Commentary Magazine


Patriotism and Dissent

As the world debates the meaning of Barack Obama’s interesting speech yesterday about patriotism, a few thoughts on what patriotism is and what it is not.

There is nothing particularly virtuous about patriotism. It is a form of love. Love can be requited and unrequited, deserved and undeserved. Love is a wonderful thing, and you’re lucky to feel it and have it returned to you; but it is not noble. You are not required to love your country; any requirement that you feel a certain way is totalitarian.

There is a deep truth in the notion that America is more deserving of the love of its people than any other nation because of the freedom we the people have been granted by the foundational documents of this nation to dissent from our government’s decisions and to band together to change our nation’s political direction through lobbying, persuasion, or at the polls.

The ability to dissent, to hold a minority opinion and seek to influence the nation nonetheless, makes America as a nation and a civilization more worthy of the love that people naturally feel for their country of origin. (A child is almost intrinsically unable not to love the father who beats him, but we certainly consider a father who is loving toward his child more worthy of that child’s love.)

But to liken dissent to patriotism is nonsensical. Dissent is dissent — it is a political act. Patriotism is a feeling, an emotion, a condition of soul.