Patriotism and the Fourth of July

Since we are on the eve of the Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to make a few remarks on patriotism and its pitiful state in America today. Patriotism is one of those words which are thrown around without being clearly defined. To be unpatriotic is something people are often accused of, but they will never label themselves as such. To call someone a patriot is to complement them. In no country is being a patriot considered to be an insult or something of which one should not aspire to become. Patriotism is always associated with a nation’s independence day. For Americans, it is the Fourth of July. For Mexicans, it is September 16 – not Cinco de Mayo as many mistakenly assume.

Patriotism: The love of your country, not your government

Of course, for the naturally curious, the question remains. What is a patriot? What makes something a patriot? What are the qualities, attributes, and traits of a patriot? What defines patriotism? If you ask someone, I highly doubt many will have a quick answer, if any at all. Or, they will say patriotism is the love one has for their country.

Actually, this is a reasonable definition.

The trouble with it is defining actions as patriotic. For example, was it patriotic to protest the Vietnam War? Was it patriotic to fight in the Marines against the Japanese. Was it patriotic to fight for the Confederates or the Union during the War Between the States? Or was it patriotic to remain out of the fighting entirely? Another problem with it is defining a country. Is it defined by government borders?

If so, Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland who wished to join the Republic of Ireland were unpatriotic.

A common saying among libertarian-minded people is that patriotism is the love of one’s country, not the government. In other words, a society and its government are not considered the same. It is only under this definition that men like Robert E. Lee, who led the Confederate army against the United States are considered patriots.

In Germany, Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for his alleged involvement in the assassination plot against Hitler. No one considers Hitler a patriot, but few would call Bonhoeffer’s actions unpatriotic.

In 20th Century Russia, former soldier and political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote novels and nonfiction work that exposed the evil and depravity of the communist regime, yet he resisted all efforts to deport him. When he finally came to America he had difficult adjusting and longed to return to his homeland. After the Soviet Union collapsed he went back to Russia.

This was also the case with Russian poet and author Boris Pasternak, who wrote the classic novel Dr. Zhivago. His novel caused an embarrassment to the Soviets, especially after it was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature – even though Russians weren’t allowed to read it. Though he was never deported, Pasternak was terrified of being removed from his country and renounced the Nobel Prize to avoid being deported.

To the communists, his fears were illogical with the views he presented in his literature. If he hated the Soviet Union so much, why didn’t he want to leave and go to a “capitalist paradise”? Because like Solzhenitsyn, Pasternak loved Russia, its culture and its people. It was the communists government he despised, and he was sophisticated enough to differentiate between the two.

When patriotism is confused with obedience

We get into trouble, however, when patriotism is conflated with obedience to government. As a libertarian, I regard government as illegitimate, and thus this definition of patriotism makes no sense. Also, if disobedience to government is considered unpatriotic, then I don’t mind being called unpatriotic.

To be honest, over the last several years I’ve spent far less time thinking about patriotism. I rarely, if ever, use the word, because I don’t believe our society has a clear enough understanding of what it means to use it without being misinterpreted. Where I oppose the idea of patriotism is when it is used as a banner to get people to comply with immoral, unjust and illegitimate actions carried out by our government. We often hear of how paying taxes is patriotic. Signing up for the military and “fighting for your country” is patriotic. This has been ingrained into our minds from our education, whether it be private or public. Those who blindly obey orders are regarded as loyal, while those who resist, even when they are right, are seen as disloyal.

The outcome of this has been repeated throughout history. Mass murders, censorship, rioting mobs attacking political, religious and ethnic minorities. During war, this type of false patriotism is encouraged and promoted. It is why people are so willing to do terrible things, or at least allow them to happen, during war. They are willing to watch innocent people go to their deaths, because they are convinced it is out of love for their country, not out of hatred. They love, so other must die.

Under this definition, the murderer becomes a patriot because he kills those who stand in the way of his government and his country, which to him is one and the same. The man who dares to resist, who refuses to kill and defies authority, is castigated and treated like a social leper, even when his actions are vindicated.

