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In Massachusetts where I was born and brought up, we celebrated Patriot’s Day on April 19. In school we discussed stories of the patriots who fought for American independence. Among these, in addition to Washington and others who were major figures, were such other men as Paul Revere, Nathan Hale, and Patrick Henry. We often read parts of the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride” commemorating that historic event. When we arrived at the line about shouting the alarm, we all shouted together, “The British are coming! The British are coming!”
I suppose having been brought up in so to speak the backyard of the American Revolution imbued us of that place and time with a certain keen sense of patriotism and to this day, I cannot hear or think of the word without thinking of those brave men of Lexington and Concord, of the lamps in the Old North Church, or of the Minute Men, an impromptu and sometimes ragtag voluntary militia, whose mission was to wait for the call to form ranks and drive out the British. It was a sense that remained with many of my contemporaries and well into our adulthood and is with me still.
But today, many scoff at notions of patriotism, as though it somehow equated not with pride, but with hatred of anything not American. Nothing could be more wrong than equating love for one’s country with hatred for someone else’s. The freedictionary.com site defines patriotism as “devotion to one’s country and concern for its defense” while it defines nationalism as “a sentiment based on common cultural characteristics” and “exaggerated, passionate, or fanatical devotion to a national community.”
“American” is not an ethnic or racial identity, but a description of the principles that bind us together as a nation. Thus, when one is a patriotic American, he expresses devotion to that set of ideas and concern for its defense. For true American patriots, devotion to America is neither “exaggerated” nor “fanatical” but measured and deeply rational. And because the roots of true American patriotism are just, they are also deeply felt.
What are the roots of this devotion known as American patriotism?
The US was founded by a group of men who understood the fundamental flaw in monarchy in which everyone is subject to the rule of a king, prince or other monarch, or, in the case of a theocracy, to the high priest or Caliph. They understood that if a nation is to be just and fair, it must also be free. The way they established this concept was to state the source of all rights and freedom as a “creator.” But they did not identify who or what that creator was. Thus, the fact of creation and not who or what did the creating is fundamental. In this way, freedom and rights so derived cannot legitimately be questioned or abrogated. The purpose of the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is to enshrine the fact that those rights, because they are conferred not by government but by the fact of human existence, are unalienable and that government exists exclusively to protect and guarantee those rights.
A true American patriot swears his allegiance to that enshrined principle. Thus, anyone who scoffs at America and its founding principles either does not understand the fundamentals of human freedom or has an agenda to deny them. Germans swearing allegiance to Hitler did not swear allegiance to principles. Neither did the Romans who swore an oath to Caesar. Those who swear oaths to kings or despots or swear their commitment to a religion or an ethnic group, a tribe or a collective are not patriotic in the way Americans are, because Americans, in pledging their patriotism, pledge that patriotism to their own sovereignty as citizens of the freest, most benevolent nation in the history of man.
Jefferson is famously credited with saying that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. A vigilant American who makes an effort to reaffirm the principles of the freedom and rights of every individual citizen is practicing a kind of patriotism. Those who scoff at our nation and who undermine the freedom and rights of individual citizens through leftist advocacy and the passage of laws that gradually abrogate them, are not patriots. In fact, they are practicing a level of treachery that could ultimately destroy our freedom, thus destroy our nation by kicking its foundation out from under it. Then, only true American patriots will be able to save it. Let us hope they are there when we need them, so that we can join them and save ourselves.
FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse. You can find out more about FJ over at http://www.candiddiscourse.com/.