Patriotism Is the Virtue of the Vicious

Oscar Wilde? A. H. Cooper-Prichard? Alvin Redman? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde achieved his greatest fame in London. The historically fractured and deadly relationship between Ireland and England has led some intellectuals of the isles to adopt a skeptical attitude toward patriotic fervor. Intense emotions have been inspired by both patriotism and opposition to patriotism. The following remark has been attributed to Wilde:

Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.

I haven’t been able to find this saying in famous wit’s oeuvre. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Oscar Wilde died in 1900. The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1931 book “Conversations with Oscar Wilde” by A. H. Cooper-Prichard. The author presented statements he heard spoken by Wilde during discussions and social events. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“How is it,” I once asked him, “that people who are not possessed of a single other virtue should come out at times as patriots?”

“Exaggerated patriotism,” he answered, “is the most insincere form of self-conceit.” And at another time he said, “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.”

The accuracy of the quotation is based on the memory of Cooper-Prichard, and his book appeared decades after the words were spoken. Nevertheless, the citation is significant because it presents direct ear-witness testimony.

According to Cooper-Prichard another dialog reflecting Oscar Wilde’s attitude toward patriotism occurred in the early 1890s in a drawing-room in South Kensington, London: 2

AN AUNT. Oh, come, let us be patriotic!
OSCAR WILDE. ‘Let us sing unto the Lord a new song!’ and let that song be that to-day the World has become altogether too wide for mere Patriotism, which, after all, now is only the virtue of small minds.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Patriotism Is the Virtue of the Vicious

Notes:

  1. 1931, Conversations with Oscar Wilde by A. H. Cooper-Prichard (Arthur Henry Cooper-Prichard), Chapter 1: My Introduction To Oscar Wilde, Quote Page 20, Philip Allan, London. (Verified with hardcopy)
  2. 1931, Conversations with Oscar Wilde by A. H. Cooper-Prichard (Arthur Henry Cooper-Prichard), Chapter 5: Oscar Wilde at Afternoon Tea, Quote Page 99, Philip Allan, London. (Verified with hardcopy)