Adam Smith on impartial patriotism

Yiftah Elazar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Scholars have emphasized Adam Smith's critique of the dangers of patriotism, but have not paid close attention to its potential value. This article recovers from Smith's work an attractive model of patriotism without nationalism. The potential value of patriotism lies in inspiring individuals to realize an ideal of impartial beneficence, which consists in overcoming selfishness and other subpolity partialities and in promoting the greater happiness of all fellow citizens. Smith defends virtuous patriotism against strong cosmopolitanism by arguing that a global division of labor, which directs individuals to benefit their compatriots, more effectively serves the interests of humanity than directly trying to promote global happiness. This article illuminates aspects of Smith's work that contrast with the invisible hand argument and favor the conscious pursuit of public interest in some contexts. It contributes to recent discussions of patriotism a distinctive way of understanding its relation to impartiality.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)329-350
Number of pages22
JournalReview of Politics
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I am grateful to Sam Fleischacker, Ryan Hanley, Geneviève Rousselière, Rania Salem, Michelle Schwarze, and the editor and anonymous referees at the Review of Politics for their helpful comments on drafts of the paper. Research was supported by grant 1970/16 from the Israel Science Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of University of Notre Dame.


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