July 7, 2008
As we were celebrating the 4th of July, I had the opportunity to reflect on the concept of patriotism. Time magazine devotes this week’s issue to the subject.
The etymology of the word "Patriotism" comes from the Latin word "Pater" which means father. It is interesting that we do not use the expression "father country" but rather "mother country." The Germans are more linguistically correct when they speak of patriotism for the "fatherland." The metaphor of a "mother or father country" seems incorrect. Our nation or country cannot be compared to a father or a mother simply because a country does not give life.
How do we define a nation? In the past one could identify a nation by the common language, ethnicity or religion of its people. Today, we have numerous countries, including America, that have such a diversity of people that the old definition of a nation may no longer apply.
Maybe the best definition or comparison would be that of kinship much like in a family. Both a family and a nation have each a common history, share similar fundamental values and in spite of differences and have a sense of unity, and purpose.
In this election year, it seems that both the presumed republican and democratic candidate for the presidency are competing as to who is more patriotic. Maybe that is a good thing.
Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, writes in the lead Time Magazine article that conservatives and liberals have two different views as to what is true patriotism. "Conservatives tend to see patriotism as an inheritance for a glorious past [while] liberals see it more as the promise of a future to redeem the past." We do have in our history some dark pages that we should acknowledge honestly.
What are some key values of patriotism? Let me list a few:
These values apply both to a citizen and a family member.
Adlai Stevenson said it very well:
"What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility which will enable America to remain master of her power — to walk with it in serenity and wisdom, with self-respect and the respect of all mankind; a patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."