Fincher, Megan. “US Activists Answer: What Is Patriotism?” National Catholic Reporter, 3 July 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
Through the lens of the National Catholic Reporter, author Megan Fincher explores the different answers US activists offer when asked “What is patriotism?” Fincher believes that “for most Americans, the word patriot probably does not conjure up images of peace activists throwing blood onto nuclear facilities, black men and women refusing to get up from segregated lunch counters, or journalists exposing classified government documents,” and she explores that idea that if it doesn’t, then maybe it should. Fincher also derives her meaning of patriotism from a speech given by President Obama about his ideas on “U.S. dissidents,” where he argued that “patriotism can never be defined as loyalty to any particular leader or government or policy […] When our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism” (1).
The rest of Fincher’s article consists of excerpts of interviews with various US citizens, and she asks most of them two questions: “What is patriotism?” and “Are you patriotic?” The answers, though mostly similar, reflect some deviation from what Fincher’s and President Obama’s conceptions of patriotism are. For example, one individual chose to define patriotism as “loyalty to the human race […] not to any single nation” (1). Another considered it “a sentiment of identification with fellow citizens seeking to serve their best interests in the context of the universal common good” (2). These two definitions of patriotism reflect a common understanding seen in discussions about morality, where an individual feels some duty to a collective group, such as “the human race” or all of their “fellow citizens.” This duty to other humans is reflected by the rejection of that form of patriotism which calls for “love and devotion to one’s country,” on the grounds that “my country is neither more precious nor responsible than any other country” (2).
One interviewee flat out rejected all notions of patriotism as something to be desired, supporting his claims with quotes from Samuel Johnson and William Lloyd Garrison, in which patriotism is defined “as the last refuge of scoundrels” (2). Furthermore, he argued that especially in America, patriotism is impossible, as “America will not allow her children to love her. She seems bent on compelling those who would be her warmest friends to be her worst enemies […] I will continue to pray, labor, and wait, believing that she cannot always be insensible to the dictates of justice, or deaf to the voice of humanity” (2). In this conception of patriotism, a country which does not respect values of justice or humanity is one in which any semblance of patriotism cannot exist.
Another interviewee considered the idea of defining patriotism to be unfavorable, as he “tend[s] to resist labels [as he] find[s] them restrictive and, frankly, unhelpful.” This interviewee was one of the few who, after defining his own conception of patriotism, still believed that “the true patriots are not people like me,” finding true patriots to be those who are most committed to their communities (3).
Interestingly enough, another individual interviewed by Fincher considers patriotism to be “simple love of the country one gets born into.” This seems to be the opposite of what most people consider to be patriotism, so far as Megan Fincher’s article is considered. However, he returns to the more normative conception of patriotism when he says that “it’s when it gets stood on its head and defined as love of one’s own country, to the exclusion of any other place, and then moves into the modes of ‘we’re No.1’ and ‘hate everyone else’ that patriotism becomes stupid and dangerous.” Another person agrees with this conception of patriotism, saying that “a patriot is a person who loves the land and the people from whom they stem. A patriot seeks what is truthfully best for that land and its people” (3).
The final distinct conception of patriotism in Fincher’s article is from an individual who thinks that she cannot, in good faith, label herself to be patriotic, “because the word and concept have been so manipulated.” Real patriotism, for this activist, is “challenging [your] country to rise above its baser instincts […] by doing civil resistance” (4). This conception falls in line with the general idea that “patriotism is love of country, and not love of government policies […] freedom of conscience, freedom to speak and act, freedom to choose our paths, [not] ‘my country, right nor wrong’” (5).
Though Fincher did not qualify her findings, from my reading it seemed that most of activists she interviewed seemed to agree that blind faith in one’s government is not what patriotism truly is. I agree with this conception of patriotism and with her idea that “for most Americans, the word patriot probably does not conjure up images of peace activists throwing blood onto nuclear facilities, black men and women refusing to get up from segregated lunch counters, or journalists exposing classified government documents” (1). I agree with Fincher that most people probably don’t consider acts of resistance to be patriotism, but personally, I do. Patriots, in my opinion, are those who actively engage with their government and its policies, whether it be through peaceful protests or intellectual debates with fellow citizens. Furthermore, I think my view on the most non-violent form of patriotism can be succinctly described by President Obama: “when our laws, our leaders or our government are out of alignment with our ideals, then the dissent of ordinary Americans may prove to be one of the truest expression of patriotism” (1). In other words, I agree with Obama’s idea that each citizen is performing his or her civic duty by ensuring their government sticks to the agreed upon ideals of liberty and justice for every member of the nation. It is when government is deviating from these ideals that the citizens must act, and I think that is what truly constitutes patriotism.
More importantly, it is crucial that we recognize that an incorrect conception of patriotism is, in itself, a violent act, per Galtung’s definition of violence (anything that limits or prevents us from reaching our full physical and mental potential as human beings). For example, if one were to claim that true patriotism can exist in “a country which does not respect values of justice of humanity,” there would undoubtedly be limitations placed on the citizens, and therefore, according to Galtung, that would be an act of violence. Even the idea that “simple love of the country one gets born into” constitutes true patriotism is an act of violence. Requiring that all citizens “love” their country, without question, is limiting to those who do not subscribe to this conception of patriotism. By defining patriotism with a binary, where you only have one of two options, is very limiting, and therefore violent. It doesn’t allow people to have a full range of options to choose from, and anyone who doesn’t adhere to the majority opinion is alienated.