There is part of a poem by Sir Walter Scott often titled “My Native Land.” Back when poetry was appreciated and even memorized, its first lines were well known. It went:
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’
While written from a Roman Catholic perspective, one need certainly not be of the Roman observance to find much in this article by John Horvat II, blogging for Crisis magazine, to be of value. He notes, inter alia, that
Love of country is not imposed. It comes naturally as a projection of the love of parents and family. According to the Catholic Church’s teachings, love of country rests on the demands of nature and religion. Both require the proper behavior of children toward parents to whom they owe their existence.
Indeed it is true that love of country, like love for one’s own ethno-cultural heritage, is neither more nor less than love for family writ large. Horvat continues,
Similarly, both impose obligations on citizens toward their nation…
The most fundamental requirement is that the citizen exhibit reasonable esteem and love of country. Back when civics was taught in schools, people learned to display this appreciation by showing interest in the nation’s history and institutions, and respect for its symbols. People learned how to participate in civic activities such as the Pledge of Allegiance, the playing and singing of the national anthem, and the proper lowering and folding of the flag.
However, it continues, genuine patriotism “calls upon citizens to disregard their self-interest and sacrifice for the common good in times of disaster and war,” up to and including “that sacred duty to sacrifice one’s life for the nation so that others might freely live in peace.” In return, it “requires from the living that they remember and respect those who made that ultimate sacrifice.” But there is more:
“Patriotism’s second aspect is less structured. It involves a great sensitivity to a particular place inside the nation. Sir Walter Scott understood well how people normally come to develop natural preferences for the setting where they were born or raised. They savor its panorama, land, climate, or foods. Even rugged, bleak or inhospitable places can take on special meaning for people. They prefer their own nation in general and their own region in particular, even when other places are better endowed by God.“
Thus, true patriotism grows out of, evokes, and requires attachment both to the people of a country, and to its land – what some have referred to as “blood and soil.” It is these things which make love of country tangible and personal, not merely theoretical and abstract. Without them, it is merely an intellectual allegiance, which can be changed, like one’s style of dress, if one has a change of heart, dislikes the current political leadership, or simply on a whim.
It is, as the old saying goes, “a mile wide (although it may actually be a good deal narrower) and an inch deep”:
“This intimate connection with one’s native land is weakened by a culture that belittles nations, regions, and their God-embedded treasures. Postmodern individuals are told to pursue their own happiness wherever and whenever it appears. In a globalized world, the perception of place is reduced to a mere portal from which one might access goods and services.”
“Ask not,” the secular corporate globalist exhorts the jaded postmodernist hipster – brought up since birth to the drumbeat of a twisted form of “multiculturalism” that refuses to respect cultures as distinct and unique to the historic and geographic context that shaped them, and valuable precisely because of that distinctiveness, but rather insists upon lumping them together in a mish-mash of supposed “diversity” that is really all about sameness, and thus dishonours the integrity of each of them – “ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what your country can do for you!” John F. Kennedy would not, I think, approve.
Horvat then applies his premise to a situation that is very much in the news today:
“The erosion of what undergirds patriotism is the tragedy of the present controversy over the national anthem. So many of the natural influences that foster a love of one’s native land—religion, community and family—are no longer strong. Few unifying rituals, like the national anthem, remain to bind individuals together as a people.”
I have long said – and indeed, have commented in this blog – that there are only so many common, binding factors that, like the structural pillars of a building, support and hold a society together.
Besides the obvious unified government and legal structure, these include common ethnicity (until 1965 and its changes in immigration law, people of non-European heritage never – even during the height of slavery – made up more than 10% of the population of the United States, and the real demographic changes did not kick in until the dawn of the 21st century), common language, common religious understanding (which need not mean a single Established Church, but does require a common basic adherence to, for instance, the Judeo-Christian moral and religious tradition), and respect for common institutions, history, and cultural traditions.
A society can survive without each and every one of these being strong, but like the aforementioned pillars, with every one that is weakened or kicked over, the stability and integrity of the overall structure is weakened, as well. And each and every one of these is under varying forms of attack in today’s America, and indeed throughout the Western world. This should be a matter of grave concern to anyone who believes that there is anything of value in Western civilization in general, or the United States of America in particular.
But perhaps the kneeling controversy in professional football – in which many NFL players have chosen to “take a knee” during the National Anthem, as referenced above – has had a positive and salutary effect in the larger cultural struggle, unlikely as that may seem: perhaps, just perhaps, it has given ordinary Americans, who have long been vaguely troubled at the direction our country seems to have taken in recent years and decades, something to sink their teeth into… a place to take a stand. As Horvat notes,
“That is what is so surprising about the healthy backlash against the football theatrics. Despite the weakening of patriotism everywhere, those reacting have taken its vestiges and rekindled in their hearts a fiery defense of the nation.
“They have taken as their focus patriotism’s most sublime aspect: the sacrifice of those who died for the country [by reminding us that disrespect for the flag also disrespects those who have died for it, and for us]. They have made it a point of honor that the country and its symbols be respected.
“These are Americans who… see that no other place can offer what America has given them. This is not a stupid nationalism, which despises other nations and peoples. Rather, it is patriotism. It is that deep and natural love for ‘my own, my native land!’
“Thus, an unlikely skirmish on the gridiron has turned into something beyond that of a simple football game. It is now a battle that touches on the core of what America is and should be—a people called to self-sacrifice, ‘sacred duty’ and the practice of the virtue of piety.”
And this – if we are not, as a culture, lulled back to sleep by the next round of “bread and circuses” – may be a very good thing: a sign of the pendulum swinging back toward sanity, the first real stirrings of a national (re)awakening. Or so we may hope and pray!
Pro Deo et Patria.
(“For God and Country.”)