Notes on Steven Smith - Patriot

What led you to write the book in the first place?
What are the two extremes (cosmopolitanism and nationalism) that we are trying to reclaim patriotism from?
Why do "elites" have an extreme aversion to patriotism?
What does it mean to be a creedal nation? A Nation founded on an idea?
What is most important to reach to young people?
Were the founders Patriots? How can you be patriotic to a country you're trying to form?

Book: Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes

A rediscovery of patriotism as a virtue in line with the core values of democracy in an extremist age The concept of patriotism has fallen on hard times. What was once a value that united Americans has become so politicized by both the left and the right that it threatens to rip apart the social fabric. On the right, patriotism has become synonymous with nationalism and an “us versus them” worldview, while on the left it is seen as an impediment to acknowledging important ethnic, religious, or racial identities and a threat to cosmopolitan globalism. Steven B. Smith reclaims patriotism from these extremist positions and advocates for a patriotism that is broad enough to balance loyalty to country against other loyalties. Describing how it is a matter of both the head and the heart, Smith shows how patriotism can bring the country together around the highest ideals of equality and is a central and ennobling disposition that democratic societies cannot afford to do without.


Caption/Subtitle: A new book tries to revive Americans' love of country without going to extremes

When Steven B. Smith told his Yale colleagues about the topic of the book he was working on – Reclaiming Patriotism – he was met with bewildered and even troubled looks. Perhaps they viewed patriotism (following British critic of the American Revolution Samuel Johnson) as the last refuge of scoundrels. Or perhaps something else is at work that has turned Americans off to the idea of love for one's country – a healthy skepticism of our own history and national values, which in the extreme erodes any semblance of patriotism.


Smith is careful to distinguish patriotism from nationalism, which often accompanies ethnic chauvinism, while also warning against the dangers of excessive cosmopolitanism that is so fashionable among elites in academic institutions and government.

Can patriotism be reclaimed in a way that brings these two extremes of American politics closer together under one banner? Professor Smith joins me live this Sunday to help me understand first of all why patriotism has gotten such a bad rap, and secondly, how it can be revived without stoking the flames of international conflict or invoking a dangerous "us vs. them" mentality.

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Steven B. Smith received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He has taught at Yale since 1984 and is the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science. He has served as Director of Graduate Studies in Political Science, Director of the Special Program in the Humanities, and Acting Chair of Judaic Studies and from 1996-2011 served as the Master of Branford College. His research has focused on the history of political philosophy with special attention to the problem of the ancients and moderns, the relation of religion and politics, and theories of representative government.

His best-known publications include Hegel’s Critique of Liberalism (1989), Spinoza, Liberalism, and Jewish Identity (1997), Spinoza’s Book of Life (2003), Reading Leo Strauss (2006), and The Cambridge Companion to Leo Strauss (2009), Political Philosophy (2012), and Modernity and its Discontents (2016) which recently came out in paperback.  You can read about this book and the introductory chapter on the publication page.

He is also the Co-Director of Yale’s Center for the Study of Representative Institutions (YSCRI) that focuses on the theory and practice of representative government in the Anglo-American world.

He has received several academic awards and prizes including the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize given by Phi Beta Kappa, but is most proud of receiving the Lex Hixon ‘63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences in 2009. He is a die-hard Yankees fan and hopes to be able to play for the team in the next life.

Main topics


This general disillusion with e pluribus unum has caused many people to give up on patriotism altogether.

Nationalists believe that America is bitterly divided between themselves and internal enemies who betray it. “A nationalist,” George Orwell wrote, “is one who thinks only, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige.”

The problem is that if you abandon shared patriotism, you have severed the bonds of civic life. Which is why I so admired Yale political philosopher Steven B. Smith's book "Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes." Smith’s concept that opened the door for me is the idea that American patriotism is both rational and emotional, irrational.

The core cluster of American ideals would certainly include equality, inclusion, self-government, and aspiration, the idea that to be an American involves climbing upward to something.

Sometimes caring for America brings moral shame. As Senator Cory Booker has remarked, “If America hasn’t broken your heart, then you don’t love her enough.”

This kind of love Smith argues is best conveyed by the Yiddish term mishpocheh.

Full George Will article

Interview: Steven Smith, 3/8/21 by Ryan Frant

"To be an American is to be constantly engaged with the question about what it is to be an American. And it seems to me, maybe to go back to our earlier discussion, it is the openness—you could even call it skepticism—to the question of who we are and what we are that is an important element of American exceptionalism and American patriotism."

On Tuesday, the Yale Political Union hosted a debate in which participants discussed the consequences and rewards of patriotism and whether it should be promoted in the United States.

The debate, "Resolved: Reclaim Patriotism," was influenced by professor of political science Steven Smith's new book, "Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes." Smith, one of the participants, gave the first speech, arguing for the promotion of patriotism.

According to Smith, the educated elite class has an obscure relationship to patriotism.

Smith stated that students would not have to look far to find reminders of American patriotism.

Patriotism's negative connotations are one of the reasons why Smith thinks the conversation is so important.

Steven B. Smith's conception of patriotism and his defense of it are both reasonable and valuable in an era when, as he observes, critics and champions of patriotism alike all too often equate it with ethno-nationalism.

In brief, S. Smith sees patriotism as most akin to family loyalty. R. Smith sees patriotism as most akin to partisan loyalty. S. Smith views patriotism as fundamentally loyalty to an ethos that expresses what a society regards as admirable. R. Smith sees patriotism fundamentally as loyalty to a project to achieve what a society regards as admirable.

Yet S. Smith's turn, or return, to familial loyalty as a metaphor for patriotism raises a question.

"We the people" who created the Constitution might perhaps resemble a family, but the constitutional order itself is surely something different.

