“Patriotism is the last refuge of a Scoundrel “
Samuel Johnson wrote that on the eve of the American Revolution in 1775. Johnson was British citizen and author. To contextualize his statement, he was attempting to discredit British Citizens and Colonists who spoke openly of their patriotism, but lacked what he understood to be true patriotism. Regardless of the direction of Johnson’s quip, it gives body to what I feel about modern American sentiments regarding the principle of patriotism. Much of Johnson’s writing was pointed toward people who feigned patriotism while advancing ulterior motives. I find that in modern America, that is more and more present.
Today, in 2011 as discussion about the 2012 presidential election begins to grow to a roar, conservatives dust off their flag pins and their red and blue ties. They prep their ‘God Bless America’ and ‘Founding Fathers’ sound bites, and hit the campaign trail. Today, on July 4th you will hear a lot of presidential and other candidates talk about the founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence, and their patriotism. When I see it, it makes me sick. I have no issue with patriotism. I consider myself a patriot (hypocritical of me perhaps). And I do not take issue with these public figures claiming patriotism; or rather I wouldn’t take issue if they actually understood patriotism, or the 4th of July.
In many opinions, the meaning of patriotism is some sort of undying faith and devotion to a country. And while this is true, to me it seems like a perversion of the true meaning. I have come to understand patriotism as dedication and reverence for the spirit or ethos of a country. I separate myself by pledging allegiance to the character of America, not the body of America. Because, America can be wrong, it can make mistakes, do thing improperly. It would be irresponsible of me as an upstanding citizen to cheer on and encourage the bad behavior of America(ns).
No, patriotism is more than being a cheerleader, it is about being a citizen: recognizing the foundations and sentiments of our nation, and constantly keeping it in check so that our nation meets fulfills its duties. And the 4th of July is not only a day to celebrate the birth of a nation and all the cool shit that comes along with it. July 4th is a reminder to us all of exactly what happens to a government over stepping its bounds. The response to a government that abuses the will of its people and accuses dissenters of lack of patriotism.
In truth, the 4th of July, and more specifically the Declaration of Independence was the most unpatriotic action that the founding fathers ever took; it was also the most patriotic. Now before you get confused by my double think logic allow me to explain.
On July the 4th 1776, a group of British Citizens who lived in the American colonies decided that they no longer wanted to be citizens of their country. They had decided that how the country was being governed, and in turn how that governance was affecting them, was a grievance too harsh to bear. As Jefferson wrote:
“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security”
(If you are not familiar with that passage, and you consider yourself a patriot; I would suggest brushing up on your source materials before going around shouting “USA! USA!”)
So in essence, a group of citizens had publicly rejected their countries ideals and leaders. Does that sound patriotic? If today a citizen were to speak out against the President, or a leader of Congress, would they be greeted with open arms? I think back to the Bush administration, any time someone spoke out against George W, it was met with accusations of lacking of patriotism and hating America. I must have missed the meeting where dissent and political independence got thrown out.
However, the Declaration of Independence was also the most patriotic act taken by the founding fathers; patriotic in the frame of reference of these United States. Because what is the true spirit of American Independence? Is it blind obedience to legislators and leaders? Is it unthinking submission to the ideal of America, or any country for that matter?
American independence is founded in the ideals of enlightenment, that a singular person rules themselves, that they lead themselves, they inform themselves, and they fight for themselves. They do not ask for someone to do it for them. They do not sit idly by and wait for their politicians to simply ‘get around to it’.
Americans today believe that the Federal Government and its officials run the United States. That the president, congress, and the national government shape and direct our agenda. If someone were to explain that to a Founding Father, they’d have to decide between slapping you and stabbing you.
Because in America, we are not meant to be led by the nose. It is our jobs as citizens to say to the government, “You don’t run things around here. I do.”
And that’s what 56 men did on the fourth day of the seventh month in the year 1776.
As Jefferson writes:
To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
And when the government had done all of this, when they had disregarded the people’s voice at every turn, the Citizens of the crown did not say, “well yes, if you say so”
They instead replied, “excuse me, but no, you don’t make the rules around here, that’s our fucking job”.
So the next time says “love it or leave”, or the next time someone asks why an opposing candidate did not wear a flag pin that day, or the next time someone accuses another of being unpatriotic because they won’t follow marching orders.
I ask you, what does it really mean to be patriotic?
Does being patriotic mean you have an American flag tattooed on your arm? Does being patriotic mean that you wear a flag pin? Does being patriotic mean you listen the government because that’s what you’re supposed to do?
Or is it something more? Something beyond tiny formalities and pleasantries. Can you not put your hand over your heart when the National Anthem is playing and still be considered a patriot? Does patriotism mean fighting tirelessly for change, even against your own government, because you know that in the end it is right?
Someone once said:
Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. …voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
The person who said that was found guilty of War Crimes and sentenced to be hanged in Nuremburg in 1946. Goes to show you what kind of tactics are employed in the modern American Politics.
I know what I think, but if I told you to listen to what I thought patriotism was: how would that look?