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It is a very well known phenomena that people feel pride for the country where they were born and/or live, even though the effect seems to be declining slightly nowadays. Frequently, governments also try to instill a sense of national pride in their citizens in order to motivate them to serve the country.

But is it ethically correct to be proud of one's country?

When people say that they are proud of being a citizen of a country that has an independent jurisdiction, is a democracy and respects its citizens' rights, the obvious question to me is: Can you be proud of something that you did not create?

  • 3
    I'll just say that I don't share the intuition that pride is linked to contribution. I can be proud of my friend's accomplishments, for instance, even though I played no part in them. Poking around definitions of 'pride' seems to support this. – Nathan Oct 7 '11 at 4:36
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    Oscar Wilde once quipped: "Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious." – Joseph Weissman Oct 7 '11 at 4:37
  • @Nathan Can you give me any concrete example where you would be proud of your friends' achievements? – eWolf Oct 7 '11 at 15:13
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    @eWolf: ...are you serious? You've never been proud of anyone other than yourself? Proud of your troubled sister for graduating despite the hardships she faced; proud of your friend who fractured his foot in the last mile of the marathon, but still kept going and finished for the honor of his country; proud of your father, a firefighter, for having the courage to risk his life to save complete strangers. You've never felt pride like any of those examples ever in your life? – stoicfury Oct 7 '11 at 23:03
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    What's the general theory of ethics at hand here? – Doug Spoonwood Oct 19 '11 at 3:58
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The answer would depend largely upon the ethical system you are relying upon.

In a consequentialist system, pride of one's country would only be immoral to the extent to which it leads to immoral consequences. It is not difficult to hypothesize that the state of being proud of one's country could influence one's judgments on all sorts of matters (for example, as regards foreign policy) and lead to actions based upon those judgments (war, in the extreme case.)

In a virtue-based ethics (such as Aristotelian ethics), pride may be considered as non-virtuous; in fact, many such systems consider it exactly that. Pride is one of the seven Cardinal Sins in Catholicism, and one of the Five Poisons (Kleśā) of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Note here that it is the pride itself that is the problem, not the fact that one was not involved in the creation of the object of pride.

  • Do you have any background information about the reasons why pride is one of the seven Cardinal Sins and one of the Five Poisons? – eWolf Oct 8 '11 at 14:19
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    @eWolf: I mentioned a few in a comment to stoicfury's answer; the short version is that it is viewed as a desire to credit oneself-- in other words, a lack of humility in the Catholic case, and a clinging to ego/self in the Buddhist case. – Michael Dorfman Oct 8 '11 at 14:53
  • I think you covered the question very well by giving an answer regarding two different ethnic systems, which is why I accepted your answer. However, I want to thank everyone who replied/commented for the interesting input! – eWolf Oct 30 '11 at 13:49
  • there is also such a thing as virtuous pride in buddhism, pretty sure – user6917 Aug 26 '14 at 20:10
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    @user3293056 There is empathetic joy (Mudita) in Buddhism -- that's not pride but it is vicarious, i.e. feeling joy because someone else feels joy. – ChrisW Nov 2 '14 at 10:25
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One can generalize this to the concern of any group one is a member of, either by choice or by fact (family, subculture, neighborhood, locale, country, and sex, race, ethnicity/language, religion, social rank).

To oversimplify, the naive perspectives are

  • one is most familiar with one's own culture. It is a natural thing to have pride/shame issues with respect to one's one culture (however large or small).

  • lack of pride in one's group may show a lack of fidelity to the group, and the group psychology may consider lack of pride as treachery.

  • pride (like power) can be corrupting (I think this is what leads to the idea of pride itself as a bad thing).

  • pride of country in 20-21c European culture is associated with the hypertrophic Nazism and Stalinism (and McCarthyism and Segregation in the US), and is therefore considered 'very bad'.

Now, as to ethically 'correct' - I'd go the situationist route and say, depends on which context. If it's them or us, who's being proud. Or rather, no, I think that the difficulty with pride is that it tends to be exclusionary or against those outside of the group.

  • Good summary, I agree with all of your points. But are there any additional points that exist independent of the impact of pride on others? In my understanding, moral values should not only affect your actions, but also your thinking. – eWolf Oct 7 '11 at 15:23
  • @eWolf: I'm not very versed in the academic theories of ethics which would inform my answers better, and I have a tendency towards a biological/psychological reading of ethical questions. So in some sense (to address 'independent of impact on others), I feel like the judgement of moral values, if not based on immediate events, would be based on possible or future events. So pride could be seen as a form of vanity which, as a questionable personality trait, is poor personal style (why is that? because...) until it affects others when it is just plain mean. – Mitch Oct 7 '11 at 17:21
  • Take stoicfurys examples from his comments to the question. How is it that pride that my sister finished her degree against all odds smething that tends to be exclusionary or against anyone outside any group? – Lukas Nov 2 '14 at 9:54
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Post WWII there was a deliberate effort led by the US to remove national pride from the citizens of European Countries. It was taught in school that the was bad because of what either they did in the case of Germany, Austria and Italy, or had done to them or allowed to do to others. The theory being that doing this would help prevent the leaders like Hitler from creating an empire by conquering their neighbors. Today this is manifest in the EU expecting everyone to believe the same way they do and fits well into the Socialist agenda.

