What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: Stephen Poff
In an effort to inspire the colonials to stay the course in throwing off the shackles of British tyranny, Thomas Paine wrote a series of pamphlets titled The American Crisis. The first of these pamphlets began with the lines:
These are the times that try men’s souls.
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.
Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
Who are sunshine patriots, and how can we ensure that we do not become so labeled?
It is easy to wear a lapel pin, place a bumper sticker on your car, or attend a 4th of July parade to demonstrate one’s patriotism. Conversely, it is not easy to relentlessly contact your representatives, read the thousand-page-plus bills coming out of Congress, mobilize friends and family to help you oppose a program or policy, and fight for an unpopular (but correct) idea. It is easy to recite the words of the pledge of allegiance or teach your children about how government (ideally) works. On the other hand, it is not easy to dedicate time to attending political events to speak your mind, run for political office yourself, donate your time and money to other candidates whose ideas you support, and spend hundreds of hours of research on an issue you feel is being misrepresented or altogether ignored.
And yet people participating in all of the above activities—the easy and the difficult—claim to be patriots. In reality, patriotism is too ill-defined a word these days, and has had its meaning become neutered through different groups claiming its noble meaning as their own. Noah Webster defined it thusly in his 1828 dictionary:
Love of one’s country; the passion which aims to serve one’s country, either in defending it from invasion, or protecting its rights and maintaining its laws and institutions in vigor and purity. Patriotism is the characteristic of a good citizen, the noblest passion that animates a man in the character of a citizen.
Being compared to love, I believe it would increase our understanding of the word’s application to use an analogy. A man who truly loves his wife (in deed, not just in word) will profess and demonstrate that love through all the circumstances of their shared lives. Through sickness, financial trouble, marital conflict, boredom, or whatever other difficulties may come their way, the loving husband will remain faithful to the cause of their marriage, unwavering in his support of his wife and dedication to her success and well being. Let us, then, contrast this pure love with what might be termed the Hollywood style: the husband who “falls into love”, only later to “fall out of love” when his wife grows older, busier, rounder, and more mature. Love is a verb, not a noun; it is demonstrated through consistent action, and not just through candy hearts, flowers, and jewelry.
Just as a man’s love is perhaps never more real than when he tenderly cares for his sick, frail wife (for example), so too is pure patriotism best displayed in regards to the most difficult (and sometimes controversial) issues, during the hardest times, and when others less committed would walk away, enticed by countless distractions vying for their time and attention. A patriot will equally oppose people within his own party, refusing to play the left/right false dichotomy game. A patriot will focus on issues, not people, and advocate liberty even when it’s convenient and popular to disregard it in favor of war, social welfare spending, big government, and the like. Patriotism is a verb, not a noun; it is demonstrated through consistent action, and not just through bumper stickers, flags, and red, white, and blue paraphernalia.
Sunshine patriots only scratch the surface of their civic duty, and feel that platitudes and pledges are sufficient. They shrink from controversy, and find themselves too busy to participate in the political process. They feel comfortable in expressing their opposition to a government run by the opposing party, but rubber stamp anything from a politician who has a favorable letter after his name. They don’t ask hard questions, but rather accept what they are told by the government and media as unadulterated truth. In short, they are hypocrites unwilling to truly fight for the cause to which they claim to adhere. Theirs is a cheapened, fictional version of patriotism.
Patriotism is far more than just waving a flag or supporting our troops. It is more than just hoping for the best outcome while doing nothing to help make it a reality. Real patriotism requires a consistent commitment to uphold and defend liberty at all costs. As President George Washington said in his farewell address, so too will I end my remarks: "Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism."