The Four Loves – Chapter 2 (Part 3: “Patriotism”)

Four Loves 2

Four Loves 2

Continuing my notes for The Four Loves, this is the second of two posts which continue my summary of Chapter 2 (“Likings and Loves for the subhuman”) of The Four Loves. In this post we will be looking at the final section of the chapter which Lewis devotes to the love of country, patriotism.

1. Everyone knows that patriotism can turn turn bad

…we all know now that this love [of country] becomes a demon when it becomes a god. Some begin to suspect that it is never anything but a demon.

2. But if we say it is always bad, we have to reject much

But then they have to reject half the high poetry and half the heroic action our race has achieved. We cannot keep even Christ’s lament over Jerusalem. He too exhibits love for His country.

3. In this chapter we will attempt to distinguish authentic patriotism from its demonic form

Let us limit our field…. We are only considering the sentiment itself in the shape of being able to distinguish its innocent from its demoniac condition.

4. We will be focussing on patriotism in subjects rather than rulers

Neither…[innocent nor demonic patriotism] is the efficient cause* of national behaviour. For strictly speaking it is rulers, not nations, who behave internationally. Demoniac patriotism in their subjects…will make it easier for them to act wickedly; healthy patriotism may make it harder: when they are wicked they may by propaganda encourage a demoniac condition of our sentiments in order to secure our acquiescence in their wickedness. If they are good, they could do the opposite. That is one reason why we private persons should keep a wary eye on the health or disease of our own love for our country.

* Jack is referring to one of the four causes described by Aristotle.

5. Patriotism is complicated and made up of many ingredients 

How ambivalent* patriotism is may be gauged by the fact that no two writers have expressed it more vigorously than Kipling** and Chesterton***. If it were one element two such men could not both have praised it. In reality it contains many ingredients, of which many different blends are possible.

* Mixed feelings or contradictory ideas

** Author Rudyard Kipling

*** Author and Catholic apologist, G.K. Chesterton

Ingredient #1: Love of home

…love of home, of the place we grew up in or the places, perhaps many, which have been our homes; and of all places fairly near these and fairly like them; love of old acquaintances, of familiar sights, sounds and smells.

(a) At its largest, this is a love of country

Note that at its largest this is, for us, a love of England, Wales, Scotland, or Ulster. Only foreigners and politicians talk about “Britain”.

(b) With love of home comes a love for the way of life associated with home

With this love for the place there goes a love for the way of life; for beer and tea and open fires, trains with compartments in them and an unarmed police force and all the rest of it; for the local dialect and (a shade less) for our native language.

(c) We don’t want foreigners ruling us for the same reason we don’t want our house burned down

As Chesterton says, a man’s reasons for not wanting his country to be ruled by foreigners are very like his reasons for not wanting his house to be burned down ; because he “could not even begin” to enumerate all the things he would miss. It would be hard to find any legitimate point of view from which this feeling could be condemned.

(d) Love home helps our love to grow

As the family offers us the first step beyond self-love, so this offers us the first step beyond family selfishness.

(i) But this is not yet charity 

Of course it is not pure charity; it involves love of our neighbours in the local, not of our Neighbour, in the Dominical, sense. But those who do not love the fellow-villagers or fellow-townsmen whom they have seen are not likely to have got very far towards loving “Man” whom they have not.

(ii) Natural affections can be rivals, or preparations for, spiritual love

All natural affections, including this, can become rivals to spiritual love: but they can also be preparatory imitations of it, training (so to speak) of the spiritual muscles which Grace may later put to a higher service; as women nurse dolls in childhood and later nurse children.

(iii) These natural affections may need to grow so that they can be renounced

There may come an occasion for renouncing this love; pluck out your right eye. But you need to have an eye first: a creature which had none – which had only got so far as a “photosensitive” spot – would be very ill employed in meditation on that severe text.

(e) This ingredient to patriotism has a good attitude towards foreigners

Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves. In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realise that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realised that the Frenchmen like cafe complet just as we like bacon and eggs – why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different.