Seeing as we all pay taxes to our country and most of us are able to participate in our countries government process I do not see any reason that being proud of your country would be unethical. In the case of the United States many of us have ancestors that fought in its wars and even were a part of settling North America. Certianly there are things in all countries past that we wish we could do over to correct. But with out those experiences to guide us forward we would be doomed to make those mistakes eventually. I think it is ok to be a proud German, that does not mean that you are proud of the actions of Naxi Germany in the 1930's and 40's.

  • Even though this is not a direct answer to my question, it is actually a very good point. I am a German citizen and therefore can see the result of this effort in real... – eWolf Oct 8 '11 at 14:24
  • @eWolf - I had not realized this until a former boss of mine told me about it. He was from germany and had studied the effects of the US lead "Socialization" (US Military term not mine) of Europe. – Chad Oct 10 '11 at 12:50
  • The obvious but unintended consequence is that every European either laughs or throws up when Americans claim pride in the "freest country in the world". (Especially when you hear what anti-democratic nonsense they put up with) – gnasher729 Nov 2 '14 at 20:29
  • @gnasher729 - Democracy is not freedom but majority rule. That means that the minority is always oppressed. Though few Americans these days make that claim anyway. I know I wouldnt – Chad Nov 4 '14 at 4:31
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Like any virtue, as Aristotle would say, patriotism would have its excess and deficit. Excess of patriotism would be hypernationalism and jingoism, and World Wars I and II would argue against this. Deficit of national pride can result in one's nation getting in trouble. For example, the appeasement movement before WWII. many lined up to support a petition swearing that one would not fight for one's country. Hitler took huge advantage of this. Also, the reason for pride in one's nation would be important. In the case of the USA, is it pride in a rather successful constitution based on separation of powers, and pioneership of the niotion of popular sovereignty? Or simple jingoism?

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Yes, you can be proud of things that merely belong to you, even if you had no direct part in their creation. Nathan is also correct in that you can even be proud of something that doesn't belong to you nor that you contributed to in any meaningful way. It's not clear how there would be anything inherently "wrong" with that.

As an aside: Regarding the title question "Is it ethically correct to be proud of one's country?", it's unclear what you mean by "ethically". Are you suggesting that it's not only nonsensical, but morally wrong to have pride in one's own country without having directly contributed to it's success?

I suppose this is somewhat of a subjective question, but I don't think most people would hold such a position. Misplaced pride might be irrational, but it's not immoral unless you adhere to a very strange set of moral standards...

  • Depends how misplaced the pride is... How about "I'm so proud about the way my last murder turned out!" In other words, I'd say pride about immoral acts would be immoral as well. Well, you said something similar on your last phrase. – Vinko Vrsalovic Oct 7 '11 at 9:03
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    Strange set of moral standards? Seems pretty commonplace to me-- Pride is one of the Cardinal Sins (7 deadly sins) of Catholicism, for example, and one of the Five Poisons (Kleśās) of Mahāyāna Buddhism. – Michael Dorfman Oct 7 '11 at 9:20
  • I do think it could be considered morally wrong just like claiming to have created something that someone else created is wrong. How about this example: A kid with rich parents gets the latest and most expensive gadget from his parents. Should he be proud of it? – eWolf Oct 7 '11 at 15:17
  • @Michael: I see your point, but with regard to the Five Poisons and the 7 Deadly Sins you are incorrect. I used to be Mahayana Buddhist; there is nothing wrong with pride defined as the OP uses it (being proud of one's country, or being proud of your son's accomplishments). Same with the 7 Deadly Sins: the pride referred to therein refers to hubris, arrogance, or "excessive pride". It does not refer to "pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride." – stoicfury Oct 7 '11 at 22:20
  • @stoicfury: I disagree on both counts, but that could just be my pride talking. Pride is definitely a form of clinging (taṇhā) and an unskillful mental state; even in the formulation you quote it is tied to a desire to "reflect credit upon oneself". Similarly, the Cardinal Sin of pride also includes Vanity or Vainglory (which was the 8th cardinal sin, before Pope Gregory merged it with Pride). In both conceptions, it is based upon a desire to credit oneself. – Michael Dorfman Oct 8 '11 at 9:00
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I think you are asking two separate questions here. First, is it ethical to be proud of one's country? And second, can you be proud of something that you did not create?

