Why Both Liberals and Conservatives Misunderstand Patriotism




Two days ago was memorial day, a holiday in which we commemorate those who have fallen for the sake of our nation, the United States of America. This holiday is a somber one indeed, full of reasons to mourn, while simultaneously being proud of our collective achievement. I myself have, in the past, had mixed feelings about the foreign policy goals of the United States government, starting politically as a libertarian in the Ron Paul years and shifting more towards nationalism/rightwing populism as of late. I have never, however, been against the troops themselves, as I have always perceived them as honorable, even if at times misguided by larger nefarious forces. There’s something inherently honorable about sacrificing for the collective, assuming one is not doing so out of self-interest, which is difficult to ascertain. Although we typically (and rightly) assume that the pride, social adoration, adrenaline rush, and financial benefits are far outweighed by the perilous nature of the battlefield and the grueling nature of the associated training/upkeep. Generally, being part of the military, especially in a combat role, requires the full capacity of one’s body, heart, and soul, in order for one to be maximally effective. Thus, due to the totality of what the job demands, particularly during historical wars, it is highly unlikely that any significant proportion of the military would be there for their self-interest alone, this makes them by definition, sacrificial warriors. In that, they love so richly the nation and the society that has provided them with such a plentiful existence, that they are willing to risk life and limb as an expression of their will to see through its perpetuation for the next generation. And before the predictable retort is made pertaining to the proportion of troops engaging in actual combat, I will preemptively strike by stipulating that is more complex than that single variable, considering there are various other ways to aid in the defense of a nation. For instance, the sheer number of reserves acts in itself as a deterrent, and aids in our ability to exercise soft geopolitical power.

This willingness, in its purest form, can only come from a place of sincerity, it can't be manufactured. True patriotism is transcendent, immaterial, and substantially removed from the contemporary understanding of the capacity of a nation. In other words, being a patriot is not merely about the GDP, or our military might, as many conservatives may stipulate as part of what makes the United States in particular the greatest country in the world. Nor does it regard our educational ranking, our scientific research funding, or any other statistic that liberals tend to use as a basis by which they suggest America is failing relative to its potential, or that it is fundamentally a backward or immoral nation. True patriotism is not even significantly about the founding documents, namely the constitution or the declaration of independence (although these founding ideals certainly play a role). True patriotism regards the ethos of a nation, its social fabric, and the people that it consists of.

Entertain this hypothetical, if the nation suddenly dropped the constitution and Trump declared himself dictator, would it still be America? Well perhaps some things would shift but the core identity of the country and the people would remain largely intact. Don't believe me? Take for instance China, Russia, or Germany, all three of these nations have undergone some form of revolution, regime collapse, and horrible atrocities committed against their people using the contemporaneous temporal government. While Russia’s government was effectively the Soviet Union, it’s collapse did not change the core spirit of Russia, we still refer to it as the same nation. It was Russia under the Tzar, it was Russia under the Soviet Union, and it is Russia now under Putin. Generally, the same can be said for China. This is not to say that for instance, the People’s Republic of China is the moral equivalent of China under the Qing dynasty, but it is to say that they are both China. This general ethos of the society which includes religion/culture, (which of course can be influenced by the temporal government) is what true patriotism regards. While abstractions such as the constitution help shape and mold the collective ethos of the population, it is the public manifestation of these abstractions through people that we tend to actually viscerally care about. This is to say that when one loves their country, and/or is willing to sacrifice for its interests, it is not merely for sake of the abstractions but rather for the love of the actual people within it. This is what pardons the necessity for a perfectly moral nation in order for its sacrificial warriors to be virtuous heroes. While of course, that has its limitations, there seems to be something intrinsically honorable for the individual participating, for him to defend his homeland for the sake of those that he loves, regardless of the larger forces at play and their agendas.

This is why we ought to think long and hard before ripping up the social fabric that serves as a foundation for our collective power/safety and be eternally grateful for those who have already sacrificed everything for our sake.

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