Discourse, ” The Mosque’s Lesson in Loyalty ,” Carson Holloway provides helpful analysis of the legitimate human impulse to love one’s own.

Beginning with family and clan, radiating outward to neighborhood, community, and nation, we have a native impulse toward nativism. We feel a sense of solidarity with those who are near to us, similar to us, and who share important common roots.

In itself, the natural human tendency toward partiality is unobjectionable, even good, because it counteracts an equally natural (or given the proper theology of sin, unnatural but ubiquitous) egoism and selfishness. In other words, our self-love can be diminished by our love of family or clan. Throughout human history, the natural human impulse to close ranks has encouraged a great deal of self-sacrifice for the sake of the group.

As Holloway points out, many liberals misread the Mosque controversy, wrongly interpreting the mostly moderate and normal patriotism of those who object to the location of the Islamic center as a sign of pernicious xenophobia. Indeed, any impulse to affirm or protect national identity is interpreted by some liberals as harboring the seeds of racism and bigotry.

Holloway observes that this liberal phobia of xenophobia has historical roots:

Liberal patriphobia arises in part from liberals’ sensitivity to the historical traumas that have been inflicted on the human race through a disordered love of one’s own. In the European experience, Nazism and Fascism stand as sobering reminders of the enormous criminality that has been done in the name of a perverted patriotism. In America, the historical crime of slavery was initiated and defended on the basis of whites’ definition of Africans as alien and other, and hence as not possessed of any rights that demanded respect. Liberals are correct to be mindful of such injustices, sensitive to their causes, and alert to avoiding their recurrence.

The problem, he notes, is that liberals often confuse the perversions of our natural love of country with the love itself, attacking the “root cause” of racism or aggressive nationalism by attacking the very idea of any preferential love, and then substituting it its place some form of universalism.

We see this dynamic all the time when modern liberalism expands the definition of discrimination and uses it as a word to attack normal forms of human solidarity. Preferential loves always discriminates. An older Yale graduate agrees to meet with a recent Yale graduate to talk about jobs. Or the parents pay tuition for their own kids. Or Americans hang out together in Karachi. Or Texas legislators vote to make English the official language.

These acts of preferential always need to be restrained by principles of justice, or even the test of prudence. But we know that there is something wrong with the liberal ideal of equality when all these acts and others motivated by preferential loves always end up being criticized as “discriminatory.”

If there are no morally justified forms of discrimination, then there can be no morally justified preferential loves. And if there can be no justified preferential loves, then there can be no genuine solidary. One cannot have an affectively powerful and humanly enriching relationship to all humanity. And without genuine solidary, the fat ego of the self tends to expand, and our sinful selfishness flourishes, unchecked by countervailing power of preferential loves.

As I wrote last week in ” To Moque or Not to Mosque ,” I think the Mosque controversy in New York has been fueled by a patriotism that overestimates the significance of the Islamic center a couple of block from Ground Zero. But Holloway is surely right that the patriotism itself is noble.

And not just noble, but moderate. Contemporary America is not a place seething with patriotic fervor. Yes, as Holloway points out, people have a natural love of their own. Today, American patriotism is more anxious than triumphalist. We see the ways in which the global economy tends to disperse both us and our loyalties. We are suspicious of internationalist dreams of many liberals. We fear that the country we love is slowly losing its distinctive character.

These fears are sometimes overblown, but nonetheless well founded. The global economy and postmodern culture both tend to dissolve rather than reinforce traditional forms of solidarity. I’ve long thought that moral responsibility dictates careful, responsible efforts to nurture American patriotism, not to attack its expressions. For he real danger, it seems to me, comes the vacuum of solidarity that we create if we neglect of our patriotic impulse, or worse, criticize every expression as xenophobic.

The human heart is made to love, and if our loves are not properly encouraged, they will not wither and die away. Instead, they will tend toward perverse, exaggerated, and destructive expressions.

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