`Over Memorial Day weekend I saw a lot of nonsense masquerading as patriotism. I'm a bit of a word nerd, so I spent some time trying figure out what patriotism really is. NOT "what patriotism means to me", or similar twaddle that might mean a couple extra-credit points in Mrs. McConnell's Social Studies class. I was trying to find a working definition of what "patriotism" truly embodies. I started the way most people do these days when they don't know the answer to a question that (hopefully) has one; I googled it. "Google, define "Patriotism". "Okay; 'Patriotism', the quality of being patriotic; vigorous support for one's country". "Thanks google. Now pipe down and put the music back on". Hmmm... I guess I'll have to do this the old fashioned way, with blood and sweat, just like my ancestors did when they first broke ground on their new land in the United States. With heroic resolve, I ripped open a beer and strode to the computer where, with flashing eye and furrowed brow, I manfully typed in my question **by hand**, and proceeded to scroll down through the results. With the practiced ease that comes from long hours of toil, I quickly sorted the weak and undergrown sites from the those made of sterner stuff, and lassoed the quotes I needed with a quick flip of my "command+C" buttons. Finally corralled in my Notes app, I could cut them out as I needed. I admit it; I felt a little bit like Kit Carson or Charlie Goodnight as I culled my results, taking only the best from the open range of the wild web, but leaving ample to reproduce and preserve this important heritage for future generations. These heavy exertions left me drier than Wodehouse, and as I sipped my dust cutter I mused on what I'd found...
The general opinion is that Patriotism is a virtue. Perhaps not in the strictly Aristotelean sense, but patriotism is so similar to his concept of "Honor" that the addition of "pro patria" all but eliminates the distinction. Respect, admiration, and reverence for one's country. Far be it from me to lecture Aristotle on virtue, but it's at this point which I break with many of my countrymen. Don't mistake me; I consider myself a patriot, and I embrace and support the Constitution. What I can neither embrace, nor support, is the clamor of ill informed voices which would suggest that patriotism is equivalent with blind, unthinking support and veneration of symbols. I draw this distinction because I do not think that patriotism is necessarily "vigorous support for ones country", or that it necessarily means respect for inanimate objects or representations of our nation. Furthermore, I'd argue that compulsory gestures of loyalty, whether to men or symbols, are the antithesis patriotism.
If you've read more than a couple of my comments on this site chances are you know that I believe that respect is not something which is given, only earned. Respect is itself multifaceted. My father, both of my grandfathers, and my brother-in-law were all in the military. I have a deep and abiding respect for what they did. This does not mean that every time I call them on the phone I ring off with "thanks for your service". It doesn't mean that I always agree with them, and it doesn't mean that every time I go to a ball game I'm required to buff that facet in public for the benefit of canting jingoists, or risk being cursed at by somebody with a tattered flag flying in all weathers from an inadequately lit, non-spec flagstaff in the bed of their Tacoma. No, when respect is earned, it will be rendered. If my respect begins to wane for the country in which I live I reserve the right to act upon my conscience. If a man kneels at a football game because his conscience tells him to, what makes any one of us sufficiently infallible that we might know the contents of his heart and so condemn him? We may disagree with how he shows his dissatisfaction, but to denounce him as "unpatriotic" because of how he chooses to express his conscience is ludicrous. You may as well tell someone that they don't believe in God because you disapprove of how they worship. If they do believe, it's no business of yours how they express it; and if they don't there's no way to prove it. A true gesture of respect can never be compelled, or made out of habit. It is a conscious acknowledgement of our appreciation for our nation and for ALL who strive to uphold it's best principles. Anyone who espouses respect for a constitution which accounts "the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition" as the premier right of the nation should recognize the absurdity of "compulsory respect". Hell, If my respect wanes far enough, I may kneel myself.
