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Post-Independence-Day Musings on Patriotism

July 6th, 2011

Patriotism is love of one’s country. However, what does that mean? Of course, it means to recognize all that is, has been, and will be good about your country. It means to respect its achievements and know its admirable qualities.

However, does it also mean that you never question your country? Never recognize its wrongs? Never apologize to others on its behalf when has wronged them? Does patriotism mean always believing your country is better than all others? Never criticizing what its leaders do?

Many Americans become furious when other Americans do these things. However:

  • If you never question your country, it will never improve.
  • If you never recognize its wrongs, it will commit then again and again.
  • If you never apologize on its behalf when it has wronged others, no one will respect it.
  • If you believe your country is superior to all others, people will see you as arrogant.
  • If you never criticize what its leaders do, they will do anything.

So, if you want your country to be an arrogant international pariah, its leaders repeatedly committing terrible wrongs and its people never trying to stop them, never making it a better place, this is called “patriotism”?

The right-wing idea of patriotism is anything but–it is a recipe for disaster. If anyone else acted in such a way, these self-styled “patriots” would hate their guts.

You question and criticize your own country because you love it. You criticize its leaders and recognize its wrongs because you want it to be even better than it is. You apologize when it has wronged others because you know that this is the mature, responsible, and respectable thing to do. Only if you do all of these things, then you may recognize your country as being first, but first amongst equals. Without also humility, pride is nothing but vanity.

Think of it in terms of an individual. He makes mistakes, like everyone else–but he never recognizes these errors or takes responsibility for them. He refuses to apologize when he is wrong, denies that he ever erred. And despite all of this, he thinks he’s better than everyone else.

Would you respect that person? Do you want to be that person?

And yet, somehow, millions of Americans believe this is what Americans must be, or else we are self-hating apologists.

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  1. Troy
    July 6th, 2011 at 13:06 | #1

    somebody was there long before you . . .


    man what a great American.

  2. Tim Kane
    July 7th, 2011 at 01:51 | #2

    What does the German patriot do during 1929 through 1945?

  3. July 7th, 2011 at 01:58 | #3

    Comparing a country to an individual is a time-honored fallacy. Power is much more important without the levels of social interaction within a culture that provide a buffer that does not exist internationally, Yes, conflating nation and culture is lazy, but at your level of analysis, isn:t it even more granular?

  4. Troy
    July 7th, 2011 at 03:23 | #4

    What does the German patriot do during 1929 through 1945?

    if Schurz is any example, and he is, you GTFO when things break conclusively against liberalism. Read his bio, it’s really amazing.

  5. July 7th, 2011 at 21:09 | #5

    This is exactly what I always say, Luis, thank you.

  6. Luis
    July 10th, 2011 at 11:16 | #6

    somebody was there long before you . . . man what a great American.
    Well, it’s not like I thought I had an original idea or something…

    Schurz’s quote on patriotism first in that section on the Wiki page was something we badly needed in late 2002 / early 2003. Paraphrased, “The man who resists the clamor for unnecessary war, exposing himself to accusations of lack of patriotism or of courage, is at least as great a hero as a soldier who fights with daring, and is a far greater hero than the man who falsely claims superior patriotism, calls for war before it is needed, and lets others do the fighting.” They make kids recite the pledge and want to inundate them with stuff like the Ten Commandments, but in my book, lining the walls of classrooms with quotes like these would produce far more moral and clear-thinking citizens than any of those usual fallbacks could ever hope to yield.

    However, Schulz seemed more focused on calling out war profiteers and others taking advantage of fear (at least in the bits I read on the Wiki reference) than the more general approach I am espousing above. I was aiming more along the lines of Santayana.

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