Sunday, August 1, 2010

Define Patriotism

I'm a stranger in paradise

All lost in a wonderland
A stranger in paradise
--Stranger in Paradise, Kismet

Europeans, you must open this book
and enter into it. After a few steps in the darkness
you will see strangers gathered around a fire;
come close, and listen, for they are talking of the destiny
they will mete out to your trading-centres
and to the hired soldiers who defend them
--Wretched of the Earth, preface (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Short human words were like
trying to lift water with a knife
--Stranger in a Strange Land,
Robert Heinlein

Here is a contest sponsored by RAW. It should be a meaningful one for every American, and really, every citizen anywhere.

Patriotism: How do you define it?
Milpub has a rarefied group of readers well-qualified to tackle the topic. This may be as personal or as objective, brief or lengthy, as you wish. Contest ends Wednesday (8.4.10), and prizes can be selected from (non-affiliated) associate and co-adjutant Ranger Andy's site. Talk amongst yourselves.

The idea came from a recent Schott's Vocab -- a Miscellany of Modern Words & Phrases at the New York Times on defining "courage". Many of the responses were most impressive, and can be seen HERE. Maybe we will have a contest later to define courage.


  1. "Patriotism" defined as "Love Your Country" doesn't cut it, AFAIC. Taken that way, it will too often lead to jingoistic bumper sticker language that doesn't do the term proper justice.

    I like "Love Your Fellow CountryMan" much better.

    I hope I win something with that.



  2. BB,
    You should spend your hope on something more important.
    Thanks for the entry.

  3. Patriotism is the spore of war.

  4. Like trying to define "love" or "truth"; there's just so many different degrees, concepts, and ideals. I couldn't define "patriotism". I could tell you what it means to ME to be "patriotic", but not in a generic, dictionary sense...

  5. Patriotism: To side with our society in conflicts and challenges and to invest in its success without expecting a reward.

  6. I've heard that literally millions of Americans define patriotism by displaying little magnetic gadgets on their cars and by waving little American flags. I've even heard that some president-type people use the same definition. Oh, and don't forget shopping. Lots of shopping.

    Mark Twain:

    "The soul and substance of what customarily ranks as patriotism is moral cowardice and always has been."

    "Man is the only Patriot. He sets himself apart in his own country, under his own flag, and sneers at the other nations, and keeps multitudinous uniformed assassins on hand at heavy expense to grab slices of other people's countries, and keep them from grabbing slices of his. And in the intervals between campaigns, he washes the blood off his hands and works for the universal brotherhood of man, with his mouth."

    And then there is Samuel Johnson.

  7. No, I am not entering this contest. No one can compete with the sages who've already addressed the topic, and counted coup.

    Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it. George Bernard Shaw.

    Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons. Bertrand Russell.

    "Naturally the common people don't want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood.
    But, after all, IT IS THE LEADERS of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along,
    whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people
    can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED,
    and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY."
    Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering: at the Nuremberg Trials.

  8. I see two definitions of Patriotism...the one we have currently in the United States, and the one the Colonists used that is something that has fallen out of fashion.

    The current definition of Patriotism is "My American Political Party, right or wrong!"

    The Colonial definition of Patriotism was a little bit more ambiguous because it ran something akin to "I'm not sure I'm liking the way I'm being treated by my government, and I certainly don't like the way my community is being treated either, and as a matter of fact, I'm sure as hell done taking it in the butt for a distant king who really doesn't give a flying f**k about kith and kin."

    Though my favorite line comes from a colonial historian who said that Ben Franklin went to a meeting of MP's with British Parliament, as he described the travel to and fro, the historian said that Mr. Franklin went into the meeting an Englishman, and left an American.
    I think that is where the true line of Patriotism comes...when one begins to see with clarity that the old way is no friend, and that it is time to end the relationship.

    In other words, a Patriot doesn't always mean a supporter of the government or nation, but rather one who realizes that they have outgrown the old way of thinking, the old way of the relationship, and is willing to move on to something better, something that is worth living for and fighting for...yes, that is a patriot...someone who is willing to move on from the old into the new.

