American Patriotism

theCL  2010-07-04  America, Heritage, History

Thinking about patriotism on this "Independence Day" ...

Too many Americans confuse patriotism with nationalism today, but these words have 2 very different meanings. Nationalism describes not a love for one's country, but a devotion to its central government. Nationalism places the collective over the individual, the State over the community, and power above liberty. George Orwell describes nationalism like this:

By ‘nationalism’ I mean ... the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them ... By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

Historian John J. Dwyer describes the difference between patriotism and nationalism this way:

The patriot says, "I love my country," works for its good, and defends it if necessary – against enemies within and without. He strives and prays not primarily that God will bless his country, but that his country will bless God. The nationalist, meanwhile, says, "My country is better than yours." "My country is the greatest there has ever been." "The greatest nation on God’s green earth." "They hate my country because it is so good."

The original American patriots fought the Revolutionary War against a nation (Britain) and its central government, to preserve man's natural rights. They fought as 13 free and independent states too. Not as one nation. (See July 4th “Independence Day” History.)

It's a mistake to believe that patriotism "means that you place the welfare of your nation ahead of your own even if it costs you your life," because this means placing the collective above the individual. In other words, "whatever decisions our politicians make, I will die for them, because the King can do no wrong." This is the antithesis of our original American patriots.

Patriotism is a devotion to the ideas of our founding, as described in our Declaration of Independence.

The True Meaning of Patriotism

I subscribe to a patriotism rooted in ideas that in turn gave birth to a country, but it’s the ideas that I think of when I’m feeling patriotic. I’m a patriotic American because I revere the ideas that motivated the Founders and compelled them, in many instances, to put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line.

What ideas? Read the Declaration of Independence again. Or, if you’re like most Americans these days, read it for the very first time. It’s all there. All men are created equal. They are endowed not by government but by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Premier among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Government must be limited to protecting the peace and preserving our liberties, and doing so through the consent of the governed. It’s the right of a free people to rid themselves of a government that becomes destructive of those ends, as our Founders did in a supreme act of courage and defiance more than two hundred years ago.

Call it freedom. Call it liberty. Call it whatever you want, but it’s the bedrock on which this nation was founded and from which we stray at our peril. It’s what has defined us as Americans. It’s what almost everyone who has ever lived on this planet has yearned for. It makes life worth living, which means it’s worth fighting and dying for.

I understand that America has often fallen short of the superlative ideas expressed in the Declaration. That hasn’t diminished my reverence for them, nor has it dimmed my hope that future generations of Americans will be re-inspired by them.This brand of patriotism, in fact, gets me through the roughest and most cynical of times. My patriotism is never affected by any politician’s failures ... government policy, or any slump in the economy or stock market. I never cease to get that “rush” that comes from watching Old Glory flapping in the breeze, no matter how far today’s generations have departed from the original meaning of those stars and stripes. No outcome of any election, no matter how adverse, makes me feel any less devoted to the ideals our Founders put to pen in 1776. Indeed, as life’s experiences mount ... I get more fired up than ever to help others come to appreciate the same things.

During a recent visit to the land of my ancestors, Scotland, I came across a few very old words that gave me pause ... “It is not for honor or glory or wealth that we fight, but for freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life.”

Freedom—understanding it, living it, teaching it, and supporting those who are educating others about its principles. That, my fellow Americans, is what patriotism should mean to each of us today.

American patriotism is rooted in the pride of our colonial past as a country of pioneers, as well as in our Revolutionary War. Steeped in the doctrine of natural rights and tired of the pomp of British rule, the colonists rose up and fought to be free!

Patriotism

The original American patriots were those individuals brave enough to resist with force the oppressive power of King George. I accept the definition of patriotism as that effort to resist oppressive state power.

The true patriot is motivated by a sense of responsibility and out of self-interest for himself, his family, and the future of his country to resist government abuse of power. He rejects the notion that patriotism means obedience to the state. Resistance need not be violent, but the civil disobedience that might be required involves confrontation with the state and invites possible imprisonment.

True patriotism today has gotten a bad name, at least from the government and the press. Those who now challenge the unconstitutional methods of imposing an income tax on us, or force us to use a monetary system designed to serve the rich at the expense of the poor are routinely condemned.

Statism depends on the idea that the government owns us and citizens must obey. Confiscating the fruits of our labor through the income tax is crucial to the health of the state. The draft, or even the mere existence of the Selective Service, emphasizes that we will march off to war at the state's pleasure.

A free society rejects all notions of involuntary servitude, whether by draft or the confiscation of the fruits of our labor through the personal income tax.

The principle of patriotism is turned on its head. Whether it's with regard to the defense of welfare spending at home, confiscatory income tax, or an immoral monetary system or support for a war ... the defenders of liberty and the Constitution are portrayed as unpatriotic, while those who support these programs are seen as the patriots.

The true patriot challenges the state when the state embarks on enhancing its power at the expense of the individual. Without a better understanding and a greater determination to rein in the state, the rights of Americans that resulted from the revolutionary break from the British and the writing of the Constitution will disappear.

Let not those who love the power of the welfare/warfare state label the dissenters of authoritarianism as unpatriotic or uncaring. Patriotism is more closely linked to dissent than it is to conformity and a blind desire for safety and security. Understanding the magnificent rewards of a free society makes us unbashful in its promotion, fully realizing that maximum wealth is created and the greatest chance for peace comes from a society respectful of individual liberty.

Happy "Independence Day" Patriots!