Admiration is not so distinct from respect. It also occurs on a human scale, and can be broken down into components. I may admire aspects of a man, even if I have no respect at all for him. Take Ryan Reynolds for example; there's little to like about him. He's a profane, sarcastic, fourth AND fifth wall breaking, high heel wearing, reprobate Canuckle-head, not-that-super-hero actor. His girlfriend is prettier than mine, he's prettier than me, he's richer than me, and his halloween costume is waaaay better. But I do have to say that given the Deadpool 2 soundtrack, I admire his taste in music. While this is obviously a sarcastic example, it serves to illustrate that admiration does not require embracing all aspects of a thing. It's possible to admire certain aspects of a whole, yet still maintain that the whole itself could be improved. If we accept this as true, it's impossible to say a man cannot be a patriot if he doesn't love everything about his country. If everything about our country were perfect we would have no need of any government except to guard the coasts, fix the highways and collect taxes so that this paradise could be maintained. As it stands today, we do have a government. It's both necessary, and being composed of men, necessarily imperfect. Without a doubt there are men in government who seek to gain power for personal ends, and who seek to subvert our laws for their own personal gain. Such imperfection makes necessary the careful protection of the freedoms that allow our country to keep its place in the world, and to inspire the admiration of others. Those "rough men who stand ready to do violence on our behalf" deserve our admiration not because of the violence they do, but because of why they do it. Likewise, men who stake their livelihoods, their friendships, and the approval of their fellow citizens in a bid to solidify and repair the foundations of those freedoms also deserve our admiration. Not because of what they do, but because of why they do it. Each makes a compact, and puts at risk something of themselves in an effort to refresh the tree of Liberty. To compare the offerings of each to the other is invidious, more so too if you make no offering yourself beyond the thoughtless mouthing of platitudes.
It is with Reverence that we lose the human scale, and where the true danger lies. One of my favorite authors, Patrick O'brian wrote, as one of his characters "You know as well as I, patriotism is a word; and one that generally comes to mean either my country, right or wrong, which is infamous, or my country is always right, which is imbecile". Unfortunately, reverence blinds many of us to this fact. Reverence, aside from the obvious religious connotations, can also be defined as a deep adoring respect. We have already dealt with respect, but coupled with adoration, and on a far grander scale it becomes particularly troublesome. Adoring lovers have seldom been noted for the acuity with which they perceive the faults of their beloved. Faults are ever present in our democracy, and to revere our nation or constitution is to risk creating an idol of our beliefs. Once idolized, and graven in stone, they become immutable objects of devotion, devotions become duties, and what could have been given freely is now compelled. Both the Constitution and the tree of Liberty must remain vibrantly alive if we are to avoid codification and stasis to the ultimate detriment of our nation. A sacrifice laid on an altar out of duty is no sacrifice, but a tax; and you cannot pay a tax to Liberty. If you would have someone stand and show respect "first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift".† Stand with them and realize that you cannot compel patriotism, any more then you can compel friendship, or love. If you would have others demonstrate their respect, show your admiration of them. Your fellow citizen embodies the liberties we hold worthy of reverence. A flag or a song can only represent them, so do not waste your reverence on symbols. Symbols are patriotic shorthand for the weak-minded. Only the most deeply jingoistic mind could construe a citizen exercising their rights as somehow "unpatriotic". If you require reverence as an element to your patriotism, then make it a reverence of the reasons why our nation was founded, and the rights afforded by those principles, which become stronger as each citizen exercises them.`
SO.... After all that nonsense; What is Patriotism, Really? Short answer: Patriotism is love for your country. If you can love your country like you love your significant other, you'll realize it's not always right, or good, or particularly smart, ~~or good in bed~~, but that doesn't stop you from wanting the best for them, and doing your best to make that happen. Sometimes you argue, and sometimes you get lucky and they realize you mean it when you say "I need you stop that and listen to me". Sometimes you don't. You might not even agree on what is best for them, or how much fat is in 2% milk even though it says it right on the carton. But it's important that like in any relationship you not take yourself too seriously. Everyone is an idiot eventually, and it'll be your turn soon. Once you start demanding that they listen to you, and thinking you're always right, you might as well see if you can't get the ring back because it's over. So yeah, lighten up and smarten up. It's your patriotic duty, and the Mrs. will thank you too!