Patriotic Malaise

Jul 4, 2013 by

"Patriotism is easy to understand in America. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country."-Calvin Coolidge

“Patriotism is easy to understand in America. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country.”
-Calvin Coolidge


The sun sets on another 4th of July, another commemoration of our nation’s independence. As darkness settles pyro-technicians climb Mount Rubidoux (our local high point) and prepare to celebrate in fine style. Music coordinated to the splendid red, white, and blue rocket streaks, plays in the background as we sit on the deck, ready for the show to begin, ready for Mount Rubidoux to catch on fire at least once!

“It’s curious,” my friend Martin observed, “that most of these songs are military in nature.” I think for a moment about the usual line up:  Stars and Stripes Forever, will be followed by all of the Service Hymns, the Star Spangled Banner, and for the less militant America the Beautiful and Born In the USA.

“No one is more patriotic than our gallant servicemen,” I rejoin.

“Of course not,” Martin replied. Our brave veterans are an obvious and justifiable object of our patriotic devotion on the 4th of July. But that is just my point. It is a bit too obvious, a bit one sided. There is sort of a patriotic malaise in America. People equate patriotism to either fighting overseas or or attaching an oversize plastic flag to their truck. There doesn’t seem to be very much middle ground.”

Revolutions, John Adams observed, are in the hearts and minds of the people. Those ideas are kindled from many sources. Pamphleteers like Tom Payne, organizers like James Otis and Sam Adams, merchants like John Hancock, educators like George Wythe, were all essential elements of the founding generation. By pursuing their various fields with a sense of enlightened self interest they not only profited themselves but they benefited their nation

For someone like Benjamin Franklin there was a direct correlation between pursuing his own intellectual and monetary advantage and pursuing projects which promoted the greater welfare of his fellow countrymen. We tend to think in a more discrete, compartmentalized fashion. Our private interest is separate from the public good, the pursuit of profit is its own end, and our personal virtue (or lack thereof) is independent of our civic obligations.

Let us remember this 4th of July: the businessman who wants to create jobs; the teacher who sees the future of the Republic in every student’s face; the family farmer who connects the nation to the land and feeds the many; the scientist and the researcher who work for peace, prosperity and security; the mother and father who raise their children to consider civic virtue; and those dissenters who honestly agitate against the majority in the pursuit of right and justice.

The Revolution is incomplete, it is ongoing. Let us remember not just our deserving soldiers but also our civilian patriots, so that we can then recommit ourselves to being a citizenry in pursuit not just of self interest but equally in pursuit of the good, a citizenry of enlightened self interest.

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  1. Craig Hargis

    I have always considered Patriotism–at least the American retail version of it–to be the cheapest possible emotion. It is in fact a pseudo-emotion, just an intense, feeling-for-the-sake-of-feeling kind of easy high without any real objectification. It is something that celebrates one of the most poorly designed flags on earth, a half-dozen national mythologies, some vague feelings about war and BBQ ribs. We are proud to be Americans, but only the immigrant actually asked to be here; the rest of us are here because we were born here. I love the land itself, I love some of the ideas that we represent; I am grateful to be here. But this is a deeply flawed country–our reality falls painfully short of our ideals. “Patriotism” of the kind we are talking about here glosses over these flaws like cheap paint on a moldy wall. I detest patriotism because I still love America.

  2. Tim

    In response, I am going to start by providing a definition of patriotism. Patriotism, according to the Babylon English Dictionary is “n. love and support of one’s country, devotion to one’s nation”. From this definition, patriotism sounds like a positive term, assuming your country deserves ones love and support. Of course the word “country” can have multiple meanings. It could refer to the land, or to the government. In the context of the article, I am guessing it refers to the government. Now I know our government is not perfect, in fact it is far from perfect. Still, there is a number of good things that we should support about our country. Most of our nation’s founders were trying to create a better, freer nation that would allow its citizens to proper and pursue happiness. Our nation would go on to serve as a model in the world. Overtime, other nations have followed or lead, as their citizens have demanded freedoms. The US is not perfect, but I do think we a reason for feeling patriotic. Let us celebrate today, and tomorrow work on improving our nation in whatever way we can. We can be better than we are. Our nation can be a better nation. As Jesse said in his article “The Revolution is incomplete, it is ongoing.” If we are unhappy with the status quo it is our responsibility to change it. “We the People” have the real power in this country. Sometimes we just need to remind our elected officials of this fact.

  3. Craig Hargis

    That is very true, Tim. But I must say that with the NSA, and a Congressional attack on the Constitution our government deserves less respect than it has in a very long time–maybe the Civil War era.

  4. Richard Lee

    Patriotism has very little to do with any of these things – that is the point of the article. The heart of real patriotism is in how you raise your kids, how you do your job. History, the media, our conversation here, focuses too much on the grand gesture and too little recognizes the quiet contributions of business, commerce, religion, parenting etc. These involve everyday acts of good citizenship. But the Fourth is largely preempted as an auxiliary veterans day, or government propaganda. If we want to complete the revolution and fix the larger issues of encroaching tyranny and incompetence in government we need to do as good a job of promoting the civilian patriot: The farmer, the dissenter, the teacher as we do uniformed patriots.

  5. Vince Giglio

    The United States is as close to perfect as possible. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as amended, give the people the best chance to self-govern. The individual is “flawed” and responsible for all failures. Yes, the legal immigrant “asked” to be here and most went through hell to get here. Patriotism, as rightfully stated by the author, is rooted in our action, how we came to be here, and what we do with our good fortune when born here. When our function is fulfilled patriotism is achieved. I for one love our flag because it represents the people who have and continue to shed blood for all of us to remain free (“the last full measure of devotion” Lincoln). The flag represents one nation out of many people devoted to the belief that people can be virtuous, civic minded, and that the good of the community is not in opposition to individual freedom.

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