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Sir, Nicholas Coulson ( Letters, October 18) quotes the oft-repeated line of Dr Johnson’s, that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. People borrowing these words to denounce patriotism in general forget that James Boswell, in the The Life of Samuel Johnson, adds an important qualification: “But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest.”

Readers will not have much difficulty finding a few such self-interested patriots among the advocates of Brexit — another Johnson comes to mind — but it would be unfair not to assume that most of those who want us to leave the EU are moved by a “real and generous love of our country”. The fact that patriotism, like other passions, can be exploited for selfish or party-political ends should not make us think ill of all patriots: this would be as absurd as condemning all Remainers as unpatriotic.

David A McM Wilson
Cambridge, UK

Letter in response to this letter:

A philosopher may enlarge his views / From George Lemos, London, UK

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