Sascha from Heroic Dreams writes about The Virtue of Patriotism, presumably paraphrasing Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness”. I was never a fan of Ms. Rand, but this piece is good without regard to the Randian citations. His definition: “… patriotism is a constitutive part of the virtue of integrity; it is loyalty to rational moral-political-economic principles and the moral ambition to modify the social order of the society one lives in according to these principles.” Not bad. Worth reading. (I weigh in with a comment.)
When a writer starts talking about “virtues”, for definitions I turn to orthodox Catholic doctrine, which has a very refined typology of virtues, derived from Aristotle, but going beyond him, and embedding two millenia of observation.
The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to patriotism under the heading of Civil Allegiance, which is divided into two duties — not virtues — patriotism and obedience. Patriotism is defined as “Patriotism requires that the citizen should have a reasonable esteem and love for his country. He should take an interest in his country’s history, he should know how to value her institutions, and he should be prepared to sacrifice himself for her welfare. In his country’s need it is not only a noble thing, but it is a sacred duty to lay down one’s life for the safety of the commonwealth.” The discussion then segues into the scope of the duty of obedience, and the distinctions between duty to the civil power and moral and religious duty. Patriotism is also seen as a virtue under the general heading of the cardinal virtue of justice, i.e. giving to each what they are due. Under the subheading of piety, there are duties of loyalty such as to parents, and also to country, i.e. patriotism. So, the virtue lies in living out this loyalty.
UPDATE April 18, 2011: “I was never a fan of Ms. Rand …” This is not accurate. I was a fan. I was never an adherent of her philosophy. I got a lot out of Atlas Shrugged.