Reflections on Patriotism

via Google Images

Today is the Fourth of July, and while we all recognize what it means for the United States of America, I question the sincerity with which we as American’s recognize not the Fourth of July as a national holiday celebrating our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain,  but as a day of serious reflection that we owe ourselves. What does the Fourth of July really mean?  Do many even conceive of this holiday beyond the traditional patriotic folklore spewed forth by the media and our politicians and bureaucrats in Washington?  As I sit every year and watch the fireworks that signify American patriotism and zeal for freedom, I ask myself what I believe patriotism to be.

My initial reflection begins upon the curious ambiguity with which the Oxford English Dictionary defines patriotism: “vigorous support for one’s country.”  Although not a scholarly source, Wikipedia goes one step further and includes in its definition a sense of natural pride by virtue of citizenship.  It states that patriotism, in a general sense,  “is a devotion to one’s country for no other reason than being a citizen of that country.”  Such vague notions have little meaning because they amount to nothing more than a blind faith and a tacit obedience to traditional notions of greatness.  Yet many of us are satisfied so long as the President makes his address, the First Lady sends out her mass email, and our Congressman or woman formally assert that America is still the land of the free and home of the brave.  None of these actions or assertions however, begin to touch the daily lives of the American middle class with as much force as the Great Recession, a lost job or missed mortgage payment, or perhaps the tragedy of a lost loved one in the ongoing Middle-East conflicts.

If you have read this blog before, you certainly know that I do not believe patriotism to be faith in one’s government, yet this is highly implicit in the conceptual recognition of patriotic fervor built into the traditional activities that mark the Fourth of July.  One can scarcely attend a parade absent at least one image of the paternal Uncle Sam (see image above).  For me however, patriotism is a celebration of the individual’s right to his or her own progress, not a celebration of one’s faith in government to provide for such progress.  Rights grounded in the fact that we are human beings are natural rights, and patriotism to me is that conceptual awareness of the principles that lead one to safeguard and defend those rights, whether from a foreign or domestic threat.  Is this not indeed, the very essence of Jeffersonian eloquence imbued in the Declaration of Independence?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

via Google Images

But Jefferson takes a colossal step further – a step that many Americans give far too little reverence, for it imbues the People with the right to safeguard their interests in their own name, not that of the government.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. 

Consequently, as events have unfolded over the past ten years – from the highly ironic U.S.A. Patriot Act to the bailouts  of banks and auto companies at the expense of taxpayers – patriotism for me has become a concept entirely divorced, and in many cases, contrary to the government of the United States of America.  I do not ascribe to notions of nationalism used by political forces to capitalize on the sentimentality of an unthinking or misdirected people.  I do not feel obligated to a sense of patriotism imbued with traditional notions of America as the “land of the free and home of the brave.”  Frankly, I feel obligated to recognize that such sentimentalizing is being utilized to justify the maelstrom of deficit spending, multi-theater wars in the Middle East, and an unsustainable welfare state, while shrouding in a cloak of ambiguity a crumbling education system and a faltering middle class.  I feel obligated to say to anyone willing to listen and willing to think for themselves and question the very fundamental precepts that govern our electoral system that that system is deeply broken and has been for quite sometime.

I feel obligated, for my own sake and for the sake of the freedom of future generations, to redefine for myself the notion of patriotism.  To do so, one must stay clear of the sentimentality born from parades and fireworks and must reflect upon the principles that founded America – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Perhaps most importantly is the very palpable concept that security and freedom are often mutually exclusive.  Benjamin Franklin stated as much: “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”  Such reflection must begin here and must include the question as to whether our current political system safeguards these principles for the people, or whether it dangles them above their heads just out of reach.

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About Jeremiah Dow
I have a B.S. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics with a minor in Economics. I finished school in 2010 and am currently working on independent research in various areas including political and economic philosophy, government, and history. I am also currently looking for work in research, particularly the social sciences dealing with public policy work. I aspire to a top-level graduate institution, but would first prefer some professional research experience. Some of my primary influences are Ayn Rand, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn among others.

5 Responses to Reflections on Patriotism

  1. Great blog and I agree with you one hundred percent. Patriotism is used by big government as a parameter of control to separate one group of humans from another when we are all children of our mother earth. The be a “patriot” means that one must separate themselves and thier fellow human as parts separate from the whole and this in and of itself is cognitive dissonance and a prevailing issue with mainstream society regarding things like “The Patriot Act” and other injustices created in the “name” of “Freedom.” The Patriot Act is anything but Patriotic but yet most believe it is just. This is the cognitive dissonace that prevails and will eventually overtake our freedoms if not kept in check. Thanks for sharing your perspective and I wish you the best.

    • Jeremiah Dow says:

      Thanks for the comment. Given your stance on the issue and how patriotism is used as a devise to separate the people, I must suggest that you pick up Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States if you haven’t already. It is seminal work that is a must read for every beneficiary of freedom.

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