Modern Patriotism This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

April 9, 2009
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What makes a patriot? People through the ages have carried out both horrible and wonderful acts under the banner of patriotism. How then are we to define it? The concept of patriotism is just as debated and relevant today as it was during the Civil War. If our nation is to survive its current challenges, the definition of a true patriot must be clear.

So, what is true patriotism? Only 57 percent of U.S. citizens over 18 described themselves as either “extremely” or “very” patriotic in a study by AARP. Can our nation really survive on 57 percent? I believe these shoddy ­ratings are the result of widespread misuse of the term “patriot.”

Many believe patriotism to be blind obedience to one's nation. Samuel Johnson, one of the most quoted European writers in history, said, ­“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” Are patriots really just a bunch of yes-men who bow to the president's every whim? If so, one wonders how we have managed to remain a democracy all these years.

I have to disagree with Johnson. I prefer to quote Carl Schurz, the German revolutionary and, later, American political scientist who said, “My country … if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Schurz's idea of patriotism is often referred to today as “loyal opposition.” This means seeking to change the social behavior of your country out of feelings of national love and patriotic duty. Loyal ­opposition is not the blind obedience of the uninformed and ignorant but rather active and sensible ­reconstruction of a system that one believes to be ­essentially good but critically flawed.

As a student at a somewhat liberal school in an ­exceedingly liberal state, I constantly find myself ­annoyed when my peers talk about “moving to Canada” or some other nonsense. My response? “Go ahead. Please move to Canada. It'll be much easier for the rest of us to fix things without your constant whining.” While some may consider this harsh, I invite anyone who can't see the good in America, despite her blemishes, to leave.

We must love our country enough to stay and work to change it for the better. We must follow the example of civil rights ­activist James Baldwin, who said, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, ­exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” He and other members of the then-loyal opposition understood that the desire to change America is itself a demonstration of one's love for the nation.

Some say that there is little reason to love America. I don't believe any rational person would accept this. Sure, our country has made mistakes throughout history, but while the ethics behind some of these ­decisions were admittedly murky, it is not right to blame the entire nation for a few morally ambiguous politicians. After all, think of the many wonderful contributions America has made to the world. The the cotton gin, steamboat, cylinder printing press, telephone, light bulb, gasoline-powered car, and even air conditioning were American inventions. The first slave to patent an invention did so in America, and the modern rocket was developed here. The first flight across the Atlantic took off from America. Think of where the world would be now were it not for this country.

Despite our achievements, it is important that we not lose sight of the big picture. Part of loyal opposition in modern America is a long-term world view. We must look into the future and decide what role we will play in it. As Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana said, “A man's feet must be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world.”

Many third-world nations receive regular and ­crucial support from America. Our relationship with China will become more significant as that country's wealth and power grow. It will take the practical ­investment of time and resources by loyal activists to ensure America's continued prosperity.

In the words of Norman Thomas, “If you want a symbolic gesture, don't burn the flag; wash it.” F

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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Lidia332 said...
Dec. 2, 2015 at 3:00 pm
mmm. nice! wow!
Lucy-AgnesThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 6, 2015 at 9:14 pm
I agree! We can show our love for our country best by pointing out what's wrong with her and trying to fix her. Thank you for writing this!
KelliB said...
May 9, 2012 at 12:04 pm
Very interesting perspective. I don't have that problem with living in a liberal area like you do because my state and city are extremely democratic, but there are some of them. I find that close mindedness is common this subject. It is kosher to believe, specifically in TX, that patriotism means that you are in the military. I do not agree there. I believe what you said. That patriotism is believing in your country even when its in a dark place. I believe America is akin to a phoenix. We've had... (more »)
KelliB replied...
May 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm
oh--sorry i forgot-- Bravo Scott!! Wonderful job! Applause to you.
AthenaBook said...
Dec. 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm
Nicely done; engaging, yet informative. I was drawn in to this interesting topic and I was glad it was so well written because I really enjoy the topic you've chosen.
Pumpkinscout said...
Oct. 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm
This is excellently written, and Scott makes a great point. The U.S.A. is indeed flawed, in many ways, it has bad politicians, and bum laws, and all the rest, just like every country, but the thing about America is that because of the way our constitution is laid out, laws can be made fair, bad politicians can be removed from office by the people, and ammends can be made to things that are not fair or morally right. Here in the U.S. we have far more freedom than people in some other countries, y... (more »)
WishfulDoer said...
Jul. 6, 2011 at 2:59 am
I don't hate America in the least. But I'm one of those restless people who just wants to get out of here already, you know? Not because it's America, but because I'm tired of being in the same place. I want to travel and explore other countries and nations. At the same time, I want to see how everything here at home plays out from the front lines. I guess I'm just a bystander...a restless bystander, for that matter.
MrNathanXD said...
Jul. 6, 2011 at 2:02 am
"The difference between a patriot and a rebel is who is in power at he time." Patriot, i believe, is one of those words that vary between connotations immensely, and i just lost my train of thought x)
Clopsey said...
Jan. 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm
I think people just get confused between nationalism and patriotism. The difference in the two is huge, but they don't actually ever teach that in schools...
TheBirdman1014 said...
Nov. 28, 2010 at 10:53 pm

