Some thoughts on the definition of patriotism
© by Barbara Anderson
The Salem News
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Patriot, n. one who loves, and is devoted
to, his native country and its welfare.
When I need a definition, I still reach for the little Webster's my
parents gave me more than 50 years ago. But it doesn't seem to have
"patriot" exactly right; I don't think one needs to have been born
in a country (a native) to fit a proper definition. Love and
devotion were enough to qualify my immigrant grandparents.
So I check a more recent Webster's, which defines patriot as "one
who loves his or her country and supports its authority and
Ah, "his or her." Back in the day, "his" applied to both sexes; life
and language were simpler then. "Native" is gone, but what's this
"authority" thing? And I'm not sure a country's "interests" are the
same as its "welfare."
A country's authorities could be "interested" in conquering a
neighboring country, for instance. A better phrase might be,
"supports its best interests," meaning what is truly good for its
Darn, I was just going to write about upcoming Patriots Day, and now
I'm distracted (this happens a lot). I try WorldNet: "patriot,
nationalist (one who loves and defends his or her country)."
I like the "loves and defends," but what's with the parentheses?
Looking up "nationalist" in my old Webster's: "an advocate of
national independence; one who favors the nationalizing of
Nevermind. Here is my own simple definition: Patriot, one who loves
and defends a country.
The important question: What's to "love," what needs to be
"defended"? If one was just wandering around, admiring the scenery,
enjoying the beaches or slopes, even making a living, would that
make one a patriot?
I love Greece, where I lived for more than two years. I feel sad for
its fiscal situation, its unmanageable debt; can imagine the United
States in that position someday.
The magic of Greece was its history as the intellectual parent of
Western thought and the beginning of democracy. America was born to
fully realize those early Greek ideals: Reason, liberty, the family,
property rights, a strong middle class with lots of public debate.
However, Aristotle warned that "Republics decline into democracies
and democracies degenerate into despotisms." Our patriot founding
fathers chose to create a republic — "A political order in which the
supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote
for officers and representatives responsible to them."
Found that one at Dictionary.com, so checked its definition of
patriot: "a person who regards himself or herself as a defender,
esp. of individual rights, against presumed interference by the
federal government." Now we're getting somewhere!
I could play with dictionaries all day. This fascination with real
meaning began my first year of college, where I took an advanced
English course. The professor made us sit on our hands for
discussion to discourage the use of gesture over precise language.
Over the years I came to fully appreciate Miss Ball's point:
Imprecise language leads to sloppy thinking; which leads to
confusion about the nature of reality; which, I note today, can lead
to the fall of the republic!
No, you aren't a "patriot" if you hate what America was founded on
and stands for: Individual rights and freedom, protected by
constitutionally limited government.
Someone recently asked me which members of the U.S. Supreme Court
would be considered patriots. I don't know enough about them to
define them, with this exception: Those five who voted for the 2005
Kelo decision, which allowed local government to take private homes
and give the land to private developers with a goal of generating
more tax revenue, are not patriots. This includes the thankfully
about-to-depart Justice Stevens.
Should there be a litmus test to replace him? Yes. The next Supreme
Court justice should, at a bare minimum, believe in property rights.
So far we have a majority that recently affirmed the Second
Amendment right to bear arms. It would be nice to have a majority
that affirms the concept of limited government in general.
As Benjamin Franklin said, the Founding Fathers gave us "a republic,
if you can keep it." Back then, there was a clear awareness not just
that the new nation had to fight to separate itself from the
monarchies of Europe, but that this would be an ongoing battle
against the inclination of some "people" to start voting themselves
new "rights" at the expense of other citizens.
Franklin also said, "Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other
men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature."
Whether we consider it God-given or inherent in our human nature,
many of us take this right to freedom for granted.
It's easy to see that some other countries and our Islamic jihad
enemies don't share this reverence for freedom.
But it's important to know that some other Americans don't share it
either; they want bigger government with more power to control us.
Whether at a tea-party rally, a political party convention, or a
celebration of Patriots Day, patriotic Americans honor the founding
principles of our great nation.
The comments made
and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.
Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her
column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune
newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in
the Lowell Sun, Providence (RI) Journal and other newspapers.
More of Barbara's