Dr. Johnson famously said that patriotism was the last refuge of a scoundrel and so unwittingly guaranteed maximum frustration to the few people who, 200-odd years later, are able to understand his words in the face of their constant misapplication. Common sense ought to be enough to tell us, even if Boswell had not done so in reporting the remark, that Johnson did not mean patriotism was a bad thing, still less that patriots were, ipso facto, scoundrels. He meant, in the context of the gathering rebellion of Britain’s North American colonies, that those who justified their disloyalty to their king on the grounds of a higher loyalty to their country were canting rascals only seeking some appropriately grand-sounding excuse to justify rebellion and treachery against their lawful and legitimate sovereign. The equivalent of Dr. Johnson’s dictum today would be to say that environmentalism or another sort of...

 
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