In a Pali class this last weekend, a s/w related topic came up. In looking at a passage from the Karaniya Metta Sutta, the teacher* chose to use the term “love”, but clarified in in a way I’d not come across before. He outlined “3 kinds of love” in terms of 3 levels of “pema” (usually “affection” and contrasted with metta):
1: tanha pema – romantic love, rooted in attraction to beauty and gratification,
2: <???> pema – (I didn’t catch the qualifying term) – family love, more pure, not conditioned by beauty or attraction, but rather the common weal of family members – parents to children, among siblings, and traditionally across the extended family;
3: metta pema – the most pure, unconditional, according to the teacher “Buddha loved all equally”. Ultimately, in practice, a path to cetovimutti – deliverance of the mind, albeit temporary.
That 2nd one would seem to relate to the basis for patriotism, where the attachment is to a broader scope of relationship but analogous to family – one’s countrymen (Latin ‘patriota’ from Greek ‘patriotes’ ‘from the same country’, and ‘patris’ as ‘fatherland’, and ultimately to the word for ‘father’). Ethically (in terms of kusala/akusala) that would appear to be a sort of middle ground between the tanha and the metta forms – more pure than affection based in selfishness, but not as unbounded and unconditioned as metta. Rather conditioned by common interest. Patriotism (as distinct from nationalism, chauvinism, jingoism, xenophobia, etc.) can have a relatively noble sense, in that one may even sacrifice one’s own life for the benefit of the country / extended family. (Patriotism is, in European culture, often closely associated with honoring fallen soldiers.)
This relates, in my mind, to the scientific theory that refines the evolutionary, “selection of the fittest” notion beyond the sense of brute force to survive and reproduce. Antonio Damasio, for instance (in “Self Comes to Mind”, 2010) points out that patterns of behavior are also evolving at the DNA level which work towards altruism and the common good (culture) rather than simply the individual’s survival. These layers of development, e.g. in the neurology, however, are newer, less deeply embedded, weaker and slower to act; when push comes to shove, more primitive (self-survival) instincts might tend take precedence.
Arguably (and to bring this back to Buddhism) the renunciate lifestyle can be seen as related to this. As a notable instance, Gotama Buddha’s life and teachings focused on adding value to human kind universially, so to speak, rather than just trying to pass on his own genes in a big way (as, for instance, did Genghis Khan, a rather a non-spiritual wheel-turning despot, whose DNA is remarkably widely present in modern day populations across Asia and elsewhere).
So patriotism can be seen as relatively wholesome (skillful / kusala).
*The teacher, U Hla Myint, is a former monk, scholar and translator, in the Mahasi lineage; his style shows the s/w formal, analytic Burmese approach.