Righty: I love my country above all others. There, I said it. Anyone have a problem with that? America is the greatest nation in the history of the world: the most welcoming, the freest, the most bountiful, and the most selfless in terms of rescuing other nations from disaster. We’re a land ripe with opportunities to build a rewarding life. I’m forever indebted to my country, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by in silence while she’s attacked by fanatics or badmouthed by ungrateful liberals. My country right or wrong — but nearly always right.
Lefty: Patriotism, as Samuel Johnson once noted (and Dr. Johnson wasn’t exactly a flaming liberal), is “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” It makes us narrow and parochial, as if our own country just happened to be located at the center of the known universe. It inflames us with irrational passions and provokes bloody wars at the drop of a hat. In fact, it has probably accounted for more premature deaths throughout history than all the plagues that have ravaged humankind. I suspect that patriotism is nothing more than a primitive territorial instinct inherited from our ape ancestors — a form of patriarchal bullying perpetuated by the male of the species for countless millennia. It’s time we rose above the apes. Let’s face it: nations are an artificial and outmoded construct. We should all consider ourselves part of the human community.
The New Moderate:
We need to make a distinction between militant jingoism and the kind of patriotism that arises from a deep and abiding love for one’s country and its traditions. Simply stated, The New Moderate rejects the former and embraces the latter.
Jingoism is the misguided notion that our own country is better than all the rest (and therefore deserves to get whatever it wants, peacefully or otherwise). Genuine patriotism is absolute, not comparative; I can love the United States without feeling the slightest need to denigrate (or invade) France, Germany, China or Turkmenistan. Patriotism is what kept George Washington from abandoning the American cause while his army nearly disintegrated at Valley Forge. Patriotism is what inspired Francis Scott Key, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King to find words that inspired the rest of us. Patriotism is fitting and proper.
Jingoism, on the other hand, is the patriotism of a fanatic. Not satisfied with loving his native land, the jingoist agitates for his country to meddle gratuitously in foreign affairs, assert itself over other nations, establish an empire of unilateral dominance. Jingoism is the asinine chant of “We’re number one!” echoing around the globe.
The New Moderate would like to see a return to simple, wholesome, heartfelt patriotism. We shouldn’t expend our energies bashing our country (our politicians, yes; our country, no) any more than we should incite our country to embark on unprincipled global adventures. As with most issues (but especially this one), the answer lies in the middle.
Summary: Genuine patriotism is a noble sentiment: a heartfelt love of one’s country. It shouldn’t be allowed to deteriorate into cheap jingoism, which subordinates all other nations to one’s own.