(Abraham Lincoln) He viewed the Declaration of Independence as calling on Americans to do more with their constitutional order than faithful home maintenance.

It is more comfortable to think of American patriotism as reverence for the admirable Father Abraham than it is to see it as a partisan endeavor seeking to advance America's constitutional republicanism amidst the contrasting orders and aims of other lands.

On the evening that Joe Biden claimed his presidential victory over Donald Trump, he reprised a trope that Barack Obama made famous at the Democratic national convention in 2004.

"There are no red states, no blue states," Biden told an adoring crowd, "just the United States." The idea that we are all one people - going back to the Constitution's promise "to form a more perfect Union" - has always been more of an aspiration than a reality.

President Biden's plea for national unity is - or should be - a call to embrace patriotism.

In 1992, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton denounced Sister Souljah's rhetoric as racist not different in kind from that of KKK leader David Duke.

Since that time, left wing extremism has only gained ground within the Democratic Party. The most recent example of this extremism has been the “cancel culture” movement that has become a leading objective of the progressive wing of the party.

A recent example of this public erasure was the 6-1 decision by the San Francisco school board to remove the names of Washington, Lincoln, and even Senator Diane Feinstein from city schools for a variety of perceived sins.

Biden’s strength as a leader has always been his capacity for empathy, but he needs to show that both his sentiments and his policies not only respond to the needs of the moment but are rooted in a larger historical vision of America. Ronald Reagan did this by successfully appropriating John Winthrop’s biblical image of America as a “city on a hill.”

Political Science Class:

This course is intended as an introduction to political philosophy as seen through an examination of some of the major texts and thinkers of the Western political tradition. Three broad themes that are central to understanding political life are focused upon: the polis experience (Plato, Aristotle), the sovereign state (Machiavelli, Hobbes), constitutional government (Locke), and democracy (Rousseau, Tocqueville). The way in which different political philosophies have given expression to various forms of political institutions and our ways of life are examined throughout the course.


Smith is from Chicago but is now a New Haven-ite. He has been there since 1985 or so.

Jay Nordlinger asks whether Chinese persecution of the Uighurs comes from their evil communism, or their evil Han nationalism. Chinese nationalism is a force to be reckoned with.

America is an ideal - rooted in the aspirations of our founding documents. Repudiating that shows deep ignorant and disrespect for what we are as a people.

Smith concurs with a quote by someone who said he was on the far-right side of the left wing movement (a good Straussian way to fit in at Yale).

Nationalists see the country as the only source of their identity. And then this is very easy for it to become coupled with feelings of anger, resentment, and most dangerously the attempt to identify enemies beginning often with the foreign enemies, but then always becoming domestic enemies, domestic others who are seen to present some kind of existential challenge to the national identity.

Identifying with a place

You have the epigraph, “I am an American, Chicago born. From Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March.” …That famous opening sentence, “I’m an American, Chicago born,” first sentence, opening sentence, of The Adventures of Augie March captured something to me, not just of the spirit of that novel, but of me. I also am an American, Chicago born, and I lived away from Chicago for many, many years. More than half my life has been spent in New Haven where I live now. But this identification with a place I think is very important.

On the creedal dimension:

I’ve been emphasizing and reemphasizing here this aspirational or creedal dimension of American patriotism. But in many ways that’s only one side of the coin. And I argue in different ways in the book that patriotism is, like all virtues in many ways, patriotism is a matter of both the head and the heart. It is both an intellectual virtue, based upon understanding of our founding documents and the principles for which we stand. But it’s also a matter of the heart and it’s also connected to loyalty.
But this idea that we are creedal nation, a creedal people, and be a core of the idea of some of our best students of American politics. Let me just mention three of those students, Samuel Huntington, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Martin Diamond. All of them saw this sense of creedal peoplehood as central to America and that’s in part what my book is an attempt to reestablish.
  • Smith talks about why nationalism has a bad name (often accompanies ethnic chauvinism a la White nationalism - and a bellicose attitude towards other countries).
  • Carl Schmidt viewed international relations through the fundamental category of "friends" and "enemies" - this kind of patriotism can lead to wars.
  • Washington elites/academics, etc. tend to favor an extreme cosmopolitanism that has to ritually desecrate the American flag before proceeding in the conversation. It's not cool to love America at Yale. It's equated with Trumpism/MAGA flyover America.
  • Part of the failure in Vietnam came from the underestimating patriotism of the Vietnamese people.
  • Things like "cancel culture" and the renaming of schools named after historical figures stems from the hatred of patriotic ideals.
  • Smith says that American patriotism is uniquely self-critical, and inherently liberal and cosmopolitan. Similar argument made by Yoram Hazony and Frank Buckley in promoting their brands of nationalism.

The book has a "definitive list" of American thinkers who are cool and uncool.

Smith calls nationalism the opposite in same ways to American patriotism. He is not against nationalism per se, but contrasts it to the federalist ideal, and links it more closely with progressivism.

The 1619 project is a deleterious influence on the conversation.

Scapegoating the whole record of American history - labelling it Original Sin.

Dangerous ideas to be teaching high school students.

Make sure we get basic founding texts and literature in front of young people.

Alistair MacIntyre

Patriotism does generally and characteristically involve a peculiar regard not just for one's own nation, but for the particular characteristics and merits and achievements of one's own nation. These latter are indeed valued as merits and achievements and their character as merits and achievements provides reasons supportive of the patriot's attitudes. But the patriot does not value in the same way precisely similar merits and achievements when they are the merits and achievements 'of some nation other than his or hers. For he or she-at least in the role of patriot-values them not just as merits and achievements, but as the merits and achievements of this particular nation.

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