He has made a personal intellectual journey from Marxism to Catholicism and from Aristotle to Aquinas , and he is one of the preeminent Thomist political philosophers. He believes that modern philosophy and modern life are characterized by the absence of any coherent moral code, and that the vast majority of individuals living in this world lack a meaningful sense of purpose in their lives and also lack any genuine community. This way of life is to be sustained in small communities which are to resist as best they can the destructive forces of liberal capitalism. It is important to keep in mind that MacIntyre is not suggesting that we should merely tinker around the edges of liberal capitalist society; his goal is to fundamentally transform it. He does not believe that this will happen quickly or easily, and indeed it may not happen at all, but he believes that it will be a disaster for humanity if it does not happen. But an openness to that possibility is essential to understanding MacIntyre.
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Whether they find him persuasive or no, few readers will deny that Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the most significant Catholic philosophers of our time. Titles like Whose Justice? Whose Rationality? So it behooves us to consider the question MacIntyre poses in the title of his Findley lecture: Is patriotism a virtue? The question is not a rhetorical one.
The fact that so few public figures openly challenge the value of patriotism indicates not a genuine consensus in favor of patriotism, but only that few public figures have given much thought to what patriotism actually is. It is to judge as any rational person would judge, independently of his or her interests, affections and social position. And to act morally is to act in accordance with such impersonal judgments. Thus to think and to act morally involve the moral agent in abstracting him or herself from all social particularity and partiality.
And here and now there are those American politicians who claim that the United States deserves our allegiance because it champions the goods of freedom.
Put another way, a citizen who claims to love his country solely because he subscribes to its principles might be compared to a son who claims to love his mother only because, after having taken a long hard critical look at her, he has decided that she, a person of high ideals and correct opinions, is worthy of his love.
Setting aside just how disturbingly inhuman this hypothetical son would be were his claim true, we must at least recognize that by his own admission his attitude is hardly an example of filial piety. MacIntyre himself seems reluctant to take a firm stand in the debate between patriots and liberals, and instead remains content to point out the profound dilemma faced by the would-be liberal patriot.
In one intriguing passage, however, he suggests that traditional patria may be not only compatible with morality, but a necessary condition for it:. If first of all it is the case that I can only apprehend the rules of morality in the version in which they are incarnated in some specific community; and if secondly it is the case that the justification of morality must be in terms of particular goods enjoyed within the life of particular communities; and if thirdly it is the case that I am characteristically brought into being and maintained as a moral agent only through the particular kinds of moral sustenance afforded by my community, then it is clear that deprived of this community, I am unlikely to flourish as a moral agent […] Detached from my community, I will be apt to lose my hold upon all genuine standards of judgment.
Loyalty to that community, to the hierarchy of particular kinship, particular local community and particular natural community, is on this view a prerequisite for morality. An argument can be made, then, that culture is to morality as grammar is to communication. The point is not that any given culture or language is necessarily superior to any other, but that each man needs to be steeped in some particular culture or language if he is to engage in moral reasoning or communicate.
The preceding also makes clear why the subversion of patriotism should be important to everyone interested in defending what Pope John Paul II called the culture of life. To be fair to militant leftists, they are only being sincere and consistent in applying their professed principles, more sincere and consistent than many who call themselves conservative.
If to judge from a moral standpoint really is to judge impersonally, then not only patriotism but also marital fidelity, love of family and kin, friendship, and school spirit are all vices too. If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity! Click here for more information on donating to CWR.
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News Briefs. About Jerry Salyer 39 Articles. Catholic convert Jerry Salyer is a philosophy instructor and freelance writer. Previous Back to the Land, Back to the Lord. June 20, Russell Shaw 0. Paul Kengor 0. Email Frequency Daily.
MacIntyre: "Is Patriotism a Virtue?"
Whether they find him persuasive or no, few readers will deny that Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the most significant Catholic philosophers of our time. Titles like Whose Justice? Whose Rationality? So it behooves us to consider the question MacIntyre poses in the title of his Findley lecture: Is patriotism a virtue? The question is not a rhetorical one. The fact that so few public figures openly challenge the value of patriotism indicates not a genuine consensus in favor of patriotism, but only that few public figures have given much thought to what patriotism actually is.
Monday, February 5, Patriotism raises questions of the sort philosophers characteristically discuss: How is patriotism to be defined? How is it related to similar attitudes, such as nationalism? What is its moral standing: is it morally valuable or perhaps even mandatory, or is it rather a stance we should avoid? Yet until a few decades ago, philosophers showed next to no interest in the subject.