  9. For me, to be a patriotic American means to believe, act, and expect myself to live up to the best of the ideals expressed in our founding documents.

    It means being critical towards my country when it needs criticism, and always working towards the goal of a country than provides honest, equitable governance.

    This is a very difficult subject, simply because there are so many small elements that combine to make up the whole.

  10. To give you just one example: one thing that makes me feel patriotic about my country is the notion incorporated in its founding that it would, in theory, neither enfranchise nor permit the intrusion of religion into governance. But that's just me - I consider that theocracy, like disco music, among the worst misconception to lodge in the human cerebrum.

    But...then consider not the ideal but the real; the actual performance of the United States in the whole "church/state" business. And think for a moment of the various officially sanctioned prejudices and exclusions that are part of our history.

    So is it "patriotic" to be proud of our ideals? Or "patriotic" to be embarrassed by our failings and demand a better performance in the future?

    And when you come right down to it, isn't it kinda of silly to vaunt our membership of one tribe of monkeys over another? There are lots of other societies with strong points and weak points - if my thing is being anti-clerical, why shouldn't I feel weak next to France, where kicking the priests is a national sport?

    Is being a "good American" a better thing than being a "good Frenchman"? A "good Brazilian"? Or even a "good person"? Where does being loyal to your tribe trump being a decent human being in general?

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. FDC says,

    "...isn't it kinda of silly to vaunt our membership of one tribe of monkeys over another? ... Where does being loyal to your tribe trump being a decent human being in general?"

    If one were able to be truly universal in outlook, than yes, tribalism seems quite outmoded; I think it should never trump being a decent human being in general.

    But we still are that primate who must draw into associations, even if we call them "progressive". (We've had our own experience with so-called progressives in FL, and it is not the all-inclusive thing one might imagine.) We seem to like to belong and fancying ourselves unique, and that seems to entail a certain obeisance and reverence (to a leader, and ideal, a dogma...) we like wearing an aegis, even if that means being an IPA vs. a lager guy.

    That is why "family" hold primacy for most -- The place where they have to take you in. You can never draw the ostracon there (unless you've been disowned.) I s'pose it is the fear of being left outside of the cave in the cold and dark.

    People cleave to even unsavory "families" in order to have a place of belonging. Far more uncomfortable is the condition of deracination.
    Very few people can stand on their own. Negative ideas like "antisocial" spring to mind.

    So patriotism -- arbitrary and nonsensical as it is -- gives us a definition and an auto-clique (kind of like joining a church congregation.) Perhaps it is most important when we fight, for we know which side we are on. To be True Blue is good, a Benedict Arnold, not so good.

    Patriotism may even encourage humanitarianism (if one has their basic needs covered), as we are not they, and can afford to give them a leg up (and feel better in the bargain.)

    We have names, religions, postal codes ... everything to identify us. I don't know how we would function if we did not "know" who we were. Patriotism is not a bad thing, in itself, but it allows a structure in which to practice all of our other negative traits (hatred, envy, greed. ...) If it simply meant we had friendly competition, like a 365-day Olympics, the affiliation could be a positive.


  13. Contest is extended another week!

  14. O.K., my last one. More Mark Twain. I can't do better than the master.

    "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."

    That second clause is what drives my blog life. It's profoundly disturbing, at least to me, to regretfully conclude that your government does not deserve your support. Nowadays, this in turn gives rise to a sense of anomie or that feeling of being a stranger in a strange land.

    It is especially difficult for a retired military person. One always wonders if... "These are the times that try men's souls" seems apropos.

  15. @ Publius,

    Well said, friend.

    Stranger in a strange land indeed.


  16. And I meant to add, "this is what I sacrificed and served for?"

  17. Yes,Publius -- well-said and terse.

    I am a patriot for sentimental reasons. By the luck of the draw I was born in the U.S. (though it could have easily been somewhere else.) Because of that twist of fate, I have been shaped by dint of being raised here. So I love my country and the right things about my government (as you said.)

    To paraphrase Saint-Exupery, WW II recon pilot: I love my country because it's mine.

  18. oops -- source: Exupery's "The Little Prince".

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