Patriotism Revisited

Patriotism is the last REFUGE of a scoundrel. #politics #quotes | Words, Wise words, Quotes

I have a batch of draft posts on my WordPress site — thoughts I’ve jotted down over the years, ideas that percolated for a time, then went flat. And every now and then (like today) I look them over, delete a few, ponder a few more, and, occasionally (like today) I go, “Eureka!” and know I have my next blog post, nearly done.

And so it is with this one, written originally shortly after the 2020 State of the Union speech.

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I’ve sat out the State of the Union speeches (hereafter referred to as SOTUs) for the past three years, the first time I’ve missed them since before high school, with the exception of my two years in the Peace Corps.

It felt the patriotic thing to do.

Patriotic.

It’s a word that’s been bandied about alot of late. So I’ve given it some thought. I wonder the number of readers I’ll lose, but here goes.

“Patriotism” is generally defined as a love of one’s country.

“Devotion to and vigorous support of” is actually how Oxford defines it.

The concept strikes me as important, for when we hear cries of “Patriotism” it’s one of the few times the crier expects we are all together, or we certainly should be. America shows her communal colors when patriotism soars.

Then, I think historically.

It was patriotic in 2002 to support President George W going into Iraq, after those WMDs. You remember. We’d been invaded by hijacked commercial jets; our financial district was in chaos, and over 3,000 lives had been lost. For most, invasion seemed understandable. For Woody and me, though, we joined the Peace Corps.

It was patriotic in the 1980s to watch silently as Ronald Reagan decimated our labor unions, slashed funding for the Arts, and turned his back on AIDS research. But the people loved Reagan. He spoke their language; his words made them feel good. He was patriotic.

It was patriotic in the early 1970s to declare, “Love it or leave it” when referring to those gathering in the streets to protest a war half a world away that no one really understood.

It was patriotic in the 1960s to turn our headlights on as a visible sign you supported the US’s policies and practices in Vietnam.

It was patriotic in the 1940s and early ’50s to turn in a co-worker or neighbor or friend suspected of having communist sympathies.

It was patriotic during WWII to support the encampment of all Japanese Americans into internment camps and not think a thing of it when their property was confiscated and not returned. “America first,” after all.

You get the idea.

Patriotism is, as Samuel Johnson famously said, the last refuge of a scoundrel.

In an uncharacteristic sense of the collective (Americans do tend to emphasize the Individual), if we feel patriotic, we expect everyone to agree with us.

Is it a defensive posture? Do we dare not stand alone in our “devotion to and vigorous support of” our country?

How easy it has become to “other” another.

For more on this topic, I recommend an article in Medium by Wes O’Donnell, “Patriotism vs.  Nationalism: What’s the Difference.” (August 29, 2019).

How about you? What’s your take on patriotism? 

 

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I’ve added a clip of me reading the Introduction. It’s on my Book Page, at the very bottom. It says 16 minutes, but that’s because I forgot to turn it off after the 6 minutes it took me and I don’t know how to edit it down.

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16 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Patriotism as defined by dictionary.com is “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.” I don’t see anything pejorative about that definition, but I see the word used on social media these days as a negative thing.

    I think some may be confusing patriotism with nationalism, defined as excessive patriotism or chauvinism, the fervor that led Hitler to separate people into superior and inferior races, based on his own set of criteria. We know about that horror!
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Remembering Sunday Dinners, PA Dutch Style and a New AuthorMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian. I’m glad you mentioned nationalism as separate from patriotism. Yes, nationalism tends toward the defensive and has a decidedly military feel. My fear is that our patriotism is slowly moving closer to nationalism.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Patriotism RevisitedMy Profile

  2. Clive Pilcher
    | Reply

    Most of those who claim to be patriots are, in my view, more likely to be chauvinists. Blind loyalty leads to a refusal or inability to recognise reality.
    Clive Pilcher recently posted…Tuesday Tunes 27: SixMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      “Blind loyalty leads to a refusal or inability to recognize reality.” Good one, Clive. Thanks.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Patriotism RevisitedMy Profile

  3. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    I don’t know that loyalty and allegiance to country are necessarily inherently negative things, but they are, and have proven to be, easily manipulated and exploited for morally dubious aims, and are therefore inherently dangerous things. I much prefer the notion of allegiance to ideals, principles, and humanity than to symbols, regimes, and borders carved by imperialism and war.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Tim. Yes, well put. Those ideals and principles that “patriotism” and the flag once symbolized seem to be slipping away. Getting confused. I noticed I did not get very many actual VALUES that the flag symbolized when I asked a week or so ago. (I did on my FB post and emails, but not here). “Patriotism” has taken on a life of its own I fear, devoid of actual shared principles.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Patriotism RevisitedMy Profile

  4. Janet Morrison
    | Reply

    You make some excellent points, Janet. Your examples are spot on. It seems to me that patriotism is in the eye of the beholder. Being patriotic seems so obvious to each person, yet we often fall on two extremes of the spectrum when we name what we believe is the patriotic thing to do or way to think. The current state of politics in the US is a real time demonstration of that. Great post, Janet. It made me really stop and think.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you, Janet; that is the highest compliment you could pay me. I loved your “Being patriotic seems so obvious to each person” — we get attached to getting everyone else to agree. I wish I could see how history will talk about this time. Alas.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Patriotism RevisitedMy Profile

  5. Bette A Stevens
    | Reply

    Samuel Johnson’s got a good point… Patriotism should be something beautiful, but it seems to fall far short.

  6. Frank Moore
    | Reply

    Janet,

    I kinda like Sydney J. Harris’s take on patriotism and nationalism …
    “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does.”

    (Sydney was a Chicago journalist and author.)

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m finding many takes on patriotism lately, Frank. This is another good one. Chicago, huh? Btw, I’m very sorry to hear of your governor’s CoVid results. Hope it’s a light case.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Patriotism RevisitedMy Profile

  7. Richard Burke
    | Reply

    Five years ago, while lecturing in China, I gave a public lecture on “The Strange Phenomenon of American Patriotism.” In preparing it, I came upon a fairly convincing study that distinguished between the unfortunately (if accurately) named Blind Patriotism and the more positive sounding Constructive Patriotism. Simply put, Blind Patriotism carries the conviction that a country is great and good and worthy of intense and unwavering devotion. Constructive Patriotism involves a genuine love of country but sees the flaws and believes that correcting those flaws is the way to show that love. One reason that so many “patriots” hated Obama so strongly was that he was Constructive while they were Blind. (Of course, another big reason for the hatred was simple racism.) My own belief is that Blind Patriotism is a bad thing–morally and politically unjustifiable. And it’s completely open to manipulation and exploitation–as we’re seeing every day.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks for this, Richard. The Blind Patriotism is similar to Sydney Harris’ nationalism, that Frank shared above. And both, to me, have a decidedly militaristic tone.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Patriotism RevisitedMy Profile

  8. Ally Bean
    | Reply

    Ditto what Marian said. Meanings of words change over time. The definition of patriotism seems currently to be dependent on which political party you lean into. Although maybe it always was and I’m just now becoming aware of it.

    I define patriotism as love of your country. Probably too simplistic for today’s complexities.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’ve been reading more on this since my post, Ally and you are right, meanings evolve over time. One source says Merriam-Webster treats the two words as synonyms. But this one jumped out as me as most succinct:
      “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does.”
      Thanks for joining in.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Losing WaterMy Profile

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