By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 07/01/07
Patriotism seems to be a dying trait of 21st century Americans. There was a time not long ago when in spite of ideological differences, the common glue holding our nation, society, and culture together was a grateful acknowledgement of the greatness of America; a realization that we were a unique nation founded upon eternal principles recognizing the equality of man because of our God-given inalienable rights. I pine for that day.
Think back to how the nation coalesced for a time after the attack at Pearl Harbor, or even more recently, after the attacks of 9/11. As a nation we were unified with a love of country and a determination to overcome all obstacles and enemies that stood in the way of our perpetuity as a free and prospering nation. Flags, patriotic bumper stickers, and unifying messages on signs and placards were virtually omnipresent. That unity is natural when we feel we are at risk and fighting for our survival.
I would submit that we are still fighting for our survival, and the risks are no less onerous or menacing now than they were six years ago. But even more than extrinsic threats to our physical existence, the divisiveness so prevalent amongst us today threatens us internally, even at the very heart of our nation.
There is nothing “cool” or erudite about hating America. It may indicate some deep psychological maladies, but it’s far from “cool.” Not only is it possible to love America and all she stands for while being critical of politicians and policy, but I think that’s what’s meant by dissent being the ultimate form of patriotism: a devotion to America and a commitment to her perpetuity so great that we speak out in opposition to those policies that we’re convinced challenges the role of America as an ensign of freedom to the world.
It seems that too many Americans confuse patriotism with nationalism. Patriotism is a commitment to vigorously support ones country with a concomitant determination to defend it and make it better, whereas nationalism is an extreme form of patriotism that connotes a complete acquiescence to national authority regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. When one blames their country and its leaders for all that is wrong in the world, they have crossed the line and their “patriotism” is certainly suspect and worthy of being questioned.
Patriotism should abound as we celebrate the birthday of our beloved America. For such patriotism acknowledges the uniqueness of our humble beginnings, based on eternal principles, not on the whims of monarchs, tyrants, or a government “grant” of rights and privileges.
We recognize that for the first time in history, a nation was created by people, for people, based on a series of principles and tenets recognized to be God-given, not government bestowed. As James Madison said regarding the patriots who fought for freedom from England, “Happily for America, happily, we trust, for the whole human race, they pursued a new and more noble course. They accomplished a revolution which has no parallel in the annals of human society.”
For the first time in history, a group of agrarian subjects united to throw off the tyranny of their monarch, and establish a new nation founded in the notion that rights are not simply granted by the ruler, but by God. That since those rights were granted by God, they were inalienable, meaning that they were unable to be separated, surrendered, or transferred. And that among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Our national uniqueness makes the celebration of our nation’s birth a most consequential event. Attempts at imitation have and will be made, but nothing approximates the uniqueness of the founding of the United States of America.
Because of this fact, freedom loving people throughout the world should celebrate the 4th of July as the model of triumph of individual liberty over tyranny, freedom over despotism, and individual self-worth over the value of the state.
Even those who engage in national self-loathing, lamenting America as the cause of all the world’s grief, must recognize the power behind a country founded on the principle that for a government of free people to be legitimate, its powers must be derived from the consent of the governed.
Thomas Jefferson, arguably the preeminent liberal of the western hemisphere, is affectionately referred to as the father of “American exceptionalism.” This acknowledges the unequalled greatness of our country because of its unique origins, national credo, historical evolution, and distinctive political and religious institutions, and of America’s qualitative dissimilarity from all other nations. It is not arrogance to claim greatness in this young republic; it is historical and empirical fact. Our Declaration reduced government from master to servant for the first time in history.
Our United States of America is not perfect. No temporal entity operated by man can be, yet the principles upon which this country is founded are divine in nature, and the resulting government by and for the people, the best on earth.
Patriotism is not a matter of waving a flag, but is rather manifest in how we talk of America, and how we treat her and her citizens. Adlai Stevenson admonished us that our patriotism should not be “short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
In this context, to be true patriots, we don’t just fly our flag on the 4th of July, but we live lives of dedication to preserving this land, and passing it on to later generations in better condition than we received it from our forbearers. We don’t litter, we don’t abuse the earth, we protect the civil and religious liberties guaranteed by our Constitution, and we profess our convictions of the principles upon which our country was founded, and then live and speak in such a way as to outwardly manifest such patriotism.
We were blessed to witness patriotism in its purest form Friday night at Ann Loveland’s “Anthems of America” pageant at the Stephens Performing Arts Center. The imagery, the messages of hope, gratitude, and commitment coupled with outstanding music truly inspired all who attended. Thank you, Ann, for that timely and appropriate injection of patriotic fervor and gratitude. We are better citizens for having been there.
We have much to rejoice in as we celebrate America’s 231st birthday. May we display everyday, not just on the 4th of July, the patriotism merited by this great country. Not just the superficial outward manifestations like bumper stickers and flags on our front porch, but the profound respect, love, and devotion to a country founded on freedom and individual liberty; the very uniqueness of our one national under God.