Ingredient #2: Attitude towards history

The second ingredient is a particular attitude to our country’s past. I mean to that past as it lives in popular imagination; the great deeds of our ancestors. Remember Marathon. Remember Waterloo.  This past is felt both to impose an obligation and to hold out an assurance; we must not fall below the standards our fathers set us, and because we are their sons there is good hope we shall not.

(a) Unfortunately history is full of shameful deeds

This feeling has not quite such good credentials as the sheer love of home. The actual history of every country is full of shabby and even shameful doings.

(b) It is therefore liable to debunking

The heroic stories, if taken to be typical, give a false impression of it and are often themselves open to serious historical criticism. Hence a patriotism based on our glorious past is fair game for the debunker. As knowledge increases it may snap and be converted into disillusioned cynicism, or may be maintained by a voluntary shutting of the eyes.

(c) There is value here…

But who can condemn what clearly makes many people, at many important moments, behave so much better than they could have done without its help? I think it is possible to be strengthened by the image of the past without being either deceived or puffed up.

(d) …but also a danger

The image becomes dangerous in the precise degree to which it is mistaken, or substituted, for serious and systematic historical study.

(e) They are best safeguarded when received as “saga”

The stories are best when they are handed on and accepted as stories. I do not mean by this that they should be handed on as mere fictions (some of them are after all true). But the emphasis should be on the tale as such, on the picture which fires the imagination, the example that strengthens the will. 

Ingredient #3: Belief in superiority

…not a sentiment but a belief: a firm, even prosaic belief that our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others. I once ventured to say to an old clergyman who was voicing this sort of patriotism, “But, sir, aren’t we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?” He replied with total gravity – he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar – “Yes, but in England it’s true.” To be sure, this conviction had not made my friend (God rest his soul) a villain; only an extremely lovable old ass. It can however produce asses that kick and bite. On the lunatic fringe it may shade off into that popular Racialism which Christianity and science equally forbid. This brings us to the fourth ingredient.

Ingredient #4: Rights and responsibilities 

If our nation is really so much better than others it may be held to have either the duties or the rights of a superior being towards them.

(a) We saw this the British Empire of the 18th Century

In the Nineteenth Century the English became very conscious of such duties: the “white man’s burden”. What we called natives were our wards and we their self-appointed guardians. This was not all hypocrisy. We did do them some good. But our habit of talking as if England’s motive for acquiring an empire…had been mainly altruistic nauseated the world. And yet this showed the sense of superiority working at its beat. 

(b) Sometimes the rights, rather than the duties are stressed…with disastrous consequences

Some nations who have also felt it have stressed the rights not the duties. To them, some foreigners were so bad that one had the right to exterminate them. Others, fitted only to be hewers of wood and drawer’s of water to the chosen people… And both have about them this sure mark of evil: only by being terrible do they avoid being comic. If there were no broken treaties with Redskins*, no extermination of the Tasmanians, no gaschambers and no Belsen, no Amritsar**, Black and Tans*** or Apartheid, the pomposity of both would be roaring farce. 

* The “Redksins” are the Native Americans

* “Amritsar” was the place of a massacre of unarmed, peacefully-protesting Indians by British troops. This was in 1919 in response to the Rowlatt Act which was granting the British administration emergency powers for itself.

* The “Black and Tans” were a paramilitary organization to suppress the IRA and supporters of Sinn Fein.

6. Demonic patriotism ultimately denies itself

…we reach the stage where patriotism in its demoniac form unconsciously denies itself.

(a) Chesterton describes this using two lines from a Kipling poem

They run: “If England was what England seems ‘Ow quick we’d drop ‘er. But she ain’t!”*

* Rough translation: “If England was as bad as she appears, how quickly we’d drop her! Thankfully, she isn’t as bad as she appears”

(b) We love, not due to merit, because the object is “ours”

Love never spoke that way. It is like loving your children only “if they’re good”, your wife only while she keeps her looks, your husband only so long as he is famous and successful. “No man,” said one of the Greeks, “loves his city because it is great, but because it is his.” A man who really loves his country will love her in her ruin and degeneration – “England, with all thy faults, I love, thee still.”… He may think her good and great, when she is not, because he loves her; the delusion is up to a point pardonable.

