Posted by Diogenes Sarcastica
Patriotism is difficult to define or understand for several reasons. The primary one is that it is such a subjective concept, it is how an individual loves or views their community or nation. This can mean blind obedience, it can mean casual affection, it can mean a wide variety of attitudes.
There are two basic kinds of patriotism or love of country dominant in America today. They seem to divide evenly along partisan lines, and the result is that both claim to be patriotic in their own way, and attack the other's patriotism.
The first is the old fashioned kind of patriotism: this is my nation and I live here, I love where I live, and I honor the great things my country has done. I hang a flag out front not only for special events, but because I'm proud to be an American. This patriotism loves the nation that exists, and both hopes and works for better.
The second is the kind of patriotism that owes allegiance not to the nation but to a set of ideals they admire. This patriotism loves not the nation as it is, but the nation as it would be if they could make it so. This is the kind of patriotism that delights in one's dream of how things could be and loves that rather than the actual way things are.
In a sense, this kind of patriotism echoes that sentiments of the founding fathers, who spoke enduringly of liberty and virtue, of the dreams of a nation who brought justice to all and a place where men could be free to live without tyrants and oppression. Their allegiance was to no sovereign (save God, most pointed out), and not to America, but to the ideals of liberty. The thing is, much of these statements and things that were written were before the independence of America. Their loyalty had to be for a nation that did not yet exist... because it literally did not yet exist. Indeed, the colonial soldiers and the rebels against the English crown called themselves patriots and most said they loved the king and England, but were fighting for liberty, not against England.
The problem with the first kind of patriotism is that it can too easily blind one to the faults of or lead one to the support of their nation when they ought to be more critical. The problem with the second kind is that it is not patriotism for one's actual country at all, and the allegiance to ideals can lead one to see faults and threats to these ideals where none exist.
Both ought to be avoided in there pure form, and certainly there's room for someone to hold both positions - to both love their land and what it stands for, to work for a better country and to love the good in the country they now live in. Ultimately all our affections should be first on truth, justice, liberty, virtue, and goodness. From that we can apply this love to what is around us and understand the world we see through that lens. It is not wrong to love one's people or neighborhood, or country, or planet, should we ever come to that. But it wrong to turn any of those into one's highest love, to elevate them to the status of an idol.
Christians, for instance, are urged to submit to lawful authorities, pay taxes, and heed their governors, while recognizing that they are not truly citizens of this world, but of the next. All people should take a similar type position: your ultimate loyalty should be to right and wrong, to justice and truth, but that does not negate a lower loyalty and love for where you live and what you do. What is wrong is to never see any faults or flaws in that nation, to ignore any evils it does.
Sometimes, being a patriot means opposing what your nation is doing but never opposing your nation entirely. I'm a patriot of the United States, but I oppose the legalized abortion and other laws I feel are evils in our society. That's not only my right but my duty, my responsibility. Every member of a country has not only the opportunity but the duty to oppose evil and fight for good in that country, even if that means opposing one's own government.
The problems arise when one's sense of patriotism is tied too closely to the present government rather than the nation. This can lead one to despise the nation when one party is in power and love it when another is. That's simply ignorance. The nation is the nation, regardless of the government; your love should be for the people, the place, and the ideals of the nation, not who happens to be president at the time.
The deeds that a government does can very well be opposed to that nation and what it stands for - it's certainly happened in the past, and the present day Tea Party Movement proves it is so today.