Tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States. Americans will celebrate declaring their independence from the British Crown in 1776. Hopefully many will take time to reflect on what their country stands for and what makes it unique in the world.
I recommend reflecting on the idea of patriotism itself. What makes patriotism, a generally good thing, different from nationalism, which usually leads to many terrible things? There is definitely a fine line between the two concepts. Nationalism vs patriotism is one of the oldest arguments in history.
What is a patriotism? Lawrence Reed at the Foundation for Economic Education has an excellent definition.
I subscribe to a patriotism rooted in ideas that in turn gave birth to a country, but it’s the ideas that I think of when I’m feeling patriotic. I’m a patriotic American because I revere the ideas that motivated the Founders and compelled them, in many instances, to put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line.
What ideas? Read the Declaration of Independence again. Or, if you’re like most Americans these days, read it for the very first time. It’s all there. All men are created equal. They are endowed not by government but by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Premier among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Government must be limited to protecting the peace and preserving our liberties, and doing so through the consent of the governed. It’s the right of a free people to rid themselves of a government that becomes destructive of those ends, as our Founders did in a supreme act of courage and defiance more than two hundred years ago.
Call it freedom. Call it liberty. Call it whatever you want, but it’s the bedrock on which this nation was founded and from which we stray at our peril. It’s what has defined us as Americans. It’s what almost everyone who has ever lived on this planet has yearned for. It makes life worth living, which means it’s worth fighting and dying for.
Or as Benjamin Franklin said, ““Where liberty dwells, there is my country.”
America is more than just a place, it’s an ideal. It’s a land where people are free to say what they want, believe what they want, and do what they want as long as they don’t hurt others or destroy their stuff. It’s a land where everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their life. It’s a land where people govern themselves and no government can exist without the consent of the governed.
We believe all men are created equal and are always equal in the eyes of their Creator.
A patriot believes in an ideal, not in a particular place. There is nothing exceptional about a country that has no ideals.
Nationalism on the other hand is all about flag-waving, a particular place, or even a particular ethnic group or religion. It is a mentality of “my country, right or wrong” instead of being an honest critic where necessary of one’s government. It often includes hatred of those who are different.
What worries me is that for far too many Americans this country is becoming less about ideals and more about a place on the map. The second we stray from our ideals is the second America is no longer worth celebrating.
Be a patriot, not a mindless nationalist.