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 interests."

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 patriots.

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 industries." Whoa!

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, 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.

Barbara 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.

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