The 4th of July Is for Patriots

In 1904, G.K. Chesterton's wrote an essay called The Patriotic Ideal. In this bit, Chesterton contrasts the patriot with the cosmopolitan (the people too cool for patriotism):

This important and growing sect, together with many modern intellectuals of various schools, directly impugn the idea of patriotism as interfering with the larger sentiment of the love of humanity. To them the particular is always the enemy of the general. To them every nation is the rival of mankind. To them, in not a few instances, every man is the rival of mankind...

Suppose that two men, lost upon some gray waste in rain and darkness, were to come upon the light of a porch and take shelter in some strange house, where the household entertained them pleasantly. It might be that some feast or entertainment was going forward; that private theatricals were in preparation, or progressive whist in progress. One of these travelers might lend a hand instinctively and heartily, might play his cards at whist in a fighting spirit, might black his face in theatricals and make the children laugh. And this he would do because he felt kindly towards the whole company. But the other man would say: “I love this company so much that I dislike its being divided into factions by progressive whist; I love so much the human face divine that I do not wish to see it obscured with soot or grease-paint; I will not take a partner for the lancers, for that would involve selecting one woman for special privilege, and I love you all alike.” The first man would undoubtedly amuse the whole company more. And would he not love the whole company more?

Every one of us has, indeed, been lost in a gray waste of eternity, and strayed to the portal of this earth, over which the lamp is the sun. We find inside the company of humanity engaged in certain ancient festivals and forms, certain competitions and distinctions. And, as in the other case, two kinds of love can be offered to that society. The prig will profess to join in their unity; the good comrade will join in their divisions.

Read that last sentence carefully. Chesterton is saying that the man who professes to join in with our abstract unity is really not joining at all. He holds himself apart from the society he claims to love. Meanwhile, the man who really loves, serves, and amuses is the one who joins the fray and takes a side.

We could use football as an analogy. You've got a spare ticket to the Super Bowl and you ask two men (or women) "Tell me how much you love football?" One replies "I'm a huge Patriots fan. I paint my face. I leap off the couch and do my own end zone dance when they score a TD. I'm crushed when they lose." The other guy replies in a dry tone "I love the game so much that I'm careful never to show favoritism to a specific local team. Can't get too provincial about these things." Which guy is going to get the spare ticket (no matter who is playing)?

Today is not a day for the cosmopolitans who love America in our idealized unity. Today is a day for patriots to love it where they are with their neighbors and the people they love. So paint your face. Light some fireworks. Do a little end zone dance for your country. And know that you're a better person for it.


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