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Posted by on Aug 22, 2015 in History, Politics | 19 comments

What is patriotism?


Miriam Webster’s online dictionary defines patriotism as love for or devotion to one’s country. Perhaps the images most associated with patriotism are of someone waving the American flag or displaying the American flag or wearing an American flag pin.

The tea party members and the right wing militia groups believe themselves to be not only patriotic, but following in the footsteps of the men and women who fought in the Revolutionary War. Their brand of patriotism consists of waving, not just the American flag, but the Gadsden “Don’t Tread On Me” flag. The militia groups choose names like “Sons of Liberty” and profess a deep love for the country and a deep desire to see the country return to what it once was as does the Tea Party. That kind of fanatical patriotism is frightening at times and is hardly real patriotism.

So what then is “real patriotism”? The definition of patriotism is love for or devotion to one’s country. To love or be devoted to someone or something usually means to want what is best for that someone or something, to be willing to make the effort, do what must be done to protect that something or someone. Conservatives seem to want the opposite. They seem to want to destroy the very thing they claim to love.

Real patriotism is neither “my country right or wrong” nor “my government right or wrong”. Real patriotism understands that the country and its constitution are good even when those in power are not making the best or right decisions. Real patriotism understands that moving backward is never an answer, but seeking ways to move forward is. Real patriotism understand that the system of government created by the Constitution does work, and works best when we all find that common ground between the extremes which enables us to move forward.

Real patriotism is not about waving, displaying or wearing the American flag. It is about being touched somewhere deep within by the American flag, the National Anthem, the Statue of Liberty, The Lincoln Memorial and other symbols because those symbols represent the best in our country. Real patriotism understands that we still have far to go until we realize the ideals set forth in both our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and believes that those ideals are worth reaching for always even if we never quite achieve them perfectly.

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  • Markus

    I think that patriotism should mean some personal sacrifice for the greater good of the country as a whole. If it just a feeling, a sentiment, then it is little more than cheering ,”Yeah for me!” If it just a display of symbols, then it is worth no more than the cost of a made in China flag lapel pin. To deserve the title of patriot there should be some underlying action.

  • dduck12

    One example, that I use is that of John McCain and his refusal to be released early from the Hanoi Hilton. Of course that gets conflated with bravery, but there are other patriots that slog away for their respective countries without being glorified, because they have respect for the country’s values.

  • Rcoutme

    Patriotism in this country means that you will take bolt cutters and go after the chain-link fences if the country ever tries to put a group into concentration camps ever again. Patriotism means telling those who want the eliminate the Federal Government (looking at those who follow the make-it-weak-enough-to-drown-in-the-bathtub crew) to shut the [email protected]#$ up. Patriotism is being a US marine on pass, on a train in France and, in spite of being unarmed, taking down a gunman with an AK-47. Patriotism is calling out hypocrites regardless of their party affiliation, political connections or popularity.

    • DdW

      Patriotism is being a US marine on pass, on a train in France and, in spite of being unarmed, taking down a gunman with an AK-47.

      Like that, and Marines are very patriotic, but in this case it was an Air Force airman first class and an Oregon National Guardsman. The third American, a civilian, of course is very patriotic, too.

  • dduck12

    Sorry, patriotism is an overused and confusing word to me.
    Defending ones turf, putting yourself in harms way whether you are an Israeli, Afghan, Sunni or Kurd, or colonial American (actually a citizen of GB) makes you
    either a “patriot” or a “terrorist”. I don’t like the word.

  • Patriotism is the courage to say your country is wrong when it’s wrong.

    • dduck12

      So Berghdahl and Manning are patriots, I guess.

      • JSpencer


        • dduck12

          Huh, huh?

  • JSpencer

    I’m willing to set the bar way down; someone is a patriot if they keep their mouth shut when they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    • dduck12


      • JSpencer

        I was just having a moment. Feeling better now. 😉

  • The_Ohioan

    Patriotism is always voting and paying your fair share of taxes. It is also attempting to make sure everyone else can vote and also pay their fair share of taxes. Once those two objectives are in sync, our republic should be able to do its part and expect patriotic citizens.

    • dduck12

      No, that’s called being a responsible citizen, or at least a law abiding one. Patriotism is going one step, or many steps, further to advance the ideals of your country, whether someone is watching or not.
      Of course, this could mean being a suicide bomber, if you are a Palestinian or an Afghan trying to get rid of the Russians or the American invaders.
      Or it could be a Jimmy Carter.

    • Sal Monela

      TO – One small addition to your excellent comment. I would add, in addition to voting, “taking the time to study the issues and candidates in order to cast an informed vote.”

      • The_Ohioan

        Yes, that’s an important criteria and one which is expected of patriotic citizens. I think if we could get the voting rights and the money situation under control people would be able to be better able to contemplate both issues and candidates.

        It’s difficult for people holding down two and three jobs in order to care for their families to make time for that. On the other hand, the people that seem to believe Donald Trump’s ideas will make their life better appear to be perfectly capable of having the time so there must be some other criteria. I should have probably added higher standards of basic civics education.

  • Slamfu

    I think the real confusion going on today is between patriotism and a rising nationalism on the far right. When fear is stoked to get people to believe our country is so in danger that we need to abandon it’s founding principles to protect it. When those principles themselves are subverted to meet agendas(see all the new “religious freedom” laws in the making).

  • Excerpt from “The Pragmatics of Patriotism” by Robert Heinlein On 5 April 1973

    “Patriotism — An abstract word used to describe a type of behavior as harshly
    practical as good brakes and good tires. It means that you place the welfare of your nation ahead of your own even if it costs you your life.

    ” Spelled out in simple Anglo-Saxon words “Patriotism” reads ‘Women and children first!'”

    • dduck12

      Or, as the soldier on the train said: ” to survive”.
      Thanks for this link, MB.
      I would warn those inclined towards pacifism that they might want to pass it up.

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