At the beginning of Plato’s “Republic,” Socrates asks what justice (doing the morally right thing) is, and Polemarchus replies that it’s helping your friends and harming your enemies. That was the answer among the ancient Greeks as well as many other traditional societies. Moral behavior was the way you treated those in your “in-group,” as opposed to outsiders.The argument follows two questions:
Socrates questioned this ethical exclusivism, thus beginning a centuries-long argument that, by modern times, led most major moral philosophers (for example, Mill and Kant) to conclude that morality required an impartial, universal viewpoint that treated all human beings as equals. In other words, the “in-group” for morality is not any particular social group (family, city, nation) but humankind as a whole. This universal moral viewpoint seems to reject patriotism for “cosmopolitanism[.]”
1) How can it be a virtue, if it causes us to value some people's interests more highly than others?
2) Is it possible to treat people as equals while favoring your own group's interest?
I'll leave you to consider his approach to American patriotism. I'm going to propose another set of answers to the problem, which to me seem better.
Dr. Gutting should pause and reflect on how Aristotle, as well as Plato, would approach the question. First of all, what is a virtue? It is a strength, an excellence; it is also a capacity, which allows you to pursue new actualities. Courage is a strength, but having courage means being able to do things that the cowardly cannot do.
But to determine what capacities are really conveyed by the virtue, we also have to know the nature of the thing. Human nature is different from horse nature. The expression of the virtue of courage in a man will therefore be very different from the expression of what is courage in a horse.
Patriotism is a subset of the virtue of loyalty. Loyalty is certainly a virtue, because it gives us strength: those who possess mutual loyalty have a capacity to do things that those without it cannot do.
But what is the proper expression of loyalty? To know that we have to look to the nature of the thing that is being loyal, in this case, human nature.
Aristotle determines (in Politics I) that man is a social animal, and that political behavior is part of human nature. Every man will thus be born into a polity as he is born into a family; for every woman, it is the same.
It turns out that patriotism is a virtue that arises from our nature. It's like your relationship with your mother: you're going to have a relationship of one kind or another, but if you can find a way to love her and forgive her, it's a healthier relationship than if you get trapped in despising and resenting her. Thus, patriotism is a kind of human flourishing; everyone should be patriotic.
But what about the concern that we need to treat everyone as equals? Dr. Gutting is thinking about the American mission to free all mankind, which I also think is an admirable mission. There is, though, another answer: we often seek justice adversarially.
Our court system works this way. The idea isn't that it's wrong for the defense attorney to be totally committed, by hook or crook, to getting his client as free of charges as possible. It's that, in the opposition of such interests, justice will emerge. So there's no reason not to fight for your country; in fact, insofar as you are interested in that higher justice, everyone should fight for his country, and justice will emerge from the contest. The better ideas and systems will rise; the worse ones will fall, or reform.
Thus, if your interest is justice for all humankind, this may be the best way to achieve it.