Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Patriotism, Nationalism, and the 4th of July

Throughout my life I have considered myself to be a patriotic American. But what does that even mean? It turns out that patriotism means different things to different people. Some have equated it with nationalism, another term that has varied meanings. But says that "there is a vast difference between" the two terms.
"Nationalism means to give more importance to unity by way of a cultural background, including language and heritage. Patriotism pertains to the love for a nation, with more emphasis on values and beliefs."
That may not come across as very satisfactory to some. What is the difference between culture and values/beliefs? Variations on the meanings of these terms are rampant as well. adds:
"Patriotism is based on affection and nationalism is rooted in rivalry and resentment. One can say that nationalism is militant by nature and patriotism is based on peace."
"A patriotic person tends to tolerate criticism and tries to learn something new from it, but a nationalist cannot tolerate any criticism and considers it an insult.
"Nationalism makes one to think only of one’s country’s virtues and not its deficiencies. Nationalism can also make one contemptuous of the virtues of other nations. Patriotism, on the other hand, pertains to value responsibilities rather than just valuing loyalty towards one’s own country."
 No doubt some will disagree with the way defines these two terms. That's fine. The point is that the two terms are not complete synonyms. Thus, they are different in at least some ways.

For my purpose, it suits me to define patriotism roughly as positive affection and nationalism more or less as negative rivalry. That's not to say that both sentiments can't exist in the same person. I'm certain that even the most strident nationalists around the globe harbor some warm affection for some of the values of their respective nations.

However, nationalism is what my father saw growing up in Nazi Germany. After emigrating to the U.S. he was stunned to find this same sentiment among certain segments that considered themselves to be proud Americans. Dad said that these people would have proudly murdered Jews in concentration camps for "The Fatherland" had they been born in his native country. In my book, that's not patriotism.

My brand of patriotism is not ignorant of my nation's problems and abuses. It is informed but also balanced. William J. Bennett said we should see America "warts and all." But he also called on us to resist following those "who see America as nothing but warts" (America The Last Best Hope Vol. 1, p. XV).

A few years ago President Boyd K. Packer of the LDS Church Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a talk called The Test. He explained that after the 19th Century Mormon pioneers were persecuted to the point of being driven from the organized states, they still held a large patriotic celebration celebrating America. Even after an army was sent to quell a nonexistent Mormon uprising, Mormons in what is now Utah remained patriotic.

One of the church's seasoned men said, "[We] know that the outrageous cruelties we have suffered proceeded from a corrupted and degenerate administration, while the pure principles of our boasted Constitution remain unchanged." He added, "As we have inherited the spirit of liberty and the fire of patriotism from our fathers, so let them descend [unchanged] to our posterity."

In my mind, balanced patriotism requires humble gratitude. All of us that have been blessed enough to enjoy the goodness that America has to offer stand on the shoulders of countless others that came before and multitudes that have made incalculable sacrifices.

In my view of patriotism, pleading for God to bless America does not imply that God should not also bless other countries. Why wouldn't I want others to enjoy the kinds of blessings I have? I bear no ill will toward other countries and I am quite certain that God loves everyone. But I live here. So I pray and sing especially for God's blessings on this country.

This Saturday is July 4, Independence Day. Our Boy Scout Order of the Arrow chapter has the privilege of conducting early morning flag ceremonies for two different cities. As usual, we will lead the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I feel that I can patriotically pledge allegiance to our republic while simultaneously recognizing the unacceptable levels of corruption and malfeasance in our nation's government and politics.

After all, the government is not the republic itself, but an appendage. And it often poorly represents the "pure principles" mentioned by the old pioneer. It's not the government we celebrate on Independence Day. It's the American Spirit that lives in the hearts of this country's inhabitants that we celebrate. Nobody has expressed this better than C.W. McCall in his poem American Spirit.

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