“Such then is the human condition, that to wish greatness for one’s country is to wish harm to one’s neighbors.” -Voltaire


Merriam-Webster defines a patriot as “one who loves his or her country and supports its authority and interests.” I do not like the idea of patriotism, it smacks of propaganda and dogma. In general, I dislike ideals that encourage people to follow its tenets above all others. Patriotism seems to be a sort of secular religion in that way. However, there are a lot of people that describe loving your country with caveats.

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” -Mark Twain
“The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.” -Thomas Paine
“The greatest patriotism is to tell your country when it is behaving dishonorably, foolishly, viciously.” -Julian Barnes
“No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.” -Barbara Ehrenreich

According to these people, we must love our country and control our government. Is this what the true definition of patriotism is? It certainly sounds better than blindly supporting whatever the government decides to do. Still, I have a problem. What makes any one country different from any other? They are inhabited by different people, have different cultural practices, speak separate languages, and the land itself is unique to each country. But all of those things can vary within a country as well, especially in ones as large as the United States. What exactly does ‘loving one’s country’ mean then?

While the beauty of the purple mountains and amber waves may contribute to a patriot’s love, I see no reason to attach affection for a landscape with devotion to a national creed. I doubt that most American patriots sit back and think, “I love American English, it’s the best language. American Football is totally the best sport ever. Those are the reasons why I’m a patriot!” Okay… maybe a few of them are saying that but I don’t think that even those shallow patriots are only lauding language and athletes come the fourth of July. No, I think the defining characteristic of one country compared to another is its government.

So patriotism must be loving your government, right? Well, according to Twain, only when it deserves it. So are people only patriotic about the government programs they like or when they agree with the reasons that their country goes to war? That certainly hasn’t been my experience. It tends to be an all or nothing kind of thing. Around here, if you question the constitution, the value of democracy, or the military in any way, shape, or form, your patriotism is immediately questioned.

I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. In case you were unaware, they do not really recognize ‘earthly governments’ and stay out of politics as a result. They don’t vote, sign petitions, join the military, pledge allegiance, or sing patriotic hymns. So I was that kid in class that didn’t put her hand over her heart. I got a strange look and a question here and there. A lot of times I would go with the program just to avoid conflict. I didn’t really mind not saying the pledge though.


Boots (my daughter) is now repeating this every weekday morning at school. We sure do start them young. I doubt that any kindergartner could really explain what that means. We’re telling them to pledge themselves. To what? Or should I be asking, to whom? It brings me back to the second part of the definition, “supports its authority and interests.” Whose authority? Surely not the president. Plenty of people who proudly claim the title of patriot share images like the one below.


That certainly isn’t supporting authority. If patriotism doesn’t mean having basic respect for the person holding the highest office in your country, what does it mean? What about supporting your country’s interests? The interest of the citizens, of the government, of corporations? I’m not sure. I do know that I would not call myself an American patriot based on the idea of supporting American interests, perhaps an Earth patriot. I want everyone to be free to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I want us all to be able to fill our bellies, sleep comfortably, relax, enjoy life, be safe, and do so without raping the planet.

So, no. I’m not a patriot. I do not think that simply because I was born and raised in America that it is the greatest country on the globe. Is it one of the better ones? Sure. I think our founding fathers had some good ideas but in our relatively short history, we have accomplished a lot of evil. All of humanity has, we are not unique. We’re the new generation of nation so we get some things right that our ancestors didn’t. It doesn’t make us infallible.

I love my family and friends. I am awed by nature. I enjoy pastimes, some of which are unique to America or the Western World. I am thankful that I am from one of the more equitable, level-headed countries. I am glad that I have had opportunities that I would not have had if I was born in many other countries. I am not in love with all American ideals (most of which are just basic values we’ve claimed for ourselves) and certainly not with the government.

I stand for the Earth and all of its citizens. That’s my idea of patriotism.

13 thoughts on ““Such then is the human condition, that to wish greatness for one’s country is to wish harm to one’s neighbors.” -Voltaire

  1. My maxim is as far as I am a man, am a citizen of the world.
    What most people call patriotism is not any different from dogma. They expect you to support the government policies even if they are shitty, they want so many things your bishop would want and the only difference in creed is you have an idea who its authors are.

    1. Agreed. So many ‘patriots’ I know say that America has “the best” of everything. It is so blatantly false. Even if it was true, I wouldn’t blindly follow our leaders.

  2. Always found the American idea of patriotism somewhat odd. I’m Australian (living in Brazil now) and we have an awful lot to be chuffed about regarding the stability and success of the country, our behaviour in wars, contributions to this and that, sport, but no one ever shouts about it. Even talking about it is considered a little odd. Growing up one the motto’s that got bantered around was “the quiet achiever,” and that pretty much sums up the attitude. If you have to sing about it its probably not all that grand.

    That said, i’m a fan of the Jefferson’s, Adam’s and Franklin’s. Great men and worthy of praise.

    Great post!

    1. A little quiet would do us a world of good. If we could stop shouting about who loves the country more, perhaps we could listen and politicians could come up with actual solutions rather than empty banter.

  3. You know, I found myself thinking about patriotism a lot when I was in college. I had no idea what it meant to be one, and being that I was learning more in depth stories of my country’s history at that time, I had a lot of mixed feelings about the ways we went about getting what we have and what we stand for today. All I could think about was this clip my Native American lit professor had us watch in class one day of Stephen Colbert interviewing Sherman Alexie. Colbert, being his sarcastic, satirist self said, “We’re sorry about what we did to you in claiming this country. We don’t want to give it back! But, we’re sorry.” And it struck me as oddly comical, because I feel like that is the general American disposition. Of course, politics, like the Elder Wand (like how I got that Harry Potter reference in there?), has a bloody history. It seems almost impossible to govern politics without violence and war.

    1. My feelings about America as a whole are certainly a mixed bag. Good quote, incredibly accurate. You’ve got to love Colbert for his ability to be funny and insightful all at once. Love the Elder Wand reference, I’m watching OotP right now as a matter of fact. 🙂

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