The Heart of Patriotism

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The flow of history gives witness to the rise and fall of nations, the clashing of peoples at war, and the violent tumult of revolution. Integral to the foremost of these human events was Patriotism, man’s zeal for his nation. It was fierce nationalism that unified the French peasants to overthrow their King Louis XIV. It was principled indignation that emboldened the colonists to defy their King George. And it was patriotic pride that drove Germany into Nazism and ultimately world domination. We can see that patriotism is a fearsome, beautiful thing, an ideal not to be taken lightly. But the question arises, what exactly is patriotism?

Patriotism is in essence a strong idealism, the citizen holding his national identity in reverence and pride. This idealism can be expressed in various ways. A patriot, in his love for a grand ideal that his nation fails to embody, may be angered to stir his countrymen for reform and revolution. Howard Zinn states, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” thus advocating a more revolutionary idealism. Conversely, a patriot, out of his love for his country, imperfect as it is, may warmly lay down his life to defend its honor. Robert G. Ingersoll has said, “He loves his country who strives to make it best.” It is the warm support of the nation that Ingersoll commends. Superficially, these perspectives may seem antithetical, but in reality, many of the greatest leaders of history had a synthesis of both ideals. Take for example William Wilberforce, a member of British Parliament in the early nineteenth century. He had great love for his nation, and his zeal for protecting and honoring it was channeled toward reforming it for the better. He campaigned doggedly for more than two decades to purge his country of all traces of human slavery, and ultimately was successful. His efforts were invaluable to the nation of Britain. The United States, in contrast, later suffered a bloody civil war in order to abolish slavery. Wilberforce’s labors were not in vain, sparing his nation from turmoil and violence. The nationalistic leaders of the French Revolution, however, though they had strong ideals, lacked a compassion for the common men they claimed to represent, thus ushering in a bloodbath of a revolution that only ended in the rise of a tyrant. We can see that it is not mere national pride that merits true patriotism, but rather a love for the nation’s people.

In conclusion, we have explored the various historical expressions of patriotism to determine its greatest form: self-less love of others. Whether this is expressed in reformation, bloodless revolution, or undying support, it does not matter. Let us then love our country, not for its name but rather for its dear people. Let us pledge our lives to protect our brothers and sisters, and finally let us strive with all our hearts to make this nation better!

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