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Making Patriots 1st Edition

10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226044378
ISBN-10: 0226044378
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Editorial Reviews Review

Walter Berns, an eminent constitutional scholar, plumbs the mysteries and paradoxes of American patriotism in this slim volume. How is it, he asks, that Americans can pursue their individual liberties and at the same time demonstrate public spirit? "Patriotism means love of country and implies a readiness to sacrifice for it, to fight for it, perhaps even to give one's life for it," writes Berns. "Why, especially, should Americans be willing to do this? In theory, this nation began with self-interested men, by nature private men, men naturally endowed not with duties or obligations but with certain unalienable rights, the private rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that each defines for himself."

The short answer is that Americans dedicate themselves to universal principles enumerated in the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents. This is, at bottom, a book on why Americans love their country. But it does not drip with star-spangled sentiment. Rather, it is almost wholly intellectual. Berns might have included more storytelling and less analysis on these pages. His narrative is occasionally character-driven--Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass make significant appearances--but Berns is primarily interested in their ideas. Making Patriots has the virtue of being both succinct and direct, and it addresses a set of thorny problems in clear language. Berns offers smart chapters on how patriotism interacts with religious devotion and racial identity, plus commentary on how patriotism is learned ("No one is born loving his country; such love is not natural, but has to be somehow taught or acquired"). Making Patriots may be read quickly, even as its insights are deep. Readers will find themselves returning to the book again and again, long after they thought they were done with it. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

In 1932, theologian and political philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr observed the ambiguous nature of patriotism as a virtue. Patriotism, he argued, requires an individual's self-sacrifice to the self-interest of a particular group and, as such, often results in horrific evils and conflicts. Berns (Freedom, Virtue, and the First Amendment), professor emeritus at Georgetown and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, acknowledges that the idea of patriotism in 21st-century America is indeed a paradoxical one. After all, in a country that elevates the self, to be a patriot requires one to give up one's self for something greater, most notably one's country. In his brief survey, Berns explores the meaning of patriotism in ancient times in Sparta, the changing idea of patriotism after the establishment of Christianity (when loyalties to church and state became divided) and the emergence of the American flag as the symbol of a republic to which Americans pledge their allegiance. He asserts that our contemporary educational system does not succeed in educating young people in the ways of patriotism and urges schools to rethink their ways of inculcating love of country in students. Finally, he elevates Lincoln to ""patriotism's poet," for the 16th president "promoted love of country, reminding us that as citizens we are bound to each other... by a cause we hold in common." Unfortunately, Berns's book offers no clear definition of patriotism, though his view of it appears narrow and sentimental. Although plenty of people will disagree with him, Berns comes to no startling new conclusions about patriotism; he merely recycles old ideas that will appeal to a limited readership.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 164 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (May 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226044378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226044378
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,005,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Steven Fantina on July 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In his short collection of essays, Walter Berns explores the history of patriotism and identifies why it has achieved such a unique plateau here in the United States. Occasionally, bordering on the esoteric due to its advanced discussion of ancient Sparta and more-than-passing mentions of some other abstruse historical topics, certain sections of the treatise may overwhelm some readers. Still those who must plod through the first few chapters will be handsomely rewarded with the book's later essays. The testimonials to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas alone make it a beneficial read. In these two sections, Bern's ideas illuminate and his prose soars. Of our 16th president he rhapsodically ponders, "what Lincoln did at Gettysburg was to create new mystic chords, stretching from a new battlefield to new graves, to our hearts and hearthstones, all over this broad land, South as well as North, reminding us of the cause written in our book, the Declaration of Independence."
Analyzing Frederick Douglas' life and the impact he left behind, Mr. Berns offers some notions that defy longstanding, putative preconceptions. Mr. Douglas, himself rattles the established elite thinking when he is quoted as saying, "the federal Government was never in its essence anything but anti-slavery...If in its origin, slavery had any relation to the government, it was only as the scaffolding to the magnificent structure, to be removed as soon as the building was completed." Mr. Berns may not employ such majestic imagery but is nearly as profound when he deftly delves into present day race relations.
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By C. Olson on January 12, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great book and makes an excellent gift
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10 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Donald L. Linn on September 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This small book reminds me so clearly of my public education in the 1950's and '60's when God and country were so seamlessly integrated into the curricula of our schools that it would have been unnatural to think otherwise (though how quickly, it seems, those thoughts did turn in the mid-to-late '60's). Dr. Berns' thoughtful essay outlines clearly and persuasivley the case for reintegrating patriotism (not jingoism) back into American society and education. Required reading, filled with wonderful anecdotes, quotes and references.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful By E. Solomonson on April 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The young men in America today seem much more concerned with baggy trousers, doing things with girls, Japanese automobiles, and crunchy snack food. This is all fine and dandy until your country needs your service and possibly your life to promote global democracy abroad.

Now what?

As a man of nearly 40 I wondered to myself "How can I get these kids to stop playing music so loud and ship them overseas without actually confronting them directly?" Well....Walter Berns has the answer. They need to be inspired by people like Abraham Lincoln, so that they may serve our nation, serve our ideals, and stop making so much noise and wear pants that fit properly (he doesn't discuss there noisy music or their pants..thats help me the day I never see another 16 year old flaunting his boxer shorts again cannot come fast enough).

The important thing here is to read this book and get the youth of America out and doing something productive like dying for the ideas of old men who work for think tanks.
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8 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This slim little book answers some of the questions that have been raised since September 11 (although the book was published some 4 or so months prior to the attacks): for example, what is patriotism? how do we inculcate it in our youth? Berns's answer is one tempered with reason and logic, and he seems to posit--not without good cause--that patriotism must be taught in our schools. As the previous reviewer said, patriotism--rightly defined, as Berns approaches it--is not jingoism. In fact, he is quite critical (a little too much, in my opinion) of that famed patriot Stephen Decatur's aphorism "my country right or wrong." Moreover, to those who would question America's role in the world, to those who think we are a force for evil, Berns urges them to think of victory in World War II and an end to communism (at least as far as the USSR goes)--how could those battles have been won without the US. His brief discussion of the notion of being un-American is particularly insightful; for example, that has a meaning all its own--one never says something is "un-French" or "un-British." It is, indeed, right, honorable, justified, and expected that we love our country. Some folks in the media and academia would profit from reading this great little work.
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