Phony patriotism

Speaking as an American, I have to also say that, contrary to what foreigners may think, much of the patriotism in this country is superficial. It’s true, people will wave the American flags and praise the Founding Fathers and say the pledge of allegiance while they barbecue and watch fireworks.

When it comes to doing something actually patriotic, however, how many of those will step up?

The status of our nation right now speaks to the lack of actual patriotism and the confusion over what it means to be a patriot. Our government engages in unconstitutional actions on a daily basis. It occupies foreign nations, murders its citizens and manipulates their governments. It has run up trillions of dollars in deficit which my grandchildren will either have to pay or suffer from due to inflation.

Bribery, lies and corruption are rampant in D.C. and everyone knows it. Elected officials violate their oaths and use their de facto powers to avoid accountability to the very laws they pass, while the average common citizen suffers as they attempt to abide by laws they neither consented to nor understand. We have nine judges who have the power to decide what the law means and what it doesn’t mean for hundreds of millions of people.

Across the country, police officers engage in warrantless searches, no-knock raids, and harass peaceful citizens on the slightest pretense. Civil forfeiture, eminent domain, and taxes turn property owners into renters at best and serfs at worst. The Bill of Rights has become the Bill of Privileges subject to reinterpretation at any time. Our government spies on us on a scale unmatched in human history.

I could go on and on and still be scratching the surface.

Yet how many resist? How many stand up and rebel? Even among conservatives who loathe Obama, I am told I need to obey the Affordable Care Act because it is the law and I must fear the wrath of the Tax Revenue Gestapo. Among the most ardent critics, there is still a belief in obedience to those who claim to represent us.

I can’t help but scoff every time I hear someone speak of the Founding Fathers and how we have abandoned the principles they fought for, only to then remark immediately afterwards about how we need to follow the law and obey our government even when their laws are wrong.

Please explain to me how the Founding Fathers obeyed the law when they stored up munitions and arms and trained in military drills on fields. Explain to me how they obeyed the law when they refused to give up their arms to soldiers acting on behalf of their government. Explain how they were law-abiding when they ambushed the redcoats behind rocks and trees and besieged them in Boston.

Americans are so quick to forget that their ancestors won their independence by using guns to kill people attempting to take away their rights and liberties. They did not hold an occupy protest, and when they held a tea party they said little as they dumped cargo into the Boston harbor. They did not sign petitions. They appealed to Parliament, but they did not consider their word to be the final say on the matter. They appealed to the king, but they did not give in when he ignored their pleas. I would also add that the Founding Fathers killed British soldiers over far less important matters than we face today.

The fact that there has not yet been a rebellion of any kind speaks to either the patience of Americans or their indifference and apathy about it as long as they have material possessions. It is a fundamental right of every person to use violence to protect themselves against aggressors, no matter who they are or how legitimate their aggression may appear.

When countries like America celebrate their independence day as an act of patriotism, they are unknowingly celebrating a day that represents the successful killing of those who tried to prevent their independence.

Lastly, although the fact that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 2, not July 4, I find Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper brief about it depressing for reasons I’ll explain:

“Philadelphia, July 3: Yesterday the Continental Congress declared the United Colonies free and independent states.”

Free and independent states. Would anyone today say they are free or independent? If not, then the entire basis of the war has been destroyed. So what exactly are we celebrating?

Or am I being too unpatriotic?

It goes without saying I love my country. I love genuine American cultural values that go beyond commercialism and consumerism. I love the American spirit of ingenuity and innovation that spurred men like Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, the Wright Brothers, and Howard Hughes to achieve great things never done before. I believe that the principles of freedom, liberty, and independence are worth fighting for and worth dying for, against all enemies, foreign and domestic and, I would add, all enemies whether they be civilians or government entities.

Thomas Jefferson once remarked that the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. Patriotism isn’t waving a flag and eating a hamburger while you watch things blow up in the sky. It’s the willingness to protect the rights of not only one’s self, but of others in your country as well.

America’s problem isn’t that it is too patriotic. Our problem is that there aren’t enough patriots willing to keep the tree of liberty refreshed – and it is getting very dry very quickly.

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