There is no reason to love America over any other nation. Countries are nothing more than boundries fought over by the powerful through the blood of the innocent. Political boundries are nothing more than barriers that stop people, in this nation and in others, from focusing on the global problems and instead only trying to make theirown nation achieve prosperity.

Why do we want to ensure American prosperity, yet not the prosperity of other nations (meaning their citizens)? It should b... (more »)

K.T.S. said...
Nov. 18, 2010 at 5:24 pm
Your article was very innovative. Very interesting to read. I believe America is just a piece of land, with people on it that live their lives without monarchy. Free of tierney and free to do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want. Just to pu that out there. And patriotism is a hard word to define these days. We don't have too much of it, as you have clearly supported. America is just so involved with every other country that has stayed interested in us for 100's of years. We ... (more »)
Don Draper said...
Oct. 15, 2010 at 2:17 pm
I have pride in my country because of it's many accompishments. We put a man on the moon, we gained our independence when it looked like we weren't going to win, we stopped the spread of Nazis and Imperialists, and even though we committed crimes in the past. We acknowledge those mistakes and we're learning from it. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 
BlueRain replied...
Jul. 24, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Out of those 4 examples, in at least the last three we had help involved. The French helped us in the Revolution, a whole bunch of other countries joined in the war with the Nazis, and at one point, American itself was Imperialist in policy.

Like someone above said, it's just about national boundaries. And about the people who say they'd rather move to Canada, most aren't serious. It's their way of saying "I'm so sick and tired of this place", their way of expressing their distaste at ... (more »)

NihilTico said...
Sept. 23, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Nationalism, Patriotism, Jingoism. Of those, I would declare most of America to be Jingoist. There is a dividing line between patriotism and nationalism. No one can choose where to be born. 

I commend your attention, it reminds me of a Kingsolver essay we read once in class. It goes by the name "Jabberwocky"

Thinker said...
Apr. 22, 2010 at 7:06 am
I agree with the loyal opposition piece, but there are a few things that are a bit off. When your in a society of libertarians, the messages are often misconstrued, for one moving to another country is a sarcastic act, experssing the anger one has for the lack of expediance in changes in our country. Lastly, AARP is a group that protetects the rights and opinions of the elderly, so any statisitcs on the young are most likely also misconstrued.
elfiewrites said...
Mar. 31, 2010 at 2:17 pm
Excellent work! If you get the chance, may you please please please comment on my work too? Thanks so much
Montherieth said...
Mar. 13, 2010 at 4:42 pm
I personally find Mark Twain's definition of a patriot to be the most accurate (and amusing): "Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he is hollering about."
However, your article provided an interesting perspective on patriotism I have not thought of before. Loyal opposition is much better than the bigotry expressed by today's 'patriots'.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to despise the U.S. There is little reason inde... (more »)
rightbehindyou61 said...
Nov. 20, 2009 at 8:05 pm
good job, i found myself nodding my head throughout the writing
Roberto_from_Dallas said...
Sept. 30, 2009 at 10:56 pm
A nice view of patriotism; well said. Let's hope for the renewal of loyal opposition, and for the decline of intolerance.
"America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." -- Abraham Lincoln
John said...
Sept. 30, 2009 at 12:44 pm
This is an excellent article if it were written by anyone but from a teenager it's exceptional. I only wish more 'adults' were able to think as clearly about their patriotism as Scott.
I trust he will only grow to live out his convictions and be the kind of leader for his generation that we need. Sorry our generation hasn't done a very good job of standing up for America by holding the standards high.
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