The Shifting Definition of Patriotism (aka Why It’s Dangerous to Say America’s Always Right)

For most of the existence of countries, patriotism has been defined generally as a love of one’s country, an emotional connection and an action in the general welfare of one’s country.  Patriots saw vast potential in their country and worked hard to ensure it met the full potential.  Finding opportunities to make the country even better was always a central tenet of the pride of a patriot.

Sadly, we’ve traded this for a fake patriotism in America, one that says you absolutely must not do any of the following things:

  • Criticize the military or the broader government
  • Show anything beyond contempt for an “enemy”
  • Support the rights of minorities or immigrants
  • Profess that peace is better than war
  • Profess that any economic system other than capitalism is even an option
  • Speak against religion, or more specifically, Christianity

If you do any of those things, you are no longer a patriot.  It seems odd, then, that the first patriots in this country did all those things in big heaping helpings.  They consistently questioned government and military action, participated in diplomacy, supported equality and peace, ran an economy with strong socialist leanings and held religion to be a matter kept as far from the state as possible.  Where did the people go wrong?

I hear references to 9/11, troops, or capitalism every day.  Never in a negative light, of course.  When I interject that perhaps our biggest problems in this country are due to the aggression of the military, the inequality of the free market, or the obsession with a small-scale (by international standards) terror attack from over a decade ago, my company is typically aghast.  The look of horror on the face of an average American who just encountered the suggestion that Marx had a very sound strategy outlined in the Communist Manifesto is beyond words and, honestly, would be humorous if not for the level of historical ignorance on display.

You know who loved Marx?  Abraham Lincoln.  He found the writings of Marx to be enlightened and intellectually stimulating.  He felt that the tenets of Marx’s form of socialism worked very well in the American economic landscape.  You can even go all the way back to Glenn Beck’s “Common Sense” buddy Thomas Paine and read Agrarian Justice for a look at how socialism helped shape our country’s origins clear back to the Founding Fathers.  However, say that word today and the average American’s face contorts as if you’ve just told them that the Jerry Springer Show isn’t real.

The point is that maybe I’m wrong about Marxism, about peace, about our military fighting for imperialism and political ideology instead of defending any discernible freedom over the past two decades… but in a country that places so much emphasis on free speech, why am I castigated for expressing what I consider patriotic statements?  Acknowledging these things could carry the country in a different and better direction, but many in this country refuse to acknowledge that anything about this country could possibly be wrong… and how is that patriotism?

Einstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results.  When things fail here, we often change some of the terminology we use to describe the process then just try it again.  We don’t adjust, we don’t improve.  Suggestions of improvement using successful models from elsewhere are rebuffed with “well you should just move to Denmark if you hate America so much.”  But that’s the entire point… I wouldn’t be trying to improve a country I hated.

We’re losing our way and the time to revert to the old form of patriotism is now.  We need to openly question our government, our military, our economy, our corporations… we need to constantly ask what we can do to make the country better.  Anything less is unpatriotic.

(On that note, I’ll be talking about something related to this blog post next time I do a Rage entry… Occupy Wall Street is next on the agenda!)