Lately, I have written several articles for our local newspaper, and because of the subject matter of these writings, I have been involved in much debate about "patriotism." Believe me, it is a frustrating argument and one that gains little reward. When I attempt to define patriotism as I see it, those who think in terms of "it’s my country (government) good or bad," and who blindly support any government policy deemed for the good of the nation as a whole or good for national defense, normally become belligerent. I usually come away from these encounters confused and troubled. Of course I get the expected rhetoric, this from both sides of the isle, that I am a hater of America, am unpatriotic, and a supporter of the terrorists. I have even been asked to leave the U.S., (love it or leave it) or more explicitly, to go to Afghanistan or Iraq where I belong. One local state house representative even accused me of being a hired writer for Osama bin Laden. Wow, imagine that? I guess my belief that Muslims are also human was more than he could tolerate.
The bottom line of this nonsense begs the question: "What is patriotism? If one looks to Webster’s for a definition, the answer would be "a person who loves his country and defends and promotes its interests." I find this definition too broad, too modern, and completely unacceptable; in other words, incorrect. First, a love of country cannot and does not mean a love of state or a love of government. It does not mean agreeing with anything and everything that the state does outside of protecting the inherent rights of individuals. Actually, self-interest, not collectivism, is the basis of liberty. Secondly, defending and promoting the country’s interests could only be proper given that in doing so, no individual or group of individual’s rights are violated in any manner. This would include the rights of any and all people on earth, not just those domiciled in America. So, with this in mind, it should become clear to most that patriotism has more to do with dissent and criticism of the state than it has to do with anything else.
Our Founders, although far from perfect, were for the most part patriots, and were very aware of the importance of supporting and fighting for freedom and independence, not supporting and fighting for the country or state apparatus. There is a distinct difference. While this attitude was not as prevalent among all the Founders, especially the Hamiltonians, and was more the lynchpin of the anti-federalists, it was still the primary underlying attitude of the day.
With these things in mind, I would define patriotism as the defense of liberty; and at all costs, nothing more and nothing less. Ron Paul has defined patriotism as “that effort to resist oppressive state power." His definition and mine are certainly mutually supportive. What patriotism is not is saluting a flag, swearing allegiance to the state or government, or supporting state aggression. Actually, "allegiance" (as in pledging allegiance) is defined by Webster’s as "The loyalty that citizens owe to their country (or subjects to their sovereign)." According to Dictionary.com, it is "the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government or of a subject to his or her sovereign." "Sovereign" means: A monarch; a king, queen, or other supreme ruler." This is the reason I absolutely refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance back in high school, and have never uttered those detestable words since.
What if the modern definitions of patriotism and treason were reversed as I think they should be? Those who are now considered to be patriotic would be exposed as traitors, while the rest of us would be seen as patriots. If real patriotism is the defense of liberty as I claim, then how should those who support tyrannical government action be labeled? Since all government action is force, government in my opinion is the antithesis of liberty. If this is so, then it stands to reason that support of the oppressive state apparatus must be treason. What else could it be? For this to be accepted, a whirlwind of confusion will ensue. Just consider that if I am correct, then most all those who now think they are one are actually the other. What a turnaround. I think I would like to live in that type of environment; one where those supporting government and the state are considered traitors, while the rest of us are properly considered patriotic. What a wonderful world that would be.
For the most part today, those like Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly and other neo-cons, as well as many conservative Republicans and Democrats think patriotism is blindly supporting the killing, maiming, displacing and destroying of any and all who stand in the way of U.S. hegemony. Now, with Obama not only continuing but advancing the Bush Doctrine, the Democrats and "liberal" Obama-supporters will be forced to go along with this evil behavior or will have to break away from their beloved president and "savior." My hope (not expectation) is that the latter wins out.
The realization that patriotism has to do with resisting state power, not supporting it, will only take root when the many decide not to be serfs swearing allegiance to their sovereign, but instead decide to fight to be free!
Gary D. Barnett [send him mail] is president of Barnett Financial Services, Inc., in Lewistown, Montana.