HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! This long weekend we celebrate the birth of our nation on the 4th of July. As I do most every year at this time, I want to reflect on the virtue of Patriotism and the corresponding vice of Nationalism. As we look forward to the national conventions this month of the two leading political parties, it seems a particularly good time to do so.
Patriotism is the virtue which embodies a healthy and realistic love of country. The true patriot yearns for the United States of America to be the best country it can, to live up to the noble and inspiring sentiments that gave it birth, namely the freedom of all people to seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The patriot is grieved when our country, either in its internal affairs or in its foreign policy, fails to live up to these ideals but rather plays games of power politics and shrewd self-interest. The patriot works to better America, not hesitating to criticize the government, but always out of concern, never out of scorn or derision. The patriot wants America to take its rightful place in the community of nations, contributing to the betterment of all humanity by the shining light of the example of a free and responsible people.
Nationalism on the other hand, is the vice that seeks to make America first in wealth and power at the expense of others, that believes in the slogan “My Country, right or wrong,” that argues that if you are not with me you are against me. Nationalism is an unhealthy pride that derides others because it sees them as a threat. It tolerates no criticism of the United States because it has too weak a grasp of the transcendent principals that are the foundation of the country. All it can grasp are power and advantage. Nationalism separates and divides peoples, and is prone to violence. Not all who wave the flag and wear lapel flag pins are patriots: some are unrepentant nationalists.
I firmly believe that the best defense against the vice of nationalism is not some kind of sophomoric, critical anti-Americanism, but rather a healthy patriotism. The more we cherish and develop our patriotism, the less likely we are to slip into the quagmire of nationalism. A proper love of our country is by far the best defense against the hubris and pride of nationalism.
So on this Independence Day weekend, I encourage you to exercise your Patriotism. Bring it out and wear it proudly. Give it a run around the block. Remember and reflect on the noble words of the Declaration of Independence that enshrine the principals on which this country is founded, and re-commit yourself to working for them. Happy 4th of July!