Problem Patriots

posted 4-11-10
Problem Patriots

One singular thing the United States has going for it, in my view, is the idea that liberty is an "inalienable right". Springing from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the idea that these rights come from the Creator, and that the state can only deduct from that liberty, not add to it, is reflected again in the Constitution where these freedoms are referred to as "blessings" to be secured. Some think the "Bill of Rights" provides our freedoms, but no, they simply specify and warrantee some of the means to the pursuit of happiness.

The idea that freedom is resident within the person is still strong in law, and there have been constant efforts by civil libertarians to polish and purify that notion, even as others have moved relentlessly to curtail personal liberty. Originally, "all men" meant all white men of property; since then the meaning has been nourished and built on, raising it closer to its ultimate promise.

But is liberty really resident within the person?

"Freedom" isn’t an easy topic to discuss, even if you leave B.F. Skinner and Noam Chomsky out of the mix. After all, an ant in a colony has perfect freedom, since she wants nothing more than to perform her duty and find her place in the whole. True, if she did anything else she’d be killed and eaten, but that scarcely matters since she doesn’t want to do anything else, she has perfect freedom to do as she wants.

If that’s how you look at freedom, it isn’t hard to find. Indeed, a person could do nothing but go to work, come home, spend money, pay taxes, and as long as nothing they wanted to do was illegal, they would experience complete freedom, even perfect, ant-like freedom.

However, freedom isn’t measured by the desire and ability of the average ant to obey the law. It’s based on the need for natural persons to act according to their own conscience. Indeed, some purists insist that the measure of liberty and freedom in a society is found in those who are different, and their ability to live without ridicule, stigma, prejudice or legal prohibition.

Given that the central tenet of our form of government is individual self determination, why do so many "patriots" hate freedom so much? It’s always the "patriots" who want to step on this personal freedom, or invade that sovereign nation. How are you a patriot if you hate freedom? Jefferson, arguably a primary architect of our liberty, felt patriots should question the government, indeed, take personal responsibility for it, since it operated on his or her behalf. How different is that from the restrictive form of "patriotism?"

Most self described patriots are really ascribing to affiliation. "Affiliation" is an important human need. Humans are pack animals; one’s social location relative to the herd is very important. Studies show that people join religions, support sports teams, form community theater groups and a host of other things simply to provide opportunities to interact with other people, to form little societies for them to have a place in. Sure, they love God, think the home team is the best, and always wanted to be an actor, but the primary purpose is affiliation.

"Patriots" of the "you’re either with us or you’re a terrorist" persuasion are like that. They imagine a huge mainstream of Americans like themselves (probably not true) and a big part of their work is to side with that "many" against the "few" who aren’t "real Americans". The root of "patriotism" is "patris", father. In essence, it is loyalty to bloodline and authority. Instead of describing a value of difference, this kind of "patris-ism" swears loyalty to the entrenched power structure. Such patriots are obsessed with law, not dubious of it. The closer to living in clans and tribes you are, the better that kind of blind loyalty works; the closer to a global society we become, the more small minded and dangerous that kind of "patriotism" is.

I’d like to discourage such intellectually myopic patriots, and encourage Jeffersonian patriotism, instead. He recommended loyalty to one’s fellow citizens, not to any government or even strict governmental form. In Jefferson’s scheme, citizens are self-educated and well educated, they take an active part in politics. Such patriots are required to question government, and required to look out for the freedom of others, even the freedom of the minority.

I’ll suggest anyone who doesn’t do those basic things can’t claim to be a patriot.



Quotes on patriotism

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Teddy Roosevelt

The greater the state, the more wrong and cruel its patriotism, and the greater is the sum of suffering upon which its power is founded. Tolstoy

Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious. Oscar Wilde

Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism - how passionately I hate them! Einstein





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