Patriotism Today

The current “Anthem” protests controversy should hopefully lead to a national conversation as to the meaning of patriotism.   What does it mean to be patriotic today, in a very divided society with sometimes opposing views of America’s core values and what it stands for?

Patriotism is perceived as a positive concept and attitude sustained by strong emotions such as love, belonging, gratitude and pride.

A position or an attitude perceived as un-patriotic is considered by some as a form of treason that deserves punishment.  According the U.S. Constitution (Article III, Section 3) “Congress shall have the power to declare the punishment of treason.”

Patriotism can be misused or even abused if wrongly applied. John Kleinig, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Criminal Justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the co-author of The Ethics of Patriotism, makes the point that patriotism might be conceived as a virtue but one that could potentially be corrupted. That is what happened in Germany in the 30s. The overwhelming sentiment of the German people in 1939 believed that they were patriotic, case in point, the slogan Deutschland Uber Alles.  The people’s support of the Nazi regime ultimately led to genocides and the destruction of the country, as well as the destruction of much of the rest of Europe.

A protest, such as the recent NFL’s should not be considered un-patriotic, on the contrary. When one believes that some fundamental values of the country, such as justice and equality are being betrayed, any platform or public opportunity to protest peacefully is, in my view, acceptable and guaranteed by the Constitution.

In today’s NYT, David Leonhardt in his article The Choice Between Kneelingand Winning says that the protest is against “government sanctioned violence” and that “From a moral standpoint, this issue is clear. The athletes are right — and have every right to protest as they have.” He just does not agree with the tactics of kneeling that he find ineffective.

Gary Gutting of the New York Times, in his article “Is our Patriotism Moral?” has some encouraging words.    

“Amid the frequent confusion, frustration and anger of our political disagreements, patriotism — a deep-seated love of our country — remains something that has the potential to bring us together, particularly at times of national crisis or triumph.”

Let’s hope he is right.

Mark Twain once said:

“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”


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