THE PATRIOTISM OF DIVERSITY
There is a word that circulates widely within America which is often used to establish the credibility and moral substance of those who claim it, and to deny that credibility and substance to others. This word is ‘patriot’. Those who claim to be patriots are proud of this attribute. It is considered by most to be a moral virtue, not unlike goodness, or kindness, or courage. To be a ‘patriot’ is to be aligned with what is morally right and deep within one’s conscience and center of gravity. To not be a patriot or to be un-patriotic is considered, therefore, to be a moral lack.
Much of this moral attribution, however, is selective, that is, it belongs to those who agree with one’s definition of what a ‘patriot’ is, and does not belong to those who disagree. This exclusion of others from an essential moral virtue because they disagree with one’s definition has had tragic consequences throughout American history. Today, such exclusion plays an equally damaging role, causing a polarization in American political life that threatens to create a schism of vast proportions between those who hold different philosophic views. Such a schism would have profound consequences not only for the political landscape, but for our life as a whole.
That such fierce identification can take place with a word, a concept, or an attribute, is not uncommon. People, led by their emotional nature, often defend through emotional bias what they fear will be taken away without such defense. Nevertheless, such fierceness excludes others from common discourse. By questioning their moral qualities or credentials, it makes dialogue virtually impossible. This is a sad commentary on where we have come in understanding the essential goodness that human beings carry, no matter what their point of view. In relation to the political arena, it speaks for a breach of trust in the ‘other’ that has dangerous implications for the running of government which, of necessity, is composed of heterogeneous groups of people who must get along. It also breeds a kind of paranoia or fear of what the ‘other’ will do if left to their own devices. This fear hangs like a cloud over the current American landscape.
From a strictly rational and historical perspective, it is hard to justify such a ‘we’ and ‘they’ dichotomy over who is patriotic and who is not, since the definition of patriotism over many years has come to mean a variety of things, some of which are stronger in some individuals, some in others. Here are some of the things that the word ‘patriot’ has come to include:
- love for one’s country
- willingness to act in her defense
- commitment to the ideals upon which she was founded
- hope for the future of the nation
- desire to rectify past mistakes that have been made
- commitment to service with respect to the goals set forth in the founding documents
- faithfulness to the Constitution
From this list, one may see that commitment to the ideals of America is not the same thing as commitment to or approval of her practices in the past or present.
Similarly, commitment to the Constitution, as evidenced through reliance on this document within the Supreme Court, does not necessarily result in one point of view.
Finally, willingness to defend this country does not specify what means of defense might be employed. It does not commit one to the use of military power or to any other particular form of defense.
Given this multiplicity of interpretations of the word ‘patriot’, it is time, in America, for us to look more closely at the range of possibilities that might be involved in “loving one’s country.” This range is broad rather than narrow, unless one chooses to make it narrow. In fact, the historical precedents for such openness are strong. For in the Continental Congress which gave rise to the Constitution, the honorable nature of honorable and well-intentioned men was presumed, and permitted extensive debate which ultimately gave rise to the document that has become the law of the land.
America is not one thing, but many things. And being patriotic is not one thing, but many things. Trust is essential in bringing this unification of different points of view into a coalesced reality. Trust, and the belief that honorable men and women have, at heart, the intention of achieving good for the country as a whole.
The new patriotism that America needs is one based on diversity, not homogeneity of belief. It is based on honor and trust, not on fear of one another. It is also based on a changing view of America’s role in the world toward one in which she stands proudly among nations, wearing the banner of virtue and integrity that has to do with faithfulness to her ideals, not to her ability to be better than or greater than others.
Love for America has many colors and aspects, and these may be seen to join together when trust is present to work toward a common good. Similarly, love for the planetary family can coexist with love for America, for America’s virtue is not her might or her economic superiority. It is her grandeur in pronouncing the spiritual truths by which all men may live, and her virtue in creating a path toward the realization of these truths.