Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Thoughts on Patriotism

Some thoughts on patriotism on Independence Day:

  • For many people, patriotism is a frightening echo of jingoism. They regard displays of flags as a sign of blind nationalism. A healthy patriotism, however, can be enormously beneficial. As a great antidote to tribalism, it can unify and not divide. Being patriotic does not mean being oblivious to your nation's flaws. All nations have blemishes, but any measurement should be against reality, not utopia. Far too many critics of "My country, right or wrong" regard their country as always wrong.
  • Patriotism is neither liberal nor conservative. The nation is stronger when liberals, moderates, and conservatives honor and participate in the military. A nation will not long survive if it has to rely upon the members of sociology departments for its defense. It is odd that the same people who mock military enlistments as the product of financial incentives are also frightened by enlistments that are driven by patriotism.
  • Samuel Johnson's oft-quoted observation that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel has been used by cynics to discount all patriotism. The quote is uttered and all argument is to cease. (And these people think they are intellectually sophisticated.) I'm not sure if it is the first or last refuge, but there are many scoundrels nowadays who wrap themselves in antipatriotism and who regard their nation as simply the protector of a comfortable lifestyle. For these characters, self-regard is boundless and sacrificing for the nation is mindless. Although they may give lip service to respecting the military, catch them in an unguarded moment and you'll frequently find scorn for those who fight and die to protect them.
  • Parents and teachers need to talk to children about the nuances and obligations of patriotism. A modest proposal for the schools: Give patriotism as much attention as environmentalism. For many classrooms, that will be a sizable boost.

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