The first, as others have mentioned, is dependent on what you use to define your ethics. In most ethical systems, to have pride in (which is different from being possessed by hubris) is amoral. If a country is doing something which is ethical, then it is good to be pleased in that country. If a country is doing something unethical, then it is good to be ashamed of it. Most of the time a country, because it is made up of people, is like a person, and is in a much more complicated situation than merely being one or the other.

The second is an entirely different question. You can be proud of things you do not create, but are a part of. I am a part of my family. I like being a part of my family, and am proud of them for their accomplishments. I may have influenced the way my family is, but I did not create my family. I was merely given the opportunity to be part of it. The same for a club, or a college, or a community. A country is just much larger, and you are a much smaller part of it. But you can still be proud of this collective identity if you so choose, and the ethics of that seem mostly irrelevant to most ethical systems.

In general, however, I do not believe that most people who are proud of their country are applying the kinds of critical analysis that they would of other things. Because a country is such an abstract notion, and a person's idea of something can stray so far from the actual reality of it, I think many people end up with a harmful, blind, and unconditional approval of one's country despite all evidence to the contrary. Like recurring domestic violence between a husband and wife, where one or the other is unable to admit the fault or wrongdoing of the other. People tend to think it is wrong to apply value judgments to something they love, but that kind of detached, uncritical sense of loyalty actually turns out to do more harm than good.

  • I think an important differentiation to make between your family and your country is the sphere of impact you create: Although I didn't create my family, I certainly have a lot of influence on it, while, as long as I am not a politician or in a similarly important position, I don't think my country would be much different without me. – eWolf Oct 30 '11 at 13:41
  • True. I think I can see what you're getting at, but I'm having a hard time putting it into concise language. Basically, what you're saying makes me wonder: Can you be proud of something that you did not create as if you had created it? Like, can you be proud of something you have no effect on, as if you had done all the work? – john Oct 30 '11 at 19:30
  • If the question is "Can you be proud ..." the answer is obviously yes, because reality shows that people do that. However, the deciding factor seems to be whether you are a part of it. An American won't suddenly be proud of Japan and you won't be proud of your neighbour's family. – eWolf Oct 31 '11 at 8:35
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No, from my point of view. And here's why: When someone claims they are 'proud' of their country, they aren't actually proud of their country/creation/system - they're responding to, and accepting a social expectation which comes naturally while growing up. Its that simple, I think.

0

Perhaps what people call "pride for the country" is actually a type of Enthusiasm:

Enthusiasm originally meant inspiration or possession by a divine afflatus or by the presence of a god. Johnson's Dictionary, the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language, defines enthusiasm as "a vain belief of private revelation; a vain confidence of divine favour or communication." In current English vernacular the word simply means intense enjoyment, interest, or approval.

Originally, an enthusiast was a person possessed by a god. Applied by the Greeks to manifestations of divine possession, by Apollo (as in the case of the Pythia), or by Dionysus (as in the case of the Bacchantes and Maenads), the term enthusiasm was also used in a transferred or figurative sense. Socrates taught that the inspiration of poets is a form of enthusiasm.

Its uses were confined to a belief in religious inspiration, or to intense religious fervour or emotion. Thus, a Syrian sect of the 4th century was known as the Enthusiasts. They believed that "by perpetual prayer, ascetic practices and contemplation, man could become inspired by the Holy Spirit, in spite of the ruling evil spirit, which the fall had given to him". From their belief in the efficacy of prayer, they were also known as Euchites.

I suspect that enthusiasm might be neither ethical nor unethical (though some might argue that it's better to be individualist, conversely others argue that's it's better to be socialist).

Instead perhaps it's the consequence of the enthusiasm, i.e. what you do with it or as a consequence of it, that's ethical or not; for example:

  • If you think, "I live in a just society, therefore I too will try to live justly", that might be ethical.
  • Conversely, "I live in a rich society, therefore I too will win at any cost", that might be unethical.
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How do you define ethicly correct? You would have to understand how your choices and actions were allowed within your country,politicly. Do you understand how to be proud of this according to the ethics as you my understand them? Freedom of liberty, this is what canadians and americans should be proud of. But we are being wittled down to lossing this by giant government forces of statism and subjective policys. To be ethicly proud of are country we have to gain back the peaples control of goverenment so we can create what to be proud of this is what we started from. I am proud of what we still have but it could be altered back to individual freedom of choice; freedom of speach; freedom of trade; and the right to attain your own property without interferance on what you can do with it. Is it ethicly correct to be proud of your country? Too but ethics and country and politics together i would feel a little guilty, to be proud at this moment in time, but as a group of peaple as one yes i am proud.

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