At his news con­fer­ence on Friday, Pres­i­dent Obama said of Edward J. Snowden, “I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot.” The pres­i­dent claims that Mr. Snowden’s actions were unnec­es­sary and harmful and con­trasts Mr. Snowden with patri­otic people who protest sur­veil­lance through legal means.

But what makes a person patri­otic? In a book pub­lished long before this con­tro­versy, I cited four fea­tures of a patri­otic person: “Spe­cial affec­tion for one’s country, a spe­cial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with it, spe­cial con­cern for its well-​​being, and a will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice to pro­mote the country’s good.”

Mr. Snowden has cer­tainly made a sig­nif­i­cant per­sonal sac­ri­fice, and there is so far no evi­dence that he was moti­vated by any­thing other than con­cern for his country.

Whether Mr. Snowden is a patriot and whether he acted rightly are two dif­ferent ques­tions. Many patri­otic people have car­ried out or sup­ported actions that have been harmful to their country.

STEPHEN NATHANSON
Brook­line, Mass., Aug. 10, 2013

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