Sunday, September 1, 2013

On Keeping One’s Patriotism in Dark Times

The Founders created a brilliant vision for the United States. The American people, however, haven’t always kept faith with that vision. Like the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt, the American people have succumbed to harmful impulses. And like the Israelites, the American people have been occasionally re-awakened. Just as Moses tore down the Golden Calf, Americans tore down the Gilded Age oligarchy. Prosperity and virtue were restored for a time. Such is the journey of life. Sometimes we stop moving forward. We either give in to our own weakness and fatigue, or are beaten down by powerful enemies. And we are left with a decision: whether to surrender or fight

Now we are faced with a new Gilded Age but the circumstances are more desperate than they were at the close of the 19th century. The oligarchs have erected enormous machinery designed to take jobs out of the hands of Americans and place the jobs in the hands of slave-laborers overseas. They have transformed American education; it is increasingly becoming a profit-center that sucks public money into private coffers, and produces citizens who lack the knowledge of history, ethics, and politics to understand either the times in which they live or the extent of what they have lost. The oligarchs control the levers of government, ensuring that their collaborators are elected and their enemies are defeated. They see to it that the American people pay ever higher taxes in exchange for fewer and fewer services. They keep the public divided, quarreling over trifles even as disaster looms over them. They ensure that the populace continues to groan under the weight of impossible debts, because they are our creditors. They seek to destroy the last safeguards of liberty by gradually and cunningly undermining the freedom of speech and freedom of association.

In light of what this country has become, it is not surprising that many people have lost the spirit of patriotism. But to lose the spirit of patriotism is to surrender. And to keep the spirit of patriotism is to fight. 

Thus, to keep one’s patriotism in dark times such as these, it is necessary to embrace certain values that may seem strike some as either quaint or terrifying. These values began in the age of chivalry. And I will point out that my thoughts on this matter have been crystallized by reading the extraordinary book, Bushido, The Soul of Japan, written by Inazo Nitobe in 1899.

The chivalrous virtues include:

RECTITUDE: Rectitude is simply the firm resolution to continue moving forward, even when fatigued or opposed by others. Rectitude arises from a sense of duty to one’s family, friends, and fellow citizens. The opposite of rectitude is self-indulgence or, in the language of Enlightenment scholars, “self-love.” Self-indulgence is what motivates the desire to surrender. We feel our own weakness and pain, and wish for it to end. And as Montesquieu pointed out, “Self-love, the love of our own preservation, is transformed in so many ways, and acts by such contrary principles, that it leads us to sacrifice our being for the love of our being.” In other words, self-indulgence causes us to remain passive as our liberties, our property, our happiness, our health, and our lives are taken from us.

COURAGE: Courage, according to Confucius, is doing what is right. The emphasis here is on “doing.” It is not enough to know what is right; however, courage is not a virtue unless one knows what is right. So, to have “the courage of one’s convictions” is just as important as the courage to take on an adversary. But it is also a virtue to recognize that rationality takes us only so far. Courage is not rational. It is a matter of faith. 

BENEVOLENCE: To show benevolence is to take seriously the needs of others. It implies a feeling of filial solidarity with one’s fellow citizens. Benevolence is a willingness to give one’s food to another, even when hungry. To make such a gesture is to be confident in one’s ability to withstand the pangs of hunger stoically. In the code of chivalry, to be benevolent is to show one’s strength. And, conversely, to show a lack of benevolence is to reveal one’s own weakness.  

The Founders and Chivalry

The elements of Japanese chivalry are also evident in European chivalry. I will suggest that (1) elements of European chivalry may be observed in the ideas of the Founders, (2) patriotism is itself a chivalrous sentiment, comprised of rectitude, courage, and benevolence, and (3) returning to the words of the Founders may offer a tonic to revitalize one's feelings of patriotism in times of despair.


“A generous parent would have said, ‘if there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.’”  - Thomas Paine

“A general Dissolution of Principles & Manners will more surely overthrow the Liberties of America than the whole Force of the Common Enemy. While the People are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but when once they lose their Virtue they will be ready to surrender their Liberties to the first external or internal Invader. How necessary then is it for those who are determined to transmit the Blessings of Liberty as a fair Inheritance to Posterity, to associate on publick Principles in Support of publick Virtue.” – Samuel Adams

9/22/1776: Nathan Hale is hanged by the British. He is remembered for his last words, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."


The time is now near at hand which must probably determine whether Americans are to be freemen or slaves; whether they are to have any property they can call their own; whether their houses and farms are to be pillaged and destroyed, and themselves consigned to a state of wretchedness from which no human efforts will deliver them. The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have, therefore, to resolve to conquer or die.” 
 – George Washington


“Certain modes of luxury may be a public evil, in the same manner as it is a private one. If there be a nation, for instance, that exports its beef and linen to pay for the importation of claret and porter, while a great part of its people live upon potatoes and wear no shirts, wherein does it differ from the sot, who lets his family starve and sells his clothes to buy drink?” - Benjamin Franklin

“He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard for his country. There is seldom an instance of a man guilty of betraying his country, who had not before lost the feeling of moral obligations in his private connections.” – Samuel Adams

“I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable. But the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property… [a] means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.”  – Thomas Jefferson

What Patriotism is Not

FEAR: “Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.” -- General Douglas MacArthur, 1957

EXPEDIENCY: “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.”  - William Pitt

PASSIVITY: “When the representative body have lost the confidence of their constituents, when they have notoriously made sale of their most valuable rights, when they have assumed to themselves powers which the people never put into their hands, then indeed their continuing in office becomes dangerous to the state, and calls for an exercise of the power of dissolution.”- Thomas Jefferson

CONCEIT: “If we do not learn to sacrifice small differences of opinion, we can never act together. Every man cannot have his way in all things. If his own opinion prevails at some times, he should acquiesce on seeing that of others preponderate at others. Without this mutual disposition we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.” – Thomas Jefferson

BLIND ALLEGIANCE: “The duty of a patriot is to protect his country from its government.”
- Thomas Paine.

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post! Your idea to post on this subject is brilliant! I'll comment on the New Independent Whig FB page.