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The 4th of July Is for Patriots

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, togetherwith many modern intellectuals of various schools, directly impugn theidea of patriotism as interfering with the larger sentiment of the loveof humanity. To them the particular is always the enemy of thegeneral. To them every nation is the rival of mankind. To them, in not afew 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 strangehouse, where the household entertained them pleasantly. It might bethat some feast or entertainment was going forward; that privatetheatricals were in preparation, or progressive whist in progress. Oneof these travelers might lend a hand instinctively and heartily, mightplay his cards at whist in a fighting spirit, might black his face intheatricals and make the children laugh. And this he would do becausehe felt kindly towards the whole company. But the other man would say:factions by progressive whist; I love so much the human face divinethat I do not wish to see it obscured with soot or grease-paint; I willnot take a partner for the lancers, for that would involve selectingone woman for special privilege, and I love you all alike.” The firstman would undoubtedly amuse the whole company more. And would he notlove the whole company more?

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

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

We could use football as an analogy. You’ve got a spare ticket to theSuper Bowl and you ask two men (or women) “Tell me how much you lovefootball?” One replies “I’m a huge Patriots fan. I paint my face. I leapoff the couch and do my own end zone dance when they score a TD. I’mcrushed when they lose.” The other guy replies in a dry tone “I love thegame so much that I’m careful never to show favoritism to a specificlocal 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 ouridealized unity. Today is a day for patriots to love it where they arewith their neighbors and the people they love. So paint your face. Lightsome fireworks. Do a little end zone dance for your country. And knowthat you’re a better person for it.

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