(DailyVantage.com) – Discussions about patriotism have become controversial at different points in US history. Patriotism has sometimes been used as a bludgeon when one faction has accused another of lacking in love for their country, or perhaps of its ugly cousin nationalism. How do we know when these accusations are valid? It’s hard to judge unless we know exactly what patriotism is.
The word patriotism has a complicated history, but its original roots are Greek – patris, meaning “fatherland.” It made its way to English through Latin and French, with patriot first appearing in English in the 16th century and patriotism in the 18th. Although the exact meaning varied slightly in every language, it was always connected to a feeling of love and respect for one’s country and its people.
In modern English, a patriot is someone who feels a deep attachment to their country and has a sense of community with their fellow citizens. There are certain behaviors we agree, generally, as a society, are patriotic. Those include paying taxes, serving on juries, voting, knowing or performing the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem or registering with Selective Service. These may seem like mundane duties and tasks. But the fact that we take them on to benefit our country and our fellow citizens, even if these tasks become a burden, is a quiet show of individual patriotism.
To become an independent nation, we required a sense of nationalism — in other words, we needed to assert the interests of our newly freed nation separate from the interests of any others. Nationalism and patriotism can be closely related. It can also become toxic if it’s coupled with a national sense of superiority and/or a mandate to impose a nation’s viewpoints or systems on others. In that case, according to George Orwell, “The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation… in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”
America is a nation that values individualism. We were founded by bold, motivated individuals who set out to conquer a wilderness and build a new nation, and ever since, we’ve admired and respected strong, self-sufficient individuals. Nationalism of the kind that drove Hitler, Stalin or Saddam isn’t our style – but patriotism is.
An American patriot loves the US and the ideals it was founded on. A patriot probably doesn’t think this country is perfect, but their response is to work to make it perfect, not to smash it all up and start again. A patriot respects other countries and their way of life – but is proud to be American. A patriot doesn’t hate the US because of a distorted view of history; they love it for what it is and what more it can be.
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