patriot: n. a person who is devoted to and ready to support or defend his or her country. Syn: nationalist, loyalist; flag-waver, chauvinist. Oxford Desk Dictionary.
patriot: n. 1596, fellow countryman; also 1605, person who loyally supports his country, in Ben Jonson's Volpone; borrowed from French patriote, and directly from Late Latin patriota, from Greek patriotes fellow countryman, from patria fatherland, from pater (genitive patros) FATHER, with the ending -otes expressing a state or condition as of one's origin. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology.
One of the greatest attractions of patriotism -- it fulfills our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what's more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous. Aldous Huxley, Eyeless in Gaza, 17, 1936.
Patriotism is in political life what faith is in religion. Lord Acton, "Nationality," 1862.
To deride patriotism marks impoverished blood, but to extol it as an ideal or an impulse above truth and justice, at the cost of the general interests of humanity, is far worse. John Mobley, Notes on Politics and History: A University Address, 5, 1913.
In Dr. Johnson's famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort [sic] of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, p. 98, 1911, Dover Edition, 1958.
Obviously there exist many ways to look at patriotism. One of the most intriguing may be Lord Acton's statement that patriotism analogizes to religious faith, which is to say that patriotism is belief without evidence. But of course religious people will quarrel with that, and to my mind they will always be on the wrong end of that argument. Be that as it may, Lord Acton may have a point.
Patriots, and I am speaking of American patriots generally, especially the loudest of them, do seem to subsist on faith. They seem to know very little of the actual history of the United States; little of the actual content, intent, and context of the founding documents; little even of the institutions of government that live right in front of them today. They seem to believe things of the ilk that George Washington cut down a cherry tree and never told a lie; that the United States has never fought an unjust war; that the United States has always supported democracy, freedom, liberty; that a real citizen and patriot must have a gun in every room in order to repel the invasive government that is coming in force to take his handgun away; and the like. In other words they tend to believe nonsense and falderal, and they are willing to twist any fact they may accidentally come upon to fit their ignorance, if not downright ignore it as hard as they can.
But I'm willing to go further. I'm willing to say that the vast majority of Americans are not patriots. Most Americans haven't made the effort required to be a true patriot. Most Americans couldn't pass a civics test or an American history test if their life depended on it. Further, I suggest that most American don't love the United States: love requires knowledge and understanding, two items sorely missing from the repertoire of so-called American patriots.
There's a reason for that, more than one, but a big one is the simplest one. Most Americans are not patriots for the simple reason that they were born here.
Being a citizen by birth means you never have to choose to love your country; you never have to choose to be a citizen; you never have to pass a test demonstrating you know enough history and civics to become a citizen. You just are one.
And your education feeds you the myths and fairy tales designed to inculcate patriotic love of country. Washington and the cherry tree. The United States is the greatest country in the world. We're the good guys, always. And every morning in school you have to take a loyalty oath, called the Pledge of Allegiance, when you don't even understand it or its implications.
Between the sense of birthright and the failure of education, it's no wonder that patriots are few and far between.
Now someone will immediately spring to the defense of our military and say they are patriots. Not necessarily. If you are born here and you grow up here and you run through the standard educational processes, such as they are, that are offered throughout the country, you won't question military service. Today you don't even have to think about it unless you are looking for a career choice in a lousy job market. In the past you only had to think about getting drafted, and that only if you were unlucky. Most soldiers simply accepted that service was what they had to do if they couldn't avoid it.
No one says to our teenagers that if they want to be a citizen they have to serve a hitch in the military. Unless they're immigrants -- it seems popular these days among politicians to offer citizenship in exchange for accepting a role as cannon fodder for a few years.
Those who made a deliberate choice to sign up, usually in time of war or threatened war, for the most part made their decision based on jingoism and government propaganda, not on complete information about the conflict, not from historical perspectives, not on critical thought about the reasons for the war and the reasons for the leadership pushing for war.
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