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On Patriotism

February 14, 2012

Breathes there the man with soul so dead 
Who never to himself hath said, 
This is my own, my native land! 
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned, 
As home his footsteps he hath turned 
From wandering on a foreign strand! 

-Sir Walter Scott

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

-Wilfred Owen

What a beautiful country!

Patriotism is a lost virtue in our age. In the world of politically-correct multiculturalism, patriotism is assumed to mean a blind, Nazi-esque devotion to your country, especially when it is involved in systematically destroying people. Say your a Patriot and people will think that you are a devil-worshiper or a Republican (which is the same in the minds of many.) Patriotism has taken a bad rap in the “It’s cool to hate George Bush” era. It has become sort of a snarky badge of sophistication to hate America, although I’m still not sure why blind hatred would make anyone sophisticated. Patriotism is painted as narrow-minded, bigoted and evil.

Yet what these people accuse patriotism of being is jingoistic nationalism, which no reasonable person would support. However, it’s always easier to set up a straw man than it is to reason with someone, and so this persists.

I define patriotism simply as love for country. I believe that though this definition seems simple, it is more complex than it seems.

First of all, love is not blind. When someone truly loves something, they aren’t blind to its faults. Love doesn’t come in the absence of judgment, it comes because of judgment. A true patriot doesn’t believe in “My country, right or wrong.” A true patriot is not afraid to admit that his country has done bad things. I will admit it: America has done bad things. A true patriot will not shy away from these things; in fact he will look into claims of wrongdoing by his country to see if they are true, in the interest of preserving the truth. Let me put it this way; if a man loving a woman is blind to all her faults, that sets the tone for a really bad relationship. But if the man loving the woman does see her faults and recognize them as such, then that sets the tone for a healthy relationship. In the same way, the person who sees his country for what she truly is can love her in a patriotic way.

Second of all, love for country does not mean hatred of all other countries. This is a simplistic fallacy that is often followed. In the age of multiculturalism, people are implicitly taught that it is better and more sophisticated to hate America and like other countries. Usually what this means is that we have a lot of white, middle-class dilettantes who don’t know anything about their country and who think they know something about others. But if you do not love your country, you cannot understand why another person would love theirs. If a person hates his mother, he can’t really understand the love others have for their mothers. If someone loves his mother, he can understand the love others have for their mothers . Developing a love for your own country would be a helpful tool to appreciating other countries and seeing why people from those countries love their countries.

Arizona's Painted Desert

Patriotism does not mean supporting one party against another. (This is where I call out the liberals.) In my view, politics in America is like this: Democrats want to drive the country off a cliff at 180 miles per hour, and Republicans want to push back the tide and drive the country off a cliff at a mere 160 miles per hour. Liberals and Democrats and those leaning to that persuasion generally hear the word “Patriot,” think of Sarah Palin, and flip out. Generally I find that a lot of liberal hatred of America is directed at two things: capitalistic excesses and the perception of America’s supposed “imperialism.” On the first charge: capitalistic excesses are bad, but they pale in comparison to the problems of other countries. Capitalistic excesses consist of something like this: people losing their jobs/money due to corrupt CEOs and money men, people getting fat from eating at McDonalds, and people living in a society that is becoming more and more consumeristic. This is not good, to be sure, but it pales in comparison to the excesses of Communist countries (Russia’s gulags and purges, China’s Great Leap Forward) and the dearths of Third-World countries (the proverbial African children.) On the second charge: I don’t feel qualified to make to many judgments in this area, but I would like to lift this up for consideration. The recent wars fought by the US have been costly, unpopular and have not given America many tangible advantages. This should give some pause to the folks who think that America is a villain on the world stage that wishes to pillage and plunder countries to its own profit—If America wanted to invade a country simply to gain oil and please the populace, why didn’t it choose a more effective method?

Now for the part where I call out the conservatives. One thing that I am tired of is the portrayal of America as a quasi-divine institution. I believe America was to some degree founded on Christian, and even Augustinian principles. (Whether exclusively or inclusively Christian I have not researched enough to know.) I believe that God has done great works in and sometimes through America. Whether I believe America is a “Christian Nation” depends on how you define the term. Still, I am tired of some conservatives acting like America by itself is a sort of divinely instituted country, as if America represents Christianity. America is not run on Biblical principles—it is not what I would call a Christian Republic. If America falls, Christendom does not fall with it. Just because Barack Obama has some spectacularly bad economic policy and is really not a moral leader (as in leader of morals) does not mean that he is part of a conspiracy to destroy Christianity. God may bless America in the coming years; then again, He may not. God is not obligated to be on America’s side just because of things we have done in the past. If you look at the Bible, he was not constantly blessing Israel, the chosen people. In fact, he often let them be invaded, attacked or even subjugated into slavery.

Oxford, Mississippi

Finally, how can you be patriotic? One way in which you can be patriotic is by supporting the institutions of government. Too often we conservatives don’t give those in authority over us their due respect. We put on an unbiblical attitude of snarkiness and rebelliousness when we talk about those in power who go against us. It is important to remember Paul’s conduct toward Ananias in Acts 23:1-5, and also 1 Peter 2:13-17. St. Peter says to “Honor the Emperor,” who was an openly pagan ruler of an openly pagan empire, and was usually what we would consider a tyrant. This should give those of us who viciously attack Barack Obama pause. Yes, I disagree with Barack Obama on pretty much everything, and I wouldn’t be sad to see him leave the White House on January 1st, 2013. But he is still the President and the office of President deserves respect and support. This means not viciously attacking, smearing, or mocking the President. Let’s fight like gentlemen. The same thing goes for Congress and the Courts/Supreme Court. Yes, they are corrupt. But authority still commands respect, and honor prescribes that you will respect the office of Congressman/Senator/Judge even if the person occupying it does not live up to it. I must say that in this case I am the chief of sinners speaking, as I have often railed out against the authorities in unbiblical ways. I don’t want this to be the final word on the issue, and I think that a Christian view of how to honor the authorities, especially in the area of satire, has yet to be well-articulated.

Patriotism is good, and it’s time that we defend it against the smear campaign conducted against it. Let’s rise above the level of political hacks.

B.B. King--An American Institution

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Toni permalink
    February 14, 2012 9:27 pm

    Thought provoking, Nick, as always. Yours is one of the few blogs I read with any consistency. Keep sending me a perspective I have to think through.

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