We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
It can be a close thing, mistaking nationalism for patriotism, look too quickly and they vanish into each other. The prevailing exposition is to employ the two terms to help describe the one another, but I contend, that they are not the same, not the same at all.
Yesterday was the Fourth of July, a day that we, as a people have set apart, to, we are told, reflect upon and celebrate the American experiment, to recall the words of a hardy people put to pen by Thomas Jefferson. But that declaration wasn’t a commitment to American exceptionalism or the elevation of a peoples national interest irregardless of the rights of others. We simply do not, we must not, celebrate the birth ego, but instead the collective expression of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Patriotism, in its most pure and simple form, is the actuated love of neighbor; a commitment to placing others and their needs before your own, setting aside your own so that it will not be required of them and their children. This is the essence of love of country, that at it’s heart, patriotism is a love of people and place, that begins with your neighbor and your town that inescapably and simply ripples outward to touch all who hold that “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are indelible rights, granted to us and upheld by God, that all humanity innately grasps and holds to as foundational to the institution and preservation of a just and civil society. But that, that has all but been evaporated by the searing and insufferable heat of self interest, statism and the rapid emergence of a balkanized American society.
We, as the people-without which there is no country, no American Dream-set the tone and example for our leaders. Our leaders rise up in response to the cries of the citizenry, out of the collective ideals of the community; they often become messiah to our false faith in the redemptive power of the Republic. This is the reality, that much of what passes for political persuasion today is predicated on the belief that this or that regime can effect the sort of change that we have become convinced is fundamental to the continuance of the American species. Don’t mistake me, though, for as our leaders, for good or ill, are the Athena to our Zeus, so the establishment they comprise is the agency of our collective will (the contrast must be made, of course, between the expressed will of the vocal and the repressed will of the silent).
So, I choose to be a patriot of people and place, to set the needs of my neighbor and my village ahead of my own. In this way I can love the soldier and yet hate the war. It is how I can cherish my country yet disapprove of it’s policies. And it is how I can know that this isn’t the greatest country in the world anymore, but that it still has the opportunity and capital to be. The American Dream People and Place is a dream still worth having, so grip tight with every ounce of patriotism you possess and never let go. In the words of Langston Hughes,
Hold fast to dreamsFor if dreams dieLife is a broken-winged birdThat cannot fly.Hold fast to dreamsFor when dreams goLife is a barren fieldFrozen with snow.