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In Defense of Patriotism
Every year as our nation’s patriotic holidays roll around–Flag Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July–I can’t help but think back to an interaction with some of my then-ninth graders, whom I had during my first year teaching at my current school. My classroom had long remained fairly sparse and undecorated, but finally I acquired and hung a few posters. My crowning decoration, a large American flag, hung from my window. Some of my students walked in and stopped, shocked. “Dr. D., you’re not a nationalist, are you?” they asked, with obvious concern in their voices.
After trying (and probably failing) to make them understand the difference between an extreme nationalism or jingoism, and an appropriate love of one’s country, I could help but reflect with sadness at the assumption so common among many of the young today. The mere display of a flag of our country meant that I was a “nationalist,” and nationalism, whatever it was, was bad. These views allowed for no possible legitimate love of country. That was forbidden altogether
I thought of this again recently when reading in my local paper (a practice I usually avoid whenever possible), about the removal of the statue of Philip Schuyler, a local hero of the American Revolution. He was, however, a hero and not a saint, and unfortunately for him, one of his sins involved owning slaves. During the initial wave of statue smashing that occurred in the summer of 2020, the city determined to remove the statue and, three years of delays later, finally did so.
A display of the American flag can be seen as “nationalist.” A statue of a local historical figure has to be removed. These are only local microcosms of what is taking place across the country. It is becoming cool, sophisticated, and “woke” to despise the flag, denigrate historical figures, and reject love of country, which, properly understood, is really nothing more than an extension of love of home.
This should frighten every one of us. Who wants us, especially wants the young, to hate our own country and history… and why? My high schoolers will (actually already have) gone off to college and become one day the next group of college students smashing statues, renaming buildings, “decolonizing” curricula, and, in general, working to erase our shared history and nation.
Why? Why erase the things that tie us together? Why erase our shared history, past, and the values they represent? The only reason is because they want to replace one culture so that they can replace it with another. How else to interpret one of the stranger photos to come out of pride month: the White House using two American flags to flank a more prominent Pride flag? The nation gave way to pride. As some observed, as the Philip Schuyler statue was being removed, there in the background, hanging from City Hall, were several prominent pride flags. Again, a symbol of our history must leave, giving way to a new ideology. Teaching our nation to hate its history and despise even the nation itself thus becomes necessary to substitute a new ideology and new values.
And yet we should love our country. Love of country is merely an extension of love of home and community; and those are not only legitimate loves, but necessary ones.
We should indeed love our home. We should be grateful to it and to the men who made it what it is. They were none of them perfect; they were heroes, not saints. Yet, many of them fought and toiled and bled and even died for the country they loved; and this is the country they have left to us. And if they have left us work yet to do, that is no reason to scorn them, but to be grateful for the chance to join their labor.
But while we join that work, we should do it in a spirit of gratitude for the work itself and for the country we have been given. We did not make our home. We were given it by the labor of many who lived long ago. Is it asking too much that we should be grateful for it?
Love of country is not the highest love, and patriotism is not the highest value. It should be subordinated to love of family, love of goodness and virtue, and most of all, love of God. And should it contradict these higher goods, then the nation deserves to fall.
No nation lasts forever, and neither will ours. But until that time, it is ours to love, to defend, and to toil over. And so it is right to commemorate and even celebrate that nation and those who left it to us.
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