Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Contingency, Patriotism & Tolerance

Matthew Yglesias:

[W]hat distinguishes the liberal's approach to his patriotism ... is that a liberal will recognize the contingency of it. Most people love the country where they were born and raised and think it's the finest in the world. Intelligent people don't lose that love, but they do recognize that, in fact, they love their country because they were born and raised there and not because it is, in fact, the finest in the world. That doesn't mean you stop loving your country, but it does mean that you open yourself up to other kinds of affections both bigger and smaller than "the nation" and also recognize that there's a circumscribed relevance to this sort of thing.

But a cosmopolitan in the real world doesn't become one by purging himself of particularist affections, rather he multiplies them and recognizes that others have affections of their own and that these sentiments are all owed a certain amount of respect and consideration.
I hope you will forgive Yglesias' conflation of liberal people with intelligent people; I call it out in the name of the larger truth I've quoted here, namely, that while I prefer to believe that liberals are more intelligent (I prefer the word thoughtful) than their adversaries, this is at best a half-truth.

The multiplication of affections has to encompass trying to comprehend opposing viewpoints and trying, in good faith, to understand their attractions. That's not the same as arriving at the conclusion that contrary viewpoints are true, valuable, or legitimate under the light of rigorous scrutiny; nor should it be confused with a normative demand that opposing viewpoints be accepted as valid. "You say tomato, I say tomahto" is not adequate on the field of competing truth claims.

I try to understand that which I castigate, and I try to understand it before I castigate it, not after. But I insist on the right to criticize, even to the point of ridicule. This is the liberal standard for tolerance as I understand it.

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