(c) Patriotism which loves a country based on merit will not last

But Kipling’s soldier reverses it; he loves her because he thinks her good and great – loves her on her merits. She is a fine going concern and it gratifies his pride to be in it. How if she ceased to be such? The answer is plainly given: “Ow quick we’d drop ‘er.” When the ship begins to sink he will leave her. Thus that kind of patriotism which sets off with the greatest swagger of drums and banners actually sets off on the road that can lead to Vichy*.

* Vichy France was the unoccupied portion of southern France during the Second World War.

And this is a phenomenon which will meet us again. When the natural loves become lawless they do not merely do harm to other loves; they themselves cease to be the loves they were – to be loves at all.

7. If we reject patriotism, something else will take its place

Patriotism has then, many faces. Those who would reject it entirely do not seem to have considered what will certainly step – has already begun to step – into its place.

(a) Patriotism was used in the past to prepare people to fight

For a long time yet, or perhaps forever, nations will live in danger. Rulers must somehow nerve their subjects to defend them or at least to prepare for their defence.

(b) In the absence of patriotism, ethics must be called upon.

Where the sentiment of patriotism has been destroyed this can be done only by presenting every international conflict in a purely ethical light. If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity.

(c) However, this leads to problems

This is a step down, not up. Patriotic sentiment did not of course need to disregard ethics. Good men needed to be convinced that their country’s cause was just; but it was still their country’s cause, not the cause of justice as such. The difference seems to me important. I may without self-righteousness or hypocrisy think it just to defend my house by force against a burglar; but if I start pretending that I blacked his eye purely on moral grounds – wholly indifferent to the fact that the house in question was mine – I become insufferable. The pretence that when England’s cause is just we are on England’s side – as some neutral Don Quixote might be – for that reason alone, is equally spurious. And nonsense draws evil after it. If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world.

(d) Patriotism allowed us to recognize sentiment

The glory of the old sentiment was that while it could steel men to the utmost endeavour, it still knew itself to be a sentiment. Wars could be heroic without pretending to be Holy Wars. The hero’s death was not confused with the martyr’s. And (delightfully) the same sentiment which could be so serious in a rearguard action, could also in peacetime, take itself as lightly as all happy loves often do. It could laugh at itself. Our older patriotic songs cannot be sung without a twinkle in the eye; later ones sound more like hymns. Give me “The British Grenadiers” (with a tow-row-row-row) any day rather than ” Land of Hope and Glory “. It will be noticed that the sort of love I have been describing, and all its ingredients, can be for something other than a country: for a school, a regiment, a great family, or a class. All the same criticisms will still apply.

It can (and has) seeped into the Church…

It can also be felt for bodies that claim more than a natural affection: for a Church or (alas) a party in a Church, or for a religious order. This terrible subject would require a book to itself. Here it will be enough to say that the Heavenly Society is also an earthly society. Our (merely natural) patriotism towards the latter can very easily borrow the transcendent claims of the former and use them to justify the most abominable actions.

…with disastrous consequences

If ever the book which I am not going to write is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery. Large areas of “the World” will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch*.

* Moloch was the Semitic god to whom children were sacrificed in 2 Kings 23:10

8. Love of animals will be treated as a personal love

It may be thought that I should not end this chapter without a word about our love for animals. But that will fit in better in the next. Whether animals are in fact subpersonal or not, they are never loved as if they were. The fact or the illusion of personality is always present, so that love for them is really an instance of that Affection which is the subject of the following chapter.


1. What are the dangers of patriotism?

2. Jack says the first ingredient of patriotism is love of home. What are its benefits and dangers?

3. Jack says the second ingredient of patriotism is attitude towards our country’s past. What are its benefits and dangers?

4. What may result if a nation thinks itself superior to another?

5. How would you express the sentiment described in the Kipling poem?

6. Why does Lewis say that, without patriotism, citizens can be motivated to sacrifice for their country by appeal to morality. Why does he consider this a step back?

C.S. Lewis Doodle

No doodle!

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