What is Patriotism?

Patriotism means loyalty to the patria, the Roman word for fatherland. The idea of patrimony or heritage is closely related.

As mankind evolves and the world grows smaller and more tightly intertwined, the meaning of patria also evolves. In many important ways, we all realize our real home is this planet.

History and anthropology show this process of evolution clearly. Early mankind lived in small tribes. Each one called itself “humankind.” They used another word – usually “beast” or “barbarian” – for their neighbors. This mind-set remains very much with us, too.

The gods of early peoples were also dedicated to their own tribe alone. Very late, after humans became adept at abstractions, and experienced in interactions with other nations, the idea of One God for all mankind struck a fragile root. This idea made the early Christians a threat to Rome, savagely persecuted, lest each whim of Caesar cease to be a divine command. Jesus was also hated by the reactionaries among His fellow Jews, for globalizing the secret of monotheism – like Prometheus of Greek myth, crucified for sharing the secret of fire with humankind. Jesus’ lesson is still ahead of its time even today: we say “God Bless America,” not “God Save Mankind” (while most of the rest of the world prays, “Dear God, save mankind from America!”)

Already millennia overdue, like Jesus’ Kingdom of God, mankind’s next revolutionary step, if we are to survive in this world wide web we weave, is an elevated and universal concept of patria. Our true patrimony is the heritage of ideals dear to all peoples. America would do better to pledge allegiance to her Constitution, a set of fairly universal ideals – rather than to a flag which, like a pagan idol, can bear any message a propagandist or dictator loads it with. How easily we were panicked and tricked into scrapping our Bill of Rights for a so-called “Patriot Act.” We will never be free until we outgrow this phase of play with emotional noise, of baby fumbling with blocks, and reach the mature stage of literacy in ideals and principles.

The patrimony of a civilized person is the heritage of civilization. His or her patriotism is loyalty to those values. And strangely enough, we all remember that Iraq was the cradle of civilization. Almost 4,000 years ago, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi was the first truly civilized system of law. He had hit on the key principle of justice: the punishment must fit the crime.

Today, the USA has trampled on that most ancient law, bombing and invading Iraq without provocation. These are acts of barbarism, against civilization. Can a civilized person be loyal to barbarism? In ancient times, “barbaric” meant only the sound of a foreign tongue to unfamiliar ears: ba-ba-ba. Today it has a more universal meaning: an action that violates the code of civilization, the common human heritage of values.

The Iraqi troops are fighting for their fatherland, their ancient patria, against a barbaric aggression. They are surely patriots by any measure. And our troops? Where is the patria our “boys” are killing for? Are they defending America? That is a transparent tissue of lies from our new Caesars.

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