Returning to the Roots of Patriotism

Email Print

has been a lot of talk about how America is experiencing a revival
of patriotism since the attacks of the twin towers of the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon building. What is patriotism? Is
it something that characterizes people when war comes to a nation,
or when a nation takes war to other nations? Is it to be defined
in emotional attachment to the flag and a support of a nation's
military? Is patriotism something primarily to be associated with
going to war or honoring those who did? I am afraid that for many
of our countrymen that may be the extent of their concept of patriotism.
I would like to propose an understanding of patriotism which is
equally applicable in war and in peace, and which if properly understood
will serve as a barrier to those who seek to enslave patriotism
to the schemes of empire builders.

my mind, the best place to begin to define and understand patriotism
is to recognize its connection to the root word from which it was
formed. The word u201Cpatriotismu201D is built from the Latin word u201Cpateru201D.
u201CPateru201D was the Latin word for u201Cfatheru201D. There are a number
of words we have in English from this word. We have u201Cpaternal.u201D
Those who are familiar with Christian tradition may well have joined
in the singing of the u201CGloria Patriau201D, whose title is taken from
the opening words, u201CGlory be to the Father.u201D Patriotism is rooted
in an expression of attachment with one's fathers, and more broadly
speaking with the fathers (or ancestors if we wish to be free from
gender bias) of one's culture. We can see elements of this in some
of our nation's most recognized symbols. When we sing u201CMy country
Tis of Thee, we describe our love for country among other things
in terms of u201Cland where my fathers died.u201D In Lincoln's Gettysburg
Address, he begins with the words u201CFourscore and seven years ago
our fathers dedicated this land.u201D I use these examples to express
that patriotism recognizes the contributions of fathers, and particularly
of fathers with whom one's culture has bonds of affection.

and society are created, strengthened, and preserved because humanity
is capable of passing to its descendants an inheritance that contains
social and spiritual values as well as material benefits. Patriotism
recognizes the value of these benefits. As a Protestant, my tradition
voices strongly its belief that salvation is by grace, a gift of
a gracious God to a people who have done little or nothing to merit
such a gift. The Protestant perspective on living the Christian
life is to live as ones overwhelmed by the kindness and mercy of
the great gift given us by God. I think non-Protestants appreciate
this motivation far more than we Protestants assume. I use this
illustration from my Protestant background to shed light on the
true nature of patriotism. Patriotism is recognizes that our cultural
fathers have left us a heritage and an inheritance that is to be
treasured and valued. Patriotism is not primarily an attitude towards
one's military, but to the broader achievements of our cultural
ancestry. We recognize that we have inherited cultural, spiritual,
and economic capital for which we neither labored nor sacrificed.
The recognition should cause us to think of our parents' and culture's
achievements with gratitude. Furthermore, the recognition of an
inheritance that we have been given by our ancestors should motivate
us to wish to improve so that our descendants will be granted a
greater inheritance than we originally received.

grew up in Illinois, in a region that was originally prairie. Many
of the farms have an interesting feature. The homes would be old,
with large majestic oak trees providing shade. I often took these
features for granted, until one day I realized that most of those
majestic oaks did not exist in the prairie landscape. A farmer
had built his home, and had planted an oak that would one day provide
shade for the farmhouse. Oaks are majestic, but they take a long
time to get that way. The farmers of Illinois that planted those
trees in the nineteenth century received little shade from the slow
growing oaks they planted. They were genuinely planting trees for
their sons and daughters and grandchildren to inherit and enjoy.
That is patriotism, living in recognition of an ancestry that has
bestowed upon us a heritage with a desire to leave a heritage to
our descendants.

should furthermore be carefully protected from nationalistic fervor.
Patriotism is an adult emotion, nationalistic fervor a childish
emotion. Children do not recognize that other children feel the
same bond for their fathers as they feel for their own. A child
thinks another child's father must not be viewed as so wonderful
as his own father. Nationalistic fervor is childish in that it
insists that non-Americans feel the same for America as Americans.
Adults recognize that each child is born into a special relationship
with his or her father and mother. The adult recognizes that it
is not just his particular father and mother who are to be honored,
but all fathers and mothers, especially by those who have been involved
in those special relationships.

came to appreciate this a couple of years ago, when I was in St.
Petersburg, Russia. The city is a beautiful city, created by Peter
the Great on the delta of the Neva River. There are beautiful canals.
There are more than 300 bridges, with most being as much a work
of art as function. There are majestic palaces, and there is the
history that captures the imagination as one sees the many sites
and wonders of the city. I sat in a park and thought of how the
city must have looked when Pushkin and Dostoyevski, Tchaikovsky
and Mussogorsky lived there. Then I thought about the dark days
of World War II, when for 900 days Hitler's armies sought to freeze
and starve the people of the city then known as Leningrad. For
almost three years the city was surrounded, nearly half of its inhabitants
died from the effects of cold and malnutrition, but they refused
to surrender. The nationalist with childish blinders cannot appreciate
what Russians felt for their city and heritage. They can only feel
pity that they are not Americans. The patriot with an adult patriotism
recognizes that Russians feel the bonds of fathers and sons; actually
it was a Russian named Turgenev who wrote the book. The patriot
with an adult patriotism recognizes that each of us have grown up
in cultures in which we feel a special bond, a bond to be built

come in many forms, but it should be remembered that while we generally
believe that mankind as a whole would be better off if everyone
accepted libertarian principles of freedom, that Libertarians generally
have never believed that the whole world must be libertarian before
benefits accrue to those living in those systems. The greatest
value that our ancestors have granted to us is freedom. There is
a new form of patriotism seeking to steal our heritage. They speak
of America's destiny as maintaining a beneficial global hegemony
over the entire world. They wish to militarize America's patriotism
and make us think that patriotism is a matter of waving the flag
over the newest war effort. They don't want us to think about planting
oak trees in our yards, or passing along values to our children.
They don't want us to become adults and appreciate that the Chinese,
the Russians, the Afghanis, may feel the same way of their land
and heritage as we feel for our own. They want us to be nationalists,
to be imperialists, to turn from our nation's original heritage
to serve the pipedreams of madmen. Sometimes, I can imagine a James
Bond movie, in which the villain is a magazine editor, who set out
to take over the world. At the end, Bond has once more saved the
world, and shakes his head over the folly of the editor, and says,
u201Cglobal hegemony, just another word for the same mad dream of world

12, 2001

McDonald [send him e-mail]
works at an oil refinery
in Oklahoma.


Needs Your Support

make a donation to help us stay on the air.

Email Print