It is an easy thing to profess a love of one's country. Few among us are immune to feeling some affection for our country. For this to be considered patriotism, however, involves more than a casual whim or sentiment. Patriotism entails a deep and dutiful commitment to one's country that can be put into action: it may demand someone to make sacrifices for their fellow countrymen and women. Thus understood, patriotism can sit awkwardly with a liberal understanding of politics based on the primacy of individual rights, the rule of law and limited government. Any duty owed to society or its members, many liberals would say, is either derivative of the rights of citizenship or incurred through a citizen's consent. The possible tension should be clear. Whereas liberal citizenship primarily concerns an interest in individual liberty, patriotism concerns an interest in community and civic virtue. One is aligned with a value of personal autonomy, which is concerned with allowing people to look inwards so that they may govern themselves; the other with a value of collective responsibility, which requires people to look outwards so as to promote a common good.
But in recent times, liberals have emphasised the need within any understanding of citizenship to balance rights with responsibilities. There is a recognition that an overweening attention to rights fosters a destructive culture of legalism and conflict. Animated by a new language of community, liberals have spoken of the need ‘to restore a common purpose to civic life’ (Dagger 1997, p. 4), of how ‘liberal politics depends on a certain level and quality of citizen virtue’ (Macedo 1990, p. 3), of how a modern state should be energised by ‘liberal purposes’ (Galston 1991). Liberal political thought has incorporated ideas of solidarity and virtue into its conception of citizenship. For all this, there remains some ambivalence about the idea of patriotism. Although liberals are prepared to accept that a functioning political community requires citizens who are prepared to participate in its public institutions and to act for the common good, some doubt remains about whether civic responsibility must also involve the requirement of loving one's country. Liberals continue to harbour the suspicion that a special concern for compatriots may leave the door open to unchecked particularism. There lingers, too, the sense that patriotism as a value belongs more comfortably to a political tradition of republicanism rather than one of liberalism.